Friday, December 30, 2011

Reopening the Great Far East

As promised I'm following up on my previous post by writing about the new development opportunities made possible by demolishing I-895 north of its I-95 intersection, and downgrading highways like Edison Highway, Pulaski Highway, Moravia Road, and Erdman Avenue. New development will be centered around the proposed East Baltimore MARC Station and the Red Line Stop at the same location. Hopefully this new development in Far East Baltimore will have a domino effect and breathe new life into ailing Neighborhoods in East Baltimore.
The dividing Far East Baltimore into Neighborhoods will be used more in this post than in the last one. Once again the areas are as follows; the Orangeville Area, the Armistead Area, the Kresson Area, and the Pulaski Area. Given that the core of the Orangeville Area remains an
active and thriving Industrial Area, redevelopment won't occur hear until that is no longer the case.
First off is the Kresson Area. It extends all the way down to Lombard St. in Greektown and Bayview. It won't achieve a complete connection to those areas because there are still active train tracks in use. With I-895 gone, the area can be stream lined into high density TOD given that the East Baltimore MARC Station and Red Line stop will be closest to this area. A little known anomaly is that there is a small very old Row House Neighborhood known as "Kresson" these Row Homes will be preserved and occupied homes will remain as such. This small Community will be named "Historic Kresson." Housing types will be Apartments, Condos, and converted lofts from attractive warehouses.
Next comes the Pulaski Area, this will feature a diverse array of housing options. This is in the general area of the former Hollander Ridge public housing high rise that was torn down in 1995. The ability to build new housing here will improve greatly by the demolition of I-895. Again the area closest to the new MARC Station will be the highest density with density decreasing as one moves further from the Station.
The area bordered by Erdman Avenue will feature Apartments and Condos while the area by Orleans St. (nee Pulaksi Highway) will feature Town Homes not unlike those found in Orchard Ridge.Finally north of Moravia Road will be an extension of the development "Frankford Estates." This new development features Single Family Homes
on small lots in a compact urban design.
Although the Armistead Area was covered a few posts back in "Adios Armistead" I will still summarize for the purpose of this one. Armistead Gardens is a former public housing development turned Co-Op which, according to Residents who have commented on this blog, has
seen better days.
In order to recoup the density lost from Freedom Village and Claremont Homes' demolition, the new Armistead Gardens will be entirely mid-rise Apartments and Condos. Work will be done in phases.
The last area of Far East Baltimore is actually the most centrally located. I have advocated for high density TOD in Orangeville for almost five years now and that was the subject of one of my very first posts. Orangeville, unlike other areas of Far East Baltimore still has some thriving industry. It also has some industrial wastelands that are ready for redevelopment now. The area east of Edison St. (nee Highway), west of the CSX Tracks, north of the Amtrak tracks, and
south of Federal St. will be spared until Industry is no longer viable, then and only then will this area be redeveloped.
There are some areas of note here, like the small development of Single Family Homes, they will never be redeveloped and will be known as "Historic Orangeville." There are also a few land banks here one of which was supposed to be developed as a suburban big box center. That would be a big mistake for an area I'm trying to build up as a new urban area. The areas that warrant redevelopment are the parts facing Erdman Avenue east of the railroad tracks and the area above Federal St, below Sinclair Lane, between Edison St. and Erdman Avenue. This will be redeveloped as an Office Park with underground parking. This will add to the mixed use aspect of Far East Baltimore. The Offices facing Erdman Avenue will have ground floor Retail. Portions west of Edison St. will be residential, town homes that mimic existing Row Homes.
Well, I've created an entire new district of Baltimore City. Hopefully this area will be sought after enough to breathe new life into existing distressed Row House Communities nearby. Given how few Residences there are here, the new Residences built here will be straight population growth for the City.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Highways:Dividing East Baltimore Since the 20th Century

