Howard Street Project Criticized

Mixed-development Plan Termed Too Inward-oriented

December 11, 2009|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts , ed.gunts@baltsun.com

A $65 million retail and housing development proposed to replace the Anderson Automotive dealership at Howard and 25th streets in Baltimore would benefit the surrounding area more if its design were not so inward-oriented, neighboring property owners told city planners Thursday.

During the first presentation of plans for the project to Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, property owners from Remington and lower Charles Village said they would like the developers to consider saving a former church on 24th Street rather than razing it.

City planning director Tom Stosur said he was excited about the project but urged the architects to do more to make the design as environmentally sensitive as possible.

"The more you could do - solar panels, green roofs, even dining on the roof - I'd encourage you to look at that," Stosur said.

The meeting came three weeks after a team headed by developer Rick Walker disclosed that it is planning to build a mix of shops and housing on 8 acres now occupied by Anderson Automotive, which is moving all of its sales operations to Baltimore County by the end of next year. The company will keep a large body shop and repair shop in the city.

The retail center is being designed by Kann Partners of Baltimore to contain a Lowe's home improvement store, grocery store, pharmacy, bank, other "big-box" retailers, 15 to 20 specialty retailers and 60 to 70 apartments. The property is bounded roughly by Maryland Avenue, 25th Street, the CSX rail line and 24th Street.

The development team wants to build the project by 2011 as a "planned unit development" and needs design approval before construction can begin. The city review panel took no action at Thursday's meeting, which was billed as an introductory session.

During the meeting, community representatives said relatively little about the largest element of the project, a 94,000-square-foot Lowe's with a 60,000-square-foot grocery store on top, close to the rail line. They focused many of their comments on buildings that would line the north, east and south sides of the development, including an apartment block planned for the west side of Maryland Avenue, between 24th and 25th streets. That phase of the project would have three levels of housing over one level of retail space.

Architect Donald Kann said the design team was still deciding how much of the street-level retail space would face out to Maryland Avenue and how much would face in toward a midblock parking area. Several community representatives said they believed the inward-facing approach would be "anti-urban" and harmful to Maryland Avenue.

The inward approach is "like plopping a suburban design down into an urban situation," said Dan Shub, a graphic designer based at 2403 Maryland Ave. "We would like to see the residences face outward, so they continue the sense of an urban setting."

Architect Majid Jelveh said he was troubled by proposed perimeter walls that were either blank or "decorated" to look active when they really wouldn't be. "How about animating these edges?" he asked the designers.

Design panel member Mark Cameron said he agreed with the community's observations about the project's inward focus. "If one of the goals [of the project] is to activate street frontage, there seems to be very little" of that, he said. "I feel there's a missed opportunity."

Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, said she thought the former church on 24th Street, if preserved, could provide a good transition between the large structures in the new development and the smaller rowhouses in her community. The former church "would seem like a better face to the neighborhood than what's suggested now," she said.

Kann said his team realizes it has more work to do. "It's certainly a work in progress," he told the design panel. "We know that very well."

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