Apartments proposed for block in arts district

$12 million complex planned for city-owned lot

March 21, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

In what could be a major boost to Baltimore's fledgling Station North Arts District, a team of Washington developers is planning to build a $12 million apartment complex on a vacant, block-long lot just south of North Avenue.

The Penn Loft Apartments on North Calvert Street between Lafayette Avenue and Lanvale Street would be five stories tall and contain between 100 and 125 loft-style rental units, according to a preliminary plan developers presented to the city's Design Advisory Panel yesterday.

The city-owned parcel, which extends to an alley halfway to St. Paul Street, has been used as a parking lot for trucks owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.

Developer Nancy L. Hooff said her group was also interested in acquiring and renovating blighted rowhouses near the proposed project through the city's Project 5000 initiative to get rid of abandoned properties.

"We're very excited about this area," said Hooff, a principal in Somerset Development Co., which has joined with fellow Washington developer Yeni Wong to create Penn Loft LLC. "We really believe in this neighborhood. That's what you have to do. It's not a slam-dunk. It's a transitional neighborhood."

Established in January last year, the arts district provides a state income tax break for qualified artists who live and work in the area and incentives to renovate commercial buildings for artists' housing and galleries.

It is bounded by Howard Street on the west, North Avenue on the north, Greenmount Avenue on the east and the Jones Falls Expressway on the south.

City and arts district officials said the proposal was important because of its location in the middle of the district north of Penn Station and because it represented a significant investment by out-of-town developers.

"This vacant lot is in an incredible central location," city planner Jim Hall told the panel.

Kirby Fowler, a lawyer and chairman of the mayor's advisory board for the arts district, said the project was a show of faith in the area.

"Once they start building this project, it'll send a message to the greater community that great things are happening in Station North," Fowler said.

"Given the size of it and the fact that they are outside investors, people who are new to Baltimore, shows real confidence," he added.

Preliminary drawings of the facade of the proposed complex were of some concern to the design advisory group, which advises the city's Planning Commission.

"We're applauding the concept of doing the project," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, head of Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency. "We're all reacting to the scale. This is not a group of townhouses."

The developers are to return to the panel with possible revisions at a later date.

Hooff said after the meeting that her group was particularly interested in acquiring blighted properties in the 1600, 1700 and 1800 blocks of N. Calvert St. - around the entranceway to the apartments.

The apartments - ranging from efficiencies to three-bedroom units - would be affordable for those with annual incomes from the "low 20s [thousands of dollars] to the low 40s," she said.

"The idea is not just gentrification," she said. "The idea is to improve the neighborhood for the people who live there."

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