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Community planned for chrome plant site


The owner of one of the last undeveloped parcels along Baltimore's downtown waterfront moved closer yesterday to making it a vibrant link between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

Representatives of Allied Signal Inc. joined with Baltimore City Council members and neighborhood leaders to introduce legislation that would allow the company's former chrome processing plant to be transformed into a waterfront community.

"We've reached a significant milestone in . . . introducing ordinances that will enable development of this site," said Allied Signal senior project manager William R. Blank.

A 3,000-to-4,000-seat performing arts center near the southwest tip of the peninsula -- envisioned as a possible replacement for the 26-year-old Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Charles Center -- is a potential part of the project.

The council bills would permit construction of up to 2 million square feet of offices, residences and shops, with an estimated value of $200 million or more, on a 27.4-acre site near Philpot and Wills streets.

There also would be a promenade along the waterfront, garages for 2,600 cars, 9.6 acres of parks and a grid of new streets and sidewalks.

The legislation would permit mid-rise construction and open space closest to the waterfront, with taller buildings in the center. No building would rise more than 180 feet -- about 16 stories.

Introduction of the council bills is a sign that the property owner and its consultants have reached consensus with the surrounding community on the direction that the development ought to take.

"For basically the last 10 months the community has been negotiating with Allied, and the community groups feel comfortable with the legislation that is going forward," said council member Perry Sfikas, D-1st.

"This project will increase the tax base and bring jobs to the area," added council member Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., also D-1st.

The legislation is a key step in efforts by Allied Signal and its consultants to obtain the city, state, and federal approvals they need to proceed with construction on the land, which has been contaminated by 140 years of chrome processing.

Allied Signal, which closed its chrome plant in 1985, is spending $90 million to $100 million to clean up the site. But it cannot design a "cap" intended as a buffer between the surface and the contaminated ground underneath until it knows what the city will authorize.

Environmentalists have expressed skepticism that much of the land ever could be developed intensively. But Allied officials have taken the position that the multilayer containment cap will make the site safe for reuse.

In 1991 they hired the Enterprise Development Co. and Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse to assess development options after the site is capped in 1995.

The company has met extensively with community leaders and city officials to draft the legislation.

Under Allied's timetable, no development would begin on the contaminated parcel until 1996. Development could begin on the easternmost portion of the land covered by the legislation, however, because it is not part of the contaminated site.

Introduced by Mr. Sfikas, Mr. D'Adamo, and 5th District council member Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, the legislative package includes three bills: one that would change zoning for the site from industrial to commercial use; one that would allow the site to be developed as a "planned unit development"; and one that would amend the master plan for the Fells Point Urban Renewal Area, which includes the Allied site, to reflect some of the proposed land uses and street configurations.

The legislation was written with the assumption that Allied would continue to own the land and would lease the air rights for redevelopment. The bills give Allied the flexibility to proceed in increments or to turn the land over to one or two large users, such as a federal agency.

The bills specify no breakdown between the amount of office use and residences, so the final development can respond to market needs. But the urban renewal plan limits construction to no more than 1.1 million square feet of office space and no more than 400 residences.

The tip of the peninsula was designated for public uses such as a performing arts center, planners said, because it is the most visible and they believed it was too valuable to turn over to private uses.

A 1992 study by the Abell Foundation indicated that the city may need to build a larger theater to replace the Mechanic, which is leased by the quasi-public Baltimore Center for the Performing Arts.

The idea of a new performing arts center also was mentioned in the city's 20-year strategy for guiding development.

One bill would require that a task force of community representatives work closely with Allied and the city as site development proceeds.

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