Sunday, February 8, 2015

Edmondson Village Redevelopment II: The Rest of the Neighborhood

The title of this post may seem misleading. I have no intention redeveloping all of Edmondson Village. In fact, I think Edmondson Village has some of Baltimore's most well kept and beautifully designed Row Homes that nobody knows about. Given that Edmondson Village has had run ins with crime and its Shopping Center is going down hill all too quickly (addressed in my previous post) people tend to shy away from this diamond in the rough. But if a few target spots in the Neighborhood were redeveloped or reused along with the population influx from the new Uplands, Edmondson Village can in fact become the safe clean Neighborhood it's always wanted to be.
Edmondson Village started out as a middle class white Neighborhood. In the mid to late 1950s, Inner City social constraints made the Black Neighborhoods just a few miles away burst at the seams and "blockbusting" Real Estate Agents began selling to Middle Class Black Families. This scared away most White Families and by 1965 Edmondson Village was almost 100% Black. Similar to the White Families who abandoned Edmondson Village in the 1950s and '60s, Middle Class Black Families began doing the same in the 1970s as the suburbs became more affordable and welcoming to them. As the Inner City continued to clear out, Edmondson Village went from a Middle Class Neighborhood to a poorer Neighborhood.      
One thing Edmondson Village has retained throughout its entire existence has been its high rate of home ownership. In order to make the Neighborhood more viable, the high rate of home ownership must be preserved. In addition to the high number of privately owned homes, there are only a very small number of vacants. Don't get me wrong, there are some vacants and some rentals. However when compared to many other West Baltimore Neighborhoods the amount of boards on windows is very low. Since the aim of this post is for Edmondson Village to be the best it can be, how about we try to eliminate the number of vacants no matter how few there are.
So how we do that? Well first we have to find them. I've found that they tend to be clusters. The two largest clusters are in the vicinity of W. Franklin St. and Normandy Avenue. The other is in the Hilton/Denison/Edgewood St. area. If these two blocks of Edmondson Village were redeveloped, I believe it would give the Neighborhood a face lift and can in turn entice other single blighted properties throughout the Neighborhood to make improvements. Hopefully private investment in the form of redevelopment in the areas I've selected will help steer some public dollars towards Edmondson Village by way of alley cleanings, new sidewalks, and repaved roads.
Now no discussion about Edmondson Village can be complete without discussing the road that runs right through it; Edmondson Avenue. This is where the vast majority of vacants in Edmondson Village are and at the same time gets by far the most vehicular and foot traffic. I don't think it's a good idea to simply rehab the existing structures due to the fact that one reason their vacancy rate is so high is because there's not enough parking. I would build new town homes that are more set back from the road that have garages in the back allies to ensure adequate parking. The corner stores would not be allowed as these blocks of Edmondson Avenue would be rezoned to purely Residential as would the remainder of corner stores not with Edmondson Avenue frontage.
Another area in Edmondson Village that needs to be addressed is the Fair Foods Market (nee Hilton Supermarket) and surrounding blighted Retail. I would have that whole area rezoned as purely Residential and have it redeveloped as Apartments for low income Seniors similar to the Greens at Irvington Mews just a few blocks south. I would relocate the Fair Foods in a brand new building as well as other Retail uses in the area along Fredrick Avenue so as not to create a food desert. The last area I will address in this post is what is known as Saint Joseph's park. Some maps and master plans list it as a park while others list it as several vacant lots. The Edmondson Village Master Plan goes as far as to create a rendering as the area developed. If this is truly a park I say let it stay as such. If it's truly vacant lots, build the homes as the Master Plan gas laid them out.
Although the Uplands redevelopment has the potential to keep Edmondson Village from falling further, there are still a few aspects of Edmondson Village proper that need to be addressed to make this diamond in the rough shine once again. Hopefully more people will begin to see the potential.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Edmondson Village Redevelopment I: The Shopping Center

Edmondson Village Shopping Center is in shambles. There I said it. This time I don't just mean that the mix of low end tenants doesn't match the wants and needs of the Community it serves although that's part of the problem. What I mean this time is that the Center is in a state of physical decay. Gutters are falling off, bricks are crumbling, pot holes are filling parking lots, trash is strewn about everywhere, and dumpsters and trash cans remain un-emptied, and the sewage remains backed up. To put it lightly, if change doesn't come and doesn't come fast, I fear for the future of not just the Shopping Center but the Greater Edmondson Village Community as a whole.
Edmondson Village wasn't always like it is today. It opened in 1947 as an upscale Shopping Center for the fast growing Edmondson Avenue corridor. It originally boasted tenants such as Hoschild Kohn, Hess Shoes, a Movie Theater, and eventually a Bowling Alley among many others. The Shopping Center was deemed as one of the first suburban Shopping Centers in the region. Even as blockbusting completely change the population from almost all White to almost all black in less than a decade, the Shopping Center still retained a nice mix of tenants.
The biggest blow to the Center was and still is slumlords. One could make the argument that newer Shopping Centers just over the County Line were to blame but Edmondson Village and its surrounding Neighborhoods didn't experience population at nearly as high a rate as many in other parts of the City. There are also Shopping Centers throughout the City that despite losing large amounts of population, spent tens of millions of dollars renovations and modernizing their properties and have enjoyed a new lease on life such as Mondawmin Mall, Reisterstown Road Plaza, and the Rotunda which is currently undergoing redevelopment. There are also areas in the City where brand new suburban style Shopping Centers (more than Edmondson Village) have breathed new life into Neighborhoods with little to no Retail and perhaps may have curtailed further population loss. South-side Marketplace and Greenspring Tower Plaza come to mind.

