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Canton physician seeks to build a nautical mall


As a Canton resident with a penchant for sailing, physician Selvin Passen hates to think of waterfront along Boston Street languishing for years with a boarded-up, rundown old licorice factory and a small marina with sinking piers.

As a developer, he envisions a nautical mall, 35 townhouses, a restaurant and hundreds of new slips on 8.2 acres with views of freighters on the water. Now, Dr. Passen says, it's time to take a chance.

Dr. Passen, president of Maryland Medical Laboratories Inc., and his five partners in East Harbor Realty LLC are negotiating to buy three parcels along the shore in a largely working-class community of rowhouses with marble steps.

"Some of us really have to take some chances," Dr. Passen said yesterday. "Instinctively, I feel the market's starting to turn around. If some of us don't take chances, it never might."

When the recession hit, many such grand plans fell apart, leaving the community a patchwork of redeveloped and rundown properties.

A proposal for one of Canton's largest parcels, for instance, called for a $90 million community of 375 luxury condominiums and boater-oriented shops and restaurants. When the developers ran into financial troubles at the end of 1992, a limited partnership controlled by Maryland National Bank bought back the property at auction for $1.15 million.

Residents who had bristled at such high density and the high-rise that would block water views are welcoming the plans by Dr. Passen and his group.

"We just want responsible development, and we think this would be an asset to the community," said Stephany Palasik, president of the Canton Highlandtown Community Association.

East Harbor's development would be completed in phases over five years, Dr. Passen said. He declined to provide development costs.

The group would restore piers and the bulkhead and an existing boatel this year. It then would restore the two-story brick licorice factory buildings for a mini-mall, and already is negotiating with tenants such as sailmakers, yachting suppliers and marine insurance brokers, Dr. Passen said. The group hopes to build a restaurant, pool and cabana club during the second phase.

Timing for development of 35 townhouses, which would be scattered on the site, remains a bigger question, though.

Before they can proceed, developers need to buy the last of three parcels -- all under different owners. East Harbor has signed sales contracts with South Charles Realty Corp., a subsidiary of Maryland National Bank, to purchase 7.2 acres, and with Boston Street Corp. to buy one acre.

Both are contingent upon buying the rights to 19 acres of water off the shoreline, where East Harbor would build 350 rental slips and repair 150 slips in an existing co-operative marina over five years.

The previous developer had separate mortgages for the land and waterfront development rights. Perpetual Savings Bank took back the water rights -- and 150 boat slips -- before the foreclosure auction.

East Harbor is negotiating for those rights with Sad Realty, Perpetual's successor, which is now controlled by the Resolution Trust Corp.

The developers also will need city Planning Commission approval, and possibly City Council approval, if plans vary greatly from the mixed-use housing and commercial development currently allowed, as well as approvals from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state Department of Natural Resources.

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