City Law Department is reviewing CHAP’s March vote that approved demolition of the Hendler Building
The one-hour gap in the video has thrown the decision by Baltimore’s preservation board into limbo, while its chairman says he’s told commissioners to report to him before they speak to the media
Above: CHAP chair Harry Spikes and executive director Eric Holcomb at today’s commission meeting. (Fern Shen)
The lone member of the public who spoke on behalf of the Hendler Creamery Building at a preservation commission meeting last month did not succeed that day – the commissioners voted 8-3 to allow demolition.
But irregularities she pointed out about the March 14 meeting have now thrown the demolition decision into limbo.
Chief among them is the roughly one-hour gap in the meeting video when the commissioners discussed the Hendler case.
“We have a large chunk of the prior meeting video missing, and we use the recording pretty much as our minutes, so that has caused some problems,” said Eric Holcomb, executive director of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP).
Speaking at today’s meeting, Holcomb briefed the commissioners about the video “hiccup,” as he called it, which was first reported by The Brew.
• Meeting footage goes missing as decision to allow demolition of the Hendler building is challenged (3/27/23)
The Planning Department staff and the Baltimore City Information & Technology Technology office (BCIT) were asked to restore the video, but couldn’t.
“A third-party data recovery professional. . . now has the disc or will have it,” Holcomb said.
Video Used as Meeting Minutes
But tech professionals are not the only ones stepping in to look at issues involving CHAP’s demolition vote.
“Because it’s a pretty serious action, we have contacted the Law Department,” Holcomb continued. “We’re working with them about the March hearing as well as the missing minutes.”
Is the Law Department looking into whether the lack of complete footage mean that actions taken during the meeting are invalid?
And are they looking into another allegation: that CHAP did not follow its own process in approving demolition of the 133-year-old building?
That charge was made by former CHAP staffer Fred Shoken and his wife, Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, the lone demolition opponent who spoke at the March meeting.
• For critics decrying the state of historic preservation in Baltimore, Hendler Creamery is Exhibit A (4/10/23)
In a letter to CHAP calling for the matter to be reconsidered, the couple pointed out that demolition decisions are required to be made in a two-part process.
But instead of holding a “Demolition 1” meeting to determine historic and architectural significance and a separate “Demolition 2” hearing to consider economic and structural issues, only one meeting was held by CHAP.
Their letter also raised the issue of the lengthy gap in the official meeting video.
Asked today to explain the role of the Law Department in the matter, Holcomb declined.
“I’m not going there,” he said.
Attending today’s meeting was a lawyer for Helping Up Mission, the contract buyer for the Hendler Building that sought CHAP permission to demolish the structure before completing the purchase.
“We can’t do anything. We just have to wait and let the city’s process play out,” said Ballard Spahr attorney Jon M. Laria, referring to both the efforts to recover the video and the legal review.
The nonprofit, hoping to acquire the property from Kevin Johnson’s Commercial Group, wants to use the land as “green space for their programming,” Laria said.
Speaking outside the meeting room, Laria chided The Brew for its portrayal of the missing video footage, saying, “You made it sound like some kind of conspiracy.”
“We just want them to talk to me first” – Harry Spikes explaining what prompted CHAP’s new media policy.
Meanwhile, inside the meeting room, CHAP Chairman Harry Spikes was warning the media that the commissioners had been told not to answer reporters’ questions without checking with him first.
“We just want them to talk to me first, and then talk to Eric, and then they can talk to you all,” Spikes said.
Does that mean the commissioners cannot speak to the media?
“Oh, no,” Spikes said. “I just want to know. I don’t want to not know. I am the chairman.”
“Cause we didn’t know commissioners were being contacted,” Spikes further explained, apparently referring to their comments made in a recent Brew story about the Hendler vote.