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Baltimore mayor not sweating weather’s impact on waterfront development

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said a severe storm that hammered the city and the potential for persistent extreme weather stemming from climate change doesn’t cause him concern about waterfront development in the city.

Despite a strong storm on Tuesday that caused flooding around two of Baltimore’s most prominent developments in recent decades, Young said during his regular press conference on Wednesday that waterfront property owners know and accept the risk of living in those locations.

“It’s not going to happen every week, or every day, but in resort towns they have houses where people lease, and it’s right on the water, and people rebuild right after a storm,” Young said. “I think it’s safe to say that people have certain expectations of living around the water that these things can and might happen.”

A cloudburst swept through Baltimore on Tuesday evening causing wind damage, generating lighting strikes and dropping 6 inches of rain during a two-hour period, David McMillan director of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management said. Another round of severe storms came through the city Wednesday.

Major single rain events in the region, according to a 2018 study by the University of Maryland and Texas A&M on urban flooding, increased by 55% between 1958 and 2016. A map by the Center for Disaster Resilience, included in the study, lists areas along the Inner Harbor, Harbor Point and Harbor East as particularly flood-prone.

Stronger storms represent only part of the problem climate change is expected to cause for waterfront development in Baltimore. A 2018 study by the University of Maryland anticipates sea rise in the state causing water levels along Baltimore’s shorelines to rise by up to 1.5 feet by 2050.

As a result of the expected damage Baltimore filed a lawsuit in 2018 against oil and gas companies seeking compensation for costs related to global warming, such as projected property damage caused by rising sea levels.

In the last few decades Baltimore’s waterfront has attracted billions of dollars in development and emerged as what some describe as the city’s “Gold Coast.” Areas in east Baltimore along the harbor near Fells Point, such as Harbor East and Harbor Point, dealt with flooding on Tuesday.

The two developments represent some of the biggest real estate development investments in Baltimore in the last 20 years. In both cases the city, via tax incentives, encouraged the waterfront redevelopment from unwanted industrial properties to high-end mixed-use developments.

Harbor East includes the Four Seasons Hotel, Legg Mason Tower, Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business and upscale condos that list as high as $12.5 million. The $1 billion Harbor Point development is home to the Exelon Building and to apartment projects, such as 1405 Point, where some three-bedroom apartments rent for as much as $3,440 a month.

Those projects are expected to generate billions of dollars in tax revenues for the city over the next few decades. To encourage those developments the city granted developers tax incentives for building on the property.

Incentives to build the projects include a pair of 25-year payment in lieu of tax agreements, granted in 1997, charging $1 per year in property taxes for the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in Harbor East. The city also granted the Harbor Point developer $107 million in tax increment financing to build public infrastructure.

The returns on those investments have proved to be solid as the office buildings produced strong demand, in many cases luring tenants from downtown. Younger residents seeking an urban lifestyle have also found the atmosphere attractive. As a result of those success, and the city’s willingness to provide incentives, developers continue pursuing new waterfront development in Baltimore.

Weller Development Co. plans a $5.5 billion project over the next two decades on the Port Covington peninsula across the harbor from east Baltimore. The city granted the project $660 million in tax increment financing to support infrastructure work on the peninsula, which juts into the Middle Branch Patapsco River.

A spokesman for Weller Development Co. said Tuesday’s storm did not cause flooding at the development site. The area is also not listed as being particularly flood prone in the Center for Disaster Resilience’s map.


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