The owners of a 17.4-acre section of Woodberry’s Clipper Mill complex on Monday night unveiled part of their vision for the neighborhood: As many as four mixed-use apartment buildings, each with built-in parking garages, and a community relying heavily upon Baltimore’s light rail system and public transportation.
Close to 170 people crammed into the pews at Shiloh United Church for a presentation from Valstone Partners, learning new details about the owner’s vision for the properties it purchased last summer, and later voicing concerns about parking, the vision for a community dependent upon Baltimore public transit and the fit of such a complex within their neighborhood.
Details are still sparse. Caroline Paff, a former vice president at Sagamore Development who’s handling the master plan and entitlement planning for Valstone, emphasized that the meeting would be about the “planning study” for the project, but not the design of the project itself.
What they did share: Valstone hopes to convert up to four properties around Clipper Mill (pictured below) into a mix of apartments and retail. Among those would be the Tractor Building, a shell of a building that sits across from the much-acclaimed restaurant Woodberry Kitchen; a structure immediately west, between the Tractor Building and what’s known as the Stables building; a section of the Foundry Building, which houses the aforementioned eatery; and a parking lot for the Poole and Hunt Building at the edge of Clipper Mill.
Each building would have its own structured parking within, the project’s hired Midtown-based architect, Martin Marren, said. He mentioned the garages could be converted into offices later on if the spaces were going unused.
Also key, Marren said, is “preserving the Tractor Building.” To do so, he said “a building inside the building” would be constructred to preserve the exterior, with “interstitial space” between the balconies of the apartments and the Tractor Building’s outer shell.
The very preliminary plan could include space for about 130 units in the Tractor Building, and each of the new developments could include “a range of levels of housing,” he said. (Paff then asked Marren to stop sharing details.)
Sheri Higgins, president of the Woodberry Community Association, worked with Councilman Leon Pinkett III to arrange Monday night’s public gathering with Valstone. She told Baltimore Fishbowl beforehand that she “had a couple meetings” with Valstone’s principal, Larry Jennings Jr., in summer and fall of 2017, but said the firm hadn’t been forthcoming with Woodberry residents. It wasn’t until Pinkett got involved that Valstone agreed to engage with the neighbors, she said.
“To date, open dialogue has been a little bit hostile, has not been friendly,” Higgins said.
Councilman Pinkett kicked off the gathering at Shiloh United Church by noting there have been “some initial missteps in engaging the community.” He said he wanted to “push a reset button,” however, and establish “a road map as far as where we’re going with this community and what this project may look like in the not too distant future.”
Clipper Mill, a former industrial hub built in the 19th century, was adapted during the 1990s into residences and a zone for light industrial business. The complex presently includes the Millrace Condominiums near the Woodberry Light Rail stop and an array of commercial spaces.
Higgins, who has lived in Woodberry since 2006, describes her neighborhood culture as “comfortable, residential, within a light manufacturing artisan community, immediately adjacent to nature.
“That’s why the residents in this immediate section of the Mill Valley in general would like to preserve that culture and not become another Canton.”
The Baltimore Business Journal reported last summer that Valstone Partners, going by VS Clipper Mill, purchased multiple properties in the area for close to $19 million. The firm is based in Michigan, but has offices at 300 W. Pratt Street. At the meeting, Paff said Valstone is “not like some out of town” company, pointing to its past projects, which include its Pratt Street offices and the Queen Anne Belvedere apartments in Mount Vernon.
Asked by neighbors, Paff said Valstone had not yet identified any potential developers to oversee the project, and doesn’t have a timeline available for construction.
She emphasized that Clipper Mill’s additional build-out would push residents to rely more on public transit and car-sharing than driving multiple cars: “We really do want to begin moving people out of personal passenger vehicles and really contributing to the health of transit in Baltimore City.”
One woman interjected during the meeting that encouraging new residents to rely upon public transit wouldn’t necessarily make it a reality. “I don’t think we’re ready, all of us, to give up our cars just to get to work on the light rail.”
Ingrid Summers, who lives in Clipper Mill but rarely takes the light rail, said Valstone “do[es] not understand” the neighbors: “Come and sit and talk to the people who are actually here.”
In an email Tuesday morning, Higgins said she “felt that we had a fantastic Mill Valley turnout” at the church.
As for Valstone’s plans?
“The study of the Clipper Mill campus showed heavy build-out possibilities,” she said. “Whether that is a fit for us, is just too soon to determine without a concept plan and phasing schedule.”
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