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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter9:21 amApr 30, 20240

Sheila Dixon installed windows at her home that violated preservation rules and ignored city building code

So far, there have been no citations, fines or other consequences for Baltimore’s ex-mayor, who is running for her former office in the May 14 primary

Above: The arched front window (at right) that violates Baltimore’s building and historic preservation regulations. (Mark Reutter)

Early last December, mayoral candidate Sheila Dixon had vinyl picture windows placed in her Hunting Ridge home without a building permit and in violation of preservation rules for replacing windows in a historic district.

In the five months since the violations were confirmed by the city in internal emails, the Baltimore Housing Department and the Commission for Historical and Architectural Review (CHAP) have taken no concrete steps to address the violations, such as issuing fines or demanding that she replace the non-compliant windows.

Instead, the city is “negotiating” with the former mayor, who is seeking to reclaim her job in the May 14 Democratic Party primary.

“We’re working with her to find an amenable situation that works for her, works for us and meets our guidelines,” Eric Holcomb, executive director of CHAP, said Monday, hinting that the agency may give Dixon more time to replace the windows due to “financial hardship” or let her seek an exemption from the full CHAP board.

Dixon was not made available for an interview.

Martha McKenna, a campaign advisor, released the following statement to The Brew this morning:

“Mayor Dixon has been working with CHAP about the replacement windows on her home and a resolution is close. If an involved citizen like Sheila can inadvertently upset the historic trust when she buys replacement windows, clearly we need to make the information more widely known for Baltimore homeowners looking to make repairs and upgrades on their homes.  We want to encourage people to invest in and upgrade their homes all across Baltimore.”

The widely publicized rules that the ex-mayor violated are a consequence of an ordinance that Dixon herself introduced and sponsored in 2003 when she was president of the City Council.

The law established a CHAP historic district in Hunting Ridge, a community bordered by Edmondson Avenue and Leakin Park in West Baltimore known for a mix of century-old Tudor, French Eclectic, Spanish Mission and Cape Cod Colonial residences.

In 2007, Dixon acquired ownership of the Tudor-styled house she had lived in with her second husband, Thomas E. Hampton, as part of a divorce settlement.

CHAP guidelines require that distinctive architectural elements in such historic buildings, such as windows with curved glass or arched designs, be preserved and restored. Or if deteriorated beyond repair, be replaced with the same elements as much as possible.

Owners seeking to alter a historic building’s exterior are required to fill out a detailed “Authorization to Proceed” that is reviewed by CHAP staff.

Only if approved by CHAP is a building permit issued by the housing department.

This 2022 image from Google Maps shows the historic multi-paned sunroom windows that Dixon replaced last December with a simple vinyl installation below. (Mark Reutter)

This 2022 image from Google Maps shows two of the multi-paned sunroom windows that Dixon replaced last December with the vinyl installation below. (Mark Reutter)

sheila dixon new windows closeup

The Hunting Ridge Historic District includes the residence of its best known citizen on Winans Way. (CHAP)

The Hunting Ridge Historic District includes Dixon’s residence on Winans Way. (CHAP)

Work without a Permit

But Dixon did not hand in any paperwork to the agency, and no building permit was issued to proceed with construction, Holcomb confirmed.

On December 4, a CHAP staffer was informed that the small glass panes of four sunroom windows in Dixon’s house had been replaced with a vinyl-framed installation without mullions or wood framing.

“I do not see a permit for this property,” historic preservation planner Anthony Stewart wrote to the Hunting Ridge Neighborhood Architectural Review Committee. If his supervisor also “does not have any information on this, going to report it to housing,” he said.

At that point, the matter stalled for close to a month before Stewart, who said he had been on vacation and returned to a backlog of work, directly contacted Dixon.

Saying that the window installation “looks like this is an insert frame product, with frames wrapped with vinyl or metal,” Stewart said that “this discrepancy [with CHAP design guidelines] must be addressed before CHAP can approve the application.”

“The highly visible windows on the front facade cannot be retroactively approved and must be replaced with windows that visually replicate the historic windows”  – Email to Sheila Dixon, 1/16/24.

He continued that “we can apply our design guidelines strictly or leniently depending on site conditions,” explaining:

“We can retroactively approve the windows that face the side/rear yard. However, the highly visible windows on the front facade cannot be retroactively approved and must be replaced with windows that visually replicate the historic windows,” he told Dixon, cc’ing his message to Holcomb.

The email correspondence was dated January 16, 2024.

There the matter lay as the political race heated up between Dixon and three opponents – incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott, former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah and businessman Bob Wallace. Scott beat Dixon in a tight race in 2020, and the two are running neck-to-neck in the polls on the eve of early voting, which starts on May 2.

Holcomb said that in a typical case where building alterations are made without CHAP approval, the agency sends out a building inspector who can issue a “stop work” order and issue a fine of $1,000 or more.

“And if the party does not come talk to CHAP within 30 days, inspectors will issue another citation. So most people will work with us rather quickly,” he added.

Sheila Dixon announces the endorsement of her candidacy by State's Attorney Ivan Bates earlier this month. (Friends for Sheila Dixon)

Sheila Dixon announces the endorsement of her candidacy by State’s Attorney Ivan Bates (in blue suit) earlier this month. (Friends for Sheila Dixon)

Violation by Catherine Pugh

This is not the first time a high-ranking elected official did construction work without a building permit.

In 2019, following reports in The Brew, Mayor Catherine Pugh was fined $500 for replacing the slate roof on her house in Ashburton with asphalt shingles without authorization from CHAP.

Pugh fined $500 for new roof without permit after The Brew reported lapses (4/24/2019)

Connected contractor renovated Pugh’s house at a discount (4/2/2019)

In Dixon’s case, a “special case” was entered into the permits system in December, citing work done without permits at her Winans Way address, after an inspector looked at the property.

But no citation or fines were ever issued to the ex-mayor, according to Holcomb.

Asked how Dixon proposes to resolve the matter, Holcomb said, “I think it has a lot to do with how much time we will give her to fix the situation.”

He said the former mayor could appeal to the full commission to win an exemption. So far, such a request has not been made.

• To reach a reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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