Superblock developers given 6-month extension to work on plans

December 22, 2010|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

Developers of the $150 million Superblock project on downtown Baltimore's west side have been granted at least six more months to work on their plans.

Baltimore's Board of Estimates voted Wednesday to extend a 2005 land sale agreement that was due to expire Dec. 31. Without the extension, the development group, Lexington Square Partners, would have lost its exclusive rights to negotiate to acquire city-owned property bounded roughly by Lexington, Howard and Fayette streets and Park Avenue for a mixed-use project containing apartments, stores, offices, a hotel and parking.

The property is filled with 19th-century and early 20th-century structures that are supposed to be retained under a preservation agreement signed by city and state officials. To date, Lexington Square Partners has not presented a design that complies with a 2001 "memorandum of agreement" that gives a state agency, the Maryland Historical Trust, legal authority to block any project that doesn't adhere to the preservation plan. The developers' failure to comply with the memorandum has played a role in preventing the project from moving forward.

The extension request drew a protest from Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy group that has been working to preserve key buildings on Baltimore's west side. The group's executive director, Johns Hopkins, said the developers' latest plan violates "11 separate provisions" of the 2001 preservation agreement and 15 provisions of the urban renewal plan for the area. He said any extension of the land sale agreement would result in more delays in redeveloping the west side.

Baltimore Development Corp.'s president, M.J. "Jay" Brodie, said Lexington Square Partners has the capability and financial resources to carry out its plans. He said most of the delays were due to lawsuits over the way the city awarded the property. The lawsuits are no longer pending.

On top of the six-month extension, the board authorized Baltimore's housing commissioner to extend Lexington Square Partners' deadline for an additional six months if certain conditions are met.

The board also agreed to give a group affiliated with the Cordish Cos. an additional six to 12 months to move ahead with plans to redevelop a vacant parcel on the north side of Lexington Street, between Howard Street and Park Avenue. Cordish representatives have said they wanted their construction timetable to follow the Superblock's schedule.

ed.gunts@baltsun.com

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