So while all these other Shopping Centers were either being built or renovated, what happened to Edmondson Village? Very little. Perhaps some minor facade improvements were made over the years but other than that the Center looks almost identical to itself in its heyday. When I say almost I don't take into account the years of neglect it has suffered but how many 60+ year old Shopping Centers are successful today without major renovations or redevelopment? The original neglect of the Center started in the late 1970s when Harry Weinberg owned it. Although he would later become Baltimore Royalty post posthumously due to the generosity of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, he was actually a slumlord.

Although Edmondson Village changed hands from between the days of Harry Weinberg and the present day, Edmondson Village is once again owned by a slumlord. This time it's Carl Verstandig, owner of America's Realty Corp. Though they're not quite notorious for their lack of upkeep on their properties, they're beginning to make a name for themselves most famously in Columbia when they bought Long Reach Village Center and let it decay so bad that Howard County bought from them and will redevelop it themselves. They also own some low market strip centers in Glen Burnie that are also suffering from lack of upkeep. In addition they want to buy Owings Mills Mall, which if you thought couldn't get any worse, just America's Realty Corp buy it and prove you wrong. In fact, all of the upkeep (or lack there of) problems that are plaguing Edmondson Village are the fault of America's Realty Corp.

Now comes the hard part; actually turning Edmondson Village back into a shopping destination that draws people into the Neighborhood. First thing's first; America's Realty Corp. has to sell Edmondson Village to an experienced Retail Property Management/Leasing Agency that will make long term investments to the Center.In the short term, they must address all of the quality of life issues around the Center such as decaying structures, parking lot, and infrastructure. After that is done, the real planning comes into focus and the burning question will get answered; Is Edmondson Village relevant in its current form?
Like I had said before, Edmondson Village remains almost identical in layout to its 1947 self. In Baltimore, all of the successful Shopping Centers are either new construction or have gone through massive renovations that the majority of the original structure(s) have been replaced with new construction. In order for Edmonson Village to survive and thrive, some major changes to the lay out of the Center must happen despite its iconic status as a pioneer in suburban shopping centers.

When talking redevelopment one must look at the trends. In the case of Neighborhood Retail, these trends all point to one thing; mixed use. Recently completed mixed use projects in the City include Jefferson Square at Washington Hill and Twelve 09 N. Charles St. This works very well for the Retail component because the Residences and/or Offices above make for built in patronage for said Retail. On the same token, the Residences and/or Offices above will have the convenience of Retail offerings just a few floors below them. So does this translate into a total tear down for Edmondson Village? It does.

A compete tear down will also address infrastructure problems that are currently plaguing the Center. One of the main draws of the Center in its early days was that it has "acres of parking." which was a clear indicator of the suburban mindset that the original Architects of the Center were in. The mindset of mixed use is to built up not out. The now setback Center will be much closer to Edmondson Avenue. and will be more pedestrian oriented rather than automobile oriented. This will be all the more important with the upcoming construction of the Red Line which will have a stop at Edmondson Village. Speaking of automobiles, where they park if their parking lot is being taken away from them?     

The answer to that is a parking garage. Not just any parking garage, a hidden one. A large portion of mixed use developments build a parking garage in the middle of the building site. The parking garage is also the same height as the building(s) it serves. The parking garage at Edmondson Village will have two different entrances; one for the Retail Tenants and Patrons, the other for Residents of the Apartments and Condos above. The structure(s) will be 4-6 stories high and will feature a courtyard pool and sundeck. It will feature a broad mix of incomes from Market Rate Home Ownership and Rentals to Low/Moderate Income Home Ownership and Rentals.

Now what will the new mix of Retail Tenants be? Well that would be up to the Community. Before and during redevelopment, surveys will be sent out to Residents of the following Communities; Edmondson Village, Rognel Heights, Hunting Ridge, Ten Hills, Westgate, Allendale, and Uplands (new and perspective Residents.) They will be asked what they would like to see at the new Center such as more of this, less of this and what type of safety improvements they would like to see as well and if they actually shop there. Chances are most of the Residents would like to see more sit down Restaurants, Banks, Coffee Shop, and fewer     low end stores. My one suggestion for Edmondson Village would be to get a Farmer's Market for the area. The success of Farmer's Markets throughout Baltimore and the lack of fresh quality produce at affordable prices would prove a big hit anywhere in the City and Edmondson Village is no different.

Although this seems like a pipe dream, Residents and Officials are in fact turning up the heat on America's Realty Corp. the Center's current owners. As the area continues to grow from the construction of Uplands as well as construction of the Red Line, the need for a Neighborhood Shopping Center that safely serves everybody's needs will become all the more crucial. The only way to make that happen however is for Residents to continue to demand the change they deserve. After all as it stands now, Edmondson Village Shopping Center is still in shambles.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Westport Waterfront: An Oasis of Tiny Cottages

