Worried about the possible “Manhattanization” of historic Fells Point, a coalition of residents is asking city officials to impose a 40- to 45-foot height limit on new buildings in the community as part of the TransForm Baltimore rezoning process.
The group says it is making the request because numerous properties would be permitted to rise up to 60 feet if the zoning code is adopted as currently amended.
The citizens say such developments would add to traffic congestion, block views and generally undermine the low-rise, human-scaled character of the district, where most buildings are much lower than 40 feet high.
Noting that preservationists have fought to protect Fells Point from inappropriate development since the 1960s, they say they don’t want to see it now.
“If this were Annapolis, they would no sooner allow a 60-foot-tall building than the man in the moon,” said Marty Bement, a home builder who lives and works in Fells Point.
“We think Harbor East is cool,” Bement said of the high-rise neighborhood located a few blocks west of Fells Point. And to the east, there are more tall apartment buildings in Canton.
“But they’re not a 250-year-old historic district. People don’t come here to see tall buildings. They come here to see history.”
“I call it the Manhattanization of lower Fells Point,” said Mark Adams, another member of the height limit coalition. “It’s walling off the harbor. It would destroy the character of our historic village.”
The Fells Point properties that would be allowed to have taller buildings as part of the rezoning process include the Cambridge Iron & Metal Company lot at 2030 Aliceanna Street (currently a parking lot with a one-story building) and a nearby block containing a Burger King and Royal Farms store.
Developers Richard Manekin and Doug Schmidt want to build a 52-foot-high apartment building at the Aliceanna site, which is across the street from the harbor and would hamper the views of surrounding residents.
Other properties eligible for height increases – ranging from 35 feet to 60 feet – are located along Broadway, much of Eastern Avenue and Fleet Street, and parts of Aliceanna, Lancaster and Thames streets.
Bement and others have formed a coalition called the Historic Fells Point Work Group, with a dozen members, including representatives from each of five community associations in the area.
Height Limit “Overlay”
The Work Group members have asked the City Council to impose a height limit over the entire Fells Point historic district as an “overlay” to the revised zoning code.
Their proposed overlay would cover the same area that has been designated a local historic district by Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation.
The area is bounded roughly by Chester Street on the east, Bank Street and Pratt Street on the north, Caroline Street on the west, and the waterfront on the south.
The proposed overlay would establish a height limit of 40 to 45 feet for any new construction within its boundaries.
Existing structures that exceed the 45 foot height limit, such as church steeples, would be “grandfathered in.”
The work group’s height limit overlay proposal has been presented to and endorsed by all five community groups in the area: the Fells Point Residents Association, Fells Point Community Organization, Upper Fells Point Improvement Association, Fells Prospect Community Association, and the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point.
Bement said his group went to the community associations because it wanted to show City Council members that the height limit proposal has widespread support.
With the backing of the five community groups, the coalition asked First District Councilman James Kraft to recommend that a 40-foot height limit overlay be imposed on the Fells Point historic district, thus negating previous zoning recommendations that would permit taller buildings.
In keeping with the body’s tradition of “councilmanic courtesy,” Kraft is the only elected official who can introduce legislation that would affect his district.
Aliceanna Proposal Backed by Kraft
Kraft said he has been meeting with the height limit advocates in response to their overlay proposal.
“It’s a very complicated issue,” he said. “The community people may think it’s a very simple thing. It’s not as simple as they may believe.”
Kraft said he is willing to consider zoning changes that would lower the height limit on certain properties, but he is not willing to reduce the recommended zoning for 2030 Aliceanna Street.
The Planning Commission has rejected the proposal after staff warned that the building would be “severely out of character” with the surrounding area.
The site is currently zoned for industrial use. Kraft has recommended changing the zoning to a C-1 classification, which would permit commercial structures up to 60 feet tall. Kraft said he had recommended a C-2 designation at one point, which would allow 100-foot-tall buildings, but he later agreed to a C-1 designation.
Kraft said the “majority of the community” has accepted the idea of a mid-rise building at 2030 Aliceanna, but the height limit advocates insist that the site be subject to the overlay.
Bement said his group has focused on the property because it is one of the first parcels in Fells Point that has a “live” proposal attached to it.
Kraft said the City Council is working to have all rezoning legislation passed and sent to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for her signature by late March or early April. The revisions are being considered by the Council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.
“I’m continuing to have discussions with the community, and I anticipate resolving the issue very soon,” Kraft told The Brew. “I think 99% of the people will be happy and will think it solves the problem.”
Bement, however, said he hopes Kraft will accept his group’s proposal. He said the Work Group is not a fringe faction but has support from every corner of the district.
“We know Kraft’s done good things for Fells Point,” he said. “All we want him to do is be our advocate.”