Few development projects at highly sensitive locations have had the preliminary attention accorded to the site of the old AlliedSignal chemical plant on the Inner Harbor. Instead of dropping a wrapped package at City Hall's doorstep, AlliedSignal and its local advisers have held extensive negotiations -- involving real give and take -- for 10 months. Not everyone between the harbor and Fells Point is satisfied, but so far, so good.
The AlliedSignal rendering calls for a mixture of housing, offices, shops and public facilities on the 27-acre site. At the most conspicuous point on the gateway to the Inner Harbor might be a new performing arts center to replace the Morris Mechanic Theatre. A good deal of the parcel would be reserved for open spaces, including a wider-than-required promenade around the water's edge. Building heights within the development would be limited, with low-rise structures around the perimeter and the tallest (180 feet) at the middle. The streets feeding into the tract would be straightened and extended, allowing full public access. It seems to be a satisfactory blend of public interest and commercial necessity.
Access continues to raise serious concerns, though. This calls for further scrutiny by city officials. Only two streets lead into the development, Caroline Street from the north and Thames Street from the east. And Thames Street connects with already congested Fells Point, placing the principal traffic-flow burden on Caroline Street. How is serious congestion going to be avoided at peak hours for office workers or for audiences driving to the theater in the evening hours?
Yet nothing can go forward on this site until federal and state environmental authorities agree that the major part of the site is safe from the highly toxic chromium that has polluted the soil under the old chemical plant. The chromium will never be removed, but AlliedSignal is investing nearly $100 million to contain the material so that there will never be seepage. Still, the capping process can't be completed without an idea of what will go above the buffer. That is why the company seeks early approval of its preliminary plans.
Because the AlliedSignal tract dominates the Inner Harbor and deserves a spectacular development, the project should receive a careful review from the entire community. What goes on the site, how it affects the rest of Baltimore's waterfront and its immediate surroundings make the project a city-wide concern.