The master plan for the proposed development of Baltimore’s Port Covington district was unveiled at the Planning Commission’s meeting on June 2 with a crowded room of local residents in attendance. (Baltimore City Department of Planning Facebook Photo)

The long-awaited master plan for the proposed development of Baltimore’s Port Covington district was unveiled by the city’s Planning Commission on June 2 to a crowded room of local residents.

An overflow crowd was on hand at the Planning Commission’s Fayette Street offices, as civic groups, churches and curious Marylanders from as far away as Hagerstown came to hear Sagamore Development Corporation’s strategy to develop a neglected 266-acre tract of land in South Baltimore.

“We all wanted to make sure that the people had an opportunity to be heard. Lots of times you feel that the process is closed,” said Wilber Cunningham, chairman of the Planning Commission. “This hearing was so that the public can hear and see the project and then give an opportunity for testimony.”

The master plan calls for construction at the site to unfold in multiple phases over a 25-year period, according to Caroline Paff, a vice president of Sagamore Development. In addition to a new global corporate campus for Under Armour Corporation, the site in South Baltimore will be redeveloped to include housing, schools, parks, shops and maritime attractions.

“We are already underway with parts of our plan,” said Paff. “The Waterfront Park will be one of the very first things that we open. We hope it is a wonderful attraction. This will be a public park and we hope it will be one of the attractions that will reconnect people with this area.”

In his testimony, City Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano clarified why the city waived the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance for the Port Covington project, which would have required the developers to include affordable housing which the city would pay for.

Graziano explained that approximately 5,000 affordable housing units would nevertheless need to be built at a cost of $183 million, given the overall size of the residential portion of the Port Covington Project.

“Clearly, the city doesn’t have $183 million,” Graziano told the commission, to the displeasure of some in the audience. “We are compelled by the ordinance to waive it.”

However, Graziano said the city’s agreement with Sagamore requires the development company to apply to the state to incorporate below-market-rate housing into the project, he said.

Michael Middleton, chair of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, raised concerns about the six low-wealth communities surrounding the Port Covington development.

“We’ve really been looked at as the armpit of Baltimore,” Middleton said, reminding the Planning Commission that the Cherry Hill community had previously been the site of Baltimore’s City Dump.

“Sagamore has recognized that Port Covington cannot exist if the communities around it continue to suffer in the manner that they have,” said Middleton. He said he agrees with the plan and has entered into discussion with the Cherry Hill Coalition to “go beyond the development of Port Covington itself.”

The Rev. Charles Vaugh of Waters AME Church wanted to make sure rising property taxes don’t cause the kind of displacement that occurred in Federal Hill after the development of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

“My concern is for especially our seniors who own homes in places like Cherry Hill and Brooklyn,” Vaugh said. “If the property value goes up too high as the result of new development, but their income remains the same, they will end up losing their homes. So I am asking the city to consider a cap on property tax at least for 10-20 years.”    

Kim Truehart, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council President, urged the Planning Commission and the public to view the Port Covington plans with caution.

“If the only folk who are going to get opportunities are the developer and his crew—we don’t need it,” she said. “If it can’t lift the rest of the city, it is again creating the image of two Baltimores.”

However, other community advocates such as the Rev. Alvin Gwynn, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, support the Port Covington project.

Gwynn has created a partnership with Sagamore Development Corporation that he said will bring jobs and opportunities for Baltimoreans over the life of the project. “They are committed to minority participation. They are being monitored by the city,” Gwynn said.

Sagamore Development is currently seeking $1.14 billion in public funding to support the project, including a $535-million-dollar request for Tax Increment Funding (TIF) currently before the Baltimore City Council.  

The Planning Commission will meet again to vote on the Port Covington Master Plan on June 23, after a public comment period. Public commentS on the Port Covington Master Plan will be accepted by the Planning Commission through June 16 via e-mail at plan@baltimorecity.gov, or by mail directed to Mr. Thomas J. Stosur, Director, Baltimore City Department of Planning, 417 E. Fayette Street, 8th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202.

Copies of the Port Covington Master Plan can be obtained at the Baltimore Planning Commission website or by viewing here: http://www.baltimorecity.gov/sites/default/files/Port%20Covington%20Draft%20MP%20Planning%20Commission%20Presentation%2006-02-16.pdf.