Lutheran groups propose energy-efficient building Federal Hill neighbors concerned about its size

January 10, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Representatives of Lutheran World Relief want to make their proposed Inner Harbor headquarters one of the Baltimore area's first examples of "green architecture," a building that would be energy-efficient and be made of materials that are safe for the environment.

They also want flexible work space for 70 or more employees, including a rooftop conference room that would offer sweeping views of the harbor and double as a chapel.

But the architectural features that most concern the immediate neighborhood, residents said Thursday, are the bulk and height of the $6 million building proposed for the 700 block of Light St.

"Our issues are: Does it fit in? Does it obstruct views? And where will people park?" said James Keat, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, after an hourlong meeting of Baltimore's Architectural Review Board.

Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service disclosed last month that they want to build their world headquarters on a vacant lot owned by Christ Lutheran Church, one block west at 701 S. Charles St. Construction is expected to begin this spring, with completion by the middle of next year.

Thursday, their architects -- Gwathmey Siegel & Associates of New York and Marks Thomas and Associates of Baltimore -- presented preliminary plans to the review board that indicate the 40,000-square-foot building would rise six stories above ground and have a level of parking below ground.

The review panel scrutinizes plans for all major buildings downtown and recommends ways to improve the designs.

A representative of the Lutheran organizations declined to release drawings or photos of the design, saying it was still at a preliminary stage. A model presented to the review panel indicated the building would be slightly taller than the Christ Church Harbor Apartment building in the 600 block of Light St.

Keat said residents of southern Baltimore are concerned that the building would be out of scale with the brick rowhouses south of Key Highway.

He wrote in a Jan. 2 letter to Baltimore Development Corp. President M. Jay Brodie that the community had been told two months ago that the building would rise three or four stories and that residents were "startled" to learn it might be taller.

"There are serious arguments that a building of that height is totally inappropriate in that location, despite the property's zoning classification," Keat said. "Furthermore, the project would have a serious negative impact on the surrounding area because of its relative lack of off-street parking."

Amy Weinstein, a member of the architectural review board, said the preliminary design seemed to address the needs of office occupants better than the concerns of immediate neighbors, and she urged the developers to respond to design issues raised by the community. She and other panel members also asked the architects to lower the height of a raised plaza planned between the building and the closest townhouses.

"It would seem very much to me in the Lutheran spirit to come together to do good for all," she said.

Tom Levering, an architect with Gwathmey Siegel, said the building's height could be reduced slightly without adversely affecting the work space and that the plaza could be lowered to street level as the panel suggested.

Stephen Tepperman, a consultant working with the Lutheran groups, said he is hopeful that the architects will come up with a final design that makes everyone happy. Besides the 19 parking spaces below ground, he said, there are garages nearby where other staffers could park. In addition, he said, some employees might take public transportation or live close enough to walk to work.

Pub Date: 1/10/98

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