Saturday, September 16, 2017

Charles North to Reservoir Hill Footpaths

As the area around Charles St. and North Avenue continues to experience massive development and redevelopment, it should be kept in mind that even as these areas grow in population, there's one thing that they're lacking in; walkability. Walkability is great within the Neighborhoods themselves however, when walking or biking to surrounding Neighborhoods, it becomes less so.
This is a problem especially when considering this area is a growing College-town where many Residents don't have access to a car to get to and from School. The problem becomes exacerbated when more and more students are moving to Reservoir Hill and MICA continues to expand from Bolton Hill and into Station North. Right now the big elephant in the room for this post is the JFX. Sure there's the sidewalk on North Avenue on the bridge over the JFX but for walkers and bikers who not only live north of this but work and/or go to school north of this, it becomes a hassle and the walkability of the area goes down.
So how do we fix this? More roads? Do we tunnel this section of the JFX? As much as I'd like to do just that, I don't think it's a fiscally sound solution at this moment when considering other ways the Billions it would cost could be better used around the City and County. Building more roads over the JFX between Charles North and Reservoir would also be detrimental the rapidly growing Neighborhoods because the traffic snarls of North Avenue would be expanded to these currently residential streets. 
So now what? I didn't provide a solution as to how we can fix this. I just gave "solutions" that wouldn't work or are way too expensive. Well, my solution that is feasible will be plenty expensive don't you worry, but its price will pale in comparison to tunneling a stretch of a major interstate. My solution is simply foot paths. During the interstate era, when the JFX was built, City planning centered around one word; redlining. Redlining chopped up existing to keep poverty and integration at bay. Of course back then integration would eventually lead to re-segregation by another race. That's why bridging Neighborhoods together was such a no no.
Today, as City living makes a come back and integration is less of a four letter word, the now chopped up Neighborhoods that were made so by the construction of the JFX are looking to reunite to their pre-JFX selves. When looking north to Hampden and Woodberry, the walkability between these two communities and the development in them both has increased drastically. The sidewalks on Union Avenue under the JFX and on 41st St. over it have played a big part in this now sought after community.
Granted in Hampden-Woodberry, the "foot paths" are nothing more than sidewalks attached to existing streets that cross the JFX. How does that help Charles North and Reservoir Hill given that no streets cross the JFX between North Avenue and 28th St.? That's why my plan is for foot paths instead of sidewalks. Sidewalks are only for existing vehicular roadways while footpaths can go anywhere regardless of whether motor vehicles can or cannot. So foot paths it is but where? And how many?
The answers to those questions respectively is two and between 21st St. and Reservoir St. and between 24th St. and Whitelock St. are the locations. I chose those two because they're both not too close and not too far from one another. At the northern end of Reservoir Hill, there's a connection to Remington via Sidewalks along Druid Park Lake Drive over the JFX where it becomes 28th and 29th St. for east and west bound traffic respectively.
As part of the continued growth of Reservoir Hill, I think that Druid Park Lake Drive should undergo streetscape enhancements. There are lots of vacant lots here that can be developed as additional Condos and Apartments overlooking Druid Hill Park. Streetscape enhancements should include new sidewalks on both sides of the street, pedestrian signals, bike lanes, road resurfacing, and new LED street lights. A Long term project should be a redesign of the interchange between the JFX and Druid Park Lake Drive which I consider to be unfriendly to pedestrians and bikers.

When Neighborhoods in Cities begin to make a turn around, connecting similar Neighborhoods that are also turning around makes the turn around that much faster and more profound. This can be easily obtained by connecting Reservoir Hill and Charles North across the JFX via footpaths. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Mondawmin Crossing II: The Neighborhood

