Waterfront homes plan is offered

Developer eyes 625 units on Port Covington site

Industrial area's first residences

July 15, 2005|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore developer plans to build an upscale community of 625 homes on a waterfront parcel in South Baltimore's Port Covington, in what would be the first residential development in a predominantly industrial area along the fast-developing Middle Branch.

CovingtonPartners LLC plans an estimated $300 million development of condominiums and townhouses, some of which would be built on reconstructed piers. Early design plans, presented yesterday to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, show two 15-story condo towers and townhouses as well as a smattering of neighborhood-oriented shops.

The project would be built on 6 acres adjacent to a parcel with Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores and next to a yacht repair yard, which is moving to Port Covington from Key Highway.

Tom Winter, one of the partners in the development group, said he sees booming demand for waterfront homes with easy access to Interstate 95. He expects about half the eventual homebuyers to come from Washington and New York, where waterfront prices have soared above Baltimore's prices.

"It's a beautiful project that will change the area significantly," Winter said. "We see this as a whole new city on the Middle Branch. There's tremendous development potential. Our primary asset is the waterfront."

The plans come at a time when developers are transforming several large urban industrial sites into residential or mixed-use developments as the city sheds its blue-collar past for a more cosmopolitan future. In Locust Point, a former grain silo is being converted into luxury condos while a developer plans condos and townhouses along Westport's industrial waterfront. Such redevelopment pressure has prompted city officials to begin creating development guidelines for the shoreline of the Middle Branch.

CovingtonPartners did not give a timeline for its project. But the group is already eyeing neighboring properties to acquire. It has approached the new owner of the Wal-Mart parcel, Bethesda-based Finmarc Management Inc., about purchasing that land and replacing the struggling retail stores with new housing, Winter said. The developers have gotten no definitive answer from Finmarc, he said.

Finmarc bought the 52-acre site from Starwood Ceruzzi Inc. of Fairfield, Conn., which developed the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, the city's first "big box" shopping center. But Starwood wasn't able to complete plans it announced in 2001 to add a strip shopping center with 10 to 15 tenants.

Members of the Urban Design panel expressed support yesterday for the idea of housing on the Port Covington site but said they wanted to work further with the development team on the actual design.

"I'm delighted to see effort to develop this site," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development agency.

The developers would build the project in phases determined by market demand. The group has the property under contract from current owner Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse.

Alfred W. Barry III, a principal with AB Associates and a planner for the project, said the team hopes to create a sense of an urban neighborhood and could build up to 515,000 square feet of homes, likely in a price range of $500,000 to $1 million.

In planning what would be the first residential development in Port Covington, "there's an opportunity here to start to treat this as a new generation of innovative use of post-industrial waterfront," said Tom Liebel, a senior associate with Baltimore-based planning firm Design Collective, the project's architect.

Next door, the owner of a yacht repair business, Tidewater Yacht Service Center, now on Key Highway, has plans to develop the Port Covington Maritime Center. Tidewater would be the lead tenant in the proposed center's 9,400-square- foot office building, an 18,000-square-foot boat-repair building and a 400-slip marina. Bob Brandon, Tidewater's owner, said condos and townhouses would be a good fit next door to a marina and boatyard.

"That same condition exists in Annapolis, and they fit together very nicely," Brandon said. "We certainly plan on a clean and upscale boatyard. This will be first class."

The Port Covington site is part of an original 130 acres owned by CSX and once used as a rail yard by Western Maryland Railway. In the mid-1980s, the city had envisioned the area as a future home to about 3 million square feet of offices, with a hotel and some retail. But the office market faltered, and those plans never materialized. About 60 acres were sold to the Baltimore Sun Co., parent of The Sun, which opened a printing plant there in 1992.

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