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CHAP gives preliminary approval to Mt. Vernon site

A city review panel gave limited preliminary approval to plans for a $25 million, 142-unit apartment building at a busy intersection in historic Mount Vernon Tuesday.

The 13-member Commission for Historical & Architectural Preservation, or CHAP, voted to approve a conceptual design for the development by Gould Property Co. at Charles and Read Streets, with a caveat for architect Walter Schamu, president of SMG Architects, to return this fall with more detailed plans.

An archeologist must also be hired to perform a survey at the site, 814 N. Charles St., once the location of three mansions.

Other concerns include the placement of apartment balconies overlooking Charles Street from the eight-story building, and the need for abundant parking in the community after the site, currently a 70-space surface parking lot, is developed.

The development will hold a three-floor underground parking garage with 157 spaces.

“I want to reiterate the need for parking space,” said Tom Spence, a resident of Mount Vernon who testified before CHAP. “There are a lot of jobs in the Mount Vernon area” whose workers depend on the existing lot.

Rev. Rodney Hudgen, rector at the historic Emmanuel Episcopal Church, which abuts the proposed apartment site, said having parking for worshippers is essential because dozens come to the 160-year-old landmark church each week from the suburbs.

“We stand enthusiastically in favor, but we have some caution as well,” Hudgen said. “Parking is a concern. That’s our survival. If they cannot park, (the church) will die.”

The new apartment building will rise 89 feet, well above some of the area’s 19th century row houses and buildings that dot the district. While the height limit is 70 feet, Schamu said, developers will seek to have the restriction lifted with “density height bonuses” allowed if certain other elements of design are met, he said.

“We’ve worked on this site for over two years,” Schamu said, before describing the design of the modern, glass and steel big-box, U-shaped building that will hold a gym, squash courts, a theater and infinity lap pool that overlooks the imposing stained glass window of Emmanuel Church. Retail and café space will be located on the street level.

A representative of Gould Property said the company is aiming to break ground by the end of this year.

Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Community Association, told CHAP members the group supported the development.

“This is exactly the concept that we had hoped for, for this site,” Warren said, adding that the development will add to about 1,000 new apartment units coming into the mid-town community this year and next. “Mount Vernon is now the fastest growing neighborhood in the city.”