Bills on Icon project will be introduced

Dixon action could pave way for Canton condo-retail development

November 28, 2006|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Over the objections of Canton community leaders, City Council President Sheila Dixon says the council will consider legislation for a waterfront high-rise.

Next week, Dixon plans to introduce two bills that could pave the way for the Icon, an on-again, off-again condominium/retail project to be built on what's now a Lighthouse Point parking lot.

Though the move dismays Canton residents who forcefully oppose the development, Dixon, who becomes mayor in January, said that just because she's sponsoring the bills doesn't mean she supports the project.

"I want to emphasize that even though I have decided that the legislation will be introduced, I will continue to support the community's position on the Lighthouse Point project," she wrote in a letter to members of a community task force.

Though many details in Cignal Corp.'s project have changed since the company first proposed the Icon more than a year and a half ago, the community's distaste for it remains the same.

City Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Canton, remains resolute on his promise not to introduce the bills, which is why the job fell to Dixon. Like the neighborhood leaders in his district, Kraft feels the Icon is too much project for the space.

"The height is a serious, serious issue," Kraft said. "I don't think the project [Cignal] has proposed has much chance of passage."

In light of the public outcry, Cignal has scaled back the project, said Marco Greenberg, the company's vice president. It tossed plans for townhouses and a 150-room hotel and clipped the height of the main condominium building from 295 feet to 240 feet.

The condos still would be built on top of a five-story parking garage and anchored with about 30,000 square feet of retail space for stores and restaurants.

"We've just paid attention to what we're hearing," Greenberg said, adding he thinks city officials will warm to the project once they hear more about it.

"It's good for the neighborhood and good for the city."

Maryland company

Cignal, a Maryland firm known in Southeast Baltimore for upscale residential projects such as the North Shore pier homes, wants to get more mileage from Lighthouse Point, which it bought an interest in last year.

The company and its principal have given at least $4,000 to Mayor Martin O'Malley and at least $3,000 to Dixon during this current election cycle, according to state campaign finance records.

The idea is to fill what they consider underused space in the nondescript retail center, now home to a handful of shops including a bagel place and a Blockbuster video store.

To do it, Cignal needs the City Council to allow what's called a "major amendment" to Lighthouse Point's "planned unit development," or PUD. That would allow them to build more on the property than what the city permitted the center's original developer.

To build as tall as the developers would like, they also need an amendment to Canton's urban renewal ordinance.

Though last year community leaders were hoping that Kraft's resistance to the plan would kill it, Baltimore Planning Director Otis Rolley III said it would be unacceptable to kill a proposal without giving it a proper hearing.

"The thing is this," said Gary Cole, the Planning Department's acting director, "just because someone submits a proposal, [it's not over]. We'll dissect it and we'll take it apart. To me, this is still in the early phases."

Before the legislation comes to the council for a vote, it would have to be approved by the Planning Commission and the council's land use and transportation committee. At the committee level, it's up to a committee chairman to decide when to hear a bill - or whether to hear it at all.

Meanwhile, Kraft feels that by introducing the bills now, city planning officials are breaking a promise to hold off on the Icon until a community task force finalizes development recommendations for that part of Canton.

"They made a pledge, and they have broken that pledge. As a representative of the community, that infuriates me," Kraft said, adding that it's a slap in the face to those who've been volunteering on the task force.

"The city in effect is saying of their work, `OK, that's nice, but we're going to go ahead and do this.'"

Dixon's plan to introduce the bills comes just days after she had them pulled from a schedule of bills to be introduced.

Change of mind

She said in her letter to the task force that she changed her mind, "after further research and consideration."

One member of the task force sent an e-mail yesterday to an assortment of city officials with the subject line "shock and dismay."

"[W]hy are our deliberations and involvement being rendered meaningless?" wrote Canton resident Nancy A. Braymer.

Canton Community Association President Stephen Strohl said he hopes that opposition from Dixon and Kraft will kill the bills - if it comes to that.

"I think they're going to have a certain amount of influence over what may or may not happen," Strohl said. "But strange things can happen once legislation is introduced. You never know."

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