City panel kills tower project in Canton

Neighbors fought condo high-rise along waterfront

May 16, 2007|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,Sun reporter

Forcing the rare death of a major Baltimore land deal, a key City Council committee killed yesterday the $75 million Icon project, a 23-story tower that would have risen on Canton's waterfront if not for people's fears that it would overwhelm the neighborhood and worsen traffic.

The unanimous vote came nearly two years after the Timonium-based Cignal Corp. floated the condominium plan - time that community activists used to mount a robust opposition.

Council members, nearly all of whom have recently championed the neighborhood's side, blamed Cignal's president, saying that Armando Cignarale's outspoken obstinacy turned them off and doomed any chance for a compromise with the civic groups.

"When the community took the stand that they did, the council had no choice but to say to him, `You are not listening, you're just not listening,'" said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector. "He defeated himself on this."

Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who a day before the vote issued a news release saying that the Icon plan would fail, said Canton leaders and the developer had unwavering ideas for the Lighthouse Point tract.

"If they had shared a vision, we'd have a great win. Instead, it was a monumental collision," said Rawlings-Blake. "Any developer should know it's always to their benefit to work in earnest on the resolution of significant community problems."

Cignarale, his lobbyists and his public relations team, who knew the vote would not go their way, watched anyway and then quickly left City Hall.

Cignal Vice President Marco Greenberg said later that his company will not abandon the project. Rather, it will try to change people's minds about the tower.

"We could never make the building short enough to satisfy the people who were speaking the loudest," he said, adding that his team will now attempt to reach others beyond Canton's borders. "That's our job. To go out and get everybody speaking, not just the people who think the site should be a parking lot forever."

The Icon building was to be a glassy condominium and retail tower rising about 260 feet, or 23 stories, from what is now a parking lot for the nondescript Lighthouse Point shopping center on Boston Street.

Cignal, a firm known in Canton for luxury waterfront projects, including North Shore and The Moorings, originally had envisioned a larger condo tower along with a hotel, but revised those ideas to try - in vain - to appease the community.

The City Council would have had to have allowed a "major amendment" to Lighthouse Point's 1980s building plan so that Cignal could put more on the property than was originally allowed. And the council would have had to have granted an amendment to Canton's urban renewal ordinance if the building was to rise higher than 72 feet.

The council's land use committee rejected both measures yesterday, even though the city's Planning Department, Planning Commission and design review panel had given the Icon project their blessing.

The committee could have voted a month ago, after its three-hour public hearing on the project. Instead, officials delayed, saying that they wanted to wait for the city's Transportation Department to figure out how to handle neighborhood traffic issues.

Both the developer and the community considered the delay a tactic to avoid a touchy topic in an election year. Each side pressed City Hall for a decision, which led to yesterday's hastily called voting session.

Immediately after the vote, once the developer's team left the council chambers, a number of the committee members criticized Cignarale for "abusing" the legislative process, not listening to the community and threatening to derail the re-election of Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Canton and opposes the Icon project.

"At one point he became so offensive, I don't even know how an attorney could help him," said Spector, referring to the developer's larger-than-typical lobbyist posse. "You don't abuse the system, you use the system. He abused it. He totally destroyed the process."

Although Spector voted in favor of the Icon project as a member of the Planning Commission, she said the developer's disrespect for the community and the legislative process caused her to reconsider.

Kraft said Cignarale had approached him as he walked into City Hall and urged him to postpone the vote.

"He said, `I'll give you 18 stories, just tell me how you want it,'" Kraft said. "I said, `You've got to work it out with the community.' He said, `Then I'm going to spend $100,000 and by tomorrow, I'm going to have someone to run against you.' I said, `Run whoever you want.'"

Greenberg said he could not comment since "he wasn't part of that conversation." Cignarale declined to comment.

Greenberg did object to council members' disapproval of the way his firm, and his boss in particular, handled the legislative process.

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