Montgomery Park over key hurdle

Fears of hazards eased

developers start reconstruction

March 06, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

Developers of Montgomery Park, where an old department store/catalog center is being turned into the city's largest office building, got an official check-off from the Maryland Department of the Environment and have launched into reconstruction of the building.

The 26-acre site in Southwest Baltimore was entered into the state environmental agency's Voluntary Cleanup Program and need not undergo more testing or remediation of hazardous waste, according to a recent ruling.

The program, created in 1997 as part of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's smart-growth initiative, is designed to attract developers to old buildings that are or are perceived to be contaminated. Cash is not generally offered, but the program gives developers and their lenders assurances that they are not liable for future environmental problems.

Many of the concerns about the Montgomery Park site stemmed from a 1960s-era automotive service facility.

"As it turns out, the perception of contamination was worse than what was found," said Samuel K. Himmelrich Jr., who, with David F. Tufaro and others, is investing about $75 million in the project.

"They wanted to ensure our plan of development wouldn't cause people at the site to have their health endangered. And it created a high level of confidence with lenders and others associated with the property that there is not a high level of remediation costs."

The Department of the Environment issued a No Further Requirements Determination, which means that soil and water samples showed the site to be safe enough for offices. John Cherry, an agency project manager in the Volunteer Cleanup/Brownfields Division, said the only restriction is on ground water, which may not be used for drinking.

"There was really nothing much found on the property," Cherry said.

Under other programs, the developers removed asbestos, lead paint and underground storage tanks once used by a gasoline station on the site.

The building, billed as "green" for the extra environmental features to be built in, will also become the next home of the Department of the Environment.

The developers aim to make the building energy-efficient and to use recycled and sustainable materials.

The building, which was built in the 1920s as a warehouse and distribution center for Montgomery Ward & Co., is being overhauled in sections, and the first phase for the state agency is to be completed by November.

The Department of the Environment is to occupy 20 percent of the 1.3 million-square-foot building. No other tenants have been announced.

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