The city's design panel gave a qualified go-ahead to a new $80 million mixed use project in Locust Point Thursday, marking another step in the evolution of the once dominantly industrial neighborhood.

The roughly 10-story 900 E. Fort Avenue redevelopment, the product of a partnership that includes Bozzuto Development Company, sits on a large parcel at the entrance to Locust Point, where General Electric operated a service center for more than 40 years.

Located on a key Locust Point corner, the project enters a neighborhood transformed over the last decade with the renovation of structures at Tide and Silo points, the addition of McHenry Row, and dozens of new townhomes. More offices are in the works for the former Phillips Food headquarters. 

The project, designed by KTGY Architecture + Planning, comes from the same conceptual family as the Fitzgerald units near the Maryland Institute College of Art and the Union Wharf apartments across the Inner Harbor in Fells Point, which were also built by Bozzuto. 

Plans call for an industrial-gray building with bronze-colored metallic accents. The structure stacks 290 "upscale" residential units on top of a base of ground floor retail and two and a half floors of parking. The apartments are set around two courtyards, one of which includes an infinity pool with a view of the Inner Harbor. A rooftop lounge will also be open to the public.

"Union Wharf is very contextual with the historical Fells Point context. This is intended to be on more of an industrial grid and a more contemporary interpretation of that," Bozzuto vice president Jeffrey M. Kayce said.

The development team also includes Solstice Partners.

Members of the city's Urban Design & Architecture Review Panel praised the group for progress made since plans were first presented last September. (A bright red motif presented then has been scrapped, for example.)

Some said they still have doubts about the coherence of the building and raised questions about one of the entrances to the apartments, some of the materials being used, and a darker colored grid that overlays parts of the exterior walls.

"Architecture has to have rules.... If it doesn't, it's chaos," said panel member Richard Burns. "There just doesn't seem to me ... a set of rules that would allow you to understand this building other than that it's a bunch of arbitrary moves and I find that somewhat troubling." 

"I want to like the building. I'm just having a hard time liking something that I don't understand," he said.

Planning Director Thomas Stosur said the questions represented "tweaks." The UDARP panel approved the design, while asking that two members meet further to go over the questions. 

The project, across from the Southside Market Place and bounded by Lawrence Street, Key Highway and Fort Avenue, must receive more city approvals before construction starts. Kayce of Buzzuto said he hopes to break ground by the end of the year, with completion planned for two years after that.

"I'm glad that we're moving forward," he said.