WorkShop Development wants to construct a five-story apartment building with nearly 90 apartments on a parking lot in Fells Point, a proposal that worries some neighbors who say the historic neighborhood is being overwhelmed with traffic and new development.
As proposed, the 2030 Aliceanna Street building would rise about 52 feet, with three floors of apartments and two levels of parking, said Richard Manekin, a partner in the Baltimore real estate firm. The project is expected to include 87 apartments — mostly studios and one-bedrooms — as well as 98 parking spaces, he said.
WorkShop, which has the property under contract, is seeking new zoning for the site to permit a project with that density. Under the current zoning, it could only construct about 40 units, the city Planning Department said.
Preliminary renderings show a brick and glass building set around a courtyard. The project would incorporate two historic buildings currently on the site, which is bordered by Aliceanna, Chester, Castle and Fountain streets, Manekin said. Baltimore's Marks, Thomas Architects is working on the design.
"We think it's a very nice project for the community. It's the right scale. It's very attractive and it fills out the aesthetics in the community," said Manekin, comparing it to nearby buildings such as one currently used by the National Aquarium.
The developers presented the plans to the Fells Prospect Community Association this month. The group did not vote or take a formal position on the project, said President Chrissy Anderson, who declined to comment further.
Some who attended the meeting said they feel the building, close to the Captain James Seafood Palace, would be out of place next to small rowhouses and worsen parking scarcity and traffic congestion in the neighborhood. They said they worry the project or developer could change and they would be stuck with the zoning revision, which could allow up to 150 units.
Making the change to allow this project would amount to spot zoning, they said.
"It just is not appropriate for a gateway into the historical district," said Deborah Tempera, 59, who owns properties nearby, lives in Fells Point and has been circulating a petition against the project. "This has a zoning code that [the Planning Department] has given us for a long time and there was a reason for it. It was well thought out, so why, all of a sudden, is it not appropriate anymore?"
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The property was used by the Cambridge Iron & Metal Co. as a scrapyard from the 1920s until the 1990s, when the company consolidated operations on Kresson Street farther east. Manekin said WorkShop intends to perform environmental remediation through a state program.
City Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents the area and sponsored City Council legislation for the change, said he supports residential development on the site, rather than the commercial uses suggested in the city's proposed comprehensive zoning code. New residents will patronize local businesses and make the neighborhood safer, he said.
He also said he trusts the WorkShop principals, who were part of teams that produced the Shops at Canton Crossing, the Bagby Building and the new Hyatt Place hotel. The firm also is working on an apartment high-rise on the former Della Notte restaurant site.
"This is a parcel that has been in the development pipeline for a decade," Kraft said of the Aliceanna plans. "We're now dealing with one of the most responsible developers that we have in the city, one who has demonstrated a continuing ability to work with the community on their projects. I want to watch the plans as they move forward, but given the history I think they're going in the right direction."
A Planning Commission hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for Thursday. The commission makes a recommendation to the City Council. The city's historic commission for historical & architectural preservation would review the project itself.
Manekin said WorkShop didn't want to wait for approval of the city's comprehensive zoning code, which has been undergoing a lengthy review. The firm hopes to get through the City Council by the end of the year and start construction in the fall of 2016.