The neighbors who live in traditional rowhouses in Locust Point, a tight-knit neighborhood in South Baltimore, say they’ve seen a lot of development in the last 15 years or so and welcomed much of it despite more traffic and other inconveniences.
But the proposed nine-story building with retail, offices and apartments on Key Highway between Woodall and Stevenson streets would be about four times the height of the homes surrounding it. It’s just too much, prompting a not-in-my-backyard push by residents who said this is the first full-scale revolt against a developer in the neighborhood that anyone could remember.
“This will be 30 feet from my house, and the impact is frankly huge to me and my neighbors… It will ruin the neighborhood,” Anthony Vittoria, a Woodall resident and former Locust Point Civic Association president, told a city panel considering whether to allow such a tall building on the formerly industrial site.
He was among three dozen neighbors who lined up late Tuesday afternoon to fruitlessly protest the project before Baltimore’s Board of Municipal & Zoning Appeals.
Shortly after the hours-long board meeting, the board decided in the favor of developer Dan Goodier, principal in Goodier Properties, which redeveloped and has offices in a nearby Key Highway project that also houses a bike shop, ad agency and coffee shop.
“This is tough,” Goodier said after the board meeting. “I very much want to build something with amenities for the neighborhood. I want to see the neighborhood thrive.”
The sides had been talking for a year and had not come up with a compromise. The neighbors said they felt “strong-armed” into going along with a massive structure that staff on the zoning board described as “looming” over the mostly two-story rowhouses next door, before officially recommending the board not approve the project.
But the board couldn’t veto the project on property largely zoned for mixed-use developments. It could have ordered developers to stick to the maximum height of 60 feet, rather than 100 feet. But it needed a really good reason to even do that since the zoning law presumes the extra height is okay. It could have rejected a request to ignore established set-backs around a parking garage but didn’t do that either.
The project calls for ground-floor retail shops, four floors of offices and then perhaps four or five more floors of apartments, all fronting Key Highway across from the Domino Sugar plant on the Baltimore waterfront. A five-story garage would replace a grassy yard and another old building that is still zoned for industrial uses.
Goodier spent almost $2.7 million cobbling together three properties last year. He said he tried to work on a compromise with the neighbors for over a year, but none of them saw it that way. They saw the building height grow after negotiations that they said quickly became tense and broke down.
Many who testified at Tuesday’s meeting talked about a small area around the proposed development where everyone knows everyone. They stoop sit, host neighborhood events and send their kids to the local public school.
They worried about traffic and parking, as well as more improperly discarded trash and dog poop. They fretted about property values and even sunlight, though the developer produced an impact study that said shadows would be minimal in the mornings. Some worried about the dangerous dust kicked up from digging on an old industrial site and destabilizing their foundations.
Mostly, though, neighbor after neighbor said it just wasn’t appropriate. Domino Sugar and the local city councilman, Eric Costello, sided with the neighbors.
“A building of this scale is simply not in sync with existing structures in the immediately adjacent area of Locust Point,” Costello wrote to the board in a Sept. 1 letter he provided to The Baltimore Sun. “Furthermore, a residential use is not appropriate directly across the street from heavy industrial use at Domino Sugar.”
In the end, Joseph Woolman, lawyer for the developers, told the board that he understood there would be negative impacts from such a project but that legally the board had little choice but to okay the project.
Goodier said the development team has more architecture and design work to do but hope to start work soon.
“Despite the community’s opposition to the project and their feeling that this is simply a ‘strong-arm’ tactic on our part, we are going to continue to develop the project keeping their various concerns in mind,” he said. “Our goal from the beginning has been, and will continue to be, the development of a project that is a complement to the community for the long term and we hope that we can address as many of the neighbors' concerns as possible.”
Goodier said he was willing to continue meeting with the community.
Justin Grossman, a Stevenson Street resident and neighborhood association board/design review member, said the group was disappointed but would continue the fight.
The building’s design still faces review by the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel and the project must pass muster with the Planning Commission.