Luxury condos finally to live up to label Disgruntled residents sued developer of first 'Gold Coast' structure

September 12, 1996|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

Life in a luxury waterfront condominium. What an ordeal.

It's hard to imagine what could be bad in a place where majestic views glint from every window and the city skyline shimmers beyond every balcony. But folks at the Anchorage Tower in Canton say their slice of high-rise heaven is skimpy indeed.

"We were told this was state-of-the-art luxury living," said Charlene Kase, who has lived at the Anchorage since it opened nearly nine years ago. "But we didn't get luxury. We didn't even get adequate. What we got were problems from day one."

Billed as one the first high-class high-rises along Baltimore's shoreline, the Anchorage was supposed to signal the rebirth of the city's waterfront as a new home for the upper-middle class. Residents snatched up most of the 94 units before they were built in the late 1980s.

But complaints rolled in soon after opening day. The roof leaked. The ceilings stained. The drywall cracked. Temperature dipped to shivering cold in the winter, and soared to sweaty hot in the summer. The thermostats didn't work.

Folks didn't even like the toilet flushers. Wouldn't it have been more convenient, they asked, if the handles were on the same side they usually are?

The residents gathered their worst complaints and mobilized. Five years ago, they sued Baltimore developer Frank F. Favazza Jr. and his high-profile associates, Louis J. Grasmick and John Paterakis Sr., alleging defects in the design and construction of the 14-story complex.

Favazza and his associates ultimately settled the suit for roughly $4 million, then turned around and sued the building's architect and several subcontractors in a still-unresolved case.

Now, the Anchorage has become a hard-hat area.

The same aluminum scaffolding used for renovations of the Statue of Liberty -- well-suited to the nontraditional contours of the Anchorage -- surrounds one-third of the building. It will rotate around the building into next year. Yellow "caution" tape festoons the construction area, workers hurl debris down chutes alongside the building and the sound of power tools fills the air from 7: 30 a.m. until dusk.

The biggest problem is that the building gets soggy in rain. Windows and doorways were not sealed properly and drainage holes in building walls clogged, the tenants claimed in their lawsuit.

"This was typical of construction defects that are found when developers try to put things together quickly," said Barry L. Steelman, the Baltimore lawyer who represents the tenants. "It happens even in luxury buildings."

Favazza and his associates are paying more than $2 million to lay a waterproof rubber skin under the building's exterior and replace its facade with 130,000 new bricks. Next, the garage and the structure that connects it to the apartment tower will get a face lift. Although less than a decade old, the building will have received two years' worth of renovations by the time construction ends in 1997.

"This whole thing turned me sour on the business, I tell you that," said Favazza, 68, who has all but ended his 38-year development career.

"You can take any building in the United States and any developer or builder will think he did a magnificent job, but if you want to pick at the pieces you can find fault with any building. That's because a building is built with human hands," Favazza said.

Despite its current troubles, the condominium has survived in a waterfront market that has suffered at times from speculation and overbuilding. Unlike waterfront complexes such as Henderson's Wharf and Scarlett Place -- where apartments were sold at foreclosure auctions in the late 1980s -- sales at Anchorage have been anything but sluggish.

Anchorage condominiums that went originally as low as $150,000 are reselling at a profit, and a penthouse apartment is on the market for $1 million.

Residents are still bitterly angry with the developers, whom they say were promising a building that would launch the city's "Gold Coast."

"If we hadn't sued we'd really be in trouble," said Nadine Thomas, who with her husband invested in their $185,000 Anchorage apartment when the development was little more than a seashell-covered vacant lot. "Now we're ready to live here. Now it's going to be fun."

As for Favazza, he shrugs off the critics. He argues that Anchorage has a lot to do with Canton's real estate boom in recent years.

"It proves its worth because other investors are coming in and following right behind it," he said. "We envisioned originally what we see there now -- an active and thriving place."

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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