When most people think of East Baltimore they think of densely packed row house communities such as Broadway East, Berea, Ellwood Park, and Madison Eastend to name a few. Sadly these Neighborhoods have fallen on hard times resulting in a large population loss and rise in crime for the past few decades. There's another East Baltimore though, one that's worlds away from the aforementioned Row House Communities but in reality the "other East Baltimore" is only across either a Highway or train tracks which "connect" the two. Notice I said highways and train tracks and they have divided East Baltimore for too long.
So what is this other East Baltimore? It's mostly an under utilized Industrial Area separated from the rest of the City and County for that matter by unnecessary highways and train tracks. Since highways divide this area so well I will divide it myself for the purposes of naming them all; there's the Orangeville Area, the Kresson Area, Pulaski Area, and Armistead Area. These differentiated areas will prove helpful as I attempt to write this post.
In the Armistead Area lies Orchard Ridge, a master planned community that of town homes built on the grounds of a former Public Housing Site. Given the fact that these were built in the middle of the recession and still sold like hotcakes, it shows that this area is an untapped resource. I'd also like to take this moment to say that not all highways here present a problem, in fact it's the proximity to I-95 that played a part in the success of Orchard Ridge and will play a part in further redevelopment of East Baltimore.
Now that that's out of the way, lets list some of the highways that need either go away or be downgraded to urban style streets; Edison Highway, Erdman Avenue, Pulaski Highway, I-895, and Moravia Road. This particular post reminds me of a series in the summer of 2010 called Reopening the great Northeast that called for the reopening of Gay St. and Harford Road traveling northeast from Downtown. That series didn't go far enough east so think of this as "Reopening the Great Far East."
Of course I don't believe thriving industry should be given the boot so instead only industry that can be redeveloped right away and highways that can be made into City streets. The biggest such endeavor is I-895.
It meets I-95 at the end of both the Harbor Tunnel and Fort McHenry Tunnel but continues on, this portion is not well traveled and should be gotten rid of completely, which in turn would open the doors to new mixed use development.
Pulaski Highway is another road that is guilty of dividing the industrial east. Its grade separated intersections with Moravia Road, Erdman Avenue and Monument Street should all be downgraded and narrowed to urban streets with signalized intersections. Since there is already a Pulaski St. in West Baltimore, Pulaski Highway will simply take the Orleans St., which is the name it uses further west in the City.
Edison Highway is another guilty party although it should more just be narrowed given that it doesn't have grade separated intersections. The road itself will be renamed "Edison St." which will be narrowed to two lanes in each direction with pedestrian signal upgrades.
Erdman Avenue's biggest problem is its grade separated intersection with Pulaski Highway and its intersection with I-895 both of which have already been discussed. Like other roads discussed here Erdman Avenue will be narrowed into an urban style street with signalized intersections and the deletion of I-895.Moravia Road will endure a similar fate with its downgraded intersection with Pulaski Highway and the deleted intersection with I-895.Highways have divided East Baltimore for too long and in order to save the area, the highways must go, stay tuned for next post dedicated to development in the same area.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Exelon Headquarters: Not the Right Time

Sunday's Sun Paper featured an article about the Exelon merger with Constellation Energy and their plans for Baltimore. As I was reading it, I felt as though I had to write about it as opinions began forming. Did I agree or disagree? Do i ever fully agree? Of course not so you were right to assume that I disagree with the choices Exelon appears to be making. I don't fully disagree however, I think what they're proposing is good but I don't think it's the right time.
So what exactly is Exelon planning to do? Build a brand new headquarters in Downtown Baltimore. Its merger with Constellation Energy will require additional Office Space Downtown but is it smart to consolidate and vacate the existing space Constellation has?
Every merger or buy out has pitfalls known as "growing pains" and it appears that the Exelon Constellation Meger is no different. The growing pains associated with Exelon would have been almost non existant in a better economy because the existing Office Buildings Contellation now Occupies would be leased to another company in no time perhaps even before a site was selected for Exelon's new Headquarters.
These days finding new tenants for the estimated 287,000 Square Feet of Office space left in the wake of the new Building will be impossible. The new Headquarters is slated to be between 350,000 to 375,000 square feet. That's only a net gain of about 90,000 square feet of needed Office Space. Why not lease the space in an existing Office Building that has that much space available already? If Constellation/Exelon goes ahead with consilidating its Offices to a new Building they will be losing money on their two current Buildings on one until 2018 and another until 2019. These are the respective dates that Constellation's leases will expire on the existing 187,000 Square Feet.
Hows about we look down the road to 2018 or 2019? Lets say Exelon holds off until its leases on its current Offices expire and the additional space is absorbed by another Downtown Office Building like say the old Legg Mason Building which has fallen on hard times when its titular firm moved to Inner Harbor East. (It's interesting to note that the Legg Mason move has produced similar effects to that which I'm warning you about.)
So it's 2018 and Exelon has signed a shorter term lease in the old Legg Mason Building waiting for its leases to expire so as not to loose money in them. What kind of economy could we be looking at in six or seven years? I would imagine that there would be some growth in the Business Sector as well as others. I think by then the old Legg Mason Building and Constellation's Current Holdings would have much less of a problem finding takers to fill the space vacated if Exelon were to wait to build its own headquarters.
I'm not opposed to new large headquarters building new Buildings in Baltimore in fact I think it's great for the ever evolving Sky Line and breathing new life in the Downtown Business District but if it sacrifices existing Office Space with an already high vacancy rate of 19% lets try something that makes a little more sense that will make the vacancy rate go down not up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reisterstown Station: We Were Promised TOD!

