Developer fights freeze on project

Bills planned in council to allow city apartments

Planned lot led to court order

January 01, 2004|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The developer of a planned seven-story apartment building in Remington is fighting a court-ordered freeze on the $7 million project on Cresmont Avenue that a Baltimore judge ruled was illegally approved by the city.

City Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. ruled recently that construction could not continue without specific city legislation to build a 33-space surface parking lot next to the proposed apartment building.

That ruling surprised Orchard Development LLC, which had obtained a city permit to move ahead and had begun work at the site.

Orchard has hired planning consultant and lobbyist Alfred W. Barry III to help win City Council approval of special legislation approving the parking lot.

The firm also is appealing Matricciani's decision to the Court of Special Appeals.

Opponents of the project, among them neighborhood activists Douglas M. Armstrong and Joan L. Floyd, brought the court case and are expected to oppose the legislation.

Two bills have been proposed, one sought by the developer and another introduced by the mayor's office, that would amend city law to make it clearer on the issue of parking lots. A hearing date has not been set.

To win in the council, the opponents must overcome the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley and 2nd District council members Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Paula Johnson Branch, co-authors of the project bill.

Young says he has considered the views of opponents, but says more of his constituents favor construction of the apartments.

Barry confirmed that the Johns Hopkins University students are the target market for the planned four-bedroom units, which he said the developer wants finished by August.

But, Barry said, there is no official connection between the developer and the university.

Armstrong said that the project was illegal from the start and that city officials ignored existing zoning ordinances to accommodate the developer's needs over the wishes of many in the community.

"The point of having the zoning code is to see that you don't put an inappropriate use in amongst other uses," Armstrong said. "I've been interested in seeing the best development that could happen there based on following the law. The city and the developers are not interested in following the law."

Armstrong said existing law governing off-street parking lots is clearly laid out, but has been ignored over the years by city officials.

If the developer persuades the city to change the law, he said, the balance of power will be tilted toward developers.

Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, the builder for the Cresmont Loft project, has close ties to Hopkins. Struever was chosen as the lead developer for the university's bookstore project on 33rd and North Charles streets.

The firm is also moving to redevelop a block of St. Paul Street to create more of a "college town" look and feel in Charles Village.

David Tanner, the zoning board's executive director, said that for three decades the city has customarily approved off-street parking lot construction as part of a package -- when the lot is an accessory to a larger project given a green light by the city. "We believe we interpreted the code correctly," Tanner said.

The city also has appealed the Circuit Court ruling, he said.

The apartment site at 2807 Cresmont Ave., which is less than an acre, has been the subject of neighborhood friction before.

Un Kim, owner of the PaperMoon diner next door, wanted to build a club and restaurant with live music.

But neighbors successfully challenged her application for a liquor license. Kim sold the parcel to Orchard for $550,000.

Sun staff writer Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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