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Row house collapses in Johnston Square

A lone insurance adjuster stood by what was left of a dilapidated row house in Johnston Square Thursday morning, taking photos for what certainly will be an upcoming claim.

The address in ruins was in the 800 block of E. Preston Street, just south of the historic Greenmount Cemetery. It was part of a $5.3 million rehab project of scattered vacant houses in the community, funded mostly with federal stimulus money. Mi Casa, a Washington-based nonprofit, is the developer of the project.

Thursday, what’s left of the house littered the site, with nail-studded beams loosely hanging in a perilous position from the top story, aimed at the sidewalk below.

What exactly happened, though, is in dispute.

Top city housing officials including Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said Wednesday they did not know of the collapse of the structure.

Graziano’s spokesperson, Cheron Porter, said in an emailed statement Thursday: “Mi Casa’s end of group structure at 818 E Preston completely collapsed. It is fenced off and the debris is contained on site. They had permits, and it seems they were onsite and handled the incident themselves. They have not taken any additional action (re: new permits to reconstruct). The go forward issues are not principally code enforcement ones. They will have to appropriately permit the rebuild, or the razing of the foundation.”

A neighbor across the street on Thursday described how the rowhouse “just collapsed” one day last month, sending a loud boom across the community.

The insurance adjuster, said he was informed that the house had collapsed on Jan. 20, “and thank God, no one was in it or near it.” It went unreported for a couple of weeks, he added.

Elin Zurbrigg, deputy director of Mi Casa, said on Thursday “it was demolished” because the side wall was unstable.

Either way, the debris is piled high and creates an eyesore as well as a public safety hazard. As that block is undergoing a rehabilitation of 12  houses — including the one that fell — at a cost to taxpayers of roughly $270,000 each, Zurbrigg said the goal is to have new homeowners living there by summer.

“There was some collapse that happened during the demolition process,” she said Thursday. “But it was safe and contained.”

This week, Saint Agnes Hospital leased 33,000 square feet at Lansdowne Station, a mixed-use project in Baltimore County that has more than 500,000 square feet of retail and office space. The hospital plans to staff the site with 150 employees by this spring.

The new medical offices, located at 3585 Washington Boulevard, will house members of the hospital’s healthcare planning, marketing, finance and physician administration teams who now work at a site on Koppers Street about a mile away.

“Attracting Saint Agnes Hospital to Lansdowne Station represents a significant win for the surrounding community, as well as current retail tenants of the project,” said Howard Brown, chairman of David S. Brown Enterprises Ltd., manager of Lansdowne Station. “The daily influx of daytime workers will create tremendous sales opportunities for area retailers, specifically service-related uses and restaurants. The successful leasing of the office component verifies our belief and vision of the viability of Lansdowne Station as a work-play environment that satisfies a variety of needs.”

This Monday at 2 p.m., Sen. Ben Cardin will visit Clifton Mansion on the city’s northeast side to detail legislation that would expand tax breaks for restoring historic properties.

The 19th century mansion located in Clifton Park, once the summer home of Johns Hopkins, is now part of a golf course and headquarters to AmeriCorps’ Civic Works program, is a prime example: The manor is about to undergo a $7 million renovation that will employ 150 in the process.

Cardin’s bill, the Creating American Prosperity through Preservation Act, would expand the historic tax credit program to smaller restoration projects. It would also encourage greater use of energy-efficient improvements in historic preservation.

Overall, the federal historic tax credit program has leveraged more than $90 billion of private-sector investment to preserve and rehab more than 37,000 historic properties since 1976. The program has created more than two million jobs nationwide since 1978, Cardin said, and 18,700 jobs were created through historic preservation in Maryland from 2001 to 2011.

Pass the Grey Poupon. McDaniel College is celebrating the groundbreaking of a new stadium.

After the Westminster college was named one of the top 10 tailgating schools in the nation by The Weather Channel last October, what else could administrators there do?

The new digs will still allow for “drive-in” tailgating and retain the bowl-like setting. Features including new restrooms, concessions, a filming area and reception rooms for fans and teams so those who attend from the Green Terror Nation can root in style.

Funding for the new stadium has come from private donations, college officials said.

Foodie Watch: Woodbury Kitchen owners Spike and Amy Gjerde plan to open a coffee shop in Union Mill this spring. The Gjerdes also plan to soon open a casual restaurant in Hampden to seat 75. It will be called Half Acre… Christopher Spann, owner of the successful Wine Market in once working-class Locust Point, has changed his menu to include a new slew of upscale delights. Among the gourmet tastings Chef Andrew Weizirl is offering are pan roasted wagyu sirloin, braised celery, oxtail and port wine jam, sweet potato soup, cider steamed mussels, salmon tartare and crispy Brussels sprouts.