Although I believe that Mondawmin Mall is a good site for Baltimore's next mega successive ultra regional mixed use Big Box Center, I don't believe the surrounding Neighborhood is quite ready for it. Although the area struggles with crime, drugs, vacant housing, and poverty, I would like to use the revamped Mondawmin Mall/Mondawmin Crossing as a way to jump start reinvestment and redevelopment in the area. There are also numerous assets nearby that are overlooked and can be used to enhance the Neighborhood.
When I was tossing around ideas for this post, I was looking at ways to connect Mondawmin to Neighborhoods east of the JFX. I thought about extending and/or relocating either Liberty Heights Avenue or Gwynns Falls Parkway so that they meet and blend into Druid Park Lake Drive which in turn connects to the JFX and becomes 28th/29th St. east of it. This would have connected to Mondawmin to Remington, Station North, Hampden, and Charles Village. When delving further into this concept however, I realized that the only to effectively do this is to either demolish a large chunk of Row Homes in the Parkview/Woodbrook Neighborhood or run it through Druid Hill Park.
Although redevelopment of dilapidated row homes near Mondawmin may be needed, Parkview/Woodbrook shouldn't be the place to do it. Neither is running roadways through Druid Hill Park. There aren't nearly as many vacants as there are in other Neighborhoods. In addition, the row homes there have great architecture. Although they need to be completely rehabbed and restored in most cases, they will rival those found in Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, and Charles Village. This would be a great place to offer $1 Row Home incentives in order to bring massive reinvestment dollars to this diamond in the rough.
There's one big asset to the Mondawmin area that I don't believe acts as such. I'm referring to Hanlon Park. Hanlon Park is home to Lake Ashburton which gives gorgeous views of the City as well as a running track along the lake. There are other amenities in this park but they fall flat when compared to more modernized parks. First, in order to properly expand the park and the amenities it offers, Dukeland St. will now have to end at Gwynns Falls Parkway. This will make a seamless transition between what is now known as Hanlon Park and the campuses for Gwynns Falls Elementary and William H. Lemmel Middle School.
Both of these School programs can be consolidated to other under-utilized buildings in the Neighborhood to help balance out the enrollment capacity-ratios. Gwynns Falls Elementary can be split between Hilton Elementary and Robert W. Coleman Elementary. Robert W. Coleman Elementary has been making headlines by offering yoga to Students and having it suspension rate plummet as a result. The Magnet School(s) using the William H. Lemmel campus can be moved to the Old Walbrook High Campus which now plays host to several other Magnet Programs.
By closing off Dukeland St. and the two School Campuses, we can now renovate and expand Hanlon Park. The new park will include new Baseball Diamonds, Tennis Courts, Basketball Courts, Volleyball Courts, a full length Football field, Soccer field, and an Olympic sized swimming pool. This expanded park will provide direct access to the Mondawmin Crossing and will make Hanlon Park a Community Magnet as reinvestment in the housing stock continues.
Although Mondawmin Mall has the potential to be Baltimore's next Canton Crossing, it's important to look at the surrounding neighborhoods to see if they too create the same welcoming environment that the Retail Center promises to and that it too is a safe Neighborhood with a healthy housing stock not only to keep the Retail Center viable, but to encourage shoppers from other Neighborhoods to visit too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

New Posts Coming Soon

Sorry for the lack of output, I have been on vacation and have otherwise been very busy in both my paying job and my social life. That being said, I haven't forgotten about all you loyal readers and I do have ideas that are brewing in my head for future posts. In fact, the second part of the Mondawmin Crossing series might not be next because other material is at the forefront of my brain. Stay Tuned!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mondawmin Crossing I: The Mall