Well here's a big surprise, Patrick Turner may be losing the land he fought so hard to keep in his own name. Although there may be a buyer to purchase the loans he has defaulted on, the Judge told him flat out that he's "buying time and waiting for a miracle." Those are harsh words but I'm inclined to agree. Baltimore simply isn't ready for a redeveloped Westport Waterfront.
Although such a project would be a huge boost to the City's economy and tax base as well as further population growth, there are simply too many other well funded large development projects across the City; first there's Inner Harbor East once H&S Bakery vacates its current Southeast Baltimore home, it will re-open several blocks for redevelopment. Harbor Point is moving forward quite nicely as well as are plans to build more Offices in Canton Crossing. Otterbein and Sharp Leadenhall are each receiving large redevelopment projects. There are also parcels slated for development in Harborview. Lets not forget that Downtown is redefining itself as something more than just Office Space. Office Buildings that are losing out to newer buildings are getting a new lease on life as Apartments and Condos. To add even more sting; State Center will probably get built before Westport.
So is Westport a lost cause? In the short term my answer is yes but in the long term, once the City has absorbed all the new development listed above, Westport's redevelopment may finally happen. The problem is, when I say that Westport will eventually happen, how far in the future could that happen? I'm projecting anywhere between 15 and 25 years before interest is renewed. No investor will have the patience to simply sit on that land while paying mortgages and taxes and not getting anything in return. In order to keep investors happy, they must at the very least break even on the land in the short term. The $1 Million or should I say $1 Billion question is; How?
Meanwhile throughout the City, most notably in highly populated areas in and around Downtown, the City has been taking a rough stance on Homeless Encampments. In effort to make these areas more attractive to rich City Dwellers, the Homeless Population of Baltimore especially those camping under the JFX (where the popular Farmers Market is) have had to move along. But where can they go? In the minds of those in City Hall the answer is "Somewhere we can pretend the problem doesn't exist." This has been the "solution" to homelessness nationwide, to sweep it under the rug and not address the underlying causes of homelessness and treat these human beings as anything but.             
Studies have shown that actually addressing homelessness is more cost effective than ignoring it. City and State Budgets have improved in areas where building small cottages for an area's homeless populations have been beneficial to everyone. Granted these cottages aren't anything fancy, they're small kit homes that Residents are afforded a place to sleep and be out of the elements and be safer than on the streets. Homeless Shelters which are already filled to capacity could deliver food to encampments of homeless cottages as can Restaurants who do so with "day old" food. These Cottages became popular after Hurricane Katrina when tens of thousands of New Orleans Residents lost their homes. New Orleans has dubbed them "Katrina Cottages." 
So where would these small Cottages go? Surely throughout Baltimore there's an area where there's empty land that can hold several hundred if not more of these little Cottages Right? Given that the Westport Waterfront is currently completely vacant for the foreseeable future, it's a no brainier that this location would fit the bill perfectly. Although this plan benefits the Homeless population of Baltimore as well as the Taxpayers, how would this benefit current and future investors of the Westport Waterfront? The City, State, and Feds can team up and lease the land from the investors to cover the cost of whatever mortgages and taxes associated with the ownership of that land.
With Homeless population of Baltimore consolidated to one area, the underlying causes of homelessness can be addressed. Social Services can assist those living in the Cottages with services ranging from addiction counseling, physical healthcare, mental healthcare, school enrollment, needle exchange, and vocational training. I liken this to "Hamsterdam" which played out in Season 3 of the wire which saw West Baltimore's drug dealers and users brought to one secluded area and before being shutdown, began to help those in need. Although not every single homeless person in Baltimore can benefit from such services, I do believe that a large percentage of them can all Residents can at the very least be safer. This area will also be heavily Policed to ensure each Resident's safety.
Unfortunately, like all good things, this may come to an end at any time. Demand for Office Space, Retail, and Residences could begin to arise again after the completion of other large projects in and around Downtown and the Harbor even though the're completely built out. It would be at that point that the Westport Waterfront redevelopment will begin to have legs once again. Obviously, the investors in the project will want to get moving so they can see a return on their investment. This could spell disaster for for the Homeless population that has begun to heel. 
Hopefully after 20 some odd years of Homeless intervention, the population of Baltimore's Homeless will have plummeted and fewer and fewer people will qualify as "Homeless." Hopefully there will be more "crisis housing" to stem the problem of homelessness before those most vulnerable are left without a roof over their heads. Hopefully with a short term solution such as the Westport Waterfront, our Elected Officials can think up a viable long term solution when the Westport Waterfront becomes prime real estate once again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

McCulloh Homes: A New Short Term Lease On Life

Development and redevelopment activity is back in full swing around Downtown and most surrounding areas. H&S Bakery will soon be vacating its sprawling factory in the middle of Inner Harbor East to so that new construction can continue, construction on the Central Avenue bridge into Harbor Point is on track which will allow Harbor Point construction to commence in just a few short years, there are numerous Apartment projects coming down the pipeline for Otterbein, Sharp-Leadenhall, and South Baltimore, Canton Crossing is looking to add more Office Space, and Downtown proper has been seeing numerous re-purposing from Office Buildings to Apartments as the demand for Apartments Downtown has sky-rocketed. In short, new construction in Baltimore is all around us. Well almost.
One part of the Greater Downtown Area that hasn't received much attention is State Center. For those who aren't familiar with State Center it's currently an outdated Office Park that houses State Offices that's located on both the Light Rail Line, the Metro, and is just a few blocks from Penn Station. It is also surrounded by numerous hot areas such as Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Univeristy of Baltimore, MICA, and Station North. In other words, the location is among the best in the City.In addition to being located near several good areas of the City, it is also located near some not so good areas. Upton and McCulloh Homes are also at State Center's doorstep.    
In the early to mid 2000s, there was a plan to redevelop State Center as 1st class upscale mixed-use TOD haven complete with new State Offices, Apartments, Town Homes, and Retail as well as a Boutique Hotel. This would have been known as the "Eutaw District." Early versions of the plan included redeveloping the aging McCulloh Homes. The plan was re-drafted and scaled back not to include McCulloh Homes after Resident backlash. Although this was a labeled victory for McCulloh Homes Residents, no plan has come forth to address the decaying conditions at McColloh Homes since it was excluded from State Center. 
The plan for State Center with or without McCulloh Homes was met with controversy. With the State act as a Developer, it would have to splash out a serious amount of cash $1 Billion + and that didn't set well for people who thought the State was too cash strapped. Had the State been in better financial shape, there would still be naysayers thinking that a project like this would be a waste of money. Supporters asked us to look at the big picture. Taxes and fees generated once this project had been completed would make the investment more than worth it. In other words, the State would have to spend money to make money. I was and still am of the mindset that State Center needs to be redeveloped. My views on how to accomplish that have changed drastically over the years however.
First I was on board with the State investing the money to pay for redeveloping State Center knowing that the area needs that shot in the arm as well as the return on its initial investment. As the economy tanked I was still a champion of the redevelopment effort but I preferred waiting until the economy stabilized. As time wore on it became clear that this project wouldn't happen anytime soon if at all. I still supported it. This project not being funded mean the need for the State to get new Offices was being unmet. 
It was at this time that Downtown's Office Vacancy Rate was hitting 20% even though projects rich in Office Space like Harbor Point and Inner Harbor East. With this news, my support of State Center's redevelopment remained in place however, I wanted the State to remove itself from the project and sell off the land to a private developer that they would "bank" until the Market was ready to absorb it. The State Offices would lease space Downtown in an effort to reduce the vacancy rate. I wrote a post on this matter called "Taking the State out of Center."
After the State Center Buildings were vacated I left their short term fate in the hands of the Developer who now owned them. They could demolish them and bank the land until the climate is right for redevelopment, or they could simply mothball them. I came up with a different plan for the short term. Remember earlier in the post when I said nothing was being done to help McColloh Homes? I was hoping you did because it's a pivotal part of this plan. I know think the best option for the State Center Buildings in the short term would be to house McCulloh Homes Residents. After being converted into Apartments, the City would lease the Buildings from the Developer after selling the land McCulloh Homes sits on. The Developer would then demolish McCulloh Homes to make them part of the eventual State Center redevelopment. 
Once development in and around Downtown reaches build out and the demand for development returns (once new projects are fully leased and/or purchased) The State Center Buildings now housing McCulloh Homes would be demolished and the entire site (McCulloh Homes and State Center) would be redeveloped as an upscale mixed-use TOD haven that the Planners envisioned all those years ago.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Old West Baltimore: Your Cries Are Being Heard...........Slowly

