Residents weigh in on pier proposals

Open house attendees fear new development may ruin area's charm

April 27, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

If the future of the city's century-old Recreation Pier lies among a pile of glitzy proposals that include an 11-story condo building, clusters of luxury homes or upscale apartments and an office-entertainment complex, most Fells Point residents would rather keep it vacant.

At an open house yesterday in the pier's ballroom, about 100 residents questioned developers on plans for restoring the property, which is the centerpiece of one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods.

"These developers are not taking the community into consideration," said Randi Eyre, a 20-year resident. "It is all about money. This is a grand old building. We should keep its scale and character and let it function as a public place."

Residents repeatedly expressed doubts that developers would maintain the historic charm of the pier and they demanded more input in the review and selection process.

David B. Levy, deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, assured members of the audience that they would have a voice. He encouraged them to fill out surveys that rated each proposal and left space for residents' options. The financially strapped city is seeking private enterprise for the project.

"In the past, there have not been events like this," Levy said. "We want your input. There will be many community meetings to refine the eventual product. We are looking for a positive impact on the city."

Many residents called the Recreation Pier - abandoned since the television drama Homicide: Life on the Street, which filmed there, was canceled - the grandest and most identifiable building in the neighborhood.

"It was built for working people and maritime use," said Denise Whitman, a member of the Preservation Society of Fells Point and Federal Hill. "When you modify this building, you change irrevocably the character of the district. Nothing I have seen is compatible with the historic character of a working waterfront."

Whitman wanted the focus to remain on public recreation. Linda Gross wanted a performing arts center - "something to draw people here and support the shop owners here," she said.

Lily Adlin said, "We need open space and cultural space that brings outsiders here and still makes us feel this is our space."

Concerned about the density and height of several proposals, Stelios Spiliadis asked the developers, "How eager are you to let go of the things that scare us and accentuate what makes us feel good."

James D. Campbell of Somerset Development Co., which has proposed building an 85-unit, four-story apartment and shopping complex and restoring the ballroom building for public use, called for community collaboration. But, he said, residential development should drive the project.

"Residential uses have the fewest negative impacts and they are the most financible today," Campbell said.

All the proposals allow the signature tugboats to stay at the pier and most included a berth for The Pride of Baltimore II, a clipper ship replica that serves as the city's sailing goodwill ambassador. City Pier Development would make space for Moran Towing Co., which bases its tugs at the pier, and a tugboat museum in its proposed office complex and "pocket park," complete with carousel and "observation wheel."

All proposals would restore the early 20th-century ballroom and pier, but developers stressed that residential and commercial enterprise would have to offset those expenses - estimated at about $7 million.

"We have to create a revenue stream to restore the building, fix the pier, maintain the atmosphere and keep the tugboats here," said Ronald H. Lipscomb, a contractor working on the proposal to bring 28 luxury homes to the site at Thames Street near Broadway.

Members of the Fells Point Task Force committee on the Recreation Pier, which organized the open house, assured residents that their comments would be included in the final recommendation to the city.

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