Site work delayed at townhome project Contaminants, slabs found at city-owned property in Pigtown

March 08, 1996|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

The long-awaited plans for one of the city's largest market-rate townhouse projects have been the discovery of contaminants and huge concrete slabs buried on the site.

The Ryland Group Inc.'s proposed $11.3 million development of 113 homes has been much anticipated to draw middle-income residents to the city and help stabilize the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown.

Demolition crews have discovered huge concrete footers and slabs that supported the old factories that once stood on the eight-acre site, said Rudolph F. Janssen, director of the construction and building inspection division of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. The site had been used by the Koppers Co., a construction, chemical and engineering products firm; Boston Metals Co., which sold and repaired marine and industrial equipment; Harbor Iron Works, and a rag factory.

Also, city housing officials said yesterday that they have found small quantities of oil, toxic fluids and soil contaminated with lead while demolishing buildings on the city-owned site.

The city has completed much of the environmental cleanup and is waiting for the Maryland Department of the Environment to analyze the ground water, Mr. Janssen said.

"The environmental cost is not that great," Mr. Janssen said. "The major additional cost is removing all the unknown concrete structures below. It's a different site than we started with."

Though he had halted site work to determine additional costs, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said yesterday that the city intends to move forward with a middle-income housing development. Additional costs are not yet known.

"We're still not exactly on track, but we're very much proceeding forward with a residential concept down there," said Zack Germroth, a housing department spokesman. "We have not changed from residential to something else."

For now, the builder also is sticking to the original plans for "Barre Station" near the B&O Railroad Museum while awaiting the state findings, said Maurice Simpkins, a Ryland spokesman. Ryland and developer Otis Warren were awarded the parcel in April 1994 in a competitive bidding process. The city was to clean up the site.

Ryland, the nation's third largest homebuilder, will proceed "if the site is the way we envision it to be," Mr. Simpkins said. "We will look at the reports and determine the breadth and depth of the problem and go from there. We're looking for the site to be developed as promised and delivered as promised. We've had no reason to change anything."

Walter Horton, the housing department development administrator, has been meeting with developers about the cleanup.

"It should not be a surprise to them that this site has some problems," Mr. Horton said. "By all means, if there's contamination that's found, we and all the [previous] owners are responsible for its remediation. It's not a question of if it's done. It's more a question of when and how much it will cost."

The site has sat fenced-in, vacant and overgrown since a 1986 fire. Community residents have spent years trying to find a use for what has become a dump and an eyesore, attracting vagrants and rats. "It's been such a disaster," especially as builders and homeowners in the neighborhood began renovating old rowhouses, building new homes and sprucing up the main business district along Washington Boulevard, said Doc Godwin, president of the Hearts of Pigtown community association. "It's very important to the revitalization of the whole area." TC The city first ran into environmental snags when it hired a contractor to demolish buildings along Parkins and Scott streets more than a year ago. As a result of vandals stealing copper from the old transformers in the buildings, oil from the transformers seeped into the floors and soil. The oil contained PCBs -- toxic compounds once used as insulating fluids. The city removed all contaminated materials before razing the buildings, Mr. Janssen said.

After the city hired P & J Contractors last summer to remove railroad ties, raze structures and grade the site, workers discovered the buried slabs. More recently the city found lead in about a cubic yard of soil and more PCBs in a small area around a manhole, which will be cleaned up, Mr. Janssen said. Environmental consultants Spotts, Stevens & McCoy Inc. tested the ground water and found no hazards from oils. The city selected Ryland and Mr. Warren because of their financial strength and marketing ability, housing officials had said.

Mr. Warren, a residential and commercial developer, could not be reached for comment yesterday. He is to develop the site bounded by McHenry, Clifford, Poppleton and Scott streets. Originally, the team had hoped to start construction more than a year ago and build about 30 to 40 homes a year over three years.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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