Revised Canton Crossing plan seeks 504 condos, twice the dining space

Changes driven by demand for housing on waterfront, banker Edwin F. Hale says

September 24, 2004|By Lorraine Mirabella and Reginald Fields | Lorraine Mirabella and Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore developer and banker Edwin F. Hale Sr. is seeking to vastly expand his plans for a gentrified piece of Canton's waterfront with the proposed addition of hundreds of upscale condominiums at his Canton Crossing development.

Hale, chairman of First Mariner Bank and owner of the Baltimore Blast soccer team, said yesterday that growing demand for waterfront homes prompted the latest proposed change to the $100 million development planned for Boston and Clinton streets.

Hale wants to boost the number of condos from 100 to 504, building three towers in the southeast corner of the property, and to double the space for restaurants to 120,000 square feet, putting the project's cost closer to $500 million. Chris Lessard, president of the Lessard Group, presented Hale's plan yesterday to the city's Design Advisory Panel.

"The momentum we have gained here is unexpected, so this has gotten much more grand in scale than I originally anticipated," Hale said in an interview yesterday. "I'm just adjusting my project to reflect the interest in retail and residential; the demand for this is what's driving this."

Quintupling the number of housing units and increasing space for restaurants will require City Council approval. Its current designation as a planned unit development allows 100 residences and 50,000 square feet of restaurants as well as 1.7 million square feet of office space, 450 hotel rooms and 450,000 square feet of shops. Plans also call for either a cruise ship terminal - if the state selects Canton Crossing for that purpose - or a 244-slip marina.

Construction has started on the property's centerpiece and tallest structure, a 17-story office tower expected to be completed in early 2006. Completed are a fully leased, 80,000-square-foot office building housing First Mariner's headquarters, a bank branch and a freestanding Merritt Athletic Club.

City Councilwoman Lois Garey, who represents the 1st District, has introduced legislation supporting the increase.

"This project will turn a not-so-attractive industrial area into a desirable residential area," Garey said. "High-scale residences are certainly the way things have been headed in the Canton area."

Hale said the strength of the condo market became apparent when he put the residential parcel up for sale.

"I had one piece of property available for residential, and I had four bidders, and they all bid my asking price," he said. He said he has the property under contract, contingent upon getting the zoning change, but declined to identify the prospective buyer.

Attractive location

Nancy Rosenberg, a mortgage consultant with Wells Fargo, said Baltimore's waterfront homes from Federal Hill to Canton have become increasingly attractive to empty-nesters and professionals who commute from Washington.

"Baltimore City's just really becoming hot," said Rosenberg, who has made loans in the city. "There's big Washington interest, because the Washington market is so expensive that a lot of people are looking in downtown Baltimore and commuting."

The proposal for more condos has sharply divided people who work and live in the waterfront community, many of whom are worried about upscale condos "leapfrogging" into industrial areas and edging out Baltimore's maritime and commercial businesses on the waterfront.

Some longtime residents of Canton who remember the area as primarily industrial with largely unobstructed water views are feeling overrun by wealthier buyers and rising property taxes.

"There goes the damn waterfront," said Bob Majors, 52, who lives on Hudson Street near the planned building. "I think it's ridiculous, if you ask me. You've got all these Johns Hopkins people coming in here spending $500,000 for a rowhouse, and everybody else's property taxes go up.

"If anybody left here 25 years ago and came back today, they wouldn't recognize this place. That's not necessarily a good thing."

Others, including Kurt Nachtman, 25, a law student who lives in neighboring Patterson Park but spends some of his social time in Canton, think the project is good for Baltimore.

"I don't have any problem with it as long as they have parking for it," Nachtman said.

Nachtman said he hopes the property values in the area rise with the new condos and increase the property tax base by attracting more people to city living.

Tina Payne, a bartender at the Sports Cafe, two blocks from the proposed development, said the new homes would lure bar and restaurant business from Fells Point.

"I think this is going to be good for this area, but I know not everyone agrees," she said.

Payne, a Canton native, said her parents are moving out of Canton, partly because their property taxes have risen too high.

Losing old Baltimore

Others worry about saving some of old Baltimore.

"I don't want to lose that Baltimore look. The harbor was old built for incoming and outgoing cargo, not to be a pleasure har bor," said Aileen Conway Nowak, who works at a sports apparel company in the area.

Leaders of several of Canton's community and homeowners' associations "are all very, very disturbed at the continuing growth" in plans, said Carolyn Boitnott, coordinator of the Waterfront Coalition. "People are really concerned about the scale of development and the traffic that's generated."

Members of the city's Design Advisory Panel raised concerns yesterday about the height of the condo towers and their proximity to a neighboring industrial parcel.

The panel asked the project's planners to add more of a buffer between the two uses and to reconsider the height and configuration of the housing.

After getting a nod from the panel, the project will head to the city Planning Commission, which is expected to review it in late October.

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