Planning panel shows support for Icon tower in Canton

January 19, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Despite intense community objections to a planned waterfront high-rise in Canton, the Icon tower appears to be gathering some momentum - as city planners endorse the possibility of even more development for the popular southeastern neighborhood.

Yesterday, the city's urban design and architecture review panel discussed conceptual plans for the Icon, a condominium and retail project that would rise 23 stories from what is now a Lighthouse Point parking lot. The Icon's developers say they would like to come back within weeks to seek the panel's approval for the design so that in March the Planning Commission might consider the major land-use amendments the project ultimately would require.

Though Canton community association leaders continue to vehemently protest the Icon - reiterating their concerns of blocked views and increased traffic to the design panel yesterday - Baltimore city planners have begun pushing for a tower in that spot and more new construction in the surrounding area.

Officials have released recommendations for the future of this key leg of Canton, the busy hub along Boston Street home to the Can Company, Safeway and Lighthouse Point. On a few surface parking lots there, they would like to see more residential and retail growth, which they hope would make the area more vibrant.

But the wishes of the planners and developers clash fundamentally with the will of the community - a dispute illustrated most vividly by the Icon that only promises to intensify if more projects join it on the table.

"Whatever they put there," said Darryl Jurkiewicz, vice president of the Canton Community Association, "is only going to bring more people, more traffic and more congestion."

Baltimore's planning department decided to study the potential for growth along Boston Street in part because of the controversy over the Icon. Also, planners say, the laws governing what can be built on the Lighthouse Point parking lot and the Can Company site are outdated, more reflective of the neighborhood's needs in the 1980s than today.

Both retail centers, according to those 1980s ordinances, are maxed out for development, which means new laws would be necessary to squeeze anything more onto either site.

"We're sort of at a pivotal point in terms of the development that's there," said planner Laurie Feinberg, who handles the southeast portion of the city. "Our market has completely changed in this area, and there are a lot of reasons to say, `wait a second,' let's reassess."

For the Lighthouse Point site and the adjoining Tindeco parking lot, planners recommend two new "major" buildings, one on each lot. They would keep each structure to 72 feet in height, the current area limit, unless a developer promises to reserve some amount of open space. In that case, planners say about 200 feet would be reasonable. The Icon concept, a 240-foot tower accented with strips of green space, seems to perfectly fit the planners' vision.

Officials would also like to see a 70-foot-wide street lined with retail businesses leading through Lighthouse Point from Boston Street to the water - a pedestrian-only street if possible. They'd also fatten the waterfront promenade there. Both of those elements are part of the Icon plan.

The goal for Lighthouse Point, Feinberg said, is to get the "right type of use" on the site, "to make it the kind of place people want to be."

For the Can Company and Safeway area, planners would like to see something - perhaps housing - built on the city-owned lot at the corner of Lakewood Avenue and Boston Street. And, behind the Safeway on the store's parking lot along Hudson Street, they could see another residential project with stores and parking - if Safeway would consider that.

More than 60 people attended meetings at Hampstead Hill Academy recently to review the department's recommendations. Residents' reactions were largely skeptical.

"We can recommend whatever we want," Feinberg said. "But all of this will be reviewed and ultimately voted on in a public hearing process."

Much of the community consternation centers on the Icon, a project that has been setting off alarms around Canton for more than a year and a half. Over the objections of community leaders and City Councilman James B. Kraft, then-City Council President Sheila Dixon introduced two bills late last year that would pave the way for the project.

Kraft, who represents Canton, remains resolute on his promise not to introduce the bills, which is why the job fell to Dixon. Dixon, who became mayor this week, has said her sponsorship of the bills doesn't necessarily mean she supports the project.

In light of the public outcry, developer Cignal Corp. scaled back its original plans for the project, scrapping plans for townhouses and a 150-room hotel and shaving the main condominium building from 295 feet to 240 feet.

The condos 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.

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