Family plans $25 million condo village in Middle River

Project a home-grown part of east side's revitalization

April 25, 2005|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

As a young man sanding boat bottoms three decades ago at the then-thriving Buedel's Marina on Middle River's headwaters, Charlie Gast schemed to catch the eye of the fetching young lady who pumped gas into yachts and cleaned the boatyard bathhouse.

He and Mary Frances Mueller, the marina owners' daughter, fell in love, married and started a family and a successful construction company in White Marsh. But the parcel on which the marina is located, owned by the Mueller family since 1910, is in an area that suffered from the post-industrial decay that rusted parts of eastern Baltimore County.

Now the Gasts have a contract to purchase the marina tract from Mary Gast's parents - thus keeping it in the family for nearly a century - and are planning to build a $25 million condominium village there with new floating docks and a yacht club.

"These 12 acres have been in my family since my great-grandparents settled here from Germany," Mary Gast said. "My husband and I are glad that my parents can now enjoy life without worries of working."

The couple also are pleased that their children, in their early 20s, will be working on the project, part of the ambitious revitalization of Baltimore County's east side, and that the condominiums aren't the vision of an out-of-town stranger in a suit and silk tie.

"I grew up in Essex, and I have built custom homes for 35 years in the metropolitan area," said Charlie Gast. "This project will let us put a quality feel to the new east side rising. I want it to have a nice feel, class."

Before becoming a marina in the 1960s, the property was called Buedel's Park, a small amusement park and picnic grove that featured children's rides, two indoor bowling lanes and a shooting gallery.

When the tract was converted to a marina, most of the nearly 160 boat slips were occupied. But starting in the 1970s, that picture changed as young east-side residents moved to outlying counties and nearby World War II-era apartments became overrun with crime and poverty.

As the county's community revitalization moved forward, officials pushed two years ago for a waterfront destination where Buedel's sits next to two other marinas, Riley's and Cutter. A concept plan featured restaurants, a promenade, retail shops and office space, lofts and upgraded marina facilities.

But that idea fizzled, officials said, when the marina owners did not join forces to explore development of their properties.

Last year, aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. announced a major development project less than a mile east, along Dark Head Cove, that could be a keystone to the county's waterfront revitalization plans. Lockheed Martin's plan includes a boardwalk, a 200-room hotel, waterfront condominiums, shops and offices.

And from the Holly Neck peninsula, where $1 million mansions are planned, to other more affordable housing communities, development designed to attract young families continues at a steady rate on the east side.

To specialists in the real estate market, Baltimore County's waterfront offers parcels that, in some cases, are 30 to 40 percent less expensive than in other locations such as Harford and Anne Arundel counties.

"Eastern Baltimore County has attracted the attention of the entire metropolitan area because properties are available for cheaper costs and continue to appreciate," said William Mayer, a past board member of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors with an office in Dundalk.

He said the east side, with the soon-to-be-opened Route 43 connection from Eastern Boulevard to Interstate 95, will offer affordable homes with shorter traveling time to Baltimore and Washington compared with growing population centers such as Harford and Cecil counties.

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. sees the latest private investment on the east side as another symbol of the area's healthy rebound. Quality condominiums on the Buedel site, he said, show "how private money will follow significant public investment ... if that investment is spent wisely.

"This pattern is evident in the proposed mixed-use development planned at Dark Head Cove, the redevelopment of Martin Plaza and the new Aldi supermarket at Josenhan's Corner," Smith said through a spokesman. He added that he's "encouraged" by the high level of private interest being shown in the Kingsley Park and Middle River Depot sites.

For Gast, 51, his vision of upscale riverfront condos is an attempt to shape a "lifestyle, something for empty nesters or other folks who want a peaceful enclave."

He said he is developing a concept plan to present to county officials that will include 28 individual, two-story condominiums starting at $700,000. He plans to tear out old slips and replace them with floating docks, and build a two-story building on Old Eastern Avenue for retail space.

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