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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Southeast Community Path

This will be my last post that was inspired by my trip to Boston and surrounding areas. There are many instances in which adaptive reuse has served Boston and surrounding areas well. One such instance involves the right of a way of a discontinued railroad. Many times those who own these tracks "bank" them in case that pathway is reignited for something similar like Light Rail or a Subway. Other times they're left to rot and they become a blight and eyesore on the Community surrounding them.
In this instance, Somerville, MA (a suburb of Boston) decided to put the right of way for the long discontinued Somerville Freight Spur to a use that serves the Community and makes it an asset rather than a blight. Their solution was the Somerville Community Path which runs from Davis Square to Alewife. This path is well lit, well landscaped, and always busy with runners, walkers, hikers, and bikers day or night. Although there are many great trails and paths throughout Baltimore, I decided to add another one in abandoned railroad lines similar to the Somerville Community Path.
One thing Baltimore has a surplus of is abandoned Railroad tracks and rights of way. As a result a similar Community Path could be constructed practically anywhere in the City. However, one area and one particular right of way (some tracks have been taken out already) is located in Southeast Baltimore. More specifically, it runs from Canton Crossing through the Neighborhoods, of Canton, Brewers Hill, Highlandtown, Greektown, and Kresson.
This particular right of way is unique in that it doesn't have grade changes yet it barely crosses streets with vehicular traffic. It simply runs behind these rapidly growing Neighborhoods around land that was once industrial but is being redeveloped as Residential. This may have been part of the alignment for the Red Line had it not been killed by Larry. My personal Red Line proposal was and is very different from the MTA's so this Community Path can be constructed and my Red Line can built without conflict. In fact, the Path can help provide a link between stops.
The path that the Southeast Community Path will take starts at Canton Crossing just opposite Hanover at Brewer's Hill Apartments on Boston St. It will then turn north crossing under O'Donnell St. and Haven St.at which point it will turn northeast and cross over Eastern Avenue. The path will end at Lombard St. just opposite the Oldham Crossing Community under construction. Should the East Baltimore MARC Station be built, the Path will be extended northward to end at the intersection of Kresson St. and Pulaski Highway.
Although I don't think Baltimore should become a clone of Boston, I have seen some things that Boston got right that Baltimore should take notes from including The Big Dig and in this post, the Somerville Community Path.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The JFX: Baltimore's Real Big Dig

After a very educational visit to Boston, I have come back with a few ideas from there that I think Baltimore should adapt. This one revolves around the highly controversial "Big Dig." To say that the big dig was a massive headache filled with corruption and cost over-runs and snarling traffic for years one end, I would say you were right. However, if you were to walk along the beautiful amenity filled pocket park that ties Downtown Boston to the North End, I think you may agree that it was worth it and can do the same for a similar situation right here in Baltimore.
For those who don't know what the big dig is, I will tell you about the portion of it that I want to bring to Baltimore; I-93 in Boston cut the City on half between Downtown and the north end. In order to make the City a more walkable area and re-open the link between Downtown and the North End, I-93 was taken below for grade for several blocks into an underground tunnel thereby re-connecting Downtown and the North End.
In more recent years, a multi block pocket park has been built over the below grade I-93. This amenity filled pocket park has been a huge boom for Boston as it has bridged Neighborhoods together and has made the area very walkable. The pocket park also provides much needed greenery in the middle of the City. That was the short explanation of the portion of the big dig relevant to this post. The project as a whole was much more involved.
Now here we are back in Baltimore and as the post title suggests, we're talking about the JFX. Like I-93, the JFX creates a very intrusive route through the City cutting off connections between Neighborhoods and is blocking much needed redevelopment in East Baltimore. Not to mention that the road itself is ugly and symbolizes why running a multi-lane Interstate through the middle of a large City was a mistake.
For about 10-15 years now, there have been plans floating around to dismantle the JFX. There have been those who support it and those who are against it. Those who are against it make the argument that Baltimore's traffic is bad enough already and that dismantling a grade separated commuter route will put even more pressure on surface roads such as Guilford Avenue and the Fallsway. I have been for dismantling the JFX so that a new era of redevelopment in East Baltimore can commence between Downtown and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
When I look at the big dig however, I see something that should make everybody happy in the long run for Baltimore. When applying the big dig to Baltimore, what do we get? Does the JFX in its current state get dismantled? Yes. Does Baltimore lose a freeway's worth of travel lanes? No. Is there now great walkability between Downtown in East Baltimore? Yes. Can a new era of redevelopment between Downtown and East Baltimore now occur unifying the two communities? Yes. Is there room for a large multi block pocket park that can go under the now below grade freeway? Yes.
So with the big dig approach applied to the JFX, everybody is happy. The JFX will start and stop at Fayette St. like it always has and will be capped by a pocket park spanning the blocks between Fayette St. and Preston St. with east-west streets going through a tunnel under the pocket park to keep vehicular traffic away from the pocket park. Most plans for dismantling the JFX use Preston St. as the northern end with the Freeway resuming as such before turning westward. Given that this portion of the JFX is actually below grade, I would cap this portion as well and keep the pocket park running all the way to North Avenue thereby bridging the communities of Mount Vernon and Station North.
The JFX in its current form would resume north of north Avenue. I would however like to see if the "Baltimore big dig" can continue all the way to Coldspring Lane so that the Jones Falls Valley Communities may be united once again. As you can see, the logic behind the bid dig was eventually successful in Boston and I see it being so in Baltimore. This is why we have to make the JFX Baltimore's big dig.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dear Grocers, HELP!

