Zon­ing change halts plans for Fort Howard de­vel­op­ment

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

The Baltimore County Coun­cil moved this week to make ma­jor de­vel­op­ment on the site of the long-shut­tered Fort Howard Veter­ans Af­fairs hospi­tal — a wa­ter­front prop­erty tar­geted for new con­struc­tion for more than a decade — nearly im­pos­si­ble.

That could change, County Coun­cil­man Todd Cran­dell says — but only if the U.S. De­part­ment of Veter­ans Af­fairs and its de­vel­oper pro­pose a plan that’s ac­cept­able to him and the site’s neigh­bors.

“What has been pre­sented so far won’t work,” the Dun­dalk Repub­li­can said Wed­nes­day. “I want a plan that’s go­ing to work.”

The coun­cil voted Tues­day to slash the max­i­mum num­ber of homes that could be built on the 104-acre site in Dun­dalk from 572 to just over100. That wasa­mong more than 500 land-use de­ci­sions made

by the coun­cil dur­ing its qua­dren­nial re­view of zon­ing across the county.

The VA closed the hospi­tal in 2002, but plans to re­de­velop the site have stalled.

The cur­rent lessor of the prop­erty, Ti­mothy Mun­shell of Fort Howard De­vel­op­ment LLC, has pro­posed about 1,400 homes and as­sisted-liv­ing units, a ho­tel, of­fices and shops. Cran­dell has blocked that plan, which he says is too in­tense for the prop­erty.

De­vel­oper Ar­mando Cig­nar­ale of Cig­nal Corp. has in­di­cated an in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing a part­ner­ship with Mun­shell. Cran­dell said Cig­nar­ale pitched a 400-unit de­vel­op­ment of town homes and as­sisted liv­ing.

Cran­dell drafted leg­is­la­tion that would have al­lowed the 400-unit project, but then with­drew it.

It’s not clear if Cig­nar­ale is still in­volved in the project. Nei­ther Mun­shell nor Cig­nar­ale re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment Wed­nes­day.

The VA also did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Mun­shell is the sec­ond de­vel­oper who has at­tempted to re­de­velop Fort Howard. John In­fantino, who pro­posed res­i­dences, a large ma­rina, shops and other ameni­ties for the site, clashed with county of­fi­cials on zon­ing and tax is­sues. He said reg­u­la­tions made the project fi­nan­cially un­work­able and backed out.

In­fantino reached an agree­ment with the state at­tor­ney gen­eral to re­turn ap­pli­ca­tion fees paid by prospec­tive res­i­dents, in­clud­ing veter­ans.

Re­duc­ing the al­low­able den­sity on the prop­erty ef­fec­tively en­sures that noth­ing will be built at Fort Howard for the time be­ing. Cran­dell said the down­zon­ing is lever­age to get the VA and Mun­shell to come up with a new plan.

The move had the sup­port of neigh­bors, who con­tinue to push for hous­ing for veter­ans on the site.

Scott Pappas, vice pres­i­dent of the Fort Howard Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion, be­lieves it will work.

“It will lead to bring­ing all stake­hold­ers to the ta­ble so we can mean­ing­fully move for- ward,” he said.

Neigh­bors say they have felt left out of the plan­ning for a par­cel they see as a key piece of their com­mu­nity. An of­fi­cer of the com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tion has sued the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in an at­tempt to get a copy of the lease agree­ment with Mun­shell.

Cran­dell said he hasn’t seen the lease, but has been told by the de­vel­oper and the VA that it re­quires the de­vel­oper to in­clude 50 units of “sup­port­ive hous­ing” for veter­ans and to pre­serve his­toric struc­tures, in­clud­ing the main brick hospi­tal build­ing.

Both those re­quire­ments are costly, Cran­dell said, so a de­vel­oper would need to build and sell more units to make a de­vel­op­ment vi­able. He said eas­ing those pro­vi­sions could make it eas­ier for a de­vel­oper to build fewer units.

“It’s an un­work­able lease,” Cran­dell said. “We have got­ten no help from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.”

Neigh­bors say his­tory is im­por­tant. Pappas and oth­ers want any re­de­vel­op­ment to pre­serve at least some el­e­ments of the site’s mil­i­tary her­itage.

Mil­i­tary his­tory on the Fort Howard penin­sula dates to the War of 1812, when Bri­tish troops landed there en route to Baltimore. They were turned back by Amer­i­can forces.

The Army built Fort Howard in 1900. Nick­named the “Bull­dog at Baltimore’s Gate,” it served in the 1920s as head­quar­ters for Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur when he was posted in the city.

The fort was de­com­mis­sioned and the land was given to the VA in 1940 for a hospi­tal — but a for­mer Army bar­racks on the site was used dur­ing World War II to hold Ger­man pris­on­ers of war.

The hospi­tal was shut­tered in 2002, and an out­pa­tient clinic closed this year.

Pappas said a pro­posal that fo­cused on veter­ans would con­tinue the site’s mil­i­tary his­tory.

With a more con­ven­tional re­de­vel­op­ment, he fears the mil­i­tary spirit would fade.

“In time, it will dis­si­pate. The ques­tion is how much,” he said. “We be­lieve it will dis­si­pate into noth­ing. It will be a foot­note in a his­tory book some­where.”

“What has been pre­sented so far won’t work. I want a plan that’s go­ing to work.”

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