HarborView permits challenged

Foes submit appeal

Key Highway townhouse height limits to be aired in public hearing

July 12, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Federal Hill residents eager to halt construction on the luxury townhouses along Key Highway soon will square off against developers in a hearing open to the public, a spokeswoman for the city housing department said yesterday.

On Monday, opponents submitted an appeal to City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano, asking him to revoke the building permits for the HarborView development.

Housing spokeswoman Tania Baker said a hearing must be held but has not been scheduled. The public is invited to the hearing, but only those who filed the appeal and the developer will be allowed to testify. Construction can continue during the appeals process, Baker said.

Last month, the city ordered the developers of HarborView - a stretch of million-dollar townhouses on piers along the west side of the Inner Harbor - to stop construction after it was determined that the buildings exceeded height restrictions. Developer Richard Swirnow was allowed to continue construction after altering plans for the homes and paying more than $10,000 for new permits.

In the appeal, five community groups demand that Graziano revoke these permits. They charge that the houses exceed height restrictions and block views of the harbor from the east side of Federal Hill Park, views that they say are protected by the Federal Hill Urban Renewal Plan.

"This ordinance protecting these views is not just for the people of Federal Hill, it's for all the people of the city who enjoy the views," said John C. Murphy, the lawyer who filed the appeal on behalf of the community groups.

Some residents had been complaining about the development for more than a year, but the dispute intensified last month, when city officials realized that penthouses atop the houses exceeded height guidelines set by the urban renewal plan. Developers ignored a stop-work order and a cease-and-desist order issued by the city and continued with construction.

City officials decided not to fine the developers but charged them a standard fee of 20 percent of the original permit cost for the new permits.

HarborView Vice President Frank Wise declined to comment yesterday.

Opponents of the development contend that the permits should have never been issued because some of the completed houses violate height limits.

"We'll have expert witnesses," said Paul W. Robinson, president of the Friends of Federal Hill Park, the organization spearheading the appeal. "We'll do a full presentation."

Murphy said he is optimistic about the hearing. "I think it's pretty clear," he said. "The view corridors are either there or they're not. Height is height."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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