Redevelopment of PEMCO site set to begin

Written by on May 7, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments
MCB Real Estate has purchased the 20-acre PEMCO site across Eastern Ave. from Johns Hopkins Bayview. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

MCB Real Estate has purchased the 20-acre PEMCO site across Eastern Ave. from Johns Hopkins Bayview. – Photo by Erik Zygmont

5601 Eastern Ave., the former site of the PEMCO Corporation, has been purchased by MCB Real Estate, a Baltimore development firm that counts the Eastpoint Mall among its recent acquisitions.

MCB has put forward a couple concepts for the site, located at 5601 Eastern Ave. across from Johns Hopkins Bayview, which involve both retail and residential uses. The 20-acre property is bound by Eastern Ave. to the north, I-95 to the south, Bonsal St. to the east and Umbra St. to the west.

At an April 28 meeting of the Southeast Neighborhoods Development, an alliance of seven community associations from Greektown on east, City Councilman Jim Kraft noted that zoning specifications would have to be proposed and adopted in City Council prior to any redevelopment of the site. That action would have to originate with Kraft himself, as PEMCO property is within his 1st District.

“I’m not introducing anything until we see some more serious plans, and the community has more serious discussion about them,” Kraft said last week.

“I’m not going to introduce legislation and have them have a concept and then just run around and build what they want to build,” he added, noting that such a situation had occurred in another part of the city.

Al Barry of AB Associates, a local land-planning firm that is part of the development team for the PEMCO property, provided the Baltimore Guide with documents—including a development summary and concepts—initially given to community leaders in March for a stakeholders’ meeting. Barry emphasized that the concepts were “just concepts,” and the development team would be continuing discussions with the community.

The team has presented two initial concepts with similar features, both created by Brown Craig Turner, a city architectural firm that has been involved in the National Harbor development near Washington, D.C., and, more locally, Canton Crossing. Both concepts place the main entrance to the development directly across from Bayview Hospital’s signaled entrance, turning a three-way intersection into a four-way intersection.

In both concepts, the entrance to the development continues into a “landscaped boulevard” that runs from Eastern Ave. to the southern end of the property, where it terminates at a possible hotel or apartment facility.

Both concepts place between 200 and 250 apartments on the east side of the property, which would be separated from Greektown with a 130-foot-wide green buffer space running north to south. While the concept places those apartments above retail uses, larger retail uses are placed on the west side of the property, against the Belts industrial complex. These “large format retailers” would be put in one building of approximately 80,000 square feet in total.

There would be a couple “signature” retail/office and residential uses at the entrance to the development, accenting the northern end of the boulevard.

Kraft said last week that he was “not going to give them more than 60,000 square feet to any one retailer.”

“People from Greektown have made it clear that they don’t want any big box retailer in their neighborhood,” he said.

Early last summer, rumors and a couple vague newspaper articles mentioned the possibility of a Walmart coming to the site, but there were no follow-up reports and the rumors faded.

The site will require some work to address environmental issues. A ravine landfill containing frit—a byproduct of glass- and porcelain-product manufacturing—had run north-to-south on the western and southwestern portion of the property.

According to MCB’s development summary, the ravine has been capped with over six feet of clay, and four monitoring wells have been established to keep track of the groundwater from the landfill. Additionally, according to MCB, over 100 soil borings, more than 20 soil vapor samples, and 20 monitoring wells “have been installed in recent years to determine the extent of any further  contamination and any migration into the groundwater.”

“To date, while firm cost estimates are being evaluated,” states MCB, “it appears that the environmental conditions of the property will not preclude redevelopment, as long as the cap remains in place or replaced and additional monitoring installed.”

The developers have retained Geo-Technical Associates, an environmental consulting firm, to review the situation and recommend a course of action with regard to the contamination. Both the EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment have analyzed the property; reports are available online.

MCB’s summary notes that in recent years, capping and monitoring has become a viable option for the redevelopment of abandoned industrial sites.

“MCB is committed to sharing all of the environmental information with the stakeholders as the process moves forward,” continues the summary.

At last week’s Southeast Neighborhoods Development meeting, members speculated on how the development could take shape.

“I’m really particular about height requirements,” said Elaine Welkie. “You shouldn’t have anything higher than what’s in Greektown.”

Kraft noted that height may not be much of an issue on the southern portion of the site.

“Back by I-95 you could have 10 stories,” he commented. “That wouldn’t bother anybody.”

“There are lots of concepts out there; we’ve only seen one,” the councilman said. “It’s too early to say what we want there. Let’s just let these people keep coming to us with ideas.”

Apparently, that’s MCB’s plan. Their redevelopment summary’s “next steps” mention a second stakeholder meeting to be held in June, as well as a separate meeting focused solely on the environmental aspects of the property. The community engagement process necessary to secure the zoning required for the project would begin in June, the summary states.

In the meantime, Kraft mentioned that it would be nice if the crumbling PEMCO buildings came down.

“If anything else, let’s get them to pull the plant down and put some grass seed down,” he said.

by Erik Zygmont

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