Home | BaltimoreBrew.com

ANALYSIS: Are Baltimore developers allergic to mass transit?

Above: Artist’s sketch of the Red Line, which appears more and more like an afterthought uncoordinated with the city’s development plans.

It certainly seems that way based on the reception given to Baltimore’s No. 1 developer, John S. Paterakis Sr., when he disclosed his latest plan to expand waterfront development.

The bakery king turned property mogul, who already owns a sizable chuck of real estate known as Harbor East, yesterday proposed nearly tripling the number of residents living in his newest project, Harbor Point.

Harbor Point is a 27-acre “brownfield site” that formerly housed an Allied Chemical chromium factory (whose toxic wastes are buried and capped with concrete) that juts out on a peninsula between Harbor East and Fells Point.

What was stunning about yesterday’s unveiling of Paterakis’ plan to add 1,000 new residential units to the development is that nobody talked about mass transit.

Not his vice president of development, Marco E. Greenberg. Not his architect, Ayers Saint Gross. Not the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel (UDARP) that vetted the plan. Not the director of city planning, Thomas Stosur, who sits on the panel.

The same phenomenon recently took place in Locust Point, where the city is pushing to help Under Armour expand with $35 million in proposed tax increment (TIF) financing. There’s no mass transit component in that plan, either. Nor is it part of 25th Street Station (an ironic name for a shopping center complex devoid of mass transit) approved by the City Council in 2010, which has yet to make tangible progress at its North Baltimore site.

Sandwiched Between the Harbor and Traffic Gridlock?

Are they thinking that people are just going to live and work at Harbor Point in a bubble and never leave?

Not exactly. Yesterday’s meeting went into meticulous detail about an underground parking garage between the concrete cap and the central portion of the site, which would rise up 16-18 feet above the cap.

The Paterakis architects were peppered with questions about how drivers would enter and leave the garage, with suggestions that well-marked signage would be helpful.

All of which left the unacknowledged elephant looming in the hearing room: how are people going to enter and leave the peninsula itself?

Located on a peninsula between Harbor East and Fells Point, Harbor Point has been planned be a densely packed office-retail-residential center without a mass transit option. (Harbor East Development Group)

Located on a peninsula between Harbor East and Fells Point, Harbor Point is planned as a densely packed office-retail-residential center without a mass transit option. (Harbor East Development Group)

Under yesterday’s plan, there are only two ways:

From a southern extension of Central Avenue, that would cross a canal that blocks off the development’s northern border, or via Caroline Street, which fronts the eastern boundary.

Access to Caroline Street would be made from a two-lane road called Dock Street or via an intersection involving Caroline, Thames, Block and Philpot streets.

The latter already serves office workers at the Morgan Stanley building at Thames Street Wharf as well as visitors to the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Museum and Park.

It’s a spot that now gets congested at rush hour and again when patrons disperse from Fells Point bars and restaurants at night.

A 12-story residential building proposed by the Paterakis group at the apex of the intersection foreshadows traffic gridlock on Caroline and other Fells Point streets built for 18th-century horses and wagons.

Red Line Not to the Rescue

Which gets us back to mass transit. More and more, the proposed $2.2 billion Red Line light-rail line between the Social Security complex in Woodlawn and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Campus seems like a pipe dream.

Yes, there is planning money but little political will to push the project forward. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake seems to have lost what little enthusiasm she ever had for the project. Her planning and transportation departments reflect her road-oriented priorities.

Originally, the Red Line was supposed to cater to Harbor East with a station planned at Fleet St. and Central Ave.

That stop is still on the planning map, even as the center of gravity of the Paterakis development machine moves inexorably to the south.

Yesterday, the developer’s emissaries pointed to a park proposed above the underground parking garage as the focal point of Harbor Point.

The Long Walk

That designation would place the Red Line stop four blocks and one bridge to the north.

The transit stop would be a bit closer to Exelon Tower, with its expected 2,000-plus daily workforce. On the other hand, six-to-eight blocks would be the distance between the station and the Harbor Point promenade and the majority of residential buildings.

In other words, Harbor Point would resemble a suburban gated community (the “gate” courtesy of the Inner Harbor’s undulant contours) almost wholly dependent on cars, with maybe a Charm City Circulator route tossed in for tourists.

Several times yesterday, UDARP members cited Battery Park in Manhattan as the model and guide for Harbor Point.

Perhaps in terms of location by a scenic body of water there’s a similarity. But Harbor Point is fundamentally at odds with what makes Manhattan attractive to new residents and a magnet for commuters and tourists – an integrated and functioning transit system.

Most Popular