The title of this post may come off as a desperate plea. Well, it is! Grocery Stores may be the savoir needed for Baltimore in many ways. I'm not just talking about eradicating food deserts, which is the number one reason that Grocery Stores are needed. Another reason the City is in need of Grocery Stores is because I believe that they are the first step in reinvesting and redeveloping food desert Neighborhoods. When looking for a Neighborhood to invest and develop in, why not chose one that has a brand new full service Grocery Store being built in it?

The Greater Howard Park, Waverly, Canton, Locust Point, and Mondawmin areas have all recently gained brand new Grocers. Pigtown and Hampden have recently had vacant Grocery Stores back-filled with new tenants as well. In addition, many of the now defunct "Stop Shop & Save" stores have been back-filled by "Save A Lot." These stores however, are too small to be competitive with Grocery Stores today. What follows is a plan not only to bring new Grocers into food deserts, but it will also contain redevelopment for the areas surrounding it to have a ripple effect of new activity in the Communities at large.
Most of the Communities I'm crying out for help in are Neighborhoods that may seem forgotten. This is because they're not in a crisis with crime, drugs, and vacants but they also aren't premier destination Neighborhoods nor are they up & coming either. These Neighborhoods have slowly seen middle class flight, rise in negligent land lords, loss of Retail, and loss of new investment. That's why there's a Residential redevelopment component to go near the new Grocery Stores. These Neighborhoods for the most part aren't doom and gloom either. However, if intervention doesn't happen soon, they may be headed that way.

First we come to the Alameda Marketplace. This is is actually a relatively healthy Shopping Center in North Baltimore that has a small Shoppers. This Shoppers back-filled an old Stop Shape & Save that's a fraction of the size of a modern full service Grocer. I would build a brand new 55,000 Square Foot Shoppers at the southwestern corner of The Alameda and Belvedere Avenue with a new Planet Fitness and Exxon spanning and backing the Belvedere Avenue side of the Center. Yorkewood Apartments will be redeveloped in the process. A new Retail strip will be built across from the new Shoppers backing to Chinquapin Parkway. All existing Buildings in the Center will be torn down.

The next Center is located further east on Belvedere Avenue just past Good Sam Hospital. Just above Belvedere's intersection with Hillen Road. This Shopping Center is almost completely vacant and judging by the age and condition of it, trying to back-fill tenants would prove futile. That's why I would tear down and redevelop the entire Center and anchor it with a brand new 60,000 square foot Giant. On either side of the Giant, there would be new Retail space as well as two pad sites at the entrance to the Center. I would also redevelop the old Hillen & Belvedere Apartments as well as the Park-Raven Apartments to put a whole new face on this Neighborhood and better connect it to Good Sam Hospital to make the Center more accessible for visitors and staff alike.

