Six years after he first unveiled plans to build an unusual boat storage facility with luxury residences on top - and then went to great lengths to address fire safety concerns and complete construction - developer Selvin Passen may eliminate the controversial "boatel" portion after all.
Passen's representatives notified city officials last month that he is looking into building a boat storage facility on Clinton Street to replace one his group operates as part of the Lighthouse Landing at Lighthouse Point development, a $9 million waterfront structure at 2701 Boston St. with 80 apartments above a storage area for as many as 200 boats.
Concerned neighbors had warned before construction began that it would be unsafe to let people live above fiberglass boats that might catch fire.
But Passen persisted with his project, changing its design to make it as safe as possible, and finally received his building permit. Because of all the precautions, he said in 1998, Lighthouse Landing would be "the safest building in Baltimore."
Passen's new plan to build a boatel on Clinton Street was discussed during a Dec. 18 public hearing about revisions to Baltimore's marina master plan. Before construction can begin, city officials say, the boatel must be approved as part of that plan.
Passen confirmed last week that he is exploring plans to construct a storage facility for about 150 boats on a site separate from the 11-acre Lighthouse Point community the physician-turned-developer has been building since the mid-1990s.
"This is all in the planning phase right now," and there are no plans to make any immediate changes to the current facility, he said.
"It's very, very possible" the Clinton Street facility will be built "sometime down the road," if the city authorizes it, he said.
With relocation of the boat storage facility, Lighthouse Point would remain a mixed-use community with housing, offices, restaurants, shops and a large marina. The chief difference, Passen said, is boats would be stored off-site, and brought to the marina upon request. Repairs would continue to be made off-site.
Relocation of the boatel also would mark the end of a project that had no precedent in the United States - a hybrid of boat storage and luxury housing.
"No one has ever done anything like this before," Passen said in a 1996 interview.
Passen and his architects, Levin/Brown and Associates, spent considerable time and money to modify plans for the boatel and address safety concerns, after neighbors voiced fears about the chance of a fast-spreading fire. They argued that a boat-storage facility was the wrong use for a crowded urban setting such as Lighthouse Point.
The development team brought in one of the country's most respected fire protection consultants, Robert W. Sullivan Inc. of Boston, and installed a $300,000 sprinkler system and exhaust fans to keep the boatel adequately ventilated.
At the fire department's suggestion, operators have kept a center aisle of the boatel clear at all times and set strict guidelines about topping off gas tanks in the stored boats and disconnecting batteries to prevent sparks.
Passen said this month that the space currently occupied by the boatel - the lower portion of Lighthouse Landing - could be reconstructed to provide two levels of parking for automobiles and two levels of office space, about 120,000 square feet in all.
He said the boatel's metal skin is not structural and could be replaced with walls that contain windows for the office workers inside, without disrupting the apartment residents above.
The next major project at Lighthouse Point, he said, will be construction of an 80-unit residential building designed by Levin/Brown for land east of Lighthouse Landing.
The move was greeted warmly by Milton Bates, a Canton Cove resident and vocal opponent of the boatel project several years ago.
"When it happens, it will be safer for everyone involved - those who live in the area now and those who want to live here," Bates said of the proposed move. "More power to him."
The boatel is one of 15 projects that a city-appointed task force is considering as it evaluates possible amendments to Baltimore's marina master plan. No decisions have been made yet, according to Susan Williams, division manager of current planning for the city.
The marina master plan is being overhauled for the first time since the mid-1990s and the revised version will be presented to the city's Planning Commission for its approval within the next several months, Williams said.
Woman's exchange expands
Seven newly renovated market rate apartments are now available above the Woman's Industrial Exchange at 333 N. Charles St. The apartments were developed by Jubilee Baltimore as part of an effort to generate revenue for the industrial exchange and add residents downtown.