Thursday, March 12, 2015

Sharp Leadenhall - another Bethesda?

Caves Valley Development  has a huge project under review in Towson, an area for which County Executive Kamenetz created the motto that Towson is to become the "next Bethesda".

Less known is Cave Valley's foray into Sharp Leadenhall, a historically African American community book-ended by Federal Hill and the stadium-casino complexes. Caves Valley holds investments in both book ends, at Light Street across from the Cross Street Market and as a partner in the casino. Yesterday it also submitted a bid  for the Cross Street Market to revamp the market as requested by the City.

The first parcel of the three block Leadenhall proposal was presented to the city's design review (UDARP) yesterday, one day before the Planning Commission is hearing the revised zoning proposed for Leadenhall that is supposed to enable the Caves Valley developments.

Surprisingly, Hanover, the sub-developer, drew its design precedents also from Bethesda and from New York City, two examples that seem to have little to do with the gruff mix of architectural styles and building types in Sharp Leadenhall, where factories, warehouses and small rowhouses stand cheek to jowl.

The rather generic proposed full-block, 495 unit, five-story  residential-over-a-retail-podium design fits into Leadenhall, well, like a fist on the eye. In spite of a careful analysis of what is around the block, the capable Design Collective architect did not really recognize the surrounding condition in its boxy design in which not a single foot of the proposed complex dips below the maximum six story height or falls a bit behind the lot line. Instead of modulation of mass, this is the maximum envelope, not a cubic foot foregone.

In spite of substantial criticism, the UDARP panel advanced the Hanover design to the next level and reserved its harshest criticism for the project that followed Hanover, a Kennedy Krieger expansion in the EBDI area.  Block 1 of the Caves Valley project should also receive a substantial make-over, one that makes it much more gritty, much more Leadenhall with more respect for the historic rowhouses, the old firehouse and more responsive to what the neighborhood has to offer. Although I really don't like the term gentrification, but this, really is architectural gentrification of an area that has remained to date authentically Baltimore.

Baltimore Business Journal article

The plan shows that the 493 unit mixed use development covers the entire block
except a few rowhouses at the upper left corner

This massing model was part of a sequence in which the architect showed how
the mass was modulated with the below as the end product. However, this
model is stunningly honest in showing how overpowering the scale is

the modulation is only skin deep and never touches the important elements
of height and footprint which remain straight lines (except for that
possible corner element)

the architecture is pleasing and well composed, but it isn't Leadenhall

it was when the streetscape was explained that the reference to Bethesda was

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