Clipper Mill owner plans more apartments, worrying neighbors of the historic enclave

A developer wants to complete the transformation of the historic cotton mill complex of Clipper Mill by tripling the number of apartments there, a proposal that is raising questions about traffic, parking and how much is too much from residents in the area.

“The village,” as many locals call it, is filled with 19th-century brick and stone buildings updated with modern flair and anchored by Woodberry Kitchen, which helped pioneer the farm-to-table movement in Baltimore when it settled in the Foundry building in 2007.

About a year after ValStone Partners, a Michigan-based private equity investment firm, spent nearly $19 million on multiple buildings in the 17.5-acre enclave west of Hampden, the company is eyeing gaps in the footprint for hundreds of new apartments, perhaps a coffee shop and sandwich place, small offices and parking garages.

The Baltimore-run arm of the firm plans to take advantage of the nearby light rail and new transit-oriented zoning, “and provide for a variety of lifestyle choices while respecting the vibrant and healthy neighborhood that was created more than 15 years ago,” said Caroline Paff, a principal at VI Development, which is consulting on the ValStone project.

ValStone has no formal designs but plans to add 336 new two- and three-bedroom units by building on three parking lots and overhauling an old warehouse known as the Tractor building.

Its plans would fill much of the large parcels left undeveloped by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, which redeveloped the mill complex before foundering in the last recession.

Some residents who live in and around the development say so many new apartments may be a lot for the highly trafficked area to absorb.

“In an area that has seen so much smart development, will a developer throw our insightful planning away for what could be a heap of cash?” said Brennen Jensen, who moved with his wife and dogs in 2009 to Clipper Road, the development’s eastern boundary.

Unlike the familiar ring of Not In My Backyard that often fuels opposition to new development in many neighborhoods, most residents of Clipper Mill and surrounding areas who attended a four-and-a-half-hour meeting with developers Tuesday evening hosted by City Councilman Leon F. Pinkett did not oppose development. Since the residential neighborhood of Clipper Mill isn’t all that old, many recognized that they have benefited from the investments.

But residents voiced many concerns about the proposal, including worsening existing traffic and parking problems, the number of units that might go unfilled and depress property values, the height of the proposed buildings of six stories or more, and the lack of new retail and office space.

Charlie Cronheim, who moved to his condo in 2008, joined others in telling the developers that property owners who own two-thirds of the land and assessed value have a right to have a say.

“I’m all for ValStone investing and doing things and making money,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s done in consideration of the entire community.”

Margo Halle, who moved four years ago to a home facing the development’s southern edge, said she appreciated ValStone’s willingness to engage with the community. She said she came for the “artisan-residential village-like ambiance” and sees why others would want to come there too.

“I get progress and development,” she said.

Area residents say they are feeling a pinch because the Clipper Mill development is among several planned, underway or recently completed in the greater Hampden area area. Neighbors are trying to keep a developer from demolishing two 1840s-era stone buildings on Clipper Road outside the ValStone development for up to 80 more apartments.

ValStone officials said they considered four other new developments in the area when they conducted their traffic study.

Data indicates why the area still may look so attractive to developers.

“Between 2010 and 2016 median income has gone up more than the citywide average as has median home sales, commercial properties with rehab permits and the [violent and property] crime rate has gone down,” said Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, which tracks demographic data for the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance.

Median household income in the Medfield-Hampden-Woodberry-Remington area rose to $49,000 from $34,000 between 2000 and 2010, and by 2016 it was more than $61,000. The citywide average was $47,350.

Iyer’s data shows close to 10 percent of the area’s residents reported that they use public transportation to get to work, and almost another 5 percent use a bike or other alternative.

ValStone specifically wants to capitalize on that. Still, Paff said the firm is aware of the community’s concerns about the possible density and infrastructure issues. She said that two of the buildings may not be built in the near future or at all.

But Paff said planning for all four buildings is continuing and she convened the project’s consultants on Tuesday to explain how they might manage environmental and water issues, as well as traffic and parking and the development process itself.

The project’s guiding document, a 15-year-old planned unit development map, will need to be scrapped or redone through the legislative process because the city has since completed an overhaul of its zoning code. Under the new zoning, the project is allowed fewer residential units but limited on other types of development.

Residents see a new PUD as a way to have more input. Pinkett said he was still reviewing the zoning and considering residents views and had not determined what he would pursue through the council this summer and fall.

Paff said she and others on the project were grateful that so many neighbors — about 75 — came to the meeting to have “a constructive discussion on next steps for community engagement.”

She said the development team would continue to meet with neighbors and solicit specific suggestions. Some criticisms, like lack of retail and other spaces, contradicted comments from previous meetings, she said. Team members will consider changes as they update official plans, with or without a new PUD, that may need permission under new zoning.

“We understood from the beginning of the planning process the community is concerned about parking availability and maintaining the character of Clipper Mill, which is tied to the historic uses, authentic materials and the close-knit nature of the neighborhood,” said Paff, who joined the effort earlier this year from Sagamore Development, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s development company.

The development team expects to work out the zoning issues by the end of the year, Paff said. Design work will proceed and work could begin in the first half of next year. Construction on each site could take 12 to 18 months, and the project could be completed by 2023.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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