The next Center is Edmondson Village. Although the adjacent Edmondson Square has a Giant in it, we're going to put the two Centers together for the purpose of this redevelopment. At the Center of Edmondson Village is where I would put the new 60,000 square foot Giant. Behind Edmondson Village there is ample land to expand which Edmondson Square does not have. On either side of the Giant, there will be no Retail which will consist of existing tenants. Another row of Retail will go in Edmondson Square facing Edmondson Avenue once the existing Giant is demolished. There will be no Residential redevelopment component seeing as the new Uplands development across the street has that market cornered.

Next we come to Erdman Shopping Center. This Center is located in the far east of the City in Belair Edison at the intersections of Edison Highway, Erdman Avenue, and Sinclair Lane. Most of this Center appears to have been redone recently and remains well leased. However, when taking a look at the Save A Lot that supposedly anchors this Center, you will see it's dated and a fraction of the size of a modern day Grocery Store. Fortunately, this a large plat of land on the opposite side of this Center that should be large to fit a brand new 55,000 square foot Save A Lot. The Herring Run Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library does get in the way of this which is why it will get a brand new building where the current Save A Lot sits. The pad site that sits at the western entrance to this Center will be redeveloped as Residential/Retail mixed use as well.
Our next stop is the one place that doesn't have a vacant or undersized Grocer space in it. In fact, this site is almost entirely Residential. I'm speaking of course about the Madison Park North Apartments aka Murder Mall. This property has been on the City's wrecking block for years due to the crime, blight, and lack of maintenance from its slumlords. In my last post, I suggested redeveloping the eastern end of the property with a brand new 50,000 square foot Grocery Store since the area is in a food desert. I'm rehashing that idea now as well as extending Reservoir Hill Park and building row homes on the western edge of the property.
This next stop on tour of potential Grocery Store sites is Old Town Mall. This area is a grave food desert but unfortunately I don't see a Grocer coming to this area for a while. In other areas of this post, I have given examples of how a new Grocery Store will spur redevelopment throughout the surrounding Communities. In this case, I believe the opposite to be true. I believe that additional redevelopment throughout the surrounding Community FIRST will lure a Grocery Store in. This area has seen severe population loss and the redevelopment that has occurred has been much lower density i.e. replacing public housing high rises with town home Communities.
Never the less, I'm master planning a site just east of Old Town Mall for when outside bring new development to the area. This includes the demolition of the JFX, the re-opening of Gay St, from Orleans St. to Broadway, the redevelopment of the "Edison Properties" as well as the redevelopment of Somerset Homes. The site on proposing sits on the "Forest St. Apartments" which would most likely not survive the redevelopment of the surrounding area. The new 60,000 square foot Shop Rite would have Orleans St. frontage and the site will include a Retail pad site located behind the Shop Rite. Depending on the density of surrounding developments, this Shop Rite might be the ground floor of mixed use building.

Finally, we come to the defunct Parklane Center that's located in the Park Heights Neighborhood along Coldspring Lane in between its intersections with Reisterstown Road and Park Heights Avenue. There is currently a Save A Lot located on the south side of  Coldspring Lane with other buildings surrounding it including a Rite Aid. I would tear down this entire block and build a brand new Rite Aid and Cameron's Seafood Market along Reisterstown Road. I would build a brand new 57,000 square foot Save A Lot on the site of the current one and the freed up land from demolishing the existing Rite Aid and Cameron's. The existing buildings facing Park Heights Avenue would then be rehabbed.
All of the areas I've described are Food Deserts. That is why I'm proposing putting new Grocery Stores in these specific areas. These areas are also lacking substantial investment and if intervention doesn't come soon, the decline will be very severe. That is why a Grocery Store represents in this post, a commitment to the Neighborhoods they serve and also why the immediate areas surrounding these Grocery Stores would undergo redevelopment as a symbol of more to come. But we need that initial commitment from Grocers. So join me in collectively insisting that Grocers HELP! Baltimore City.      