One of my very first posts on this blog was entitled "Old West Baltimore: Crying For Intervention." It was true then and it remains true now. However, there are some signs of hope in Old West Baltimore that if the City and Developers were to take advantage of, Old West Baltimore would improve greatly. Please keep in mind that as you read this post, I'm not looking to gentrify Old West Baltimore. I'm simply trying to provide safe, well built affordable housing and services for working Families and Seniors.
It's no secret that Old West Baltimore has been struggling long before World War II. During the Great Migration, tens of thousands of Black Southerners made Baltimore their home. What didn't change were the boundaries of Baltimore's Black Neighborhoods. What resulted was over-crowding, and decaying and substandard living conditions. As the Black Neighborhood Boundaries went west of Fulton Avenue, those who could afford it headed west to "second hand Suburbs" like Edmondson Village where Whites were fleeing to the newly built suburbs. Those who were forced to stay in Old West Baltimore were still left in slums albeit less crowded but slums non the less. 
The great solution to the slum like conditions was not great at all. It was barely a solution. Said solution was to build new public housing high rises that were charged with ridding the City of its slums. The new high rises, funded largely by the Federal Government soon became a haven for crime and drug dealing. Residents were scared to leave their homes and soon the surrounding Neighborhoods saw the same crime that the high rises had. Even worse, the Feds who providing funding to build these high rises, didn't fund their maintenance, which the City could not afford. Before long, the same slum conditions that the high rises were meant to eliminate had come back.
Needless to say, this crime and subsequent decay left Residents fleeing for homes for safety. This caused some of Baltimore's most concentrated population loss. In Old West Baltimore, it's not uncommon to see block after block of vacant row houses without a single Human residing in them. I say Humans because there are Rodents and Roaches residing in them. Once the Murphy Homes high rises were torn down and replaced with the lower density town home development of Heritage Crossing, it was thought that Old West Baltimore would be on the upswing again.
Heritage Crossing and similar projects have been great. Sadly they haven't been able to spread their greatness to neighboring blocks. Although Heritage Crossing is the most well known successful redevelopment project in Old West Baltimore, there are others that made some improvements in their immediate area.
First off, in the early 1990s, Penn North and Sandtown had modular Town Homes built for affordable Home ownership. They sold like hot cakes. It seemed that in the 1990s there was a pent up demand for affordable new construction housing for purchase in old West Baltimore. As part of the redevelopment in Sandtown, some existing row homes were preserved if they were in good enough condition. 
Throughout the remainder of the 1990s and 2000s, very little development occurred in Old West Baltimore. That pent up demand for affordable new construction in Old West Baltimore was a fluke. Sure Heritage Crossing sold well but wasn't that mostly Residents who had lived in Murphy Homes? Nope, most of the homes in Heritage Crossing are owner occupied but developers had set their attention on the Harbor and had no intention of diverting their attention.
Meanwhile in Druid Heights, Residents and Community Activists were sick of waiting for narrow minded Developers to turn their attention to Old West Baltimore. With a plethora of vacant row homes and lots, they formed the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation and and have slowly but surely been buying up vacant row homes and lots and building new affordable town homes for working Families. Examples of these new homes can be seen along the west side of Pennsylvania Avenue and Gold St. Newer homes are beginning to pop up along Baker St. as well. Since the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation isn't a large National Developer, the pace at which new homes can be constructed may seem slow but they're making great strides in giving Druid Heights a rebirth.
Now that we've established that Old West Baltimore has a pent up demand for affordable new construction for home ownership, I have but one burning question; Is there the same demand for Rentals? The answer is yes. Just take a look at the recently completed Penn Square Apartments in Penn North. They became fully leased in no time. The same developer who developed Penn Square built a similar project along North Avenue in Walbrook Junction which has a waiting list. When referencing that project he said that he could 100 similar projects in Baltimore and they would be fully leased in no time. So to answer that question, there is a pent up demand for affordable new construction rentals as well.
Now that we have discovered these islands of hope in Old West Baltimore, one might wonder what's next. Given the state of the housing in much of the area, redevelopment may be the only alternative. There may be the occasional row of homes that are in good enough shape to rehab and then rent and sell. Upton's Marble Hill District is one of these places. Madison Park which separates Upton and Bolton Hill is beginning to emerge as a great place to rehab a row home at a non inflated price. Reservoir Hill's row house mansions that were once used as multi-family dwellings are being restored to their single family grandeur.  
Most of Old West Baltimore however is not Upton's Marble Hill District and Madison Park. If that were the case, Old West Baltimore would be seeing a surge of reinvestment that rivals the Harbor. The sad truth is, as is evidenced by past successes, the only clear solution is redevelopment. Now we can't redevelop all of Old West Baltimore although it may ultimately come to that. I have come up with three areas of highly blighted land that would help give the area a much needed face lift and perhaps start a small building boom.      
First there's Penn North. As I had indicated before, there are two success stores here; first there are the Town Homes built in the 1990s and secondly there are the recently completed Penn Square Apartments. The redevelopment I'm proposing is the land that separates the two. That land is still very blighted filled with empty lots and boarded up row homes. The land that front Pennsylvania Avenue would be higher density similar to Penn Square while Residential blocks will contain Town Homes. Whether these new homes are rent or purchase their prices will affordable to Working Families.
Next there's Gilmor Homes. Gilmor Homes is a sprawling public housing complex that sits in the middle of Sandtown. Although the Southeastern portion of Sandtown has benefited quite nicely from reinvestment and redevelopment, the same can not be said about the rest of the Neighborhood. Gilmor Homes has been hot bed for crime and drug activity for decades now and if redeveloped, it will serve as a catalyst for further investment and development in Sandtown. The Gilmor Homes redevelopment are will not only include the complex itself but the surrounding blocks that are all but vacant. In its place will be a mixed income Community primarily of Town Homes with a few Apartments with a mixture of rentals and privately owned homes. There will also by a public housing Senior Building that will be no taller than five stories. There will also be amenities such as a Daycare Center, A Community Center, Urban Gardens, as well as a small Retail area close to the Senior Building.       
The last redevelopment area is in Upton. It creates a triangle bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue to east, Mosher St. to the north, Fremont Avenue to the west, and the Heritage Crossing Development to the south. This area features a very large concentration of vacant row homes and lots that can only be fixed by a massive redevelopment effort. Fortunately, this area is large enough to change the image of the Upton Community and may create a synergy to begin attracting more Residents outside the area. Similar to Penn North, buildings along Pennsylvania Avenue will be Apartments while the more residential blocks will consist of Town Homes. A public housing Senior Building will also be featured here not unlike the one I have purposed for the redeveloped Gilmor Homes. 
If these three initiatives were put forth, coupled with the existing synergy, Old West Baltimore's cries for intervention will be heard and the area successful. Still more work would have to be done, most specifically in Harlem Park and McColloh Homes and hopefully attracting better Retail to Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps one day Old West Baltimore will be a sought after address. That would a ways off but right at the very least the cries for intervention are slowly being heard. And that's more than I could have said seven years ago.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Revisiting Old Freeway Attempts III:The Outer Beltway

