Canton plan alarms neighbors Design: A proposal to build 80 apartments above a boat storage facility sparks concern, but the developer maintains it would be "the safest building in Baltimore."

Urban Landscape

May 28, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Neighbors are raising fire safety concerns about the newest housing development proposed for Baltimore's Canton waterfront -- 80 apartments that would be built above a boat storage and repair facility.

Developer Selvin Passen maintains that the project would be "the safest building in Baltimore."

Baltimore's Fire Department and Planning Commission haven't ruled on the final design, and construction can't begin until they do.

Lighthouse Landing at Lighthouse Point is an $8 million to $9 million development that is drawing questions from residents of the Canton Cove condominiums at 2901 Boston St.

What makes Lighthouse Landing different from other area developments is that the 80 apartments would be constructed on top of the 50-foot-high "boatel" at 2701 Boston St.

Plans by Levin Brown & Associates call for three levels of residences above the boatel, which is designed to provide storage and repair space for up to 200 pleasure boats. Rental rates for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments would range from $1,200 to $2,700 per month.

At a meeting this week, Canton Cove's board of directors voted unanimously to send a letter to the Planning Commission, questioning whether it's safe for people to live above a building where boats are stored.

"No research is necessary to know that boats, especially those of fiberglass, can be volatile and create intense smoke upon burning," the letter warns. "The unusual, perhaps unprecedented plan to put many living spaces above [the boats] . . . is surely sufficient cause to look again at the developer's . . . request."

The letter was drafted by Milton Bates and Michael Miles, co-chairmen of a Canton Cove subcommittee formed to monitor development of the Lighthouse Landing property.

Bates, a former chairman of the Maryland Home Improvement Commission, said he favors development along the shoreline as long as it is carried out responsibly and applauds much of what Passen's East Harbor Marine Center LLC has done on the former J. S. Young Licorice Co. property.

But Bates said he and others at Canton Cove are worried about the possibility of an explosion or fire in the boatel and how that might affect anyone living above. He said his concerns were heightened when a two-alarm fire quickly destroyed 80 boats that were stored in a four-story boatel in Middle River in August.

"It's kind of the worst place you can put homes -- on top of an active boatel in which each boat has a gas tank with fumes and so forth," he said. "There are too many unknowns."

Bates said that he has tried to contact fire officials to find out whether the project is safe and has had difficulty obtaining information about the project. He said he became even more concerned this spring when the developers announced that they were changing the project from 30 townhouse-style condominiums to 80 apartments.

"We're not accusing. We're questioning," he said. "We're looking for our fears to be addressed."

Passen said his team has taken steps to address the fire safety concerns and design a building that will be safer than most -- including structures that have housing over automotive garages, such as the 89-unit Canton Cove.

Passen said he brought in one of the country's most respected fire protection consultants, Robert W. Sullivan Inc. of Boston, and installed a $300,000 sprinkler system and exhaust fans to keep the boatel adequately ventilated.

At the Fire Department's suggestion, he said, operators also are keeping a center aisle of the boatel clear at all times and following strict guidelines about topping off gas tanks in the stored boats and disconnecting batteries to prevent sparks.

"We've done everything we can to make it safe," he said. "I think we have the safest building in Baltimore right now."

Michael Maybin, assistant public information officer for the Fire Department, said fire prevention officials initially had "major objections" about the project and were "staunchly against it." But after a series of meetings with the development team, he said, the department reached agreement on a plan that it could approve for 30 housing units above the boatel.

Maybin said the department has not seen the revised designs that call for 80 apartments. He said the increased number of dwellings means a need for more doors and more ways to get in and out of the upper floors.

"If they're going to change the structure, we'll have to look at it again," he said. "That changes everything."

The Planning Commission was scheduled to review the design today, but the review has been postponed until at least June 18.

Bates said he's happy that the city agencies are not rushing through the review process. "This is too serious of an issue to be treated in anything but a full and open way," he said.

A model ballpark

Representatives from New York City's planning department will be in town today to tour Oriole Park at Camden Yards and meet with local planners and Maryland Stadium Authority officials, among others, to find out how a similar ballpark might work in Manhattan.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has expressed strong interest in replacing Yankee Stadium with a new ballpark in Manhattan and using Camden Yards as a model.

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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