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Mobtown Beat

The Dust Settles

...But The Controversy Over The Demolition Of St. Stan's Hasn't Yet

Christopher Myers
MAN AND GOD IN FELLS POINT: Parts of the St. Stanislaus Church complex were demolished recently, despite a still-unsettled lawsuit against the Franciscan Friars that own it.

By Laura Laing | Posted 8/2/2006

In a cloud of dust and with a huge rumble, the rectory of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Roman Catholic Church came down on July 24, crushing the large cross that had topped the building. But what could have marked the end of a long battle between Fells Point residents and the owners of the site ("Tempting Faith," Mobtown Beat, June 28; "Holy Mess," June 7) only managed to embolden protesters like Deborah Tempera, who now raise new concerns about the process of demolition.

"I think the momentum [to keep fighting the demolition] is there," she says. "I ride down the street and people give me the thumbs-up. People saw the buildings and how much it took to take them down. They were solid buildings. Now they're saying, `We don't want to go through this again.'"

Mike Sarnecki, head of St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish and Slavic Church Museum Inc., caught wind of the demolition early the week before. His organization is currently in a legal dispute with the Franciscan Friars, which sold the vacant church building and surrounding structures to Mother Seton Academy and Iron Horse Properties. Ownership of the other buildings-including the now-demolished rectory-is not under question.

Sarnecki began receiving phone calls July 18-"We've got eyes and ears everywhere," he says-and headed down to the corner of Aliceanna and Ann streets to check it out. "They had a little Bob Cat there," he says, but no fence or written notification of pending demolition.

Tempera, who owns an adjacent property, says she was never officially informed of the demolition. She spent the week monitoring the preparations and filming the demolition itself. Concerned about the appropriate permits, she spoke on site with developers, inspectors and demolition workers throughout the week-many of whom, she says, walked away from her rather than respond to her questions.

"We were not fanatical," she says about herself and other residents who also spoke with city officials. "We were not a group of screaming people. They [the developers and demolition company] know we were right."

Among Tempera's concerns were permits that she says listed the wrong demolition company, postdated no parking signs, and, in her opinion, inadequate fencing.

At one point, she contends, an employee for a plumbing contractor working on the site carried a large statue of Jesus from inside one of the buildings and tied it to the roof of his truck. She half-laughs, remembering the outstretched arms of the Messiah extending over the roof of the vehicle.

And then there was the dust. On July 21, the demolition began in full force, but only one water hose was used to dampen the particles that inevitably fly into the air when a building comes down.

"The dust was intense," Tempera says. "Everyone was on the phone [with city officials]. We needed more hoses, but they [the demolition workers] just continued. You could be on Thames Street and taste the dust. My eyes were blood red."

Tempera and four other protesters didn't miss a chance to make a point over the weekend, July 21-24. They donned paper face masks, held signs along the street, and told passing drivers to roll up their windows. Others pushed plastic flowers into the holes of the fence. "The other residents around the street-I was concerned about them," she says.

Tempera says when work was resumed on Monday, July 24, the dust was much better contained.

"Oh, much better on Monday," she says. "They had two hoses and the water pressure was better."

The developers did not respond to requests for comment for this story. On the day the rectory was demolished, Mother Seton Academy faxed a press release about the redevelopment.

"We are excited by the opportunity to purchase the former St. Stanislaus church building, renovate the interior, preserve the exterior, and move the school to allow continuation of its important Catholic educational mission," Lawrence Harvey, a Xaverian brother and chair of the corporate board that opened the school, says in the statement.

"The opportunity this plan provides Mother Seton Academy comes from the unique relationship the school has had with the Franciscan Friars who own the property, and because of the generosity and support of board members, benefactors and a developer who believe in the mission of the school and have come together to make this possible," Harvey's statement continues. Two of the school's board members are principals in Iron Horse Properties, and Kevin Carney, president of Thomas Builders-which will develop the condominiums-is donating a portion of the profits back to the school.

Meanwhile, preservationists in Fells Point say they are in mourning. Two days before the demolition began, the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point suffered a loss in court. The organization had raised concerns about storm-water runoff created by the new development, but the judge found that the group did not have standing.

"I felt we had a very good argument," says Michael Forlini, a attorney who often works on environmental issues who represented the Preservation Society through Baltimore's Community Law Center. "Unfortunately, we didn't convince the judge."

Tempera is also sorely disappointed but has not given up hope.

"Maybe Mr. Carney will come around," she says. "I'm hoping the mayor understands the gravity of this."

In an attempt to catch the attention of Mayor Martin O'Malley and other elected officials, five protesters showed up at the first meeting of Women for O'Malley/Brown, held on the Bay Lady in the Inner Harbor on July 25. They were hoping to speak with O'Malley and Sen. Barbara Mikulski--who is a former Fells Point resident and who hosted the event--but neither interrupted their dinner.

Tempera and Sarnecki are unsure of what will be demolished next. Sarnecki's court case is not due to be heard until October. In the meantime, Tempera is alert to changes on the parish property.

"It changes the whole appearance of the block," Sarnecki says. "I don't understand. I just don't understand. I guess it's money. They say money makes people do strange things."

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