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Regulators approve Harbor Point’s detailed design plan

Developer Beatty cannot penetrate the cap at Harbor Point until he completes an air monitoring plan.

entrance to Harbor Pt cap

Entrance on South Caroline St. to the capped area of Harbor Point.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

After three months of back and forth, state and federal regulators gave final approval today of phase 1 of Harbor Point – the construction of the Exelon Tower, Central Plaza Garage and related infrastructure.

The approval allows developer Michael Beatty to begin preparatory construction activities on the 27-acre site on the western edge of Fells Point.

But Beatty Development must still submit an air monitoring plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environment (EPA) before the five-foot-thick protective cap can be breached.

The cap entombs about 2 million tons of soil and debris contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a cancer-causing byproduct of the chromium chemicals once manufactured at the site, a former Allied Chemical factory.

Air Monitoring Still Needed

Beatty’s initial air monitoring plan, which would set a baseline for hexavalent chromium in the atmosphere surrounding the site, was rejected in October.

New monitoring data must be collected before the developer can penetrate the cap to start building the foundation of the Exelon Tower. Beatty has not yet submitted a final air monitoring plan.

“We anticipate that an air monitoring plan could be approved by early January,” MDE spokesman Jay Apperson said this afternoon. Construction could begin after 15 days of data collection is complete and analyzed, Apperson said.

Beatty is under heavy time pressure to start work on the regional office tower of energy giant Exelon, which is scheduled to open in mid-2015.

In September, the Baltimore City Council approved $107 million in TIF tax financing  to build roads and other infrastructure at the site, but the city has delayed issuing the first tranche of TIF bonds until EPA-MDE approval was granted.

Under a 1989 consent decree between the EPA, MDE and current property owner, Honeywell International, construction over the capped area should not stir up dust or release contaminants into harbor waters that increase dangers to human health or the environment.

Today’s approval marks a major step forward for the planned $1 billion office, apartment and retail complex – the largest ever attempted in Baltimore – that has been wracked by controversies over tax breaks and environmental concerns for the last six months.

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  • Lizzie 58

    My fellow posters, James Hunt and River Mud, will be happy. The regulators did not hold up the project forever and a day. I always believed that when EPA and MDE gave Mr. Beatty the go ahead, he could proceed. Construction of a large high rise building can be a dangerous activity, no matter what site it is built on, and none of us want to see construction workers hurt regardless of how we feel about the project, the developer or the TIF. I feel frustrated at times that the City cares so much less for the non-waterfront neighborhoods, and that my neighborhood and others like it that pay considerable taxes do not get anywhere near the city attention or investment, tax breaks, amenities or police protection that the waterfront area gets. But here is hoping only for a safe and successful construction of the Exelon Building.

    • James Hunt

      Huzzah for Harbor Point!

      For all its faults, city government will step up and get involved when the residents of neighborhoods step up and get involved. I found this to be true more than a decade ago when the city supported the Radnor-Winston neighborhood’s crime-watch, clean-up and tree planting efforts, and it was true a couple weekends ago when the city supported (hat tip to Councilman Kraft’s office) Upper Fells Point residents in cleaning up the median of Broadway.

      As for downtown and the waterfront: property owners there pay not only ginormous taxes, they also pay fees to the Downtown or Waterfront Partnerships and most pay for their own trash removal. A not insignificant number also underwrite special events like last night’s Monument Lighting and spend a lot of hours staffing committees, etc.

    • River Mud

      Ha! Duly noted. I actually don’t think the regulators personally care that much at all. They want to do their job. They get no bonus or awards for doing a great job (very unfortunate). They also get no penalty for losing paperwork, forgetting to return phone calls, and other basic protocols, which is also very unfortunate. They are just following a rule book, or their best interpretation of a (admittedly complex and contradictory) rule book and trying to mark the correct steps in the permit process as outlined by law and litigation. It’s not really innovative stuff, but there’s no reward for “speed record” work by agency staff, much to the dismay of permit applicants.

      I strongly disagree with the tax breaks/credits for the record. I think the City would show extra “care” for any neighborhood that shows the potential to generate more tax revenue for the City – waterfront or not. “As long as the check clears,” as the old saying goes. I’m going to have another drink and pretend I don’t understand how sad that reality is.

  • lanas

    I love that Mr Aperson can claim that the air monitoring plan can be approved in less than 30 days (including major holidays) when the first plan missed the boat so badly and they have yet to see the new plan. Forgone conclusion?

  • cwals99

    Please just take this deal to court as racketeering as Exelon should not be getting those tax breaks. If you stop the anchor of the project, you slow or stop the project. There is no way in court for Exelon or the city to argue for those tax credits!

    • James Hunt

      Exelon isn’t getting the breaks. They’ll be a tenant paying market rent in a building Beatty will begin constructing this winter. It’s possible Stelios Spiliadis, owner of the Black Olive Inn across Caroline Street would have standing to sue, but there’ll be some interesting questions if he does. For example, if he was so concerned about the site (and, say, the possibility that chromium is migrating into surrounding areas), why did he have construction crews drill deeply to put in a geothermal system for the inn, and what did he do to protect them? SS used to head the zoning board. It’s not like he can plead ignorance of what’s going on around town.

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