As I end my series on revisiting old Freeway Attempts, I focus this entire post on just one proposed road; The Outer Beltway. Yes, believe it or not I-695 was only supposed to be the "Inner Beltway" with another loop that catches more outer ring suburbs to follow. Obviously the Outer Beltway was never completed in fact it was barely started. The only part of the Outer Beltway that exists today is Route 100 which is the southern spur of the un-built Interstate. I bet you didn't know that. Then of course if you look at a map you can see that in fact Route 100 does serve as an "outer" alternative to the current Beltway at least in the southern suburbs.

When Route 100 was built in phases starting in the 1970s until its completion in 1999, it was never meant to be an entire loop. In fact, the reason that Route 100 is located where it is is because the land had been reserved for the Outer Beltway and all the State wanted to build was a highway link between Route 29 in Ellicott City and Mountain Road in Pasadena to ease congestion in rapidly growing areas of Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. Route 100 did just that except that it opened the floodgates for more growth and sprawl which put congestion of roads back to where it was before Route 100 and then some. Given that Route 100 follows the southern right of way set aside for the Outer Beltway, hows about we extend it in both directions to complete the loop and give Baltimore two Beltways just the Eisenhower Era Interstate Planners had intended. 

The moniker of Route 100 will be dropped in place of the more fitting I-595. I realize this is the unsigned name of a stretch of Route 301/50 but I think our new Outer Beltway is more deserving of this noble title. We will start our journey at the eastern end of Route 100(now known as I-595) in Pasadena. Route 100/I-595 ends at Mountain Road currently but it will be extended as I-595 east of Mountain Road which will have a grade separated interchange as will all of its crossings. It will continue eastbound before crossing the bay between Bodkin Creek and Boyd Pond. This long bridge will do something unheard of; connect Pasadena in Anne Arundel County and Joppatowne in Harford County.  

This bridge, which gives all other bridges a run for their money, will end at Canal Creek in just south of Joppatowne. Extending Eastern Avenue to meet I-595 should be considered. There is some relatively unused land here which I-595 can use for interchanges with Route 40 (Pulaski Highway), Philadelphia Road, and I-95. It may be a good idea for I-95 and Philadelphia Road to share ramps to one another a la Park Heights Avenue and Stevenson Road given how closely parallel the roads run in between each other. After its interchange with I-95, I-595 will meet up with Route 1 (Belair Road) in between Perry Hall and Kingsville. After unceremonious interchanges with Harford Road, Glen Arm Road, and Manor Road, I-595 will cross Loch Raven Reservoir. After this, things begin to get interesting.