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sit On It 2017 Edition Part II: The Build-able Areas

In my last post, I may have created a doom and gloom situation in which Baltimore can't absorb any new development. That's only partially true. If you look at the projects I said would have to wait, you will find many similarities. Most of these are located around Downtown and the waterfront where development is occurring at break-neck speed. Another similarity is that these projects are very upscale. That means that renting or buying one of these Apartments is way over the budget of most Baltimore Citizens.
When looking at these projects around Downtown and the Harbor, you will see one thing that is lacking; affordability. Affordable housing is one area of Baltimore where new development projects are far behind. In the rare instances where new affordable housing is built in the City, it sells and leases in no time at all regardless of the condition of the surrounding Neighborhood. This shows that there is a pent up demand for affordable housing in Baltimore and if Developers want to increase their presence in Baltimore, they would do well building affordable housing in the parts of the City that are lacking new construction and are in desperate need of population growth. Here are some areas that will benefit from new, safe, clean, affordable housing.
The first redevelopment area is Penn North. Although this Neighborhood gained national attention for being the epicenter of the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray, there have been a few instances of investment and development that have benefited this Neighborhood. Recently, a new Apartment Complex on Pennsylvania Avenue known as Penn Square was completed. It leased up so fast that additional Apartments are now under construction on an adjacent parcel. There are also a couple blocks of newer town homes built by Nehimiah Homes in the 1990s. These are owner-occupied and well maintained in many cases by the original owners.
Image From Google Maps
Other than these few new projects, Penn North is in dire straits. Most row homes are abandoned and boarded up and are too dilapidated to ever be occupied again. The redevelopment area is roughly defined by Pennsylvania Avenue to the west, North Avenue to south, Druid Hill Avenue to the east, and Fulton Avenue to the north. If there are rows of houses that are well occupied and structurally sound, care will be taken no to displace Residents and these homes will be spared demolition. Otherwise, all homes will be redeveloped. Apartments will align Pennsylvania and North Avenues with ground floor Retail mastered planned into it. The remainder will be row homes in town homes with parking pads in the back. This will be a mixed income Community with homes that are both rentals and for purchase at and below market value. The parcel that the vacant Westside Elementary sits on will have a new School Master planned into it to be built in the future.
Next we come to Druid Heights. Druid Heights is located just below Penn North. This Neighborhood has seen some redevelopment already thanks to the Druid Heights CDC. This grassroots operation has allowed the Neighborhood to purchase vacant homes and lots and redevelop them as town homes for purchase. Evidence of this can be found along Baker St. and along the Westside of Pennsylvania Avenue on either side of Gold St. among others. Other investments in Druid Heights include the "Avenue Bakery and the proposed Negro League Baseball Museum to be located on the grounds of the Sphinx Club.
Image From Google Maps
Still today, Druid Heights has a long way to go with vacant lots and boarded up row homes dominating the landscape. Although the new housing that's sprinkled throughout the Neighborhood has done well, there's plenty more to be done. The Druid Heights Redevelopment area's boundaries would be North Avenue to the north, Pennsylvania Avenue to the west, Pressman St. to the south and Etting St. to the east. Land already owned by the Druid Heights CDC will be homes for purchase and newly land acquired land will be rentals. Homes facing Pennsylvania and North Avenues will be "row house Retail" with the ground floor reserved for Neighborhood Retail when the market is ready, and the upper floor(s) will be Apartments. The rest of the land will be town homes.
Next we come to Gilmor Homes. Gilmor Homes gained national attention because that is where the arrest of Freddie Gray occurred. The injuries he sustained while in Police custody ultimately caused his death a week later. The media coverage surrounding the unrest that took place after his death exposed all of the deplorable living conditions in Gilmor Homes and the surrounding Sandtown Neighborhood in which Freddie Gray was a lifelong Resident. In order to say Baltimore is turning after this tragedy, big unprecedented investment needs to come to the area. That change needs to be the redevelopment of Gilmor Homes.
