Residents of Federal Hill rebuff plan for townhouses

Developer of 2.3-acre site may build offices instead

January 15, 2004|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

Fearing that their pricey water views would be blocked, Federal Hill residents have rebuffed a plan to build 52 luxury townhouses, prompting the developer to consider an office building instead.

The 2.3-acre site at 1301 Covington St. is occupied by a 134-year-old company that sells tools and nuts and bolts.

Residents strongly expressed their feelings at a meeting Tuesday night with the developer, Southern Land Co.

"This is our neighborhood. You threaten to change the look and feel of our neighborhood," one nearby homeowner, Farid B. Salloum, told representatives of Southern at the meeting with about 40 residents at Digital Harbor High School.

"We are disappointed," David E. Altfeld, a Southern official, said after a drumbeat of criticism prompted a city representative to signal that the planning department would not endorse the townhouse project.

However, Altfeld said Southern was "emotionally and financially committed" to acquiring the industrial site belonging to Leonard Jed Co. Altfeld, himself a Federal Hill resident, said the company was unlikely to submit a scaled-down townhouse proposal but would seek to construct an office building after demolishing existing structures.

Under existing zoning, an office building could be up to five stories high -- higher than the proposed 3,200-square-foot garage townhouses which would have a lower height limit, city planner Laurie Feinberg told the meeting.

The Jed company's controller, Bluma Jed, confirmed that the sale is "in the process." She said the 30-employee firm's move away from Federal Hill was subject to its finding a new home, "hopefully" in the city.

"We are definitely going to continue in business," she added.

The company's decision to sell its longtime home underscores the steady retreat of traditional industrial users along the Key Highway shoreline, where land prices have skyrocketed in recent years.

One old industrial building now accommodates the Little Havana restaurant and a defunct microbrewery. And just across from the Jed property is a former shipyard that was turned into the HarborView development more than a decade ago. Some of its condominiums and townhouses sell for $1 million or more, according to land records.

The traditional rowhouses on narrow streets around the Jed property fetch far less. But their value, too, has risen sharply in recent years as owners added stories and rooftop decks to take advantage of their proximity to the shoreline.

Such additions are not without controversy.

In fact, one resident, who was critical of Southern's proposal, nevertheless apologized to the developers at the meeting.

She said it was wrong for some in the audience to attack the proposed townhouses as too high when they, themselves, had exceeded the area's prevailing 35-foot residential height limit by adding floors or building additions.

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