In Central and western Baltimore County, there are a few roads that already exist that I've noticed could be spurs for the Outer Beltway. After an interchange with Route 146 (Dulaney Valley Road) I-595 will follow what is now Old Bosley Road albeit much wider and up to Interstate Standards after which it will roughly follow Bosley Road and finally Warren Road. Warren Road was one of the Roads I had considered to be a spur for the Outer Beltway therefore I'm using it as such. Given the Residential nature of these Neighborhoods, there will be no interchanges until meeting Route 45 (York Road) The existing at-grade intersection will be upgraded to a clover leaf and Warren Road, currently a two to four lane road separated by a median strip will become I-595, a six lane divided Interstate. 

West of York Road I-595, the continue to follow the Warren Road Route. Here, it will be much easier to transform the road as it has more of a highway-esque layout. Warren Road ends with an interchange with I-83. I-595 will continue on west of I-83. It will meet Route 25 (Falls Road) and take the path of least resistance through the Greenspring Valley with interchanges at Greenpsring Avenue and Park Heights Avenue just below the Caves Valley Country Club.

I have setup I-595 to be level with Owings Mills Boulevard right where it veers north and follows the CSX lines. Why? Because I believe Owings Mills Boulevard between Winans Road and Stevenson University is the other "spur" of the Outer Beltway is. Owings Mills Boulevard has an interchange with I-795 here and its intersections with Reisterstown Road, Red Run Boulevard, Lakeside, Boulevard, Lyons Mill Road, and Winans Road will be upgraded to grade separated interchanges. Other smaller streets that meet up with Owings Mills Boulevard/I-595 will have bridges over or under them without access. The planned extension of Owings Mills Boulevard to Liberty Road will also be a grade separated interchange. 

Once I-595 has crossed Liberty Road, it will take curvy path of least resistance. That simply means that it will curve around to ensure the fewest number of homes have to be destroyed to construct it. Eventually it will cross into Howard County and will cross Route 99 at its current signalized intersection with Route 29. Route 29 between Route 100 and its northern terminus at Route 99 has served as a southwestern spur of the Outer Beltway (I-595) Route 29 between Route 99 and Route 100 will be re-dubbed I-595 and the traffic light intersection at Route 99 will be upgraded to a grade separated interchange. I-595, once it has completed its short stint using the current Route 29 will make an easterly turn back to the current Route 100. At this point the circle is complete.

Now that I have completed my entire series on un-built Freeways in Baltimore I bet I know what you're thinking; That was stupid. Yes, yes it was however we must revisit these failed attempts now and then to remind ourselves why they failed in the first place so history isn't doomed to repeat itself. Building anyone of these Freeways would be a waste of Tax Payer Money, have to unnecessarily relocate hundreds if not thousands, will ruin sought after park lands, will pollute the air as well as the water, and will do nothing to actually reduce roadway congestion.

By researching and writing this series, I was reminded time and time again that if Baltimore wants reduce congestion on its highways it needs to look in the future not the past. This series looked in the past and showed how detrimental it would be. Rather than investing in expanding our highways, Baltimore and surrounding areas must look at upgrading Mass Transit in particularly Rail Transit and shuttle buses that go to and from Rail Transit stops. Park & Ride lots at the end of transit lines are a must as is TOD so that Residents can get rid of their cars. The successful Cities in the Country have world class transit systems and if Baltimore wants to become one, it must get one of its own NOT build more highways.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Revisiting Old Freeway Attempts Part II: The I-695 Connections

Think I was done with the Old Freeway Attempts Series? Think again. This time the proposed freeways I'm writing about would have crossed I-695 in some way shape or form. This post will also cover why the east side of I-695 is not a perfect circle and is filled with many sharp twists and turns. The I-695 we all know and love today was pieced together by two failed freeway attempts on its east side.  

The first freeway I'm introducing is I-795 aka the Northwest Expressway. The Northwest Expressway was built in the 1980s in conjunction with the Subway Line that runs parallel to it. It also contains a direct exit ramp to Owings Mills Mall which has failed miserably. There are plans to extend the expressway northbound into Carroll County in the future as traffic along Reisterstown Road and Liberty Road continues to increase as well as plans in the foreseeable future to build an interchange at Dolfield Boulevard. 

I-795's southbound terminus is at I-695. It wasn't supposed to be. Had the planners of I-795 had their way, it would have continued southbound cutting the Sudbrook and Lochearn communities in half before entering the City and ending is status of a Freeway at Wabash Avenue. Wabash Avenue runs through northwest Baltimore City as an at-grade Boulevard parallel to the Subway tracks just like I-795. The Subway tracks that run through Sudbrook and Lochearn tell us the exact alignment of the would be I-795 link. Although this may have provided traffic relief to Liberty Road and Reisterstown Road inside I-695, I don't see how disrupting the communities of Sudbrook and Lochearn is a good enough trade off.

Next we come to the Perring Freeway, hey wait a minute! Isn't there a Perring Parkway already in existence? Why yes there is. The Perring Freeway would have followed the same right of way as the current Perring Parkway does however it wouldn't have traffic lights and would have contained grade-separated interchanges like what can be found at Northern Parkway and Perring Parkway. Very little can information can be found on the Perring Freeway such as how long it would have been a freeway (perhaps when it corsses the Alameda?) or if it would continue as a freeway above I-695 (too densely developed to do so now.) 

My guess is that land was bought for interchanges for the Perring Freeway but funding wasn't provided to build them. The end product was the Perring Parkway we have come to know. Its undeveloped landscape is likely the land that would have been used for the Freeway. Just like the I-795 extension in the City, I see no reason why this should plan should be resurrected.

