Key Westport lot under contract

Site is part of planned Middle Branch project

Mixed-use development seen

June 29, 2005|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A developer who envisions transforming Westport's industrial shoreline into a mixed-use development has signed a contract on a key property that would give him control of more than half of a 50-acre swath along the Middle Branch waterfront.

Inner Harbor West LLC, a development company led by Patrick Turner of Baltimore-based Henrietta Development Corp., has agreed to buy the 12-acre site of a shuttered Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. power plant from Constellation Energy Group, the company said yesterday.

Constellation hopes to go to settlement by the end of the year, said Linda Foy, a company spokeswoman. She said she could not disclose a purchase price.

Turner could not be reached for comment yesterday. Inner Harbor West bought the former Carr-Lowrey glass manufacturing plant on 16 acres on Kloman Street - next to the BGE plant - at auction in November for $6.82 million.

The waterfront area dubbed "Harbor West," now dotted with abandoned plants and some active businesses, is one of the city's last remaining available spots for waterfront redevelopment and is viewed by developers and planners as the next frontier for upscale housing.

Turner has declined to discuss details of his plan, though he has been working with city planners, who have proposed development guidelines that are being reviewed by the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel.

City officials are working to adopt an urban renewal plan for Westport's waterfront as well as urban renewal guidelines for the development of the Middle Branch, where planners are trying to balance protecting environmentally sensitive areas of the shoreline with commercial and residential development.

A final urban renewal plan, along with rezoning to allow mixed-use development, requires City Council approval.

Industrial plants on Westport's harbor once employed hundreds of local residents. As the harbor became silted in, many of the plants closed or moved away.

Disinvestment has hurt nearby communities, including Westport, Lakeland and Mount Winans, which are struggling with vacancies, housing code violations and drug dealers. In Westport, the homeownership rate dropped from 33 percent in 1990 to 26 percent in 2000, while abandoned housing units increased from just over 11 percent to more than 22 percent over the same period, according to city planners.

One community leader said yesterday that she hoped the waterfront redevelopment could serve as a catalyst for reversing the decline in the once-stable neighborhood.

"It's not supposed to be gated off to the community, and we're trying to get the homeowners to go ahead and fix up houses," said Ruth Sherrill, president of the Westport Improvement Association. Sherrill said she is hopeful new development will give a boost to area schools and streetscapes.

Planners began developing guidelines at the request of the Baltimore Development Corp, the city's economic development agency,

"We hear the pitter-patter of developers' feet approaching, and we're asking the planning department to give us some guidance," M.J. "Jay" Brodie, BDC president, said at an Urban Design panel work session last week. "This is one of the great development opportunities for the city of Baltimore."

Planners envision a transit-oriented development clustered around the Westport light rail station, a walkable, fairly high-density project that would likely include a mixture of housing, condos, apartments and townhouses, along with neighborhood stores and some offices with water views.

At the recent work session, planners said they want new waterfront development to restore a mixed-income neighborhood and offer a connection to the water and to the rest of downtown while preserving environmentally sensitive shoreline habitats.

Turner's Henrietta Development Corp. has turned its attention recently to mixed-use and residential development in formerly blue-collar neighborhoods. The developer is transforming a former 290-foot grain elevator in historically blue-collar Locust Point into upscale condos, while national homebuilder Pulte Homes is building 121 townhouses on another part of that 15-acre site.

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