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BGE, Seton Hill settle 2-year substation dispute

The Baltimore Sun

Seton Hill residents and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. yesterday settled their bitter two-year dispute over the appearance of a new electric substation in the historic neighborhood.

The compromise design requires BGE to completely rebuild an existing brick compound, spending at least $3 million more than required by a plan presented to the Baltimore Planning Commission last month and fiercely opposed by area residents.

"I'm not jumping up and down for joy," said Mico Milanovic, a member of the Seton Hill Community Association. "But it's life; you gotta make compromises."

Residents began protesting when BGE announced it would turn an empty brick compound just north of St. Mary's Park into an electric substation.

The company has owned the structure, a roughly triangle-shaped arrangement with approximately 18-foot-high walls, for more than three decades and has always said it might become a substation, said BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy. For years, the space inside the walls remained vacant, until BGE decided it needed another station to serve its clients.

But residents, disgruntled about the aging site, said that if BGE wanted to install the station in Seton Hill, it should tear down the walls and create a more welcoming design. A mixed-use area, making space for shops, would be optimal, they said.

BGE balked at the suggestion of a mixed-use area - an extremely expensive endeavor - and spent two years meeting with residents to find a way to spruce up the walls in a manner that would be affordable and acceptable to the community.

Last month, city Planning Commission Chairman Peter Auchincloss issued the sparring parties an ultimatum: They had one month to find a mutually acceptable design.

"If in a month people do not come in here hugging, kissing and singing 'Kumbaya,' then this chair will design the wall," he said at the time. "And believe me, I don't use a crayon real well."

"Kumbaya" did in fact burst from a compact disc player at yesterday's Planning Commission meeting, and Auchincloss did bring his crayons, eliciting laughs just before the commission approved the compromise design.

"It's been a process, but I think it's been a good one, and one with a good outcome," said Milton Branson, government relations representative for Constellation Energy. It's still to early to estimate the total cost of the new design, he said.

In the design approved yesterday, the height of the walls will remain the same. Included are these changes:

The walls will be torn down, and walls built of red brick.

Decorative metal fencing will top much of structure.

A number of 6-foot-wide brick pilasters will jut out a few inches from the face of the walls, creating a varied appearance.

A brick house meant for equipment will go inside the station and will be affixed to one outside wall. The structure will have a metal roof and ornamental windows. Wall-mounted light fixtures will be installed on the outside of the compound.

Varying patches of landscape will be created. Some greenery will remain against the street curb, while some will be planted alongside the brick site.

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