Plans for Clip­per Mill rais­ing some ques­tions

His­toric com­plex’s owner wants to triple the num­ber of apart­ments

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Mered­ith Cohn

A devel­oper wants to com­plete the trans­for­ma­tion of the his­toric cot­ton mill com­plex of Clip­per Mill by tripling the num­ber of apart­ments there, a pro­posal that is rais­ing ques­tions about traf­fic, park­ing and how much is too much from res­i­dents in the area.

“The vil­lage,” as many lo­cals call it, is filled with 19th-cen­tury brick and stone build­ings up­dated with mod­ern flair and an­chored by Wood­berry Kitchen, which helped pi­o­neer the farm-to-ta­ble move­ment in Bal­ti­more when it set­tled in the Foundry build­ing in 2007.

About a year af­ter ValS­tone Part­ners, a Michigan-based pri­vate eq­uity in­vest­ment firm, spent nearly $19 mil­lion on mul­ti­ple build­ings in the 17.5-acre en­clave west of Ham­p­den, the com­pany is eye­ing gaps in the foot­print for hun­dreds of new apart­ments, per­haps a cof­fee shop and sand­wich place, small of­fices and park­ing garages.

The Bal­ti­more-run arm of the firm plans to take ad­van­tage of the nearby light rail and new tran­sit-ori­ented zon­ing, “and pro­vide for a va­ri­ety of life­style choices while re­spect­ing the vi­brant and healthy neigh­bor­hood that was cre­ated more than 15 years ago,” said Caroline Paff, a prin­ci­pal at VI Devel­op­ment, which is con­sult­ing on the ValS­tone project.

ValS­tone has no for­mal de­signs but plans to add 336 new two- and three­bed­room units by build­ing on three park­ing lots and over­haul­ing an old ware­house known as the Trac­tor build­ing.

Its plans would fill much of the large parcels left un­de­vel­oped by Struever Bros. Ec­cles & Rouse, which re­de­vel­oped the mill com­plex be­fore founder­ing in the last re­ces­sion.

Some res­i­dents who live in and around the devel­op­ment say so many new apart-

ments may be a lot for the highly traf­ficked area to ab­sorb.

“In an area that has seen so much smart devel­op­ment, will a devel­oper throw our in­sight­ful plan­ning away for what could be a heap of cash?” said Bren­nen Jensen, who moved with his wife and dogs in 2009 to Clip­per Road, the devel­op­ment’s eastern bound­ary.

Most res­i­dents of Clip­per Mill and sur­round­ing ar­eas who at­tended a 41⁄ hour meet­ing with de­vel­op­ers Tues­day even­ing hosted by City Coun­cil­man Leon F. Pin­kett did not op­pose devel­op­ment. Since the res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood of Clip­per Mill isn’t all that old, many rec­og­nized that they have ben­e­fited from the in­vest­ments.

But res­i­dents voiced many con­cerns about the pro­posal, in­clud­ing wors­en­ing ex­ist­ing traf­fic and park­ing prob­lems, the num­ber of units that might go un­filled and de­press prop­erty val­ues, the height of the pro­posed build­ings of six sto­ries or more, and the lack of new retail and of­fice space.

Char­lie Cron­heim, who moved to his condo in 2008, joined oth­ers in telling the de­vel­op­ers that prop­erty own­ers who own two-thirds of the land and as­sessed value have a right to a say.

“I’m all for ValS­tone in­vest­ing and do­ing things and mak­ing money,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s done in con­sid­er­a­tion of the en­tire com­mu­nity.”

Margo Halle, who moved four years ago to a home fac­ing the devel­op­ment’s south­ern edge, said she ap­pre­ci­ated ValS­tone’s will­ing­ness to en­gage with the com­mu­nity. She said she came for the “ar­ti­san­res­i­den­tial vil­lage-like am­biance” and sees why oth­ers would want to come there too.

Area res­i­dents say they are feel­ing a pinch be­cause the Clip­per Mill devel­op­ment is among sev­eral planned, un­der­way or re­cently com­pleted in the greater Ham­p­den area. Neigh­bors are try­ing to keep a devel­oper from de­mol­ish­ing two 1840s-era stone build­ings on Clip­per Road out­side the ValS­tone devel­op­ment for up to 80 more apart­ments.

ValS­tone of­fi­cials said they con­sid­ered four other new de­vel­op­ments in the area when they con­ducted their traf­fic study.

Data in­di­cates why the area still may look so at­trac­tive to de­vel­op­ers.

“Be­tween 2010 and 2016 me­dian in­come has gone up more than the city­wide av­er­age as has me­dian home sales, com­mer­cial prop­er­ties with re­hab per­mits and the [vi­o­lent and prop­erty] crime rate has gone down,” said Seema Iyer, as­so­ciate direc­tor of the Jacob France In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Bal­ti­more, which tracks de­mo­graphic data for the Bal­ti­more Neigh­bor­hood In­di­ca­tors Al­liance.

Me­dian house­hold in­come in the Med­field-Ham­p­den-Wood­berry-Rem­ing­ton area rose to $49,000 from $34,000 be­tween 2000 and 2010, and by 2016 it was more than $61,000. The city­wide av­er­age was $47,350.

Iyer’s data shows close to 10 per­cent of the area’s res­i­dents re­ported that they use pub­lic trans­porta­tion to get to work, and al­most an­other 5 per­cent use a bike or other al­ter­na­tive.

ValS­tone specif­i­cally wants to cap­i­tal­ize on that. Still, Paff said the firm is aware of the com­mu­nity’s con­cerns about the pos­si­ble den­sity and in­fra­struc­ture is­sues. She said that two of the build­ings may not be built in the near fu­ture or at all.

But Paff said plan­ning for all four build­ings is con­tin­u­ing and she con­vened the project’s con­sul­tants on Tues­day to ex­plain how they might man­age en­vi­ron­men­tal and wa­ter is­sues, as well as traf­fic and park­ing and the devel­op­ment process it­self.

The project’s guid­ing doc­u­ment, a 15year-old planned unit devel­op­ment map, will need to be scrapped or re­done through the leg­isla­tive process be­cause the city has since com­pleted an over­haul of its zon­ing code. Un­der the new zon­ing, the project is al­lowed fewer res­i­den­tial units but lim­ited on other types of devel­op­ment.

Res­i­dents see a new PUDas a way to have more in­put. Pin­kett said he was still re­view­ing the zon­ing and con­sid­er­ing res­i­dents’ views and had not de­ter­mined what he would pur­sue through the coun­cil this sum­mer and fall.

Paff said she and oth­ers on the project were grate­ful that so many neigh­bors — about 75 — came to the meet­ing to have “a con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion on next steps for com­mu­nity en­gage­ment.”

The devel­op­ment team ex­pects to work out the zon­ing is­sues by the end of the year, Paff said. De­sign work will pro­ceed and work could be­gin in the first half of next year. Con­struc­tion on each site could take 12 to 18 months, and the project could be com­pleted by 2023.

JERRY JACK­SON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The old ware­house called the Trac­tor Build­ing, cen­ter, is one of the ar­eas of the Clip­per Mill com­plex where the owner wants to add apart­ments; some neigh­bors have voiced con­cerns about in­creased traf­fic, lack of park­ing and other is­sues.

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