One of Baltimore's greatest successes in recent history has been Canton Crossing. No development before or since has been able to bring suburban style big box stores and integrate them into an urban setting in Baltimore. Since the site that Canton Crossing sits on was vacant industrial land, it didn't have to break up an urban grid to make way for the large footprint stores and/or the surface parking lot. Canton Crossing is also located in an area of the City where growth is at an all time high. New Residences and businesses are being built at break neck speed and it is quickly becoming a showcase area for the City.
Baltimore is not a small City. It has about 620,000 Residents. Logically, it can support at least one more big box type Retail Center similar to Canton Crossing. Indeed, a location for a big box Center was sought out in North Baltimore. It was in another high growth area where Station North, Remington, Charles Village, and Johns Hopkins University come together. It was to be called 25th St. Station because the Development was to be centered around 25th St. That plan fell apart for several reasons not the least of which was the fact that the site was in the middle of tightly packed urban grid.
Another site has to be sought out for Baltimore's next Big Box Center.
Luckily, I have a found a new location that will be perfect for Baltimore's next Big Box Center; Mondawmin Mall. Although when the words Mondawmin Mall are mentioned, it's easy to think of the starting point of the civil unrest that started in April 2015. In the aftermath of these riots many promises were made by various people to invest all around West Baltimore to improve the quality of life in this long neglected part of the City. Well, here we are more than two years later and nothing has changed. I would however like to start with redeveloping Mondawmin Mall as a Mixed Use TOD Big Box/Lifestyle Center that will begin reinvestment and redevelopment in surrounding Neighborhoods.
Although Mondawmin Mall had undergone a $60 Million Renovation, most of that went to the addition of Anchor tenants including Target, Shoppers, and Marshalls. The Mall had interior and exterior facade enhancements but its major renovation was decades ago which turned the vacant Sears (the Mall's first and only Anchor until 2008) into additional mall space. Today, indoor shopping malls not unlike Mondawmin are dying a slow painful death as bricks and mortar Retail is facing its reality that it has an excessive of space nationwide. In order for Malls to survive, it needs to be a large regional Mall that attracts from more than just the Neighborhood or in the case of Mondawmin, it needs to be redeveloped.
When I say redeveloped, I mean that the interior Mall needs to be redeveloped. The exterior Traget, Marshalls, and Shoppers needn't be changed. For Mondawmin, I have always envisioned Liberty Heights Avenue to be the front entrance to the Mall and Gwynns Falls Parkway the back. I would put both a Dick's Sporting Goods and a 14 Screen Movie Theater behind the Target and Shoppers with smaller shops between Target and Shoppers leading into the Movie Theater and the Dick's Sporting Goods. This portion of the parking lot has an underground parking garage which will be expanded and will be expected to house more of the cars for the Center. The Anchors in the front and Anchors in the back concept with smaller shops connecting them is reminiscent to the new Hunt Valley Town Centre.
The loop that circles around Mondawmin Mall will be reconfigured between the Target and the now vacant former MVA building so that a Forever 21 may be built on the other side of the Target. The vacant MVA building will be demolished to make way for a mixed use building that will house two Junior Anchors; Petco and AC Moore Crafts with 5-6 stories of Apartments on the upper floors wrapped around a parking garage. At the front of the Mall on Liberty Heights Avenue, a TGI Fridays opened on a pad site.
There are two to three more undeveloped pad sites along Liberty Heights that I would have developed into additional fast casual Restaurant Concepts. An additional pad site to house Bank of America which is currently in the Mall will be built on the far side of the Target Parking Lot. Since this redevelopment is TOD, I would redevelop/reconfigure the transit station at Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road with the station under neath, Neighborhood Retail on the ground floor and 5-6 stories of Apartments above wrapped around a parking garage.
The redeveloped Mondawmin Mall or Mondawmin Crossing as I'd rename it, won't be an actual clone of Canton Crossing. It will be less upscale, more dense, and will lack Office Buildings that a future phase of Canton Crossing will have, Mondawmin Crossing will serve the purpose of giving Baltimore a second successful Big Box Retail Center that not only won't compete with Canton Crossing, but will complement it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

