City eyes proposal for Barre Station Metroventures firm wants to build 144 townhouses on site

June 02, 1998|By EDWARD GUNTS | EDWARD GUNTS,SUN STAFF

A potential new developer has emerged for the Barre Station property in Southwest Baltimore, an 8-acre parcel where Ryland Homes and Otis Warren Development backed out of plans this year to build more than 100 townhouses.

Metroventures/USA Inc., a 6-year-old development company based in Columbia, submitted a plan this spring to build Scott's Landing, an $18.6 million community with 144 townhouses priced at no more than $105,000.

If it moves ahead, it would be one of the city's largest private housing ventures in years, on one of the few large tracts of land available for residential development close to downtown.

The Scott's Landing proposal is one of two that Baltimore's housing department received in response to a request for bids from groups that want to develop the site at Scott and McHenry streets, east of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum.

The other bid came from directors of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, an attraction on Falls Road that has been looking for a new home near the B&O Railroad Museum.

The group proposed moving the streetcar museum to the Barre Station parcel so the two transportation-related museums could be marketed jointly and promoted as one destination for rail buffs.

The second proposal also called for the area to be a possible new home for the Fire Museum of Maryland and other attractions, and for construction of between 36 and 89 residences.

But the city housing department rejected the streetcar museum's bid last month as nonresponsive to its offering, which asked for proposals to build housing on the Barre Station property.

That leaves the Scott's Landing proposal as the only bid eligible for consideration by the city, which has been trying for years to get houses built on the parcel.

The land once belonged to the Koppers metalworks company, a construction, chemical and engineering products business. Abandoned in 1986, the property became an eyesore and was later acquired for redevelopment by the city.

After offering the land in 1994, the city awarded it to a joint venture of Ryland and Warren. The team announced its decision to back out of the project in March, triggering a new search for developers by the housing department.

Firm plans several projects

Metroventures is working on a wide range of development projects throughout the Baltimore area, including a $51.5 million plan to rebuild Hollander Ridge as a village for the elderly.

It is also working as a consultant to the Baltimore City Community College on its plans to redevelop its Inner Harbor property, and it was instrumental in the renovation and re-leasing of The Avenue market in West Baltimore.

One obstacle to development has been the high cost of preparing the site for new construction and cleaning up possible contaminants. The city pledged to clean up the property, setting aside $1.4 million for site preparation, but more work might be necessary.

Metroventures proposed to raise funds for site improvements through an innovative plan of selling the houses and leasing the land to homebuyers through a modified ground rent arrangement. The ground rents would "dissolve" after a certain period, and the land would eventually belong to the owners of the houses.

Olusola Seriki, a principal of Metroventures, said he believed Scott's Landing could be a successful residential community, given its proximity to the University of Maryland's Baltimore campus and other downtown employers.

"We're not suggesting there are no challenges, but we believe that some of the risks are manageable, and we have new strategies for managing those risks," he said. "We have a high degree of optimism."

Decision may be made in July

The prospective developer will present its plans for Scott's Landing during a community meeting at 6: 30 p.m. June 10 at 904 Washington Blvd. City officials hope to make a decision within 30 days. If Metroventures is selected to be the developer, Seriki said, the team hopes to begin construction in the spring of 1999. The project would take about 30 months to complete, he said.

Design Collective of Baltimore would be the project architect for Scott's Landing, which calls for all of the town houses to have three bedrooms and an attached one-car garage. Harkins Builders would be the general contractor for the houses, and Essex Construction would be the contractor for site improvements.

NationsBank would provide construction financing, and NationsBanc Mortgage Corp. would provide mortgage financing. Gray Kirk/van Sant would be the marketing consultant.

Representatives for the streetcar museum could not be reached for comment about their proposal. But John Ott, director of the B&O Railroad Museum at 901 W. Pratt St. said other locations near the railroad museum could house the streetcar museum could move and that he expected that the streetcar museum directors would continue to try to find land in West Baltimore where the two museums could be operated in tandem.

Ott said the museum group knew that its proposal did not necessarily comply with the city's request for proposals but wanted to be on record with the city as having interest in the Barre Station parcel in case no homebuilders bid for the tract.

An advantage of making the land available for a museum rather than housing, he said, is that construction of a streetcar museum wouldn't require digging as deeply into the ground as homebuilding might, and the museum developers therefore wouldn't incur high cleanup costs for the site.

Ott said combining the two museums, and potentially others is consistent with the railroad museum's long-range plan for making Southwest Baltimore a destination for rail buffs and others interested in transportation history.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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