Group objects to bus station

Charles St. boosters list fumes, loitering in late challenge

November 21, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Never in Charles L. Smith's 14 years on St. Paul Street has the area around Penn Station seemed so alive. A few Washington commuters are looking to buy rowhomes. A tapas bar has opened next to the revamped Charles Theatre, and the Everyman Theatre playhouse is thriving.

The last thing the borderline neighborhood needs, Smith says, is for a Greyhound bus station to rise on a parking lot north of the train station. Lodging what amounts to an 11th-hour objection, he and some powerful allies are raising concerns ranging from added diesel exhaust to the prospect of loitering.

"What I think they're doing is driving another nail in the coffin, pure and simple," says Smith, vice president of the Charles North Community Association.

Greyhound Lines Inc., forced to leave its present quarters on West Fayette Street, firmly disagrees. So does the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley, which is moving ahead with long-standing plans to help pay for the $12 million to $15 million bus terminal and 325-car parking garage on Lanvale Street between St. Paul and Charles streets.

"We went back to square one and said, `Is this the best site in the city for an intermodal transit center?'" says Kirby Fowler, O'Malley's special assistant for neighborhood and economic development. "We decided it was."

Opponents realize it is late in the process to object, especially since some of them initially endorsed the site. The station won final city design approval months ago and garnered an award from a local architecture group.

If Greyhound has its way, construction will start in June, and the station will open in summer 2003. Greyhound will lease the city-owned building, to be built with $12 million in city and state funds.

But Smith and other opponents hope to persuade the city to look elsewhere -- such as a state-owned lot at Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. His allies include Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who holds properties on Charles Street.

"It's of crucial importance that bus station not be located in that neighborhood," says Jimmy Rouse, vice chairman of the Charles Street Development Corp., a private nonprofit group that aims to revitalize the north-south corridor.

Angelos, a member of the group's board, did not return a phone call. Tom Marudas, who works for Angelos and also sits on the board, referred questions to Henry G. Hagan, its chairman.

"We think there are better sites," says Hagan, chief executive officer of Monumental Life Insurance Co. He questioned the need to have bus and train passengers at the same facility, since there is not significant overlap -- a view Greyhound does not share.

This is the second time an Angelos-backed group has opposed Greyhound. WestSide Renaissance Inc., a business group he helped start to promote revitalizaion of downtown's west side, has supported efforts to move the bus station from West Fayette Street.

"The west side wants to get rid of it so they can redevelop the west side," says Rouse. "Why are we moving it to a neighborhood that for the first time since the '60s or '70s is beginning to flourish?"

Mark Fallis, Greyhound's senior manager of real estate, says the planned station would benefit the area. "We provide a service to Baltimore. Our passengers are citizens of Baltimore. We carry them to and from family and friends."

Smith acknowledges that Charles Street North Association early last year wrote a letter in favor of the terminal. A similar letter came from the Midtown Community Benefits District, which uses tax surcharges to supplement security and cleaning services. Smith is its operations manager.

But Smith says new information has come to light, including an environmental study Midtown underwrote. The report by Pacific Environmental Services Inc. says "unhealthy air quality levels currently exist in the neighborhood north of Penn Station," and new bus traffic will "exacerbate this situation."

But it also says, "The emissions from Greyhound bus traffic are very small in relation to emissions from other sources in Baltimore."

Fallis argues that each bus takes 17 cars off the road on average, making the business eco-friendly. Maybe so, Smith says, but the burden of a regional benefit will fall on his neighborhood.

And he worries about vagrancy, though not necessarily from riders. "We already have a lot of unsavory elements in the area -- prostitutes and panhandlers -- that put a huge strain on our services."

Fowler says the city will require Greyhound to run a clean and safe station, with as little diesel exhaust as possible. "All of those things, well monitored, will lead to an attractive site," he says.

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