Building-height spat unresolved

Mediation session fails to reach compromise between Mount Vernon residents, developers

Baltimore & Region


The long-running fight over building heights in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon neighborhood rages on after a mediation session failed to achieve a compromise between residents and development interests.

The mediation session called by City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. did, however, underscore the community's suspicions that the city's urban renewal plan for the neighborhood is really an attempt to pave the way for one developer to build high-rises there.

The Monday night meeting, called by Mitchell to determine whether the debate over heights could be resolved before the council considers the renewal plan, went nowhere.

"I got the feeling there wasn't any real, serious attempt to try to work out a resolution," Mitchell said yesterday. "It's definitely a volatile situation between the two sides."

Mount Vernon's vacant lots and relatively stagnant retail life frustrate planners, residents and developers. Updating the neighborhood's development guidelines, city planners say, could give Mount Vernon a taste of the vitality other areas of Baltimore are beginning to experience.

The sticking point is and has long been how high that development can go.

The Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association and area preservationists have pressed for buildings no taller than 100 feet to respect the neighborhood's history and scale.

Charles Street Development Corp., a nonprofit group working to revitalize the street, has pushed for heights of at least 200 feet, primarily on lots owned by a developer who says anything less is not cost-effective.

At the mediation session, three community association leaders advocating the lower height limit sat down with two representatives of Charles Street Development Corp. and Kingdon Gould, who owns three Charles Street lots.

Both sides said they came in willing to compromise, and both said their efforts were rebuffed.

"We showed a lot of flexibility there, and what we got back was `no developer in Mount Vernon is interested unless it's 200,'" said Jonathan Fine of the community association.

Alfred W. Barry III, a planning consultant for the Charles Street group, said it would forgo higher limits for a number of parcels as long as three on Charles Street, all belonging to Gould, could be at least 200 feet tall.

The community took that not so much as compromise but as proof that the debate is really about Gould's development desires.

"This is a story of one developer who wants what he wants," Fine said.

Brandt Petrasek, another community association board member, said, "We're facing the prospect of legislating for one property owner."

Gregory Reed, chairman of Charles Street's development committee, said his group's motivation is revitalizing Mount Vernon, not Gould's business opportunities.

"I don't think its accurate to say this plan came about as a desire to help Kingdon," Reed said. "We're not doing this to help developers. Our mission is to reinvigorate the area, and to do that, you have to make it possible for developers to do their thing in the marketplace."

Gould did not return calls seeking comment.

The City Council's urban affairs committee delayed a vote on the renewal plan last month, hoping that mediation could lead to a compromise. No continuation has been scheduled.

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