Tuesday, May 10, 2016

First residential tower going up on Harborpoint peninsula

While the papers have been full about the lack of progress in Sandtown, Upton, Harlem Park or Rosemont, the HarborPoint peninsula which was once home of the Allied Signal chromium plant is barely recognizable.

While this dichotomy is telling, Beatty Development which manages HarborPoint, can barely be blamed for it. The industrial brownfield was certainly not a low hanging waterfront fruit just waiting to be picked, even though it also received a large chunk of tax increment financing (TIF) to create a brand-new infrastructure.
Harbor Point apartments
The old industrial site required huge clean-up investments (mostly paid by Honeywell, the legal successor of Allied Signal) including a perimeter slurry wall drilled down to bedrock and a sealed cap. In combination those two measures prevent stormwater from infiltrating the ground and then leach chromium into the harbor. Having those EPA approved measures in place has helped the harbor to become less polluted, even though to this day it still scores a grade F for water quality as reported just yesterday. The failure is now mostly a matter of raw sewage flowing in when the system is overflowing.

Back to HarborPoint: The demolition of Allied Signal occurred in the early 1990s, the debate about redevelopment ran concurrent and resulted in a first Planned Unit Development (PUD) in August 1993 which was the result of extensive negotiations with the communities of Fells Point who went into the discussion with the request of making all of the peninsula into a park. To this date the first PUD shapes the rough layout of the new development including the location and size of a roughly 6 acre waterfront park on the southwest corner of the peninsula.
The peninsula when it was occupied by Allied Signal

A subsequent PUD approved in May of 2004 replaced the original plan and modified parcels. On June 13, 2013 the PUD was once again replaced to include the Exelon site, a vehicular bridge extending Central Avenue on to the site. The new PUD increased the density from the original 1.7 m square feet gross building area to about 3.0m.

The first building to go up directly on the cap that marked a new beginning for the Allied Site 30 years after Allied closed down is the Exelon Tower now almost complete.

The PUD adjusted for the utility headquarter was amended again in March 2015 to allow Point Street Apartments, the 17 floor residential building with slightly under 300 units, about 280,000 sf total area with under 20,000 square feet of retail and a podium that allows for parking. The project is developed by Beatty Development Group and partners Armada Hoffler Properties Inc. and the Henson Development Co., owned by Daniel P. Henson, predecessor of Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano.
Bird's eye view of the envisioned build out of the peninsula
The first residential tower to be constructed on the brownfield site will break ground today.

The staff report to the Planning Commission described the proposed building in these terms:
The building mass is stepped and sculpted along the south fa├žade to take maximum advantage of the view to the east. It is narrower and steps down to create views toward Fells Point. The overall design proposes a vertical tripartite division that places a tower-like gesture toward the urban park and the residential entrance centered on the midblock mass. The interior units and amenity spaces are organized to maximize views to the east, south, and west. The elevations contain vertical masonry piers, structural concrete frame, curtain wall systems, and metal panels which provide for a visual layering of articulation within the elevations.
The building, located on what is dubbed Point Street, is located "off the cap", i.e. it will technically not sit on the part of the site that had been capped as part of the EPA agreement. That part of the site had been cleaned up with surface decontamination in a agreement with MDE. The developers hope to complete the project some time next year. Design Architects ASG, other team members are Younts Design Inc. and Mahan Rykiel Associates, all Baltimore.

The matter of the $107 million TIF has landed back at Baltimore's Board of Finance. Even though the overall maximum amount has not been changed, the developer is asking for a much larger early tranche. As the Baltimore SUN reported late yesterday:
In Harbor Point, it is clear already that the project's needs are different from what had been anticipated.
Beatty Development is seeking about $39 million in bonds to help pay for infrastructure in the second phase of the project. That's about $20 million more than had been planned, said Steve Kraus, deputy director of the city finance department. The additional costs include about $3.4 million for the Central Avenue bridge, according to a presentation by the Baltimore Development Corp.
The added costs do not change the total amount authorized for the project — $107 million in TIF financing. Kraus said the developer has not requested more financing.
Board members declined to authorize the sale of those bonds, pressing city officials and consultants for more information about what profit the developer received and how it compares to other projects, as well as other assumptions related to the projections.
The bridge is artfully concealed on most renderings
The Central Avenue bridge plays a major role in the TIF with a cost that is variably given as between $10-15 million. It will have four vehicle lanes and also carry the pedestrian connection of the promenade from Harbor East to Harbor Point. As I have expressed many times on this blog, I consider the bridge a major mistake.

  • Urban design : It will hook the peninsula much more to the shore by covering over the small body of water (City Dock) that separates it today from the main shore destroying in part what makes this land so precious
  • Transportation: Luring many cars onto this clearly circulation challenged point makes no sense when the entire street network in southeast is clogged and beyond capacity. HarborPoint should be a model for a less car dependent development  
  • Design: The bridge, designed and constructed by the City DOT in its current configuration is a clunky utilitarian bridge hovering low over the water and choking off City Dock. Instead, it should be a lightweight iconic landmark that elegantly swings over the water and should be limited to pedestrians and bicycles. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

2015 amendment PUD staff report
BBJ article about the project
UDARP minutes 8/28/14
SUN about the Board of Finance session Monday 5-9-16

Related articles on this blog:

Why that 4-lane bridge to Harbor Point is a costly mistake

The water body of City Dock that would be entirely cut off by a more than 60' wide bridge


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