Builders await OK for midtown plans

Sites in Charles Village, Mount Vernon targeted for 2 residential projects

April 02, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Two long-dormant sites along the midtown corridor - in Mount Vernon and Charles Village - have been targeted for large-scale residential projects that await the city's approval.

An Annapolis-based developer is seeking city permission to build a 10-story structure in place of the former Albert Gunther & Co. hardware store at 30-36 W. Biddle St. It would be the Mount Vernon historic district's first new high-rise apartment building in three decades.

In the other project, Louis Salomonsky, a Richmond, Va., developer, plans to ask the city Planning Commission on Thursday to rezone the empty industrial building at 26th and N. Howard St. in Charles Village, so he can convert the late 19th-century brick building into 90 loft units suitable for apartments or condominiums.

The unrelated projects are a sign of more interest among developers in the midtown area, particularly around Pennsylvania Station.

"People are interested in coming back to live in the midtown area, but we need to offer apartments that are attractive and competitively priced," said Sandra R. Sparks, executive director of the Midtown Community Benefits District, which includes Mount Vernon.

The proposed Mount Vernon project, called Maryland Plaza, would be a $12 million, 120-unit apartment building that Annapolis developer T. Conrad Monts wants to build starting this summer and open by the middle of next year.

The land is owned by University Properties, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of Baltimore, which plans to lease the land to Monts, who heads the Washington Development Group in Annapolis. The proposed building is consistent with a master plan for expansion that the university unveiled in 1997.

Before Maryland Plaza can get under way, Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation must approve a request to demolish the Gunther building, which is part of the Mount Vernon historic district. The Gunther property occupies four three-story rowhouses that were built in 1868.

Jim Suttner, chairman of the Architectural Review Committee of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, said his group will soon forward a recommendation to CHAP. He said group members don't have strong reservations about losing the Gunther building, if the apartment project will take its place.

Committee members don't want to see another vacant lot in the historic district, and feel strongly that the city should not issue a demolition permit until the developer can provide assurance that the project will be built, he said.

Some residents have expressed concern that 10 stories may be too tall for Biddle Street. Suttner said the design of the building would be addressed in more detail if the city approves demolition of the Gunther building.

As for the Charles Village proposal, about a mile north, city planning director Charles C. Graves III said his department will recommend approval for the rezoning bill, which would allow Historic Housing LLC of Richmond, Va., to proceed with the $9 million renovation project.

The proposal also has the support of the Charles Village Community Benefits District and 2nd District Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young. "It will jump-start that area, and they're not asking the city for any money," Young said yesterday.

The firm paid $1 million for the four-story structure on N. Howard Street, known locally as the "Census Building," because it was used as a census data center in the past.

"There is a trend of going back to the city, and this is an unusually attractive example of American industrial architecture at the turn of the [20th] century with cathedral ceilings, exposed brick and natural wood timber which will give a warm esthetic appeal," Salomonsky said.

The developers plan to apply for state and federal historic tax credits, which Salomonsky said are vital for reviving city neighborhoods.

If the project is approved, the expected completion date is summer of next year, Salomonsky said.

Sun staff writer Edward Gunts contributed to this article.

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