Next we come to I-695 itself. Remember when I said that a couple of failed Freeway attempts make up the east side of I-695? Well this begs the question; What was the proposed alignment of I-695? Today's Southeastern Boulevard was the original alignment for I-695. It would have used that alignment rather than having to take that tight awkward ramp to stay on the road. Southeastern Boulevard actually forms a perfect circle when teamed with Back River Neck Road where it could rejoin the current I-695 alignment in Edgemere just northeast of its interchange with North Point Boulevard. Unlike every other failed freeway attempt, I would like to see this happen. I was never a fan of I-695's eastern alignment and upgrading Southeastern Boulevard and Back River Neck Road to interstate would allow that to happen. Now, what IS the eastern side of I-695?

The eastern side of I-695 is composed of two failed freeway attempts. First is the Windlass Freeway. When built in its entirety, the Windlass Freeway would have started as an extension of Mroavia Road at I-95 (ghost ramps are present here) and would have run parallel to Pulaski Highway and Eastern Avenue. Right where I-695 makes that VERY sharp turn is the considered the southern end of the built section of the Windlass Freeway. The northern end is at the interchange of I-695 and Southeastern Boulevard. This appears to be a hurried attempt of an afterthought to complete I-695 when the proposed alignment and the Windlass Freeway were scrapped. That small portion of I-695 is still referred to ass the Windlass Freeway on some maps. In the midst of the very sharp turn on I-695/The Windlass Freeway, there are ghost ramps present to indicate where the Windlass Freeway would have continued on to meet Moravia Road at I-95. The Freeway was supposed to have ended northbound at what is now White Marsh Boulevard. 

If Southeastern Boulevard were to become I-695's east side, then the Windlass Freeway could be built in between Moravia Road and the current I-695/Windlass Freeway without much disruption. It would simply run in between I-95 and I-695 providing relief to the congestion in the area. 

The second failed freeway attempt that makes up the eastern side of I-695, is known as the Patapsco Freeway. This runs south of the sharp turn on the Windlass Freeway portion and stops at the Back River Neck. The Patapsco Freeway could have made for a northern alternative to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge if extended past I-695. There's no telling how long the Patapsco Freeway could then run once on the eastern shore. Given how sparse the land is it could go all the way to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry in Delaware. The Ghost ramps at the sharp turn on I-695 are where the Windlass Freeway and Patapsco Freeway were to intersect, not knowing at the time they would become the same road. Like the Windlass Freeway, the Patapsco Freeway portion of I-695 is still labeled as such on some maps.

This ends another segment on my series of old freeway attempts. I'm sure I surprised some of you by my wanting to realign the eastern side of I-695 to the current alignment of Southeastern Boulevard and extend the Windlass Freeway portion to Moravia Road at I-95. The Patapsco Freeway also makes sense as a northern alternative to the bay bridge. The series isn't over yet. What will my finale reveal? Stay tuned to find out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Revisiting Old Freeway Attempts Part I: The I-95 Connections

If you take a look at maps of Baltimore and surrounding areas, you will see a plethora of Freeway plans that never came to fruition. The reasons why are endless, the three biggest were; Neighborhood protests, lack of funding, and environmental concerns. Another reason was that in some cases, building freeways in that particular area or region was flat out a bad idea. Some of these un-built freeways were good ideas and as such, I wonder if somehow several billion dollars magically appeared if revisiting these old Freeways would be a good idea. I will examine all freeway attempts even the outlandishly bad ones.

During the era that Eisenhower signed the Interstate System into law, cities across the Country were literally being torn apart to make way for these new Freeways. It was thought that people would ditch cities in favor of suburbs and cities would be nothing more than slums and a Central Business District. In a lot of cases this is exactly what happened and some blame the intrusive freeways for speeding up the process. Baltimore actually got off light with its freeways but the original plans were much and grandiose.

First there was I-70. Ever notice how weird it was that it just abruptly stops at the Park & Ride lot at the City/County line just east of I-695? Well, it wasn't supposed to. I-70 was supposed to continue on into the City plowing through Leakin Park at the cost of Baltimore's largest and greenest park, have an exit onto Hilton Parkway, have a spur that leads directly into Downtown (more about that later) where it finally ends at a seemingly more appropriate location at I-95 between Caton Avenue and Washington Boulevard. Ghost ramps along I-95 tell this story. City Residents put up a fight to save Leakin Park before this segment of I-70 was built and were successful in saving Leakin Park.

Now should we revisit this and try again to extend I-70 to meet I-95? Absolutely not. As far as the environmental concerns go, nothing has changed. In fact, the addition of the Gywnn's Falls Trail has only added to the notion that Leakin Park is not to be disturbed. 

Next we come to I-170 aka the Road to Nowhere. Highway Planners were so sure that funding would be secured for the I-70 extension to I-95 and that the Community at large would support it that they began building the spur to Downtown known as I-170. Since I-70 wouldn't hit Downtown itself, planners decided to build a small three mile spur that would connect I-70 to Downtown. Roughly one mile and a half miles of the spur was constructed at the expense of hundreds of Residents between Franklin and Mulberry St. before the plan to connect I-70 to I-95 was canceled. The result was and is a broken Community that has yet to recover from this invasive freeway project. Planners tried to make it worth something by connecting I-170 to I-95 without the I-70 connection. This would be known as I-595. This also didn't pass and I-170 became the Road to Nowhere.

Again the question comes, should we try to revive this? Again the answer is no. Like I had before, the Citizens of Baltimore don't want to have Leakin Park destroyed and in order to connect the I-170 spur, more homes in West Baltimore would have be destroyed further ruining the Community. It should also be noted that City Planners want to dismantle the portion of "freeway" that was already built to build a mixed use TOD Community in its place to spur the revitalization of West Baltimore.

