:TC The former site of the McCormick spice plant, razed three years ago to make way for a redevelopment project, would remain a parking lot for up to four more years if the City Council passes legislation introduced last month.
Baltimore's planning commission voted 4-1 yesterday to approve bill that would enable Rouse-Teachers Properties Inc., the Rouse Co. affiliate that bought and razed the Inner Harbor spice plant, to continue operating a 240-space parking lot where the McCormick building once stood.
With little discussion, the planning commission also gave unanimous support to a second council bill that would let the owners of a Charles Street parking lot use it for parking permanently.
That lot is at 925 N. Charles St., where three buildings were razed to make way for an office building that never materialized. Both bills, which still need council passage before they take effect, reflect the continued weak real estate market and the difficulty local developers have had in proceeding with projects that were in the planning stages when the recession hit.
They show that even a prime parcel such as the McCormick property at 414 Light St., one of the last remaining development sites on the "front row" of the Inner Harbor, is not enough to attract tenants in the current economic climate.
"At the time we demolished the building, our intent was to move ahead right away" with a replacement project, Robert Minutoli, senior development director and a vice president at Rouse, told the commission. But "current market circumstances have tended put a damper on our prospects."
Under the city code, the developers were allowed to operate a "temporary" parking lot on the McCormick site for up to 18 months without council approval.
The proposed legislation authorizes Rouse to use the property as a parking lot for two more years. It also states that the time period may be extended to four years without additional council approval if the city housing commissioner agrees.
The city's decision to grant demolition permits for both the Light Street and Charles Street sites drew criticism from local preservationist Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, who argued that developers should not be allowed to tear down buildings until the city approves plans for a replacement project and the developers can demonstrate proof of their ability to finance it.
"There needs to be a fundamental change in the way that we allow developers to take a building down and not give anything back in return," she said. "This has happened time and time again."
The developers of the office building proposed for 925 N. Charles St. also say that they still intend to move ahead with their five-story project but that they can't obtain financing in the current economic climate. They also need council legislation to be passed because their 18-month period for a temporary lot expires in November, according to city planners.