One of the first national builders to make a foray into Baltimore in years with a project in Locust Point is pursuing another new townhouse development in the city - on the industrial shoreline of Westport along the Middle Branch.
Pulte Homes, which has traditionally built in suburbia but began looking at urban markets about four years ago, could build 400 to 700 townhouses and condominiums in what has been dubbed "Harbor West," a Pulte representative said during a business forum yesterday. But any plans hinge on Pulte finalizing an agreement with the developer of a proposed mixed-use community in Westport, Patrick Turner of Henrietta Development Corp.
The Westport project would extend a wave of redevelopment around Baltimore's waterfront, with pricey condos, shops and offices transforming formerly industrial land extending from Canton to Locust Point.
Yesterday's comments from Pulte offered a preliminary peek at Turner's plans for a 28-acre waterfront parcel he began assembling in 2004 from former industrial sites along Kloman Street. The developer has long talked of creating a mix of housing, retail and offices but has not disclosed details and has not filed plans with the city. Turner could not be reached yesterday for comment.
At the same time, investors have been buying up Westport rowhouses in anticipation that the demand for housing on or near the waterfront would extend to the long-struggling neighborhood.
Pulte's interest in Westport isn't surprising, given the homebuilder's shift into urban markets four years ago as land has become more scarce and its success with its first Baltimore venture, said John McIlwain, a senior fellow for housing with the Urban Land Institute in Washington.
"What you're seeing is that Pulte, having made the decision to go into cities and having decided to give Baltimore a try, they've invested a whole lot of time and effort in learning how to operate in Baltimore and decided that for the right property, there's a market," McIlwain said. "If you find land at the right time and the right place on waterfront that's about to be redeveloped, that could easily be a home run. They're saying housing bubble or no housing bubble, long term, urban housing is going to be strong and Baltimore housing, in the right area, is going to be strong."
Pulte views Baltimore as a strong residential market because of the city's development boom, its anticipated job growth and its pro-growth attitude toward developers, Rod Hart, vice president of operations for Pulte's Maryland division said yesterday at a breakfast event sponsored by the Downtown Partnership.
"Pulte wants to continue participating in this renaissance," said Hart, who was a panel member in a program focused on national businesses' attraction to Baltimore.
The builder's McHenry Pointe project is more than half sold, with 97 homes either sold or under contract, for prices that started in the low- to mid-$500,000 range, said Michael J. McCann, the builder's Maryland division's director of land engineering and entitlements.
The townhouse community near Fort McHenry in Locust Point forms the gateway to Silo Point, a $400 million conversion of a 1920s-vintage grain terminal into 221 luxury waterfront condos that is also under development by Turner. The McHenry Pointe townhouses - which promote rear-entry, two-car garages, rooftop decks and views of the water or the city skyline as selling points - have been snapped up by empty-nesters and young professionals, Hart said. But the urban landscape hasn't come without its challenges, he said, including working around aging infrastructure and the difficulty in attracting families with children.
In Westport, Pulte would also work with Turner, who is planning the mixed--use development. The traditionally blue-collar residential community of narrow rowhouses has struggled with vacancies, housing code violations and declining home ownership. But Hart told the business group yesterday that the waterfront site offers a prime opportunity to be part of a well-planned transit-oriented development centered on a light rail stop.
Turner controls more than half of the 50 acres of Westport shoreline that the city wants to see redeveloped. Last summer, Turner's Inner Harbor West LLC signed a contract to buy the 12-acre site of a shuttered BGE power plant from Constellation Energy Group. In November 2004, Inner Harbor West bought the former Carr-Lowrey glass manufacturing plant on 16 acres on Kloman Street - next to the BGE plant - at auction for $6.82 million.
Residents of neighboring communities of Westport, Mount Winans and Lakeland are hopeful a waterfront redevelopment would offer access to a the waterfront, with a promenade and access to Middle Branch Park.
"We had asked that whatever company comes in, they would work with the older community so there's some kind of connection, rather than you all are over here and the older communities are somewhere else, so that's one of the big concerns," said Linda Towe, executive director of TOOUR (Teaching our Own Understanding and Responsibility) an umbrella group of Westport, Mount Winans and Lakeland. She said plans to develop a "Main Street" from Annapolis Road to Kloman Street and the waterfront would help rid the area of blighted properties, but at the same time she wants to make sure homeowners don't get displaced.
A final draft of an urban renewal plan for Westport's waterfront, which should be finished by the end of the month, would set guidelines for development such as building heights, setbacks, streetscapes and the treatment of the water's edge, said Gary Cole, chief of the land-use and urban design division for the city's Department of Planning. Planners are trying to balance protection of environmentally sensitive areas of the shoreline with commercial and residential development.
Within the next few months, planners hope to submit the renewal plan for City Council approval. At that point Turner would have to submit preliminary plans outlining details of development. The Turner-controlled properties have been rezoned for mixed-use development - including townhouses and condos in midrise and high-rise buildings, retail, offices and parking - Cole said.
"The goal is to get the best possible development of waterfront property," Cole said. "We have the Inner Harbor, and the promenade along Fells Point and Canton, but there is a limit to waterfront property, and this may be close to the last opportunity to really do high-quality development on the waterfront and connect the waterfront with the surrounding communities."
Some waterfront housing developments that are under way, recently completed or on the drawing board:
HarborView - 88 townhouses
Canton Crossing - 504 condominiums
Silo Point - 221 condominiums
The Moorings at Canton - 67 townhouses
Port Covington - 975 units planned
Spinnaker Bay - 315 apartments