Bohager's site OK'd for 2 tall buildings

Council vote authorizes 13-story apartment house, 10-story condo structure

October 21, 2003|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The City Council put to rest yesterday a dispute over the popular Bohager's site between Fells Point and the Inner Harbor with a vote that clears the way for the site to be used for a 13-story, 306-unit apartment building and a 10-story condominium structure.

The council voted 13-3 to approve an urban renewal ordinance that incorporates six blocks, including the Bohager's tract, into the Inner Harbor East land-use plan, allowing buildings up to 120 feet high. A competing bill would have placed the property in the Fells Point land-use plan, which has substantially tougher height restrictions.

"The neighborhood is concerned about the height of the project," said Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo, one of the three members to vote against the ordinance. "The community felt that the developer could have listened more to the neighborhood but that didn't happen."

Carolyn Boitnott, coordinator of the Waterfront Coalition, conceded defeat before yesterday's vote.

"It doesn't seem we were able to convince anyone this was a mistake," she said in a recent interview. "We were really disappointed. Our argument is that if you allow such intense development on the Bohager's site, it will put pressure on the owners of the historic buildings to sell to developers who would ultimately develop a higher density and higher use and would not preserve the buildings."

She and her group had lobbied for the property to be part of the Fells Point land-use plan, where it would be subject to lower height restrictions and lower density requirements.

"The way the community sees it, they're just moving the intensity of Inner Harbor East right up to Caroline Street," she said.

Before the fight spilled over to City Hall, Bohager's, the tented, waterfront bar popular for college nights and "foam parties," had become the flash point as neighbors in Fells Point complained that the buildings were too high for the area, a mostly industrial stretch between Inner Harbor East and Fells Point. Developers countered by saying people want to live there.

"We are prepared to make the $60 million investment in Baltimore because we believe in Baltimore," said Thomas E. Marshall, vice president of Elm Street Development. Elm Street, of McLean, Va., has teamed with local developer Wendy Blair in proposing a 13-story apartment complex, including retail and parking, at 701 Eden St., between Lancaster and Aliceanna streets.

Cignal Corp. of Timonium plans a 10-story condominium building next door at 1400 Lancaster St.

"Inner Harbor East is joining Fells Point as a regional destination," Marshall said. "It makes sense to provide more housing to the area which in turn will help support those retail and employment centers. The planning department has a vision of providing opportunities in city neighborhoods where you can live, work and play, and rezoning this site to accommodate additional residential density helps make that goal a reality."

Until yesterday, the site was in a planning no-man's land because it was not included in any community urban renewal plan, the document that governs new development.

The City Council is expected soon to vote on a zoning change, which is another requirement needed for construction to proceed on the site.

Neighbors do not oppose the zoning change to accommodate residential, retail and offices, but they are concerned about traffic from more residents. Local residents say they contend with a lack of parking and traffic tie-ups, and no longer can see much of the harbor.

Neighborhood groups remain unhappy with the proposed Bohager's development for a variety of reasons.

"The height of those buildings is inappropriate for the waterfront location in relation to the smaller, historic buildings," said Romaine Somerville, director of the Design Review Committee for the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point. "Who wants to do a tiny, little building behind these huge buildings? It's going to impact decisions by private property owners in the investment and restoration of their smaller properties."

Somerville remains concerned about the mix of housing: "It means that the whole waterfront is going to be taken up, as it appears now, with high income housing. There's no potential for having a varied income community if this trend continues. The moderate income people who saved this area are going to be squeezed out."

Sun staff Writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

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