A former bookbindery in Hampden, where chimney swifts have roosted for generations as part of their seasonal migration, is being considered by the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) for a potential landmark designation.
The commission will deliberate and render a decision on the request on Jan. 10, according to its hearing agenda, which lists the applicant as council member Odette Ramos, whose district includes Hampden.
The property was built in 1930, according to the Baltimore Sun, and used to serve as a clothing factory. Free State Bookbinders began operating there in 1984, but has since closed. The building’s brick chimney has also long been a place where birds known as chimney swifts roost as part of their seasonal migration and where bird lovers have gathered to see them on their journey.
But The Baltimore Banner reported in September that the Segall Group, a commercial real estate developer that purchased the building, had plans to demolish it — and replace it with 160 luxury apartments. The Segall Group did not respond to a request for comment.
At the time, Ramos told The Baltimore Banner that she was dismayed by the project.
“I have to tell you, I’m really mad about this,” she told The Banner. “Hampden is oversaturated with development. People are trying to add as many units as possible in a tiny area. Why are developers only looking to develop in white neighborhoods? Why aren’t developers looking to develop in our Black neighborhoods? I’m proud to represent Hampden, but I’m also proud to represent Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Darley Park and many other neighborhoods.”
In an interview Thursday, Ramos added that she’s worried about the traffic that would result from the development, saying that with only two ways out of the neighborhood in that area, “it would be pretty much a disaster.”
Ramos said the developer is allowed to pursue the project, as the property is zoned for industrial-mixed use. So, she said, “the historic designation was my only leverage to at least protect the historic nature of the building.”
It’s important, she said, “to make sure we’re highlighting and honoring the history of our city by preserving these buildings,” and she said the bookbindery “has been a building that has been basically part of the fabric of that part of Hampden.”
Alice Greely-Nelson, a board member of the South Hampden Community Group and a member of the Baltimore Bird Club, said she and others are also worried about the chimney swifts. The birds would lose an important roost — one they’ve returned to for decades — if the bookbindery and its chimney were torn down, she said.
Ramos said there are some options, such a removing a cap from the chimney of a different building, that they may be able to work out with the developers, though nothing has been set in stone, she said.
To be designated as a potential landmark, the building is evaluated against a set of criteria, including being “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of Baltimore history” or “associated with the lives of persons significant in Baltimore’s past,” among others, according to historic preservation guidelines. It must meet two of four criteria, Ramos said, to be designated.
A potential landmark designation would not bar developers from demolishing the building or making alterations, but those changes would have to go through certain reviews by CHAP before the developers could proceed. Minor projects would have to be reviewed by the executive director and would have to meet the commission’s design guidelines, according to Baltimore City Historic Preservation Rules and Regulations. Major projects, including demolitions, would have to be reviewed at a public hearing, the regulations say.
Those temporary protections have already gone into effect on the building; they are immediate and are afforded as soon as the a notice for a CHAP hearing has been posted, according to the regulations. But to keep those protections, the building will have to be designated as a potential landmark. Then an ordinance would have to be proposed to City Council and enacted within a certain time for the former bookbindery to be designated a landmark, which Ramos said she would do.
Greely-Nelson said the designation could possibly deter developers from attempting to move ahead on the project to demolish, and she at least hopes the developers “would think twice about this.”
She wonders if the developers’ plans are primarily motivated by money and said she would hate to see the chimney swifts “displaced because of greed.”
Ramos said she doesn’t think the birds will be involved in CHAP’s consideration of a potential landmark designation for the building and aren’t part of the historic designation.