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Proposed apartment project in Baltimore’s Clipper Mill creates more strife

A plan to turn an old warehouse used for parking in Clipper Mill into apartments has become the latest flash point with neighbors in this enclave of 19th-century brick and stone buildings in the Jones Falls Valley.

The Tractor Building, as it’s known, is one of four large parcels left to develop in the Woodberry area that is anchored by the Woodberry Kitchen restaurant, which opened in 2007. It’s also the largest building and the last mill building left untouched from its industrial past.

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Some neighbors already have chafed at the prospect of adding more than 300 new apartments in the 17-acre area, which has seen a lot of redevelopment and new building in recent years. They have said they fear traffic and parking problems, and disruption of the nature of the area they call “The Village.”

They also protested the demolition of two old stone houses just outside the Clipper Mill development area that were abruptly razed in May to make way for another apartment project. That move came after a year of assurances that the homes would be incorporated into the design.

Developer ValStone Partners’ plans call for tearing out the interior, roof and back wall of the Tractor building and erecting a 99-unit apartment building inside it that would use the other three restored brick exterior walls as a design element. The apartment project would rise several stories above what is now the building’s roof and include 200 parking spaces on lower floors and an adjacent lot.

Some neighbors are objecting specifically to the changes to the roof, which has seven dormer-style window structures that serve a massive skylights.

Neighbors have written city officials, including those serving on an architectural review board that met Thursday to consider the designs to transform the building.

“The owners of the Tractor Building have proposed alterations which do not retain the historic features of the building, notably the seven structures on the roof which let light into the interior,” wrote John C. Murphy, an attorney representing the neighbors, in a mid-August letter to the board, called the Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel.

“This is a signature feature of the building,” Murphy wrote. “The removal of the roof structures will be a significant alteration of the historic character of this building.”

Neighbors also wrote to the city’s planning director to require that the project be reviewed by the Maryland Historical Trust and the city’s historic preservation panel to make the building a landmark.

Murphy said there has been no response.

Caroline Paff, a principal in VI Development, a consultant to the property owner, ValStone, said other neighbors have expressed support for the plan to redevelop the warehouse, used for little except for some parking.

“We believe the design presented today is an exciting transition for the Tractor Building which has been boarded up for decades,” she said in an email before Thursday’s meeting.

Martin Marren, the principal architect on the project, said that at the panel’s — and neighbors’ — request, the developer would consider retooling the project somewhat to retain at least some of the roof structures but it was not clear how keeping all of them would be possible.

The design now is something of “a building within a building,” with a new structure inside the old facade.

Larry Jennings, a partner at ValStone, said Thursday at the panel’s meeting that it would be possible to convert parking spaces to other uses if they are not in demand in the area, which is near a Light Rail stop and popular with young people who don’t own cars.

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There is no timeline for construction, with the project still in need of city approvals. It also won’t be the first building under construction. That will be another building near the enclave’s entrance, known as the Poole and Hunt parcel, now a parking lot.

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