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Westport developers propose more green space, walkability in response to community feedback

The developer of the waterfront parcel located in South Baltimore’s Westport neighborhood proposed adding more public green space, walkability and accessibility for people with disabilities in its design plan.

Westport, spanning 43 acres along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River, is one of the city’s last undeveloped waterfront sites. Baltimore County’s Stonewall Capital, working with Morris & Ritchie Associates, purchased the massive stretch of land from Under Armour founder Kevin Plank in October, and proposed adding 1,300 residential units there to a panel of city officials in December.

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But December’s proposal struck current Westport residents, who live farther away from the water, as exclusionary, with some saying that the plans would cut off neighbors from the water and promote two separate communities in the same district.

Stonewall and MRA sought to address those concerns during a virtual Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel presentation Thursday. In an email, Stonewall Capital principal Ray Jackson said the new proposal incorporates all the comments gathered from the last meeting, and now includes 15 acres of public park space that will be accessible to all.

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The revised plan focused on creating more equitable access to the water and opening “view corridors” from the existing Westport to the water, said Doug McCoach, MRA’s director of planning and urban design. McCoach said the proposed design emphasizes opportunities for recreational activities, including water sports and walking trails, all while factoring in space for rising tides around the cove.

Revised schematics show clearer pathways to the water from the existing Westport, ensuring that residents will not have to pass over the Maryland Transit Administration’s Light Rail track by foot.

After Thursday’s meeting, Keisha Allen, a longtime Westport community leader and president emeritus of the neighborhood association, said community leaders and Jackson have been in regular communication. She said Westport residents now “see some of their concerns reflected” in the revisions, most notably in the increased park space, the attention to improving walkability along Kloman Street, and enhanced visibility to the water.

“This impacts us, because we’re already here. We have to be comfortable first,” Allen said. “The biggest thing, for me, is being able to see the water. Water shouldn’t be a right of privilege.”

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During Thursday’s meeting, McCoach also discussed intentionally minimizing the number of commercial elements located at the site to make the area feel like less of a gathering place and more of a residential neighborhood. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, there might be less appetite for retail amenities in the future, he said.

Westport could include such additions as a coffee shop, restaurant or convenience store, but “it would be a mistake to try to overload retail in this project,” McCoach said.

Jackson said it will take 12 to 18 more months to start construction and the project will need a minimum of five years to complete. The team will continue refining the master plan before beginning work on the individual site development plans, which have been broken into six phases.

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