Charged with scrutinizing new building projects, Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel (UDARP) usually sticks close to technical issues like scale and proportion and architectural style.
But presented with plans for a $1 billion mixed-use development for Canton – including a potential 400-foot-tall residential tower and 7,000 parking spaces – members of the panel also zeroed in on the red-hot issue of traffic in Baltimore’s booming Southeast district.
“At times, especially at lunchtime, Boston Street can really be problematic,” said panel member Rich Burns, giving an assessment that many who drive there would consider an understatement.
At UDARP’s meeting on Thursday, Burns recommended that the developer conduct a thorough traffic study to determine what impact its proposed development would have on congestion of roads such as Boston and Clinton streets.
“I don’t have a problem with an increase in density,” Burns said, “provided you do a. . . traffic analysis on the increase in density.”
Not Based on Red Line
News of the massive development comes in the wake of the politically-charged cancellation by Gov. Larry Hogan of the Red Line light-rail project that was proposed to run just north of the development along Boston Street.
Supporters of the project have bitterly castigated Hogan and opponents of the line for killing a project they believe would have reversed the severe traffic problem plaguing Boston and other area streets.
“It just hurts my head to think of how much car congestion Canton/SE Baltimore is in store for with no Red Line,” said a post on the Baltimore Transit Facebook page, linking to an article about the proposed Canton development.
The developer team was asked by UDARP members whether the project was designed with the assumption that the Red Line would be built, thereby reducing the need for a certain number of cars and parking spaces.
“The project wasn’t based on that,” said David Manfredi of Elkus Manfredi Architects, the designer for the project.
“It would be a wonderful asset,” he added, “but it wasn’t based on that.”
A recently-released study by a consultant concludes that existing Southeast roadways are unable to accommodate “future development-generated vehicular traffic volumes,” but the report makes no recommendations for improving east-west streets through Canton.
The Canton Community Association, meanwhile, is trying to review a long-discussed plan to widen Boston Street from two to four lanes on its eastern end to deal with the daily back-ups of traffic.
Hotel and Restaurant Cluster
The meeting served as the public unveiling of “The Waterfront at Canton Crossing” on a 10-acre site near Boston and Clinton streets.
Preliminary documents released by the developer, Corporate Office Properties Trust of Columbia, call for more than 2 million square feet of office and retail space and approximately 7,000 parking spaces, all above grade.
The plans include five or six office buildings, a hotel and one residential tower that could be as high as 400 feet, or about 40 stories.
Residences are not currently permitted on the property due to a deed restriction, but the developers are seeking to change that.
The plans also include five or six restaurants and landscaped open space overlooking the Canton waterfront and a 200-slip marina.
If permits are issued in time, the developer said, some sitework could begin by the middle of next year.
Pedestrians Over Cars
COPT has become a major investor in downtown Baltimore’s office market as well as the CareFirst tower and other Canton holdings of Edwin F. Hale Sr.
The developer says it would like permission to build more than is allowed by the Planned Unit Development (PUD) previously approved for the Canton property, which is mostly along the water’s edge west of the CareFirst tower.
Thursday’s review was part of their effort to amend the zoning for the land.
COPT said it plans to work with the existing network of city streets and supplement that to provide access to the site. “We’re proposing an increase of density on the site, and to do that there is a need for vehicular access on the site,” Manfredi said.
“We want to make the Canton streets as pedestrian friendly and bike friendly as possible, where the pedestrian and the bike have precedence over the car,” he added.
Trucks Around the Clock
Members of the review panel had high praise for the plan, saying they appreciated the design team’s emphasis on creating welcoming public spaces to go along with the private commercial buildings.
But several members went back to the question of traffic. Panelist Gary Bowden, who lives in Canton, noted that Clinton Street gets heavy truck traffic night and day.
He questioned how the proposed restaurants and other commercial spaces would do “if there are still trucks going through on Clinton Street 24/7 – big trucks.”
“We share all of that” thinking about the trucks, Manfredi replied. “I would love to see them go away.”
But the city has no plan to get trucks off Clinton Street, said Anthony Cataldo, a senior city planner and coordinator of the design review panel. “As of now, it’s not going to change,” Cataldo said.