Another Freeway that was supposed to connect to I-95 was I-83 aka the JFX. The reason it didn't continue as a freeway past Fayette St. was because of Community backlash, just like the extension of I-70 that never came to fruition. I-83 was supposed to remain a freeway going into what is now Inner Harbor East through Fells Point and finally along Boston St. in Canton. it would connect to I-95 near the O'Donnell St./Boston St. Interchange as evidenced by Ghost Ramps. Back then, Inner Harbor East was nothing more than parking lots and industrial ruins and Fells Point and Canton had gone into decline. One big reason for their turn around was the idea that the I-83 extension would destroy their historic Row Homes and take the fabric of the Neighborhood with it a la the Road to Nowhere. 

Should we revive this attempt? Fortunately that would be impossible. Gievn how much redevelopment has gone on in the area, building a Freeway in the middle of it would erode all the progress that was made in Southeast Baltimore and turn it into the Road to Nowhere Corridor. If that's not reason enough to not revive the I-83 extension I don't know what is. I should also mention that there are currently plans to turn I-83 from Fayette St. to Preston St. into an at-grade Boulevard in an effort to connect Downtown to East Baltimore and spur more redevelopment. It seems that Baltimore wants to reduce its Freeways rather than add to them.

That's about it for the I-95 connections. This will be a three part series due to the wealth of abandoned Freeway ideas the Baltimore area has. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A More Walkable College Town

In addition to being a City of 622,000 Residents, Baltimore is also what I call a College Town. Granted a College or University isn't all Baltimore has to offer like a traditional College Town ie Salsbury, Frostburg, etc. However Baltimore is home to numerous Colleges and Universities and that particular attribute of the City is not lost on me. Therefore, I have decided to end my series on walkability by purposing a new line on the Charm City Circulator that connects a good number of the City Colleges and plenty of other landmarks along the way not only to each other, but to Downtown, other circulator lines, as well as both the Light Rail and Metro and eventually the Red Line, Yellow Line, and Charles St. Trolley once they're built. So without further ado, I give you a more walkable College Town.
As I have done in previous posts regarding additional Charm City Circulator Lines, I have started their route Downtown. This time the "College Route" as I have named it, will start at Paca St. and Lombard St. Here it will connect to the Orange Line of the Circulator which runs from Hollins Market to Inner Harbor East. Paca and Lombard  is also the stop to be used for University of Maryland Baltimore, University of Maryland Medical Center, Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, and the Horseshoe Casino. 
Traveling up Paca St. the Circulator will then stop at Lexington Market which is set to receive Millions in renovation dollars. This stop will also be a quick walk to both the Metro and the Light Rail. Heading up Paca St. the line will stop at St. Mary's Park in Baltimore's Historic Seton Hill Neighborhood. Rather than continue to where Paca St. becomes McColloh St., it will turn up Madison St. and make a left on Howard St. for a stop at Univeristy of Maryland Midtown Medical Center (nee Maryland General Hospital.) When the Circulator is following Howard St. it will use the same stops that the Light Rail has (Cultural Center and Mount Royal) for easy transfers.
At Mount Royal Avenue the line will turn left for a stop at East Bolton Hill/MICA. Since Mount Royal Avenue stops at North Avenue, it will turn left and follow North Avenue until it stops at Eutaw Place for a North Bolton Hill/ Reservoir Hill Stop. It will continue northbound up Eutaw Place for Reservoir Hill which is quickly becoming Baltimore's next up and comer. Like I have said in the past, a component of walkability is how welcoming your environment is. With a stop along this new Charm City Circulator Line, I think this will improve Reservoir Hill's walkability not only by offering connectibility but I believe it will lead to further enhancements that will continue to improve the welcoming environment that is Reservoir Hill.
Eutaw Place ends at Druid Park Lake Drive at which point there will be a stop for Druid Hill Park. This will also serve the northern portion of Reservoir Hill. The circualtor will then cross over the JFX where Druid Park Lake Drive becomes W. 28th St. in the heart of Remington. Remington, like Reservoir Hill, is an up & comer and is experiencing a rebirth with several promising development plans in the pipeline. It is here that I ask the Hampden-Woodberry Shuttle Bug to extend itself to connect to the College Route of the Charm City Circulator by including a new stop at 28th and Sisson St. 
Once in Remington, the line will follow Sisson St and will then make a right at Wyman Park Drive. Here it will follow Wyman Park Drive to Johns Hopkins University. The line will then follow Art Museum Drive until it empties out onto Charles St. where at 32nd St. it will have a Charles Village Stop. This could be a future transfer point for the Charles St. Trolley when it funded and built. Once on 32nd St. the line will pick up St. Paul St.
It will follow St. Paul St. for a few blocks and then will turn back onto 29th St. It will follow 29th St. until it picks up Maryland Avenue. It will then follow Maryland Avenue through the Old Goucher, Charles North, and Station North Neighborhoods stopping at all Neighborhoods as well as Penn Station. 
It will continue to follow Maryland Avenue where it will have a University of Baltimore Stop (different from University of Maryland Baltimore) whose stop will also include the Lyric Opera House and the Fitzgerald Apartments. The line will follow Maryland Avenue until it blends with Cathedral St. for a stop at the Washington Monument in the heart of Mount Vernon also serving the Walters Art Museum. Continuing down Cathedral St. there will be stops at the derelict Lexington Mall which would also serve Charles Center and the ill-fated Super-block.  
Finally the line will follow Liberty St. with a stop at First Mariner Arena before turning onto Lombard St. The First Mariner Arena is just one block from the Charles Center Metro Station. The line will follow Lombard St. until its terminus at Paca St.
As my series on walkability comes to a close, I would like to remind you that I've only scratched the surface on walkability. There are several more areas throughout the City where walkability can be improved upon. However, given how long that would take I decided on targeting areas that would benefit from the action plans that I have proposed.