Planning commission to weigh land swapIt's only one step...


June 09, 1993|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Staff Writer

Planning commission to weigh land swap

It's only one step on a long trip, but the would-be developers of the old News American site will come before the city planning commission tomorrow, hoping to clear one of the hurdles between them and a 700,000-square-foot office building at 300 E. Pratt St.

Schulweis Realty Inc. is seeking to swap a small piece of land at the site for a piece the city owns at the southwest corner, where the newspaper once had an easement for its loading dock.

"This is all administrative . . . ," said Thomas Brodie, managing director of Manhattan-based Schulweis, which is a partner in the deal with Hearst Corp. and a Dutch insurer. "We're just straightening up the properties."

In the early 1970s, he says, Baltimore made a deal with the News American, allowing it to use space that jutted past the setback line the city wanted to impose on Pratt Street. When the loading dock was abandoned, the city was supposed to swap that land for property Hearst was using under its exception to the setback standards, Mr. Brodie says.

If the proposed office building does get built, it would be the city's biggest, though a comparably sized structure is on the drawing boards for One Light Street. But Mr. Brodie says the developers of 300 E. Pratt don't yet have an anchor tenant and don't expect construction to begin soon.

"The economy is against us," he said.

Shopping centers keep expanding, study says

As the economy slumped, most developers slammed on the construction brakes. But a new study by the Urban Land Institute in Washington points out an exception -- half of all large shopping center owners have expanded or renovated their properties in the past five years.

"When times are tough, developers have to do more to retain market share," said Michael Beyard, senior research director at the Institute and author of "Dollars and Cents of Shopping Centers: 1993."

Noting that many shopping centers opened late in the 1980s construction boom, he added, "[Expansion is] defensive. They have to expand in order to keep a bad situation from getting worse."

F. Patrick Hughes, president of BTR Realty Inc. of Linthicum, which is expanding its Harford Mall and plans to renovate and reposition its York Road Plaza shopping center at the city-county line, makes a similar point.

"The risk you're taking in upgrading is minimal compared to new construction," he said. "Malls, more than food and drug centers, must adapt. You always need a fresh look."

2 residential tracts to go on the block

The word in auctions this week is "land."

Two big, empty tracts of residentially zoned land top the week's list of newly scheduled auctions. Auction Specialists Inc. will try to sell 52 acres in Parkton June 19 and Alex Cooper Auctioneers Inc. will offer an 83-acre tract in Crofton June 22.

"[The Parkton tract] is like a little bit of West Virginia in Northern Baltimore County," said Auction Specialists' Carol Koelbel. "The owner planted 21,000 white pine in 1959 and 1961, and they've now reached the point where they're ready to be logged."

The Eagle Mill Road land is for sale because the owner wants to retire abroad, she says. It's zoned for as many as 11 homes.

Alex Cooper will offer a tract on which First Annapolis Savings Bank foreclosed after Halle Enterprises, an Odenton-based development firm, defaulted on a 1988 loan. The land is being sold by federal regulators who seized First Annapolis, then known as First Federal Savings and Loan of Annapolis, in 1990.

The Crofton tract, set just off Route 3 near Waugh Chapel Road, is expected soon to win county approval for development of 62 lots on 28 acres. The overall capacity of the site is expected to be 137 lots.

Designer takes on landlord over rent

Take that, Goliath!

Our simple tale about these tough times begins in Baltimore County: Karen Levian of Levian Designs wanted earlier this year to renegotiate her rent downward when her lease at Hill Management Services Inc.'s building at 9515 Deereco Road ran out this summer. In March, Hill said no. In April, Ms. Levian said she was moving out.

Then Hill raised her rent -- and tried to make the hike retroactive to last September. It said faulty computer software failed to let Hill managers know a rent increase was due then.

Ms. Levian balked at paying the back rent. Hill sued. And the case went to District Judge Robert Dugan.

The judge, to make a short story even shorter, dismissed the case.

"If they were the only landlord in town, I would move out of town," said Ms. Levian, who has spent nearly five years in the building.

She says that Hill, one of the biggest landowners in the county, raised her rent as retaliation for refusing to renew the lease at above-market rates.

Hill Management, in a statement, denied that, saying it was only trying to collect what was owed.

Ms. Levian plans to move to cheaper space a few miles away from her current office.

The punch line, for whatever it might reveal about the recession's impact on lease negotiations: The whole fight, which lasted for a couple of months and ended with lawyers battling in court, was over $523.08.

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