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Revise EBDI plan, panel says

The city’s urban design panel told developers of the $1.8 billion East Baltimore Development Inc. project Thursday to revise their master plan to make it more family-friendly.

Members of the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel told Scott Levitan, senior vice president for Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, to build residential units, not biotech buildings, around the public charter school under construction in the city’s Middle East neighborhood.

“My biggest concern is the next-door environment to the school, that it be residential,” said UDARP member Gary Bowden, whose recommendation was echoed by another UDARP member, Richard Burns.

In a presentation that took nearly an hour and a half, Levitan outlined a plan to build five 140,000-square-foot biotech and office buildings at the 88-acre site. When the EBDI project was first proposed in 2002, the buildings originally planned were to total 280,000 square feet.

Four of the biotech buildings would be clustered in the site’s southeastern corner, near Ashland Avenue and Chester Street. The fifth would abut the seven-acre site for the school.

Panel members told Levitan that was a problem and asked the developers to review the plan and move that building.

“It is a challenge,” Levitan responded. “To pay for all these things we’re talking about, there has to be commercial development.”

Levitan said Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership had acquired the development rights for 1.1 million square feet of commercial space at the EBDI project.

UDARP members voted to approve the revised master plan with comments, sending it on for consideration by the City Council next month. The council will vote on it as an amendment to existing planning documents governing the project, said Thomas J. Stosur, the city’s planning director.

Levitan heads the group serving as the master developer of the EBDI site.

He said the new master plan would include six acres of green space called Eager Park in the center of the development, to be partially lined with four-story residential buildings. Design for the park, he said, has not commenced, and funding is still being sought to build it.

A cluster of new residential, market-rate housing is a priority and construction will begin “later this year,” Levitan said, on a site already cleared at the corner of East Eager Street and Washington Avenue. A request for proposals issued last spring for 40 additional townhouse units in the 2000 block of East Eager Street has not been awarded, he said.

The rehabilitation of 25 existing rowhouses at McDonough and Chase Streets into market-rate houses has started, Levitan said. Later this year, a cluster of 25 rowhouses on Madeira Street that abuts the southern tip of the school site will also be rehabbed, he said.

The master plan, the third drawn up for the decade-old EBDI project, also includes plans for restaurants, a grocery store, a 150-room hotel to be built near Johns Hopkins Hospital and a parking garage with 900 spaces. A 20-story tower that opened in May for Johns Hopkins graduate students is 87 percent leased, he said.

In all, a total of 2,000 residential units are planned for the EBDI site, Levitan said.

While the school is scheduled to open in 2014, the project remains blighted by 50 acres of vacant houses. EBDI plans to demolish 172 houses and 10 foundations sometime this year, a city Housing Department spokeswoman said, but no plans have been announced for the other 405 abandoned houses, now pockmarking the area with doorways boarded and windows shattered.

Levitan told UDARP members that rehabbing has commenced in some communities surrounding the EBDI footprint, including the Oliver and Broadway neighborhood.

Forest City has hired a private marketing group to promote Eager Park, Levitan said.