Although Sandtown represents what many consider to be the worst of Baltimore, there are parts of the Neighborhood that thrive by comparison. Like Penn North, Nehemiah Homes has built new Town Homes in the southern and eastern section of  Sandtown in the 1990s. In doing so, Residents have gotten new, clean, affordable housing as well as job training in the construction field. Today, many of the original owners still live in these homes and keep them well maintained. The Nehemiah Homes of Sandtown were built as privately owned affordable housing.
Image From Google Maps
The redeveloped Gilmor Homes will contain a decent amount of this price point as well to up the percentage of home ownership and upward mobility in the area. There will also be a generous portion of affordable rentals in the redeveloped Gilmor Homes so that longtime Residents won't be forced out of their Neighborhood and can be a part of the newly revitalized Sandtown. The homes along the Fulton Avenue portion of the redevelopment area will be rehabbed due to the historic nature of Fulton Avenue. Also included in the redevelopment will be a new Gilmor Elementary. School Construction has been missing in Baltimore and when redeveloping large tracts of housing, a new School(s) must be master planned into the area. Although most new housing will be town homes, there will be public housing Apartments for Residents who are disabled and Seniors.
Image From Google Maps
Now we come to Upton. The western edge of Upton is lots of vacants. The redevelopment area consists of Heritage Crossing to the south, Pennsylvania Avenue to the east, Mosher St. to the south, and Fremont Avenue to the west. The Heritage Crossing (pictured above) development built in the early 2000s which is directly to the south has been a boost to the area as a replacement to the dilapidated Murphy Homes. Heritage Crossing was supposed to cause widespread investment to neighboring areas. Sadly this has not been the case. In order to extend the benefits of Heritage Crossing, I'm proposing redeveloping this western edge of Upton with a mixed income Town Home Community while everything fronting Pennsylvania Avenue will be Apartments with Retail below. In addition, the Sav-A-Lot Grocery Store will be expanded and a new Furman. L. Templeton Elementary School will be built as well.
Image From Google Maps
Next we come to Marble Hill. This area is different from all of the other areas in this post because it does not include redevelopment. Back in their hey day, Marble Hill Homes looked as gorgeous as those found in the currently desirable Neighborhoods of Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, and Reservoir Hill. Given how beautiful the architecture is in this area, it would be best to sell these houses as $1 row homes. The $1 price would reflect the high cost of rehabbing these homes. Purchasers of these homes would have to qualify for construction loans which in many cases would equal that of a mortgage. There may be infill new construction in this area if homes have already been demolished. These vacants lots may also be used as gardens and/or urban farms.
Image From Google Maps
Next we come to Madison Park North Apartments. These Apartments have been slated for demolition due to the high crime rate and grossly negligent landlord. In fact, this complex has earned the unfortunate nickname of "Murder Mall." I'm proposing more than just a tear down rebuild of these troubled Apartments. I would like to address the food desert climate by adding a Grocer to the redevelopment plans. I would also extend Reservoir Hill Park south of Lennox St. This area is one of the few in the City that is receiving School Construction. Across the street, John Eager Howard Elementary is undergoing a massive renovation and modernization. The Residential component of the new Madison Park North will be significantly smaller than it is now but given that a Grocer will come to the area and a beautiful park will be expanded, I consider it a good trade off.
Although the name of this post is labeled; Sit On It, it shows that there are parts of Baltimore that have been sat on for too long. The small areas of investment to come through these areas has been quite successful. If Developers who are being forced to "Sit On" their harbor investments and look throughout other areas of the City, they will find areas that will benefit from investment today and make the entire City as a whole healthier.    

