Mixed-use development proposed off I-83 in north Baltimore

Landex Cos. presented preliminary plans to Baltimore City's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel on Thursday for a $50 million, mixed-use development.

The plans call for about 400 market-rate apartments, 500 to 600 parking spaces and an undetermined amount of retail on 8 acres off Interstate 83 and West Cold Spring Lane in north Baltimore.

Construction could start as early as the end of the year and would take 18 to 20 months if the project gets UDARP's blessing and city zoning approval, said Donald Kann, president of the architectural firm Kann Partners, which is designing the development at 2001 W. Cold Spring Lane. It would not be a planned unit development, he said.

The complex would be located west of the Cold Spring light rail station, near the Coldspring-Newtown community, Northern District Police Headquarters, Loyola University Maryland's new sports stadium and the Waldorf School of Baltimore.

The Jones Falls hiking and biking trail, which the city last week agreed to expand from Cylburn Arboretum and Mansion to the Mount Washington light rail station, would extend through the Landex site, Kann said.

The project is an expanded variation on a 2012 "town center" proposal that called for 250 apartments and 30,000 square feet of retail on 5 acres. That version was handicapped by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s plans to build a substation with a high-voltage transformer on 26 acres — known as the Melvale property — that BGE owned next to the Landex site. Landex Chairman Judith Siegel, told the Roland Park Civic League during a presentation in 2012 that Landex wasn't keen on marketing apartments that would be next to such a substation.

Now, after lengthy negotiations with Landex, based in Linthicum, and the city, BGE plans to build the substation on another site across Cold Spring Lane, Siegel told UDARP members. Landex is picking up 3 of BGE's acres and expanding its project, Siegel said.

Also helping to literally clear the way for Landex was the city's implosion last year of a 79-year-old, 258-foot-tall gas tank with a 218-foot circumference at Cold Spring and the Jones Falls Expressway.

"It's been a very long journey," Siegel said, adding, "It's just worked out beautifully."

"We had a series of things to solve," Kann said. But he added, "The vision hasn't changed."

As part of the two-phase project, Landex would build a footbridge over Cold Spring Lane in Phase 1, making it easier for people to reach not only Landex's property, but the Cold Spring Lane light rail station, which is widely viewed as inaccessible, because it has no parking and forces many people to cross busy Cold Spring Lane at I-83.

Landex plans to emphasize the aesthetics of the woods surrounding the development site, which includes 20 acres of open space. Kann called it "a wonderful residential setting [but] with functional challenges."

The development would include a promenade, or plaza with outdoor seating.

"We really want to take advantage of the view," Kann said.

Landex was vague about the retail aspect of the plans, which left some UDARP panelists concerned. Panelist Gary Bowden said the site seems better suited to smaller retail, and panelist Richard Burns said the project would be better defined once the developer decides what kind of retail to put there.

"Is it convenient retail for the neighborhood (like a convenience store) or a village atmosphere, a mini-Cross Keys?" Burns asked, referring to the boutique stores of the Village of Cross Keys shopping center.

"I don't know what this project feels like," Burns said. "It's not urban. It's not suburban."

At least one retailer, a coffee store, is interested, Kann said.

Bowden said the site is big enough to promote "a sense of place," but that the project seemed ill-defined where it meets Cold Spring Lane.

"How am I entering and into what?" he asked.

He also questioned whether it would be a Transit-Oriented Development, which Baltimore City planners envision it as being in the city's comprehensive rezoning process.

"We're still trying to resolve that," Kann said.

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