A commercial real estate developer that had plans to demolish a former bookbindery in Hampden, where chimney swifts have roosted for generations as part of their seasonal migration, has walked away from the property, Councilwoman Odette Ramos confirmed Tuesday.
Ramos, whose district includes Hampden, said a representative for the owner of the property informed her Monday that the developer, Segall Group, is no longer interested in the building “at this time.” The representative told Ramos they had not been in communication with the developer for months.
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 had plans to demolish the bookbindery — and to replace it with 160 luxury apartments. The developer never purchased the property, Ramos said Tuesday, but the owner wants to sell it.
Residents, along with Ramos, had previously expressed their dismay at the decision. Some were worried the chimney swifts would lose an important roost — one they’ve returned to for decades. In a December interview, Ramos said she was worried about the traffic that would result from the development.
Ramos last year requested the former bookbindery be considered by the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) for a potential landmark designation. The commission was originally scheduled to render a decision on the request on Jan. 10, but the hearing has twice been postponed. It is now scheduled for Mar. 14.
CHAP staff are planning to recommend the approval of the designation as a potential landmark, according to a report dated Tuesday, after determining the property meets two of a set of four criteria, including that it is “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of Baltimore history.” The report is a draft, however, and could still be updated or edited before the March hearing.
The representative for the owner asked Ramos if the CHAP hearing could be postponed to March 14, she said, so that he could talk with the community about their ideas for the building.
Representatives from Segall Group did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The representative for the owner did not respond to requests for comment, and attempts to reach the owner, listed in property records as Richard H. Wimbrough Jr., were unsuccessful.
“This is a HUGE victory!” the South Hampden Neighbors said in a Monday email to residents, sharing the news that developers had walked away from the property.
“I think a lot of people in the neighborhood right there are very happy that we stood up to these guys,” said Alice Greely-Nelson, a board member of the South Hampden Community Group and a member of the Baltimore Bird Club. “I think a lot of people don’t realize, a tight community, if we gather together, can really get it done. And we weren’t going to stand for that,” she said about the redevelopment of the former bookbindery into luxury apartments.
It’s also good news for the chimney swifts, Greely-Nelson added, who will “have a spot to rest in the spring.”
Kathleen Littleton, a community organizer with South Hampden Neighbors, said she is also excited and grateful that the owner is open to hearing community input because “we all care about the space,” she said.
The group is planning to send out a community survey to ask for residents’ input ahead of meeting with the owner, which has yet to be scheduled, she said.
Personally, she feels the space could be a lot of things — artist studios, office spaces, residential units “on a small scale” or a community space, she said, but hopes that whatever it is will strengthen the community, and “inspire people to grow what already makes Hampden such a desirable place to live.”