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In city and county, year marked by fits and starts

Controversy and construction. Big plans and small steps. Creative financing. In 2013, the real estate and development scene in the city and Baltimore County saw a wave of fits and starts. Let’s review.

The biggest story by far was the controversy surrounding the Harbor Point project on Baltimore’s waterfront, a 27-acre plot picked by Exelon Corp. nearly two years ago for its new regional headquarters.

This year saw a request for $107 million in tax increment financing, or TIF, bonds by developer Michael Beatty, who broke away from his former development partner, bakery mogul John S. Paterakis, early in 2013. The ask caused tremors under the City Hall dome during a series of City Council committee hearings over the summer. It came to a vote before the full council in September and it passed, as most council members gushed about the prospects of helping cement the city’s future, while TIF opponents stewed.

Up next was a limited debate over environmental concerns at Harbor Point, once the location of the Allied Signal chromium plant. Toxic hexavalent chromium waste remains at the site, covered by a protective cap as part of a $100 million cleanup — but Beatty Development Group LLC needs to pierce the cap in more than 1,000 places to anchor the 23-story building into bedrock. Stay tuned as this develops.

In the meantime, other developments in Baltimore were taking off.

On the East Side, Canton Crossing opened to much fanfare in October. Construction of new apartments and retail space in Fells Point got underway on Broadway (where a two-bedroom apartment will rent for $3,800 a month) and the beautiful and classy Union Wharf rental development opened off Thames Street.

Further north, housing starts at the East Baltimore Development Inc. project on 88 acres in Middle East were delayed for another year. As a result, a $42 million public charter school known as Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School is scheduled to open Feb. 10 surrounded by vacant and blighted houses. The city’s Board of Estimates pushed through a state grant of $2.5 million on Dec. 11 to fund demolition of some of these homes as City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young explained that the children should not have to look out of the windows at a ghetto.

On the West Side, an expanded R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center opened in November.

Owings Mills developer Howard Brown continued to solidify plans to demolish the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre this year and replace it with a retail and residential development along Charles Street. Brown also pushed forward with plans to build another residential project on West Baltimore Street near the University of Maryland medical campus.

The Superblock project moved one step forward and 10 steps back as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stripped away the development rights in early summer, only to face a $50 million lawsuit by the developers against the city. In December, a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge denied a city motion to dismiss.

Amazon announced in the fall that it would locate a 1 million-square-foot warehouse at a former General Motors plant on Broening Highway in Baltimore, employing 1,000.

In Baltimore County, officials unveiled a trio of plans to redevelop Towson, with hopes that the county seat may one day resemble Harbor East or Silver Spring’s tony retail and residential offerings.

Towson Row is one of the planned projects. It’s a $300 million development for York Road near the Baltimore County Public Library, and would be developed by the politically connected Caves Valley Partners. Construction at the site, which occupies nearly five acres, is expected to begin in 2015.

Caves Valley Partners was also selected by a group that included county planners to develop a parcel on the north side of Towson’s central core — also on York Road — at Bosley Avenue, with a sprawling Royal Farms convenience store and other retail where an outdated fire station now sits. The developers also redeveloped the Towson City Center building nearby.

Further north, Howard Brown’s Metro Centre opened the first of its planned 1,700 residential units this past year, next to a new library branch and a new Owings Mills campus for the Community College of Baltimore County.

Nearby, demolition of the former Solo Cup plant on Reisterstown Road commenced after much argument and legal wrangling between Brown and another developer, Brian Gibbons, of Greenberg Gibbons. Construction of Foundry Row, to include a Wegmans supermarket as an anchor, is expected at some point. Legal and planning issues remain outstanding.

Officials at the senior living community North Oaks in Pikesville say they recorded a 14 percent increase in sales last year over 2012 data.

The spike is related to a new dining hall, beauty shop, windows and upgrades to the development’s corridors that cost $4 million overall, officials of Life Care Services LLC, which manages the property, say.

“Our residents enjoy an active lifestyle with cultural outings, lectures and discussions, religious services, political forums, and physical activity with fitness classes tailored to their needs and abilities,” said Mark Pressman, executive director, in a statement. “It is a truly comfortable community with many residents finding siblings, cousins and neighbors eventually joining them here.”

TIDBITS: The Greene Turtle Towson unveiled its new rooftop bar and grill this week. Called the Turtle Shell, the glass-enclosed addition seats 100 and offers views of downtown Towson to go along with a steamed seafood bar … The Commercial Real Estate Women, or CREW Baltimore, will hold a luncheon with a forum on “the road ahead” for development in the metropolitan area on Jan. 23 beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the Hotel Monaco downtown … Donors and volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake built 31 homes last year for needy families, the nonprofit reported this week … Carlisle Commons Shopping Center in Carlisle, Pa. was recently bought by a joint venture partnership between Pratt Street Capital LLC and Broad Reach Retail Partners LLC. The 387,383-square-foot retail center holds a Wal-Mart, TJ Maxx, Staples and Regal Theater among its tenants … The location of a Jan. 22 networking mixer for those interested in work at the Harbor Point development will be at the local headquarters of Exelon, and not at Turner Construction, as reported earlier in the Notebook. The address is 750 E. Pratt St.