Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Developer John Brooks plans to build 19 townhouses and convert the mansion into 15 apartments. (File photo)

Crittenton development opponents challenge zoning board ruling

A city zoning board decision allowing the redevelopment of the historic Crittenton Mansion is being challenged in Baltimore City Circuit Court, which could delay the project’s construction timeline.

Residents from the surrounding neighborhood have formed a nonprofit called The Friends of Crittenton Mansion Inc. and filed a petition for judicial review of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals’ May decision granting variances so developer John Brooks could build 19 townhouses on the site and convert the mansion into 15 apartments.

“You don’t see me involved in too many appeals, but on this one I think that we have certainly a chance of success, or at least remand for a fuller hearing,” said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the area.

Clarke said a review of the decision is necessary for a variety of reasons, but one of the most egregious is the revisions made to the plans that were reviewed by the board in May. She argued they were not substantially different from what was presented two months before. Because the board rejected the developer’s request for variances in March, the plans would not be eligible for re-consideration by the board less than a year after the rejection unless there were substantial changes made.

“We were back [before the board] with substantially the same plan in two months,” Clarke said.

Al Barry, the developer’s land use consultant, disputed claims that changes in the project were not significant enough, pointing to a 50 percent change in the requested length for property setback. He argued that while the plan itself might have appeared to essentially be the same, the number of variances required, and the degree of variances, constitute a substantial change.

“Their opposition to development on the site has been consistent, and while they have requested substantial changes to the plan, those changes make the development infeasible, and I believe their real motivation was to stop any development of houses on the property,” Barry said.

Clarke and opponents of the project have argued they are not opposed to all development on the site, but that they would prefer a smaller project that doesn’t require any variances. They argue the project as currently planned would overshadow nearby two-story rowhouses, crowd businesses in the area and increase traffic on narrow roads .

“We came in with what we call the ‘right fit plan,’ which, with minor changes in the dimensions of the new houses themselves, would’ve met all variances and still been economically viable,” Clarke said.

Barry said in conversations he’s had with the city’s law department, which will defend the board in the review, that a trial is held usually within three months of this type of appeal being filed. He said even though the review will be put on the fast track docket the delay could push back construction on the townhouses scheduled to start in the late fall. He said pushing back townhouse construction could also delay restoration work for on the mansion that is scheduled to begin very early next year.

“The applicant … does not understand why the community would want to postpone the restoration of the mansion,” Barry said.

The dispute over the proposed Crittenton Mansion development is one of many such instances where Hampden residents have pushed back against new building in recent years. The neighborhood, a former working-class enclave that has become one of the most desirable communities in the city, has dealt with increased development pressures as a result of its growing popularity.

The Crittenton mansion dates back to the antebellum period when the Hampden area was a mill town in Baltimore County. David Carroll, the original owner of Mount Vernon Mills, built the house and it’s one of only two mill mansions remaining in the Jones Falls Valley. The property, whcih was purchased in the 1920s by the Crittenton Society and converted into a home for unwed mothers, has been vacant the past few years.