New plan puts garage mostly below ground

Proposed structure would have 12 levels, mechanical lifts and no ramps

March 06, 2010|By Edward Gunts | ed.gunts@baltsun.com

After encountering strong opposition to a plan to build an 80-foot-high parking garage next to Old St. Paul's Rectory in Baltimore, developer David Hillman is now proposing to bury most of the garage underground.

Hillman and architect Peter Fillat are scheduled next week to present a new plan for a 12-level garage to Baltimore's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel. The property at 18 W. Saratoga St., part of the Central Business District urban renewal area, once contained a house owned by university and hospital founder Johns Hopkins.

The big design change from previous designs for the garage, Hillman said, is that most of the structure would be below street level and not visible to neighbors or passers-by. The portion above ground would rise about 35 feet, including the entrance and a partially vegetated "green roof." The project would have slightly fewer than 400 parking spaces and cost $10 million to $15 million.

The garage has been described as "automated" or "robotic" because it would be built without ramps, leaving more room to park cars. Vehicles would be transported to and from parking spaces within the structure by mechanical lifts, and the walls have been designed with no windows because people would not go inside.

Hillman, who heads Southern Management Corp. in Vienna, Va., said the garage would still have the equipment that would move cars to parking spaces without the need for ramps. But instead of lifting cars to upper levels, he said, the equipment would take cars to spaces below ground. The design no longer includes 19 south-facing apartments.

Hillman's previous plans drew opposition from neighbors concerned that an 80-foot-tall building would dwarf the neighboring three-story rectory, a historic landmark that houses the headquarters of Preservation Maryland, and would block other buildings' views. Neighbors also expressed concerns that the garage would cause traffic congestion along Saratoga Street.

Hillman said he already has bought the equipment for the automated garage and that it was his son Richard's idea to install the "lifts" so they take cars down to park rather than up. He said contractors would need to dig 50 feet below street level to fit all 12 levels in, and that patrons won't actually drive their vehicles to the spaces. "The cars are in a vault, basically," Hillman said.

Tyler Gearhart, executive director of Preservation Maryland, and Rob Ross Hendrickson, a partner of a law firm with offices on the same block, both said Hillman's plan to build underground was an improvement over previous versions. Gearhart said he still had a few concerns about the underground garage, including its effect on traffic and the effect of excavation and construction on the rectory. Hendrickson said he'd like to see the garage rise even less than 35 feet above ground.

Gearhart added that Hillman deserves credit for saving and recycling a number of key buildings downtown for residential use, including the former Hecht's department store at Howard and Lexington streets, the former BGE headquarters at 39 W. Lexington St., and the former Standard Oil Building on St. Paul Place. "He's done good work."

Hillman, who has been working on the project for more than six years and three mayoral administrations, promised that it will fit in with the area. "It's going to be very attractive," he said. "I don't build schlock."

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