Fire, water are elements of issue Housing: Canton residents worry that an apartment complex proposed for construction above a boatel could pose a fire hazard.

Urban Landscape

October 01, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

IN AN EFFORT TO build much-needed rental housing on Baltimore's waterfront, could a local developer be creating a potential fire hazard?

The question drew more than 50 Canton residents to a community meeting last week to discuss the proposed Lighthouse Landing, an 80-unit apartment complex planned for construction above a 200-space boat storage facility at 2701 Boston St.

The meeting was scheduled after residents of neighboring housing developments expressed concern that apartments +V above a boat storage facility might not be safe for occupants or neighbors.

During the meeting at Canton Harbor Healthcare Center, Baltimore Fire Department representatives acknowledged that the plan to combine housing and boat storage was unprecedented in the city, and that local building and fire prevention codes were not written with such a combination in mind.

The fire officials said they had not seen final plans for the development, proposed by a local investor group headed by Dr. Selvin Passen. But they promised that the city would try to address fire safety concerns before construction permits are issued.

"I want to assure you that Baltimore City is committed to making this building and any other buildings as safe as can be, given the confines of our code," said Ted Saunders, a captain with the city's Fire Prevention Bureau.

After listening to more than two hours of questions and answers about the project, state Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat, said he would convene a community task force, consisting of residents and representatives from the development team and city agencies, to come up with the safest possible building.

"The issue is: Can these apartments be built safely, and can this boatel be operated safely while people are living above," Sfikas said. "What we don't want is to construct a project that can lead to hundreds of people losing their lives."

Plans by Levin Brown & Associates call for three levels of residences above the year-old boatel, which rises 50 feet.

Passen was not at the meeting, but he said afterward that he is happy to work with the committee Sfikas is forming. He has said he plans to live in one of the apartments and will work to ensure that the building is the safest in the city. He noted that the marine center staff requires boaters to disconnect batteries and fill up gas tanks before the boats are stored, so there will be a minimum of fumes and no chance of sparks.

Fire safety features at Lighthouse Landing will include spark-proof exhaust fans, a heat-sensitive sprinkler system, vented stairways and a 6-inch-thick concrete fire wall between the boatel and the apartments.

"Common sense directs us to build the safest apartments we can," Passen said. "Why in the world would we want to do anything else?"

During the community meeting, several residents said they were not convinced the city is taking adequate steps to enforce existing fire safety requirements. They said they have watched as boats are taken out of the water and can't tell whether gas tanks are being topped off to prevent fumes.

"It's not practical to top boats off before you take them out of the water," said Anchorage Tower resident Ed Wovas. "It's a great idea, but it's not practical. If you're going to make a requirement, you have a duty to fully enforce it. I don't think that's being done."

Another speaker, Richard Jamison, said he can attest that the rules are enforced. He said that after he didn't top off his gas tank on one occasion, he found his boat outside the boatel, when he thought it had been put away. Jamison added that he is a former commissioner of the city's Fire Department and plans to live with his family in one of the apartments above the boatel.

"You can imagine that I would not put my children, as much as my own tender carcass, on top of this boatel if I thought there would be any danger," he said.

"This is a tremendous benefit to the community," Jamison added. "It's been addressed in a very professional manner. Let's try to avoid sensationalism. Let's leave that to Washington, D.C."

Saunders conceded that the Fire Department has made only two inspections during the past year and lacks resources for more frequent checks. He said it is up to the Marine Center management to enforce its rules.

Milton Bates, a Canton Cove resident, said he thought the meeting shed light on a variety of issues that are likely to resurface as development continues along Baltimore's waterfront.

Passen said he hopes to obtain permits in time to begin construction of the apartments by mid-November and to complete them in 12 to 15 months.

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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