What would Silo Point be without its silos?
That's the question now under consideration by local architects planning to convert a huge grain elevator complex in Locust Point to a 218-unit condominium development called Silo Point.
The 297-foot-tall grain elevator, visible from many parts of the city, dates from 1923. It ceased operating in 2002, after part of the state-owned pier that linked it to the waterfront fell into the harbor. It is targeted for conversion to upscale residences as part of a $400 million "planned unit development" that also includes 121 luxury townhouses, commercial space and parking for more than 500 cars.
Early plans by Parameter Inc. of Baltimore called for the high-rise "elevator" portion of the property to contain residences with panoramic harbor views and for the windowless lower section, where grain was stored in 110 silos, to become a multi-level garage for the residents' cars.
As architects developed their design, they began to explore the idea of demolishing much of the silo section and leaving fewer than a dozen of the cylinders visible to passers-by. In place of the silos they proposed to build a multi-level garage wrapped by condominiums on the perimeter.
Even with the additional condominiums, the project would not exceed the number of residences permitted by the Planned Unit Development legislation approved by City Council. But eliminating most of the concrete grain silos would significantly alter the composition - and erode the visual element that inspired the name Silo Point.
The proposed change troubled at least two members of Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, which reviewed the latest plans last month.
"I'm disappointed that we're not seeing more of the silos," said panel member Deborah Dietsch. "If you're going to keep the silos, you need to keep more of them."
"Ideally, it would be nice to keep more silos," agreed panel member Mark Cameron.
The plans also have drawn concerns from nearby residents. They told the design review panel that the developer initially indicated that the windowless silo walls were to remain intact and that a garage would be constructed inside, and they didn't mind such an approach because it would take cars off the streets without invading anyone's privacy. But if condominiums rise where the silos were, they say, residents of the existing rowhouses will have new neighbors peering directly into their yards and windows.
"This is not the way it was sold to the community," said Joyce Bauerle, president of the Locust Point Civic Association. "This is a different ballgame. ... We're going to have all these people looking down on us."
Design panel members agreed that taking down most of the silos and replacing them with a garage wrapped with condominiums represented a significant change, and they asked the architects to study the idea further.
The panel members said they would like to see the architects explore two design directions - first, plans that emphasize the retention of silos along the perimeter, and second, plans that eliminate the silo portion altogether and show another location for parking and condominiums - a "community friendly" design that would put any new residences farther away from existing rowhouses.
They also urged the development team, headed by Patrick Turner, to work closely with the community as it evaluates options. "We're not convinced that there has been sufficient interaction with the community," said panel member Mario Schack.
The architects say they are studying both options and intend to schedule another meeting with the review panel. Besides Parameter, the design team includes Garth Rockcas- tle, an architect and educator who is dean of the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.
One issue that would have to be addressed if the silos disappear altogether is what the project would be called. No-More-Silos Point? Used-To-Have-Silos Point? What's The Point? Without those brooding silos, it just wouldn't be the same.
Expansion plans for the Baltimore Museum of Art, renewal plans for the Station North arts district and new housing along Baltimore's waterfront are among the subjects that will be discussed during the Fall Forum on design issues that starts Sept. 21 and is sponsored by the Baltimore Architecture Foundation.
The forums will be held on Wednesdays at noon in the Berman Auditorium at the Johns Hopkins University's Downtown Center, Charles and Fayette streets. They are free and open to the public. Topics include:
Sept. 21: The Urbanite magazine, with art director Alex Castor and editor-in-chief Elizabeth Evitts as presenters.
Sept. 28: Planned changes for the Baltimore Museum of Art, with museum director Doreen Bolger and architect Sandra Vicchio of Ayers Saint Gross.
Oct. 5: A discussion about waterfront housing with Paul Marks, of Marks Architects.
Oct. 12: Modern designs for the Maryland Historical Society, presented by Steve Ziger of Ziger Snead Architects.
Oct. 19: The economic impact of the city's housing boom, with Jody Landers of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors.
Oct. 26: The latest plans for the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, with Station North board member Kirby Fowler.
Nov. 2: A new book about Baltimore architecture titled Look Again in Baltimore, with photographer James DuSel and former Sun art critic John Dorsey as presenters.
Nov. 9: Museums and other civic projects in Asia by Baltimore-based RTKL Associates, with its vice president Doug McCoach as guest speaker.