It's true, we really were promised TOD at the Reisterstown Station Metro Stop. This promise is as old as the Green Line Metro Rail. Just like in DC, the 1980s was filled the transit talk and a small amount of action. In DC there was plenty of action as the bulk of its Metro was built then with funding for expansion all but locked in. In Baltimore there was talk but just a tad of action especially when compared to that of DC. It's true that at Reisterstown Station we were promised TOD but weren't we also promised transit?
In the planning stages of Baltimore's 1980's transit network, we were shown schematics of a Reisterstown Station that had been built out with high rise mixed use development that resembles modern day TOD. With said schematics however, there was a fully funded and built
transit system in Baltimore where pretty much all parts of the City were near a stop. Obviously 25-30 years later there's still a long way to go.
In order to dissect what halted the breaks on a true transit network in Baltimore we must ask ourselves what comes first, TOD or transit? It's like the age old arguement of what comes first; the Chicken or the Egg? It's my opinion that the two must go hand and hand in order for each component to be successful. TOD is too dense to rely solely on cars and transit stops need high density around their stops to keep a strong ridership base.
I believe that transit must come first, If TOD is built first it will cause further congestion on roads and knowing how the State of Maryland works, they will do road expansion projects before funding transit lines. If you look at what's slated to be TOD, the best sites are located where transit lines already are. Westport, State Center, Penn Station, West Baltimore MARC, Timonium, Bayview, Lexington Market, and the titular Reisterstown Station.
Although these stops have transit already there, the TOD planned for them has been shelved for the most part, why? Well, I would say because the existing transit network doesn't really connect to itself and there are many parts of both the City and County that have no transit to speak of. Now what does this have to do with TOD? Everything, TOD is only a good sell if the transit it's near connects to lots of places. If you live in Westport you're near the Light Rail Line, but if you also work in White Marsh you currently can't take advantage of the transit stop you're just seconds away from. The same dilemma presents itslelf to some who works in Charles Center where the Green Line is but lives in Towson where there is currently no transit line.
Now is this why the TOD promised for Reisterstown never came to fruition? That I don't know, but I do know one way to find out. Lets call it an experiment of building transit lines such as the Red Line and Yellow Line in full, localizing the two MARC Lines thus creating the Orange and Purple Lines, and expanding the Green Line from Hopkins thru Northeast Baltimore, White Marsh ending at Martin State Airport. Sound like a lot? Well it is, it's called playing catch up and keeping the promises made in the 1980s by going green and ridding people of the need for cars and unclogging our highways without spending Billions expanding them.
Will this make Reisterstown Station's TOD a reality? Nobody knows for certain, we also don't know if any of the other sites slated for TOD on lines that are built or have yet to be built will be a reality if all lines are built but one thing I'm almost positive of; If no transit lines are built and if Baltimore allows its transit to further lose its vitality, TOD will never come to fruition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Solo Cup Factory: Great Potential

Not to be outdone by the wonderful news that Owings Mills Mall will be redeveloped and that Metro Centre has finally broken ground, there has been still more great news involving Owings Mills; It's getting a Wegmans! Where? In the newly shuttered Solo Cup Factory, that's where.

I have been wanting to do a post on the Solo Cup factory for quite some time now but I had no angle on how to write. Now that there's good solid news on its future the post pretty much writes itself.

The Solo Cup Factory, located predominately at the intersection of Reisterstown Road and Painters Mill Road has long since been an anomaly in Owings Mills as industrial uses here have long since given way to Retail, Office, and Residential uses. Still, the Solo Cup factory has soldiered on as the lone industry in Owings Mills. I have always found its location odd and an eyesore to the surrounding Community.

Although Solo Cup has only been in the area since 2004, the factory known as Solo Cup has been a Baltimore County Staple for over 80 years. Before 2004 it was known as the Sweet Heart Cup Factory then Solo Cup purchased that company giving it the Solo Cup Name. It wasn't all that blog worthy until 2010 when I hear that the factory will shut down in 2012 resulting in a loss of 540 jobs.

The news was bitter sweet to me, on the one hand I don't ever want to hear that layoffs will take place but as a follower of development in the Greater Baltimore Area, I saw it as an opportunity to redevelop and improve the whole Reisterstown Road and Painters Mill Road corridor.

