Construction could begin within a year on a planned 1,300-unit waterfront community in the South Baltimore neighborhood of Westport after the developer agreed to sell parcels to town house and apartment builders.
Stonewall Capital, based in Sparks, finalized its planned purchase Friday of 43 acres along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. The property was sold by Westport Property Investments, an entity controlled by the real estate firm of Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, for an as yet undisclosed amount.
Stonewall is subdividing one of the city’s last undeveloped waterfront sites into six parcels and has contracts or is in negotiations to sell three of them for housing or commercial development, said Stonewall principal Ray Jackson. He did not disclose the contract sales prices.
After previous failed attempts by others to develop Westport’s waterfront, the timing is finally right, Jackson believes, because of a strong rental and for-sale housing market, construction progress in nearby Port Covington, the attraction of relatively affordable new homes on the water and proximity to Interstate 95.
“The market is still good, and the proximity and location are phenomenal,” Jackson said.
A more than 3-acre site close to Waterview Avenue is slated to be sold to real estate firm New Harbor Development, which works in partnership with Annapolis-based nonprofit housing developer Homes for America on affordable housing. New Harbor has the site under contract with Stonewall and plans to build 300 units in three, five-story apartment buildings, including one reserved for seniors, Jackson said.
Ryan Homes has a contract to buy an adjacent, nearly 11-acre parcel, Jackson said, where the builder plans 250, four-story town houses that are expected to sell from the mid-$300,000s to the mid-$400,000s.
Both New Harbor and Ryan have begun preliminary site work and could start construction in nine to 12 months, with construction expected to take one to two years, the developer said.
And, Jackson said, he is negotiating with South Carolina-based Woodfield Development to sell an additional 2 acres, where Woodfield would build 350 upscale apartments in a six-story building. The building would have a rooftop pool and ground-level shops and restaurants.
Those apartments and the town houses would be bridged by parkland that Stonewall plans to donate to the city for public use and connect the parcel and its riverfront with the existing Westport neighborhood.
“My vision from the beginning was to create one Westport, not an old Westport and a new Westport,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he has had two offers for a fourth parcel, a 2-acre site, planned for a four-story, 100,000-square-foot office building. Developers have approached him about building a medical office or a tech center. A separate waterfront restaurant also could be built.
But he’s exploring another possibility, creating a hub for nonprofits and nonprofit startups. Jackson said he has been in discussions with Fagan Harris, president and CEO of Baltimore Corps, which helps bring talented people into public service and entrepreneurship roles in the city, to join or lead a partnership that would take control of that parcel.
Two other parcels on the site would both be part of a second phase of development where additional apartments would be built.
The Westport development site, near the Westport light rail station, allows for the mix of multifamily, rowhouse and commercial development that Stonewall envisions. Once parcels are sold off, the new owners would need to continue the site development process with city planners.
Jackson said he has been in discussions with Westport community leaders since signing a contract to buy the property in October. The goal, he said, is to not only build up the waterfront but to revitalize and stabilize the existing Westport neighborhood.
Residents of the community have complained of lack of city attention to such problems as neglected properties and illegal drug use and sales on the streets.
Developers initially proposed the plan for 1,300 new residential units in Westport to a panel of city officials in December. But the proposal appeared exclusionary to some residents of the Westport neighborhood, who live farther from the water, across the light rail tracks from the proposed community. Some complained the plans would cut the neighborhood off from the water and result in two separate communities.
In January, Stonewall responded by presenting a new proposal to the city’s Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel that sought to address some of the concerns and include 14 acres of public and accessible park space.
The revised plan created more access to the water and opened “view corridors” from Westport to the river, developers said.
Lisa R. Hodges-Hiken, executive director of the Westport Community Economic Development Corp., said her group will meet with Jackson again next week to go over details such as the community’s stewardship of the park site.
Hodges-Hiken said the developer has supported the organization in its efforts to urge the city to crack down on the neighborhood’s owners of vacant and blighted houses and commercial properties and spur investment in Westport’s commercial corridor. The organization is looking for ways to make it feasible for small businesses and retailers to locate in the Annapolis Road corridor and it also runs a program to buy and rehab houses for affordable homeownership.
“We’re trying to make sure that existing residents can participate in the upside of all the investment that we expect to come to Westport, and folks who have been generational renters have an opportunity to buy so they’re not priced out of the market,” Hodges-Hiken said.
Westport neighborhood residents and community groups also want public access to the waterfront, and the developer has been responsive, said Brad Rogers, executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership. One goal is to end up with an accessible waterfront trail that will be part of a Middle Branch trail network that’s in the planning stages.
“A concern would be ... making sure existing residents have not only the ability to go there, but the ability to feel comfortable and that they belong there,” Rogers said. “That’s something we are all working on collectively.”
Besides involving the community in the planning stages, the proposal can be realistically achieved and does not require public subsidies, he said.
The Westport land had been purchased for $6 million at a 2015 bankruptcy auction by Plank through his real estate firm, Sagamore Development. Sagamore is a partner in the Port Covington waterfront project across the river from Westport. Port Covington developers originally envisioned connecting that project to additional development in Westport.
Jackson said Westport and Port Covington, being developed by Weller Development for Sagamore and other owners, are complementary. Developers are discussing connecting the two projects via an existing trestle bridge.
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“Our property is primarily residential based, while they have more of a commercial and retail component,” he said. “We’re not necessarily trying to attract the same homeownership or the same people to occupy the apartments.”