This rendering shows a proposed mixed-use, transit-oriented development around Penn Station by Baltimore-based Beatty Development. (Rendering courtesy of Beatty Development / March 11, 2013)

"This truly is a gateway," said Don Donahue, president of the Charles North Community Association. "This is the first image many people have when they first come into Baltimore. We have to pay attention to it."

Ricketts said it's possible housing could be developed first — as early as in the next several years — on the parking lot known as the Lanvale site north of the station.

"We have a lot of empty parking lots in Charles North," Donahue said. "We need to increase the density of people living in Charles North to sustain a viable, lively entertainment district and commercial district on Charles Street and North Avenue."

The Rev. Dale Dusman, pastor of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, several blocks north of Penn Station, said the community has been waiting for development on the Lanvale site for years.

"We've been waiting and waiting and waiting for something exciting to happen," Dusman said. "There have been so many proposals over the years. A lot of great things have happened on Charles Street, and more is happening on North Avenue. That lot is so crucial to say, 'This is a special place.'"

Beatty Development has already begun showing off its proposal to city officials and business and community groups, including the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"That was exciting to see a vision developing for an area that has been underserved and underutilized for many years," said Donald Fry, GBC president. "This is very much conceptual in nature, but it's something we're very interested in."