Despite Baltimore County's efforts to have the factory occupied by another Industrial Tenant, there were no takers. But don't worry, the factory won't sit vacant long by any stretch of the imagination. With the closure just months away there has already been interest in redeveloping the old place. None other than upscale Supermarket Wegmans has set its sites on Owings Mills and its preferred location is none other than the Solo Cup Factory! The Wegmans is set to open in 2014.

The new development known as Foundry Row will provide lots of competition to the exisitng Grocers in Owings Mills such as Two Giants, a Safeway, a Food Lion, and a Wal Mart to name a few. Now the competition of Wegmans is not that great of a concern to me. What is a great concern to me is how this will effect TOD efforts being made at the Mall and Metro Centre. The whole corridor of Painters Mill Road, Reisterstown Road,and Owings Mills Boulevard needs to be refocused as part of the development of the Metro Station Area.

This Retail has currently turned its back on the Mall and the Metro Station and in order stop that from happening again, the County, Developers, and the MTA must be proactive to make the entire Owings Mills Community centered on the Metro Station in the coming years.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Owings Mills Mall Has Died

Well here I am in the County, in order for Baltimore City to be the best it can I feel the County must also operate the best it can. Now what brought me out to the suburbs this time? I'm mourning the loss of what was supposed to be a major Retail draw for the Baltimore Area and
beyond; Owings Mills Mall. Early this year, I penned a post that Owings Mills had been dying a slow death almost since it opened in 1986 but it wasn't until the early 2000s that the illness known as Retail obsolescence began to show.
Now with the Mall on life support and its owners' financial woes improving, the decision was made to kill the Mall. The Owings Mills Community has turned its back on its beloved Mall much like Hunt Valley had done years earlier. Hunt Valley Mall was torn down except for its occupied anchors in favor of the new Hunt Valley Town Centre featuring a Wegmans and lots of new Specialty Shoppes laid out as a two level open aire plaza. This has been a huge success.
Now what does this have to do with Ownigs Mills and its dead Mall? Now that our economy may show signs of improving in the coming years, Owings Mills Mall will be demolished. Like Hint Valley, the renaming anchors are set to stay as well as the Movie Theatres and adjacent
Housing Development. Also like Hunt Valley, the plans for Owings Mills includes an open aire lifestyle center which may include some of the same shoppes that currently has shoppers flocking to Hunt Valley. One business that surely won't be coming to the new Mall is Wegmans. Don't worry the Community of Owings Mills will eventually enjoy a Wegmans only at the soon to be shuttered Solo Cup less than a mile away.
Sicne this announcement has been made very recently, it is unknown what Retailers will ultimately end up at the new Mall. One thing we do is that construction is set to begin as early as January 2013 and if all goes as planned will be finished by late 2014. Owners of the now desolate Mall feel confident that in spite of our economic down turn that the new property will be marketable to Retailers of all kinds and that leases will be signed before and during construction and by the time construction is done, the new Mall will be 100% leased.
Although the new Hunt Valley Mall has been renamed Hunt Valley Town Centre, I don't feel the new Owings Mills Mall should follow in its foot steps. I think the new Mall should be looked at as part of a greater Town Centre. Owings Mills Town Centre, from 1986 until now has always been planned as both the (in what form it's in) and the Metro Stop. As Owings Mills has been flourishing with promises of new development, the Metro Stop and the planned Metro Centre development is as old as the original Mall.
Finally. a good five years after the initial parking garages were built, a ground breaking ceremony was held to get Metro Centre underway. Coupled with the Mall, Metro Centre will make a true Town Centre for Owings Mills. Although additional Retail, Residences, and
Offices are planned, the new Library and Community College Branch will be the main draw for Metro Centre other than the Mtero Stop itself. One must realize that in order for Owings Mills to have a true Town Centre that both the new Mall and Metro Centre must be master planned
and developed together.
Indeed, this has the capacity not only to make Owings Mills the Retail destination it has been aching to be but in the future it can be a true TOD haven. Now why isn't it a TOD haven now? I mean the Metro Stop is there amd isn't going anywhere right? Right BUT TOD is only as
good as the transit it serves. Baltimore's Rail Transit doesn't have the drawing power as of yet to make for true TOD. In order for that to happen both the Red and Yellow Lines need to be funded and built, the Green Line whose western terminus ends at Owings Mills must be
expanded Northeast from Hopkins to White Marsh to Martin State Airport, the MARC Lines need to be localized careting the Orange and Purple Lines, and the current Light Rail Line (blue line) needs to truly meet the Green Line at Lexington Market and the State Center/Cultural Center. Then and only then can Baltimore have TRUE TOD.
Well to sum the necessity of this post, Owings Mills Mall has died, and although I'm mourning said passing and the gold mine of blogging material it has given me over the years, it's time to move on to bigger and better things such as redevelopment, Metro Centre, Rail Transit Expansion, and finally true TOD. Lets do it right this time!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Rebirth of Garrison Boulevard

