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Harbor Hill Apartment expansion design approved

Baltimore’s architecture review panel approved, with comments, schematics for the Harbor Hill Apartments expansion near Federal Hill Park.

The approval allows designer Fillat + Architecture and developer Renaissance Céntro to move on to more detailed levels of planning for the proposed four-story building above two floors of underground parking.

“It’s really a new construction building attached to the old (Southern) high school,” Peter A. Fillat III, principal at Fillat + Architecture, told members of the review panel.

A developer converted the old Southern High School building into apartments decades ago. But early last year Southern Engineering Corp., a sister company of Renaissance Céntro, purchased the building and the development rights to a parking lot across East Hamburg Street — bordered by Grindall Street and Riverside Avenue — the site of the proposed new building.

An enclosed bridge across East Hamburg Street between the properties will connect the buildings.

Initially, the developer and architect considered constructing a 45-foot-tall building and later even considered raising that to a 53-foot-high structure. But a building of that height would have required a zoning variance, and Fillat said it decided to respect the urban renewal plan for the area that limits building heights to 40 feet.

“We really feel this building is about a street wall,” Fillat said, referencing the need for design continuity between the apartments across the street and the rowhomes to the south of the project.

Exact details about the proposed building remain scarce. Ilan A. Scharfstein, vice president for Bethesda-based Renaissance Céntro, said there’s no timeline for delivery of the building or estimated cost for construction. The apartments, he said, will lease at market rate.

The exact number of apartments in the building remains undecided. But Scharfstein said that number should be around 70 units with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom flats.

Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel members Gary A. Bowden and Pavlina Ilieva, both architects, were generally complimentary of the design.

“I was glad to see you didn’t take the easy way out and copy the look of the buildings across the street,” Bowden said.

Ilieva had the strongest criticism of the schematics. She expressed concern about the lack of variation on some elements of the building’s massing.

Fillat assured panel members his firm would find a way to make the design elements more diverse.

“Just because we’re not using high-end materials doesn’t mean the architecture can’t be cool,” he said.