Cherry Hill sees hope for revival in proposed condominiums

Local firm unveils plans for waterfront housing

July 16, 2004|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

Waterfront residential development leapfrogged yesterday to a dying industrial strip near Cherry Hill when a local company unveiled plans for 100 condominiums, some of them with price tags up to $450,000.

Such high-priced homes would contrast with the post-World War II public housing of the nearby neighborhood, much of it boarded up.

"We are targeting a very sophisticated market," said Russ Robertson, of the architectural firm Hord Coplan Macht, as he presented the preliminary plans to the city's Design Advisory Panel.

Panel members commended A. Rod Womack, of Consolidated Investment & Management Group LLC, for taking on the topographically difficult, butterfly-shaped 10-acre site, which overlooks a marina in the 3100 block of Waterview Ave. The developer was invited to come back to present more detailed plans to the panel.

Womack said his company wants to move quickly to redevelop the site, which is vacant except for a badly vandalized transmitter building for the old WFBR-AM. He projected groundbreaking for September and said construction would take a year.

Such a timetable might be optimistic. In addition to design approvals, the developer needs rezoning from the City Council for half of the parcel.

Councilman Edward Reisinger, who represents the city's 6th District, which includes Cherry Hill, said yesterday that he is eager to review the plans. "If it increases the tax base for the city and it's good for Cherry Hill, I'd support it," he said.

Cherry Hill residents have already made up their minds and are backing the project "100 percent," said Cathy Brown, executive director of Cherry Hill 2000, a community group formed to encourage change in the neighborhood.

"We sure are excited," Brown said, adding that she knows of no opponents. "It will be a shot in the arm for a neighborhood that has suffered from a bad reputation for a long time."

Roughly 50 of the planned units would be townhomes selling for up to $450,000; the rest would be apartments in a seven-story building and would have a $200,000 starting price.

"This project is a breakthrough for Cherry Hill as well as the Middle Branch area," Jerome Chou, a city planner, told the design panel.

He said that construction of "high-end" residences would trigger a transformation in the area similar to what is going on in Locust Point, a one-time enclave of longshoremen and other blue collar workers near Fort McHenry.

Cherry Hill, though, might be a more difficult sell.

Developed in the 1940s, it long had the city's densest concentration of public housing, with many social problems that tend to accompany poverty - from drugs to teenage pregnancy.

And even though the community, after protracted efforts, again has an operating shopping center, Cherry Hill has no bank or post office.

Hundreds of the public housing units have been razed in recent years and hundreds more are boarded up. But feuding between the city housing authority, which owns the properties, and a tenant group, which had its own plans, stalled redevelopment.

Meanwhile, developers have shown an interest in several large waterfront properties in nearby Westport that could be converted into residential or office space.

The only one that is officially on the market is an 18-acre site that belongs to the bankrupt Carr-Lowrey glass company.

According to bankruptcy trustee Zvi Guttman, dozens of prospective buyers have toured the compound near the Westport light-rail station. Despite the interest, "it hasn't been sold," Guttman said.

Other potential redevelopment properties along the Westport waterfront include a concrete-mix plant and a 12-acre Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. steam generating plant that was retired in the 1990s.

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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