If ACORN is still smarting from its defeat on the CitiFinancial loan at that Board of Estimates meeting, at least no one can say the board plays favorites with more affluent voters. At the same powwow, another more affluent community group--owners of condos at swanky Scarlett Place--watched the board OK an agreement that paves the way for a parking garage on a city-owned parcel between their waterfront building and the Columbus Center.
Scarlett Place residents have been up in arms about the parking plan since early spring, when they learned, almost by accident, of the Cordish Co.'s plans for a garage to serve the office complex it is building at the former Chart House site on Pier 4 (Mobtown Beat, April 11). Besides being upset that they hadn't heard about the proposal directly from Cordish or City Hall, several residents groused that a garage would block their views of the Inner Harbor and thus lower their property values, and that a garage doesn't represent the best use of the last sliver of undeveloped waterfront land on Pratt Street. Cordish, having already shelled out money for engineering and preliminary work (without any guarantee of city approval), met with residents in an attempt to smooth over ruffled feathers; at the same time, in meetings between company officials and Baltimore Development Corp. chief M.J. "Jay" Brodie, the proposed car barn grew from three stories to seven and from 600 spaces to 715.
Brodie, testifying before the board, urged approval of the "land-disposition agreement" (LDA) that would basically guarantee that Cordish's money will have been well spent. As to residents' concerns about the garage's dimensions and design, he said they could be dealt with as the project wends its way through various Design Advisory Panel reviews and Planning Commission hearings. The Board of Estimates agreed. But now that the deal's more or less officially done, residents say they're concerned that agreements made behind closed doors will essentially become fait accompli.
As, it seems to the Nose, the garage has been from the beginning. City Council President Sheila Dixon, who chairs the Board of Estimates, acknowledged as much during a board work session when, discussing kinks in the LDA deal, she told colleagues, "We know it's gonna be there, I'm just trying to make it a win-win." (At the subsequent meeting, the usually pro-developer Dixon cast the only vote against the LDA, favoring Scarlett Place residents' request for a six-month delay to conduct traffic and environmental-impact studies.) A grimacing council member Lois Garey, whose 1st District includes the high-rise condo building, fired an accusatory shot at Brodie, saying, "From your perspective, it was a go from the beginning."
O'Malley made his sentiments clear during the work session, stating that Scarlett Place residents would be unhappy no matter what, and that as long as they got a chance to participate in design discussions, the deal has his OK. Brodie brought the informal discussion of the matter to a close, asserting, "It's not a lack of meeting and talking, it's a lack of agreement" that has Scarlett Place residents in a dither. By that logic, with discord certain to increase in the wake of the LDA approval, Scarlett Place residents might want to brace themselves for another story or two.