Similar to Liberty Heights Avenue, Garrison Boulevard is a mixed use thoroughfare that provides quick access from Leakin Park all the way to Pimlico. Above Wabash Avenue, it is known as simply Garrison Avenue and is thought of as much more of a local street. This post will
discuss the section between Liberty Heights Avenue and Bloomingdale Road. Long story short Garrison Boulevard is due for a rebirth.
Garrison Boulevard grew up with the Neighborhoods it serves. All Neighborhoods that it has access to have a diverse array of housing options for incomes of all levels and Families large and small. Garrison Boulevard is a mircosm of all the Neighborhoods. If it serves as sort of a "Gateway" to the Community I think it should streamlined and given a master planned approach to redevelopment that will make for a more attractive and modern corridor.
I'm not opposed to diverse array of housing options, but in the case of Garrison Boulevard, the housing available has no direction to it and in the case of higher density housing, the vacancy rate and demolition rate is all too high. There are blocks that were once full of row homes but vacant homes have since made way to vacant lots and appear to be "stand alone row homes." Redevelopment will address these issues on both a micro and macro level.
Similar to the roe house situation there are small Apartment Houses that appear to have once been large mansions that have since been divided. There is a high vacancy rate amongst these multi family dwellings and their dated appearance shows that simply reinvesting in them and trying to sell or rent them out as is would not be a worthwhile endavor. Like the isolated row homes, redevelopment appears to be the only alternative.
One particular property that needs to be addressed is the Garrison Woods apartment complex. These garden apartments have been boarded up for quite some time and appear to be slated for demolition. There are still signs showing that there are Apartments available for lease but
the boarded up windows, the fence surrounding them, and the overgrown landscaping, this development has been abandoned and the lack of action regarding demolition shows that there is little developer interest in the land.
Most of the blocks on Garrison Boulevard are for Single Family Homes. A lot of the Single Family Homes have fallen into disrepair resulting in being condemned by the City only to sit vacant indefinitely. Fortunately there are signs of life in a few instances. There are probably half a dozen new Single Family Homes that have been built in the past few years most likely on the lots of delapidated homes that have since been torn down. These new homes show that there is an
outside interest in the area and redevelopment will provide growth to the area and will be an assest even if Single Family Homes will no longer be the primary land use.
There is a small amount of Retail along Garrison Boulevard as well as the Garwyn Oaks Medical Center. The Retail, like the housing has become blighted and distressed. Retail is also one story which in urban planning makes for a waste of space. Retail in an urban area should always have either Offices or Apartments above it.
The Garwn Oaks Medical Center is a vital asset to the Community and is very busy. The complex has become dated and since I'm writing a comprehensive redevelopment plan the new Medical Center should be located above new
Now that I've discussed current land uses and their failures, it is now time to tear it all down. In order to give Garrison Boulevard a proper rebirth it has to die first, it's been dying a slow death for a good 25 years so demolition will serve as a final nail in the coffin. New Single Family Homes will be spared as well as the Senior Apartment Building (pictured above.)
New housing will be almost all Apartments and Condos with Garrison Boulevard frontage. Around the intersection of Garrison Boulevard and Gwynns Falls Parkway, there will be Ground Floor Retail as well as the new Garwyn Oaks Medical Center. Buildings will be four to five stories
high with efficiencies, 1, 2, and 3 bedroom Apartments with all the modern conviences afforded with new construction.
The income mix will be as follows; 55% Market Rate Home Ownership, 30% Market Rate Rentals, 10% Affordable Home Ownership and 5% Affordable Rentals. In the case of plots of land that go back behind Garrison Boulevard like Garrison Woods Apartments and Concerned Citizens of Forset Park, Town Homes will be built (pictured above).
The road itself will also undergo a drastic rebirth. A landscaped median not unlike new ones built along Fulton Avenue (pictured above)and Edmondson Avenue will be added. Traffic signals will be rebuilt with pedestrian walk and don't walk signs along with count down timers in every direction. There will also pedestrian shelters built in the median. Sidewalks and curbs will be re cemented and leveled and new Bus Shelters will be added.That just about does it for Garrison Boulevard, hopefully that will give the Neighborhood of Garwyn Oaks a much needed shot in the arm towards revitalization. Garwyn Oaks as of the 2010 census is 40% vacant. I almost forgot! The Forest Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library will be rebuilt.