A development group wants to build nearly 200 townhouses on the site of the former Seagram's distillery in Dundalk — a blighted collection of abandoned buildings where two people have died while trespassing and exploring.
The Sollers Point Road property, which hasn't been used as a whiskey distillery since the early 1990s, has been the scene of problems in recent years. Fires have broken out, and county officials have received complaints about graffiti, weeds, broken fences and other issues. Two men, 19-year-old Patrick Miskimon and 24-year-old Tony King Jr., died in falls in recent years.
The proposed development, which could add tens of millions of dollars in new housing to the community, has heartened officials and some residents of Dundalk. They have been working to draw new residents and rebrand an area hit hard economically by the closure of the historic Sparrows Point steel mill.
"Right now, the place is an eyesore, and dangerous," said Dave Patro, president of the North Point Village Civic Association, who supports the housing proposal. "I'd like to see people move into Dundalk. ... It's a positive thing."
Sollers Investors LLC, a group that includes developers John Vontran and Mark and Jeff Powers of the Powers Cos., owns the property and is seeking to build 194 townhomes on the 12-acre site in a development called Brewery Station, according to an application filed with the county.
Nearly all existing buildings on the Seagram's property would be razed, though a water tower and smokestack would remain on site and be incorporated into the project's design, according to the application. Today, the brick buildings are marred by broken windows and graffiti, and overgrown brush and debris dot the parking lots.
Vontran did not return messages seeking comment on the proposal. The Powers Cos. declined to comment.
The property is zoned for about 136 homes, but the developers are seeking county approval for a "planned unit development" — a designation that allows flexibility in zoning law if the project provides a community benefit. In this case, the developers say they will donate $100,000 toward recreational improvements in the Dundalk area, according to the application.
County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Democrat who represents Dundalk, has introduced a resolution authorizing county agencies to review the project. Council members are scheduled to discuss the measure Aug. 26, with a vote set for Sept. 2.
"Putting homes there would be a good thing compared to what's there now," Olszewski said. "This is just the beginning of the process."
If the resolution is approved, officials would review plans before the proposal goes to a hearing officer. Community members would then have an opportunity to comment at a meeting.
Vontran developed the nearby Yorkway project with Ryan Homes, where single-family homes replaced blighted apartments.
Prices of the homes at Brewery Station are not yet known. At another new townhouse development in the Dundalk area, the Lakes at Stansbury Shores, homes are listed at about $256,000 and $290,0000.
Amy Menzer, executive director of the nonprofit Dundalk Renaissance Corp., said her organization has not taken a formal position on Brewery Station. But she's pleased that developers are interested in the community.
"I live right behind the property so I, personally, will be happy to see it get redeveloped," she said.
Menzer's organization recently launched a campaign to rebrand Dundalk in hopes of attracting new homeowners.
"I'm happy to see there are a number of developers interested in investing in the Dundalk area," she said. "I think that's an encouraging sign for Dundalk overall. Obviously, the specifics of each proposal need to be reviewed and the community needs to have input."
At a community meeting last month regarding Brewery Station, residents raised concerns about the width of the homes, parking and stormwater management, she said. "It was a mix of opinions, but the main gist was people wanted the project to be as good as it can be."
Some of the incidents related to complaints at the former plant stem from trespassing. According to police, Miskimon was exploring the warehouse in August 2012 when he fell three stories to his death. In December 2013, King fell 14 feet from a walkway inside one of the buildings. He was dead when police arrived.
The parents of Miskimon have criticized Vontran for not having demolished the structures. Vontran has previously said he bears no responsibility because he tried to secure the site and posted "No Trespassing" signs.
Miskimon's father, Arthur, said the Brewery Station proposal does not satisfy him. He questioned whether prospective residents would want to live close to railroad tracks that run near the property.
"It should be flattened," he said. "There's not much use for that property."
According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, the site has not been used as a distillery since about 1992. After that, a welder, a print shop, a lawn care company and a furniture refinisher used the property until those businesses left as well.
The site is named in a state cleanup program and must have a "response action plan" approved by regulators to address concerns about metals and toxic chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that have been detected in soil and groundwater at the site, according to state environmental officials.
The state previously approved a response action plan for the site, but that was for a proposal for apartments. MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said an updated plan must be submitted because there are different standards for townhouses — where yards would be controlled by individual homeowners who could disturb the soil by digging or planting trees.