A LOCAL developer is proceeding with construction of an 80-unit apartment complex in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood, even though three neighborhood residents are pursuing legal avenues to prevent the project from being completed.
A development team headed by Dr. Selvin Passen has begun erecting a steel frame to support the Lighthouse Landing apartments, designed to rise above a boat storage facility at 2701 Boston St.
Baltimore's housing department issued a construction permit for the project March 2, but the action drew a legal challenge from three Canton residents who contend it's not safe to build residences over a structure where boats are stored.
On March 12, residents Milton Bates, Edward Wovas and Michael Miles appealed the city's decision to issue a permit and are waiting to present their case to an administrative review board in the city's housing department. They also have asked City Solicitor Otho L. Thompson to order a "temporary work suspension" until the case is heard and a decision is rendered.
"We have been waiting almost seven months for a hearing on our appeal," Bates said. "During that time, the developer has begun construction. We want what we've always wanted: to be sure that what is constructed will not put at risk those living above the boatel or in the surrounding area. That's why we have been seeking a full, fair and impartial inquiry into this life safety issue."
Representatives from 10 Southeast Baltimore organizations have challenged or questioned the project's safety, including the Anchorage Towers Condominium Association, Waterfront Coalition, Midpoint Community Association and four Fells Point organizations.
Bates, a resident of the Canton Cove condominiums, said he is particularly concerned because of other recent explosions in urban areas, including a hazardous materials recovery plant in Morrell Park and a metal boatel in Virginia Beach, Va., where 500 boats were destroyed.
He said he also has received documents under the Freedom of Information Act that indicate leaders of the Baltimore Fire Department initially had strong misgivings about the project.
Bates pointed to a Sept. 5, 1997, memorandum from Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. to former housing official Girma Allaro, saying that "the fire department does not recommend the building of residential units above a rack boat storage facility."
In the memo, Williams stated that his stance was because of "the increased threat to life safety" posed by hazards associated with boat storage, including "dense smoke, toxic fumes, rapid rate in which the fire spreads, risk of explosion, seemingly endless supply of fuel and intense heat."
If a sprinkler system at a boat storage facility fails to extinguish a fire in its early stages, Williams warned, "the results would be catastrophic."
Also, in a document last year, city officials warned that "it would be possible for a single explosion to damage the sprinkler system in the boatel" making "escape, rescue and firefighting more difficult if not impossible."
Despite the early warnings, fire officials changed their stance and said they had no problem with the issuance of a permit for apartments above the boatel.
Atlantic Builders is the general contractor for Lighthouse Landing, and Levin/Brown & Associates is the architect. Plans call for three levels of residences above the boatel, with monthly rents from $1,200 to $2,700.
Passen, head of the East Harbor Marine Center, said his team has made every effort to satisfy city and state officials and the community and is taking every precaution to make the building as safe as possible. He said yesterday he is hopeful the issue can be resolved at the administrative hearing, which has been set for Oct. 21.
"Our case is very simple," he said. "We've met all the codes and received our permits. The city has reviewed it thoroughly. The Fire Department has reviewed it thoroughly. I don't know what they have to say that hasn't already been said."
Thompson said he expects to render a decision on the Canton residents' request about the work suspension by the end of the week.
Unless the city solicitor rules otherwise, the developers are free to move ahead with construction while the appeal is pending. If the permit is revoked as a result of the appeal, the developers would have to halt construction.
Hopkins to hold free forum downtown on 'PlanBaltimore'
Charles Graves, director of Baltimore's Planning Department, will discuss the city's comprehensive planning process, "PlanBaltimore" in a free forum at noon Wednesday at Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Saratoga streets.