As Neighborhood Thrives, We Suffer From A Narrowed Perspective

October 21, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

I made a bad assumption that I'd have that magnificent view down the harbor forever. I'd often slip away and stand at the end of Warren Avenue, at the eastern-facing edge of the Federal Hill slope and look out over that majestic bend in the Patapsco in the direction of Locust Point and Canton. Maybe a little sailboat or water taxi would skip past.

So, after a summer of hearing about the suits and protests over construction heights of new townhouses off Key Highway, I waited for a slow fall day to see what a summer of new building brought. Sadly, I learned you can't own a view, at least in a city hungry for a new tax base.

The vista I enjoyed for so many years as a Federal Hill walker has been sharply trimmed by the construction of the new townhouses at Harborview. And as the foundation and lower portion of the Ritz Carlton apartments rise, I fear further loss of Patapsco viewing from Federal Hill. After 30 years of covering neighborhood protests about the harbor, I thought city government and the zoning agencies would protect my interests. I was so wrong.

This was a personal loss. About 100 years ago, a grandfather who died before I was born lived in a house on Warren Avenue. I imagined him, standing on his front steps, and taking in the industrial harbor's panorama. In my own lifetime, the night view of the working Key Highway shipyard was dazzling. The drydocked ships and the traveling cranes were all outlined in what seemed like 10,000 electric light bulbs. It was a dreamy urban composition - water, ships and piers.

This is not to say that all the city watching from Federal Hill is gone. The northward part of the park that overlooks a distant Pratt Street and the harbor basin remains unharmed.

It's just that I preferred the drama of looking down the harbor and watching, for example, the slow arrival or departure of the Clipper City - on occasion, a tall ship. I grew used to the visual pleasures of this perch. I also used it as a starting off place for visitors who wanted to see Baltimore. That tip of Warren Avenue view was like the best seat in a theater filled with dazzling scenery. It produced the required oohs and aahs.

Not everyone gives up a view. I guess the people who buy or rent in those new townhouses will be mightily satisfied. And until something else comes along, the roof decks of Federal Hill will be able to provide a similar look. But you have to have an invitation to a July 4th party to do this. I just liked the ease of showing up, unannounced and taking in the scene from public space.

It's not that everything is gone. There are patches of Patapsco here and there. But this personal loss is the price paid for this current wave of prosperity and the presence of construction cranes carrying the ad banner, "Harborluxury. com."

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