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sit On It: 2017 Edition

Back in the depths of the recession, I wrote a post called "Sit On It." The idea of that post was that developers who owned land for development and redevelopment projects needed to hold off or "Sit On" their investments until the market turned around and their plans would once again become feasible. Today, the market has turned around and is responding nicely to new development of all uses in Baltimore. However, the sheer volume of development proposals coming down the pipeline might allow for an excess of space if all done at once. So despite the development friendly climate, some developers will have to "Sit On It" in 2017.
In 2017 many recently completed or under construction projects with a variety of uses are going to flood the market if they haven't already. These projects include but aren't limited to; Stadium Square, Port Covington, Hopkins/East Baltimore, 414 Light St., 10 Light St., McHenry Point Phase II, The Rotunda, Harbor Point, Harborview, Inner Harbor East, Marketplace at Fells Point, Bank of America Building Retail, Banner Hill Apartments, Cross Street Market Redevelopment, Della Note Site, 300 E. Prat St., and Anthem House Apartments. This is a lot of new development going up in a very short time in very small place. That being said, there are many more proposals around these same areas that aren't under construction yet. These are great proposals and had there been less competing developments, I would say full speed ahead. Alas, these additional developers have to "Sit On It."
The first development is State Center. I'm aware that Larry unilaterally pulled the plug on this development but if it should be resurrected, the developers should still sit on it. Since the existing State Office Buildings are falling apart, I think the State Offices should move out of those Buildings and into vacant Office space throughout Downtown. When the market turns around, the development should be re-visited and McCulloh Homes should be redeveloped with State Center.
Next we have the Edison Properties. Currently this is nothing but surface parking lots. This could easily be an eastbound expansion of Downtown going towards Hopkins. It would be very doubtful that any development would occur on the Edison Properties until the JFX is dismantled and it can be linked to Downtown.
Next, we have the parcel of land surrounded by Guilford Avenue, Holiday St, and Saratoga St. This is also a surface parking lot that is poised for a mixed use development. You may recognize this parcel from my 2008 "Sit On It" post and although it's a prime parcel in Downtown, it's still not the right time to pursue it.
Next we come to the Mechanic Opera House. This ugly building had been shuttered and was finally demolished. At the moment the developer is embroiled in lawsuits which is currently halting the mixed use tower that is proposed for this site at Baltimore St. and Charles St. This may be a blessing in disguise since the market is swarmed with projects similar to this.
Another Sit On It development is Old Town Mall and Somerset Homes. I've written extensively on this area and I don't believe any redevelopment can occur until Gay St. is restored as a one way northbound street for vehicular traffic. Somerset Homes on the other hand, probably will remain a vacant plot of land until Old Town Mall is redeveloped. Like the Edison Properties, Old Town Mall is east of the JFX so any redevelopment that occurs should also be done after the JFX is dismantled.
Now we come to 25th St. Station. This development was flawed from the start. Its aim was to bring "Big Box Retail" to the Charles Village/Remington area at the site of the closed Anderson Automotive Car Dealership. Its anchors were to be Lowes and Wal Mart with junior anchors akin to Staples and Ana's Linens. Lowes pulled out and the project was re-worked with Wal Mart as the soul anchor. Residents did not want a Wal Mart in their neighborhood so it too was removed from the plans. Although this is prime land, the future of 25th St. Station is unknown. Like other development projects on this list, it's located in an area that's surrounding by new development and investment so even if there were real plans, the developers should Sit On It.
The Convention Center Redevelopment. Although a newer larger and modernized Convention Center is desperately needed, the plans for mixed use around and above it are a little too far gone at the moment. This might have to be a phased redevelopment where the new Convention Center is built and can begin re-booking Cons that have left the City in favor of other Venues while the larger picture of mixed use around and above it could be done in the future. This could be done similarly to the Four Seasons at Inner Harbor East.
Harborview Lots 6 &7. The Harborview high rise once stood as the lone representation of redevelopment on the key highway waterfront. Since the early 2000s that has changed as Harborview has added town homes, low rise Condos and the planned "Pinnacle at Harborview" mid rise and high rise towers. Unbeknownst to many, the addition of the Pinnacle buildings are not the final buildings for Harborview. On either side of the Little Havana, there are surface level parking lots that will eventually become high rises that will complete the Harborview Development. It has been promised that these buildings will not obstruct water water front views from Clement St., Webster St., and Anchor St. Given the flurry of current construction along Key Highway, it's easy to see that the Harborview Developers will have to continue to "Sit On" Lots 6&7.
Finally there's the Pepsi Bottling Co. The sign on the JFX has become an iconic landmark for drivers coming and going from Downtown for decades. However, it appears that plant's days soon be numbered as the Development firm Himmelrich and Associates has purchased the land that the plant sits on and intends to turn into mixed use anchored by a Harris Teeter. If done right, this will complement the Mills in this area that have recently been rehabbed beautifully as mixed use. Given this site's proximity to all of these Mills and new Town Homes under construction in Hampden, I'm afraid Himmelrich might have to "Sit On" this development a little longer. They're actually doing just that as Pepsi is renting the site back to them until further notice.
It's great that after a recession that brought investment and development in Baltimore to a grinding halt in 2008 has begun to pick up steam again and the City is seeing new development again. Developers seem to be making up for time lost during the recession as developments are coming down the pipeline at break neck speed one after the other. In order for the market to be able to absorb all of this development though, some Developers will just have to "Sit On It" until further notice.