A $75 million proposed waterfront tower that has riled Canton for nearly two years might become the first significant Baltimore project to die in recent memory.
The Icon, which goes before the City Council's land use committee this evening, faces unambiguous opposition from key city leaders, including the council member representing the Southeast Baltimore district and Mayor Sheila Dixon. With no overt support on the council and a thumbs-down from the mayor who must ultimately sign the bill, officials say the project is likely to die in committee.
City Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector said yesterday that things look so grim for the project that there was talk of canceling today's hearing.
"What is the value of even having the hearing if you know its going to be dead on arrival?" Specter said. "Recognizing that no matter what the committee would do, the mayor would not sign it."
Andy Frank, Baltimore's deputy mayor for development, said Dixon will not support the Icon because she shares the Canton community's concerns about how the tower might overload congested Boston Street.
"This project has shone a light on traffic and density in Southeast Baltimore, and it's an appropriate light," Frank said. "I have the same concerns the mayor has."
The Icon, a condominium and retail project, would rise about 260 feet, or 23 stories, from what is now a parking lot for the Lighthouse Point shopping center, a nondescript waterfront plaza anchored by a Blockbuster Video.
Before it can be built, the City Council must allow what is called a "major amendment" to Lighthouse Point's 1980s building plan so that the developers could put more on the property than what was originally allowed.
To build higher than 72 feet, the developers also need an amendment to Canton's urban renewal ordinance.
These changes have not only been endorsed by the city's Planning Department, but also by Baltimore's Planning Commission and its design review panel.
Despite the opposition from community and city leaders, the project's developers remain confident that the Icon will be built.
Marco Greenberg, vice president of the Timonium-based Cignal Corp., said the council should defer to city planners.
"The experts are recommending this thing, and I don't know how the administration can ignore the recommendation of city agencies," he said. "Ultimately [the project is] good for the neighborhood, and it's good for the city."
In the summer of 2005, Cignal began introducing the planned Icon to Canton's cluster of community associations, who greeted what was then a more ambitious proposal -- taller and with an adjoining hotel -- with skepticism.
One association after another declared the project overwhelming and too much building for the space.
That sentiment did not change -- even as Cignal scaled back its plans.
"I think there is a small but very vocal group in the community who just doesn't want to see anything built on the site," Greenberg said. "'Don't build anything' is not a compromise."
Nancy A. Braymer, a Canton Square resident and Icon opponent, insists the project is inappropriate for the neighborhood -- too tall and too dense.
"What positive justification has the developer and the Planning Department offered in support of this proposal?" she said. "The only rationale that has been articulated is that currently, the property is not being put to 'its highest and best use.' 'Highest' is not the same as 'best.'"