This Blog is Travelling to White Marsh

I had been wanting to write a post on White Marsh for the past 8 years. I had no idea how I wanted to angle it or word it or what about White Marsh I wanted to write about. All I had was this was rough draft title called "This Blog is Traveling to White Marsh" since November 5th, 2009. It was only recently that I traveled to White Marsh and "found the post." As an homage to how long this post was in the making, I'm going to keep the working title of; This Blog is Traveling to White Marsh.
In Northeastern Baltimore County just off I-95 is the fast growing community of White Marsh. Its boundaries are quite confusing since some of what people refer to as White Marsh could be Perry Hall, Nottingham, Middle River, or even Rossville. With that in mind, I'm going to define an area that I will definitively call "White Marsh" whose boundaries are I-95 to the east, White Marsh Boulevard to the north, and I-695 to the south and Belair Road to the west. These might not be everybody's boundaries but that's what I'm doing for the purpose of this post.
Within these boundaries are many high volume roads that go in and out of White Marsh; Rossville Boulevard, Perry Hall Boulevard, Honeygo Boulevard, and Campbell Boulevard. Also in this area is; White Marsh Mall, The Avenue at White Marsh, an IKEA, the site of Fullerton Reservoir, a Park & Ride Lot, a Retail Neighborhood Center with a Giant, an Office Park with Hotels, Residences of varying densities, and surprisingly, some undeveloped land.
A lot of these sections of White Marsh are very much their own. They're next to each other but they have no cohesive identity. The Retail and Commercial areas need to be united as a Town Center not only for White Marsh, but as a Retail/Office/Transit Hub for Northeast Baltimore County. Notice that I said Transit Hub. I do mean Rail Transit when I say that. In addition to the existing buses the park and ride lot serves, I would like to see the Green Line extended to White Marsh from Johns Hopkins through Morgan State, up Harford Road through Lauraville, Hamilton, and Parkville before arriving at White Marsh with its ultimate destination being Martin State Airport aligned with its MARC Station. The White Marsh Green Line Station will be located at the southwestern corner of the intersection of White Marsh Boulevard and Honeygo Boulevard.
In order to create true mixed use at White Marsh, the Mall Loop will be narrowed at its northeastern section between Sears and J.C. Penney. Since this lot is not usually full, it shouldn't be a problem. The Mall will have dedicated parking garages on either side of Boscov's. With the freed up part of the parking lot, there will be room to build Apartments in the 4-6 floor range between the Mall and IKEA and the park and ride lot that will become the Metro Station. Currently, Boscov's has an entrance directly across from Mercantile Road. Even with all this new development, there will be a lighted foot path leading from Boscov's to Mercantile Road.
Speaking of the Mall, many Malls are dying across the Country. So far White Marsh Mall has done pretty well considering all the Retail that has been built around it and that its anchors have been closing stores by the bushel. With that in mind, I would plan the Mall's future around that fact by shrinking the amount of square footage of some of the Department Stores in order to ensure their future profitability.  
J.C. Penney and Boscov's are the Anchors whose square footage will not change. At the moment, Macy's leases two floors in its primary space and one floor in another department store space as its home store. I would move the entire Macy's operation into the two floors of its primary space and have that space renovated. I would then move all of Sears into the space that was taken by Macy's Home. The second floor of the Macy's Home space was once taken up by Sports Authority which as a chain has gone bankrupt. Dave and Busters has leased that space and is slated to in 2018. Putting entertainment concept businesses into Malls has become a trend as bricks and mortar Retail has continued to suffer.
So after that Department Store switch around at the Mall, I have left the entire current Sears space empty. Don't worry, I did that on purpose so it could be demolished. As you know, Sears is closest part of the Mall to the Avenue at White Marsh. As Malls continue to fall by the wayside, the surviving bricks and mortar Retail has found a new home; Open Air Lifestyle Centers. The Avenue at White Marsh is exactly that. When taking a stroll down the Avenue, you can see that this style of Retail has become very successful. When looking at the Avenue and adjacent Mall, you can see that although they're adjacent to each other, they don't connect to each other.
That's where demolishing the Sears space comes into play. By demolishing it a true link between the Mall and the Avenue can be attained. By extending the Avenue and associated walkways in a T pattern from the straight from the Avenue and right up to the Mall's front door, the two can blend together and feed off each other and keep each other successful. Also by doing this, the Mall will gain more outdoor green space and will have the opportunity to lease space to businesses that may not have wanted to open in the enclosed Mall. In the long term, I think the entire Mall will become Open Air like the Avenue. However, given the relative success at the moment, I'm simply proposing tearing down Sears and building a connecting open Air Lifestyle Center between the Avenue and enclosed Mall will work in the short term.
Speaking of long term, just across I-95 from White Marsh, there's a plat of land awaiting development. The proposed development is a large Outlet Mall. Given its proximity to the White Marsh Mall, the Avenue at White Marsh, and two large Big Box Centers on Campbell Boulevard also east of I-95, I believe this will provide an over abundance of Retail in a time where bricks and mortar Retail is suffering. I would prefer that instead of building new Retail, existing Retail be reinvested in. Perhaps stores looking to open at the Outlet Mall could be enticed to open at the Lifestyle Center in between the Mall and the Avenue.
When converting the White Marsh area to a high density Mixed Use Town Center, I see one thing that is painfully missing; Walkability. The sprawling surface lots of the Mall are what divides the area from itself. That's why I'm, looking to get rid of half of it with parking garages and Residences but even that can't encourage walkability own its own. One White Marsh needs is Sidewalks, lots of them. When driving around Perry Hall Boulevard, Honeygo Boulevard, Campbell Boulevard, Mercantile Road, Corporate Drive, Town Centre Drive and the Mall Loop it's easy to see that this area wasn't built for walking. Sure it's not a far distance to walk from the Park and Ride lot to the Library but who would want to?
That's why I'm proposing rebuilding the entire Mall Loop and every street it intersects with as well as Perry Hall Boulevard with pedestrian friendly sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, pedestrian signals, and crosswalk islands to make the entire area pedestrian friendly and walkable. The reason I'm adding Perry Hall Boulevard to the mix is because across the street from the Mall where there's still some undeveloped land, there is a proposal to build about 800 new homes about 600 of which are Apartments and Condos. Those new homes deserve to be properly linked to the Town Center on foot in addition to by Car.

