A Baltimore City panel had a generally favorable first impression of Seawall Development Corp.'s plans for Remington Row, a $45 million mixed-use development of apartments, retail and office space that would stretch across the 2700 through 2900 blocks of Remington Avenue.
But members of the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel said they didn't know how the separate projects on each block would mesh.
Reviewing schematic plans for the first time, UDARP members appeared intrigued by the overall plan, though Gary Bowden said he had a better sense of the proposal block by block than he did of how Remington Row "ties together" as a whole.
Other members suggested that Seawall try to make the project more of a piece.
"You don't want it to look too much like three different blocks," said Diane Jones Allen.
Panel members agreed that the project is important for a gentrifying neighborhood that is widely seen as up-and-coming, yet offers little retail.
"I'm just really excited about this project," said Tom Stosur, Planning Department director, who sits on the UDARP panel.
No vote was taken and Seawall is expected to return to UDARP at a later date with changes based on the panel's comments.
Seawall plans to redevelop the three-block stretch of Remington Avenue with about 150 apartments, 8,000 square feet of office space, 250 parking spaces and more than 40,000 square feet of retail, including a 12,000 square-foot market in what is now an Anderson Automotive body shop. The plans include a new 5-story, $20 million building in the 2700 block, where underused and vacant properties would be torn down to make way for it.
The company will seek Baltimore City Council approval of Remington Row as a planned unit development, or PUD, ensuring public hearings on the project and a traffic impact study, although Seawall can do most of it by right under current B-3-2 zoning.
Some lower-income residents have said they are worried that the project, with apartment rents from $1,100 to $1,800, could gentrify the area to the point where people of limited means are priced out.
Seawall hopes to start construction in June 2014, on all three blocks at the same time.
The ambitious project does not include an 11-acre site at Howard and 25th streets, where developer Rick Walker is planning 25th Street Station, a shopping center on the Anderson property, with Walmart as its anchor.
Seawall partner Thibault Manekin told the UDARP panel that Seawall doesn't want national chain stores in Remington Row, but smaller, more local stores that can "make a name for themselves."
"We really see this as a game-changer for the neighborhood," said Christopher Harvey, a principal and director of design for Hord Coplan Macht, the architectural firm doing the project.
Seawall is already well known for redeveloping the old Union Mill in Hampden and the former U.S. Census building in Remington, now called Miller's Court, as affordable housing for new teachers and nonprofit offices.
Seawall also is rehabbing numerous row houses in the area so that its teacher tenants can buy them eventually as first-time home owners.
And Seawall is redeveloping a former tire shop on Howard Street as the future home of Single Carrot Theatre, Young Audiences of Maryland and a restaurant and butcher shop. The latter is restaurateur Spike Gjerde's newest venture, a spinoff from his acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen.
In other action, UDARP also praised initial plans for a makeover of The Village of Cross Keys Shopping Center and the razing of an aging tennis facility to make way for a 30,000-square-foot fitness center, but did not vote on the proposal.
"I think it's great," Bowden said.
Conceding that Cross Keys needs "investment," Ashkenazy Acquisitions Corp., the owner of the Cross Keys residential, retail and office complex, plans a mostly cosmetic makeover that would revamp the gatehouse, freshen the courtyard of the shopping center, and demolish the so-called "tennis barn," but keep the outside courts.
Plans include downsizing and modernizing the gatehouse at 5100 Falls Road to give the stores more visibility, updating signage and storefront exteriors surrounding the courtyard, and building a fitness center, probably with an indoor public pool, where the tennis facility is now. Ashkenazy doesn't have a tenant yet in mind, officials said.
Officials also said they hoped to use the courtyard for more public events and concerts, as Belvedere Square does on Friday evenings.