Apartment project scuttled in Little Italy Developer didn't get financing for plan fought by community

October 07, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

A project to convert a Little Italy warehouse into apartments, which upset community residents because some units would house low-income tenants, has been scuttled because the developer did not get state and federal financing, according to officials involved.

In the planning stages for over two years, the $5.6 million project by developer Patrick Turner would have turned the old Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse at Exeter and Fleet streets into 57 loft apartments, of which 10 were to be for low-income tenants.

During the past year, the project provoked three stormy hearings before Baltimore's Board of Estimates, a flurry of lawsuits and at least one public protest.

It died quietly last month when the state refused to provide a $1 million loan and the federal government refused to extend its commitment to provide $3.6 million in financing beyond the Sept. 30 end of the federal fiscal year, officials said yesterday.

Neighborhood opposition was the reason the state refused to follow through on its financing commitment, officials said.

"The state has not been willing to proceed with the Bagby project to date due to community concerns and issues related to the way the project was processed," Patricia J. Payne, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, said in a statement.

Little Italy residents complained that Mr. Turner had never informed them of his plans to set aside some of the apartments for low-income residents -- a condition of the state loan and a $285,000 city loan. But some, including acting City Comptroller Shirley A. Williams, suggested that the opposition was motivated by fear that poor blacks might move into the predominantly white neighborhood.

Yesterday, Richard Ingrao, past president of the Little Italy Community Organization and a leader of the opposition to the Bagby conversion, said he was pleased at the turn of events.

"We're very happy. We persevered," he said.

"It looks like a knockout. But you never know how they're going to get back up again," he added.

Mr. Ingrao noted that Mr. Turner could return to his original plan and develop the project with solely private financing -- a move that would increase his loan costs but would not require him to rent some units at below market rates.

"If he can do it, more power to him. But I don't know if that will happen," he said.

Efforts to reach Mr. Turner were unsuccessful.

Catherine Caskey, development director for the city's housing department, which supported Mr. Turner's plans, said she was "disappointed" in the project's fate.

"I definitely would have liked to see it get done," she said. "I think it would have been extremely well-received."

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