Developer strikes agreement to scale back Eastport project

A Baltimore developer has agreed to scale back building plans for new restaurants, shops and apartments at the shopping center in Eastport.

The agreement resolves a longstanding dispute between a citizens group and the developer Solstice Partners LLC. The developer downsized the building plans by removing the top floor, reducing the front of the planned building from four to three stories.

Community organizer Bill Reichhardt said the agreement represents a success by neighbors to influence development in their community.

“There’s more of that to come,” Reichhardt said.

Solstice Partners plans to rebuild the shuttered businesses at the end of the Eastport Shopping Center into a mix of apartments and storefronts. The newly revised plans call for a $30 million project, said Alex Kopicki, a principal in the development company. He said the project calls for apartments above the stores.

At first, the plans were met with resistance over the number of apartments. By reducing the building one floor, the project will have fewer apartments than the initial proposal of 127, Kopicki said.

“Like a lot of these regional shopping centers,” he said, “they need a new vibrancy and a sort of anchor to take them into their next generation.”

The project was met with resistance by the group Concerned Citizens of Eastport. Neighbors worried about parking and traffic. They worried a five-story, commercial project would disrupt the character of Eastport, an old peninsula community of watermen’s cottages that has been transformed with high-priced homes.

“It was too big and it didn’t comport with the character of Eastport,” Reichhardt said. “I’m very happy with the reduction.”

In January, the citizens group and developer were headed to mediation over the project, known as the Lofts at Eastport Landing.

Solstice Partners had submitted plans for the project in September 2016. The developers said they believed their project could legally accommodate 127 residential units. In a July memo, however, Pete Gutwald, the planning and zoning director, calculated the project could only contain 106. Solstice Partners appealed to the city.

The citizens group also appealed, arguing the project should be limited to 61 units under the city code.

Both sides were headed into a long legal fight before entering into mediation and reaching an agreement last week.

The new terms reduce the size, but also clear the immediate opposition for the developer for approval from the city. The terms do not prohibit Annapolis residents from weighing in as the project proceeds through a routine approval process.

“They didn’t have to agree to anything,” said Alderman Ross Arnett, who represents Eastport. “We have to give developers credit to the fact that they agreed to this negotiation, and they are doing less than they had applied for.”

Once built, the project will generate half a million dollars a year in tax revenue, Kopicki said.

He said Solstice Partners conducted a poll of public opinion on the development and more Annapolis residents supported the project than not.

The Lofts at Eastport Landing is scheduled to be finished in about two years. These revised plans still require routine approvals from city officials.

Arnett said the development will change Eastport

“Change always brings anxiety,” he said, “but usually the anxiety is overstated.”

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