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Seawall plans redevelopment of three blocks of Remington Avenue

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Seawall Development Corp., which is reinventing Remington with numerous projects, has unveiled detailed plans for its biggest one yet — the redevelopment of a three-block swath of Remington Avenue with retail, apartments, nonprofit offices and parking garages between 27th and 29th streets.

The shops and other businesses would be based on what residents are telling Seawall officials they want, with ideas already including a day care center, restaurants, doctor's offices, a health club, a gymnasium, an art gallery, a bank, and incubator space for small businesses.

"If the community wants a barbecue joint, I'm going to find the best barbecue joint I can find," Evan Morville, a Seawall partner, told 50 people at a community meeting Saturday. He envisions the project as "neighborhood retail," with no big-box stores planned, he said, but did not rule out chain stores.

Morville said Seawall hopes to start construction on the $35 million project in June 2014 and do all three blocks at the same time, finishing in June 2015.

The ambitious project does not include an 11-acre site at Howard and 25th streets, where developer Rick Walker was planning 25th Street Station, a shopping center on the Anderson Honda property. Bruce Mortimer, owner of that property and president of the Anderson Automotive Group, has since pulled the plug on that project, and is selling the site to Seawall to develop. But the site is now the subject of a lawsuit.

The separate project on Remington Avenue is actually three distinct projects.

In the 2700 block, a "hodgepodge" of 10 underutilized and vacant properties, including several storage lots and an old church, would be torn down to make way for a five-story, U-shaped building, with 8,500 square feet of retail on street level, 130 rental apartments above, and 177 parking spaces, 127 of them underground and 50 in the building itself.

Most of the apartments would be in the $1,100 to $1,400 range per month, aimed at young professionals, Morville said.

Seawall is 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 is also rehabbing numerous row houses in the area so that its teacher tenants can buy them eventually as first-time home owners.

And, Seawall has announced plans to use a former tire shop on Howard Street as the future home of Single Carrot Theatre, Young Audiences of Maryland and a restaurant/butcher shop. The latter is restaurateur Spike Gjerde's newest venture, a spinoff from his acclaimed Woodberry Kitchen.

Seawall has a long waiting list for Union Mill and Miller's Court apartments and would direct those on the list to the apartments in the 2700 block of Remington Avenue. But the apartments wouldn't be marketed just to teachers, Morville said.

In the 2800 block, Seawall would redevelop the Anderson body shop as 21,000 square feet of retail, as well as 101 parking spaces, some of which would be inside the building. Morville said he considered building apartments above the retail, but decided against it, because it would have required making the building taller to make it financially viable.

"I wasn't going to bring that to the community," he said.

In the 2900 block, two existing buildings would be redeveloped with 28,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. A Pizza Boli's would be razed for additional parking, Morville said.

Seawall can redevelop the sites "by right," as proposed, under existing B-3-2 commercial zoning, without the need for zoning exceptions, and has no plans to make the project a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, he said.

Reinventing Remington

The scope of the project and its possible implications were not lost on residents.

"It will change Remington very, very much," said the Rev. Alice Jellema, longtime pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Guardian Angel.

Michelle Sanzi Kermes, owner of an art studio on Fawcett Street, questioned whether Seawall was in danger of over-developing the area and what the impact would be on projects such as Hekemian & Co.'s plans to redevelop the Rotunda shopping mall in nearby Hampden.

"We're going to put uses in these buildings that residents specifically requested," responded Morville, who earlier handed out a list of 53 types of businesses that residents have already told Seawall they would like to see.

Remington resident Barbara Fisher offered a 54th.

"I think a community center would be very beneficial," said Fisher, who lives across the street from Anderson, in the 2800 block of Remington Avenue.

Jellema worried that the development plans could have a negative impact on renters, driving up rents and driving people out. Jellema said she fears that people won't be able to afford to live in Remington, "just like you can't live in Hampden anymore," as that community has gentrified.

Other residents worried about the impact on traffic and asked whether streets like 29th should be made one way. Morville said the project is big enough that the city would require a traffic impact study. He said he would listen to whatever the study recommends and the community wants, and that he has no personal opinion.

Most residents applauded the project and several high-fived Morville after the meeting.

"I think you're doing a great job already," said Kristin Cairns, 32, a development advisor for the State Department in Washington, who has lived in Remington for four years with her husband, Peter, a law student at the University of Maryland.

"It's nice to see more economic vitality in the area," she said.

'Perfect pocket'

Allison McElheny, a Remington resident and an architect, said she is "completely excited" about Seawall's plans.

"Remington is ideal for a project like this," said McElheny, 34. She said the community is a short bike ride from downtown, near parks and institutions like Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, and is within walking distance of Hampden.

"It's kind of an undiscovered gem," she said. "It's a perfect pocket to do something like this."

"I just want to thank you, as someone who typically drives outside Remington to find good retail," said Rebecca Scollan, 32, an information technology specialist for a national nonprofit.

Morville promised to keep working with the community to advise him on the redevelopment project.

"So," Jellema asked at the end of the meeting, "the conversation continues?"

"Absolutely," Morville said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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