As the White Marsh Area continues to grow, the need for a full fledged Town Center grows with it. Although none of the facets of the area can be a Town Center alone, the area must pull its assets together to reunite as one to make a thriving Town Center for generations to come. Hopefully it will be less than 8 years before this Blog Travels to White Marsh again.  

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remington Redevelopment: What's Next?

Remington, like much of Baltimore City, is going through changes. The changes that Remington is going through is both unlike other parts of the City and exactly like them at the same time. Remington has seen impressive growth in population and value in its housing stock and due to its location between Hampden and Charles Village, has it an up & coming Neighborhood. 
Some recent redevelopment projects have improved the amount of Retail in Remington while another il-fated project has kept Remington in the headlines. During this transition, it's important to carefully pay attention to keep Remington from gentrification and pricing out long term Residents and having too much existing housing stock hit the wrecking ball. So we have to ask; What's Next?
Remington Avenue has become a Main Street for the Community. The westside of the 2700 and 2800 blocks are now home to Remington Row and R-House respectively. Remington Row is a mixed use development with ground floor Retail, upper level Offices, and Apartments wrapped around a parking garage while R-House is an interior food court with tables and features space for local chefs to sell their food. The east side of the aforementioned blocks of Remington Avenue contain classic Row Homes that developers are rehabbing.
Speaking of rehabbing Row Homes, they are the biggest part of Remington's housing stock. That's not surprising since Baltimore is well known for its Row Homes. The Row Homes of Remington contain a very diverse population of all ages some of whom have lived there for generations while others are newcomers.
Although there are still plenty of vacants throughout the housing stock, rehabbers are scoping out the area to either "flip" the houses once rehabbed or they make their properties their homes. Before redeveloping other parts of Remington, I would like to see a greater number of row homes rehabbed and occupied. Pigtown made this mistake by building the Camden Crossing town home development and it sucked up reinvestment dollars that would have and should have gone to the existing housing stock.
Remington currently has one of the City's largest undeveloped plats of land sitting in the middle of it. This of course is known as "25th St. Station." When the Anderson Automotive Group left the City, the land it sat on (centered around Howard St. and 25th St.), was vacated. At first, there were plans to redevelop it as big box Retail anchored by Lowe's and Wal Mart. Lowe's pulled out first and the project was reconfigured to have Wal-Mart as the soul anchor.
Residents in Remington and surrounding Neighborhoods don't want a Wal-Mart and they fought to send the project back to the drawing board. Wal-Mart pulled out of the project and the future of the land remains unknown. I currently don't have any alternative plans for this land and I think other parts of the Neighborhood should be a larger priority mainly the existing housing stock.
Although Remington Avenue is considered the Main Street of Remington, Howard St. acts as its eastern border between itself and Charles Village and acts as an entryway to Northern Baltimore City for those coming from Downtown. This "entryway" is anything but. Howard St. is a wide barren suburban boulevard between North Avenue and 25th St. and contains primarily automotive oriented uses.
Howard St. needs to be made over with on street parking and a biker lane. The narrowed road will slow down cars as there are lot of accidents along that portion of the street. I had wanted a landscaped median but that will impede on turning vehicles in between intersections. Instead, I'm opting for plating of additional trees, street lighting, mast arm traffic signals, and brick crosswalks. I would also encourage vacant industrial or automotive uses to to transform the buildings into Neighborhood friendly uses similar to the Parts 'N Labor Butcher Shop/Restaurant.    
So What's Next for Remington? More of the same hopefully. Keep investing in the existing housing stock and making the Neighborhood a hot spot for Mom & Pop Retail, remake Howard St., and use a wait and see approach for the land that was to be 25th St. Station. Big Box Retail however probably won't work at that site. One thing I'm sure of for the area is that more good things are coming next.