Harbor Point developers seek to expand project

Developers of Baltimore's Harbor Point have asked the city for permission to build up to 1,000 residences on the site between Harbor East and Fells Point, making the project more of a mixed-use community than is currently allowed by the city's zoning.

If the plans for the 27.3-acre waterfront parcel are approved, the developers said, total investment in new construction would be about $1.5 billion, up from a previous estimate of $1 billion. The project's space would grow 60 percent to 2.9 million square feet of space, from the 1.8 million square feet currently allowed.

Representatives of John Paterakis' Harbor East Development Group unveiled a preliminary design Thursday at a meeting of Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel that would amend the master plan guiding development of the former Allied Signal chromium property. Design panel members asked the developer to consider revisions and make another presentation.

Exelon Corp., the company that acquired Constellation Energy this year, has selected the site for a new regional headquarters.

"We are optimistic that the proposed addition to the Harbor Point development will further benefit the community by contributing to a sustainable and vibrant neighborhood," Exelon spokeswoman Judy Rader said in a statement Thursday.

Community leaders, many of whom were apprised of the plan last week, were not as quick to embrace the expansion.

News of the expanded development came as a "shock," said Arthur Perschetz, president of the Fell's Point Residents Association. "A significant amount of careful study from the city and residents" would be required before a decision could be made to support or oppose the requested zoning change, he said.

"I just feel that that's a lot of density, "said Kay Hogan, president of the Preservation Society, a nonprofit that works for the conservation of the historic Fells Point and Federal Hill neighborhoods. "It's additional people, it's additional cars. … I'm not so sure that's a good thing in that particular site."

Hogan said her views are her own; the society has not discussed the plan.

People want to live along the harbor, Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft said. "That's certainly one of the areas [of Baltimore] that will take density," he said by phone Thursday. "We can't say, "No, don't do it because there's not enough parking.'"

Instead, the developers and the city need "to find a way to move people, not cars," he said. If public transit, including the construction of the east-west Red Line rail system, is expanded in Southeast Baltimore, he said, he's confident the addition of residences to Harbor Point will be a benefit to the city.

David Benn, a board member of the Waterfront Partnership, a group that promotes Baltimore's harborfront, said the developers not only need to accommodate parking and traffic associated with increased density at Harbor Point, but how the new buildings fit with the historic structures of Fells Point and Little Italy.

"You have to give them credit for Harbor East, which is pretty successful," Benn said. For Harbor Point, "they need to make sure they have really studied it and made sure it can work. ... Certainly the traffic issue and the scale [of new buildings] are concerns."

Butchers Hill resident Carolyn Boitnott, who has been active for decades in waterfront redevelopment, is also concerned about the aesthetics of the revised proposal. The buildings are much grander than she envisioned, she said. She had hoped the development would provide a gradual transition, architecturally, from downtown to Fells Point.

"This looks to me like a continuation of" Harbor East, Boitnott said.

Marco Greenberg, vice president of development for Harbor East, said the existing master plan for Harbor Point allows construction of up to 1.8 million square feet for offices, retail space and hotel rooms but does not permit construction of residences.

Greenberg said the developers still intend to build up to 1.8 million square feet of office and retail space at Harbor Point, but now also want approval to build an additional 1.1 million square feet of space for housing. He said the entire project will be "market driven" and could be completed in six to 20 years.

Harbor East's master planner, Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore, presented designs that indicated that the bulk of the offices would be on the north and west sides of the Harbor Point property, adjacent to Harbor East, in buildings rising from eight to 24 stories. The tallest building would be 350 feet high. The housing would be closer to Fells Point, toward the southern and eastern ends of the parcel.

The plans also showed that 9.3 acres would be reserved for open space, waterfront promenades and other public amenities — the same as in the existing development plan for Harbor Point. The revised plans also call for a large parking garage, at least one hotel and possibly a new headquarters and museum for U. S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for men's, women's and youth lacrosse.

The developers are seeking funding assistance in the form of Tax Increment Financing to help pay for roads, garages and other public infrastructure, Greenberg said. He said that the team originally requested about $150 million in TIF funding but that its latest request is about $100 million.

The City Council would need to pass a bill to permit the housing and additional building density, Greenberg said. Such a bill has not been introduced, he said, but Thursday's presentation was an early step in the approval process.

Greenberg said he didn't have a figure yet for the number of parking spaces or the amount of retail space in the revised master plan. Architect Matt Poe explained that much of the parking would be built over a concrete cap already on the site and that parking would be covered, making it seem to be underground.

Boitnott said she is worried about what impact the addition of so much development will have on other parts of the city, including Fells Point and the central business district.

"I'd like to see some of this energy moving to downtown," she told the review panel.

Benn, an architect who worked on an earlier master plan for Harbor Point but has not been involved with the design of the revised plan, said he would like see more development along the Charles Street corridor, where his office is located.

"I wish there was a balancing act going on," he said. "It's nice to have the activity at Harbor Point, but how can we dovetail that with other parts of the city that seem to be stranded? The question is tying it all back into the city so it helps everybody."

Thomas Stosur, director of planning for Baltimore, said he believes the master plan is "moving in a good direction."

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership, said she thinks the addition of housing will help give the community a stronger "sense of place" than if it were primarily shops and offices. She said she also likes that a third of the land — nine of the 27 acres — is being reserved for some form of open space.

Plans included a field large enough to play lacrosse, a long and narrow public space comparable to one of the four quadrants of Mount Vernon Place, an amphitheater that would step down to the water's edge, and an area reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome.

"What shouldn't be underestimated is the amount of land devoted to open space and greenery," Schwartz said. "I think it will be a huge contribution to the quality of life along the waterfront."