Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old Town Mall:My Take.....Again

So the City is now trying to revive the long ailing Old Town Mall. This has been something I've been trying since I started this blog oh so many years ago. As a result, I've published numerous articles not just about Old Town Mall itself, but the Neighborhoods and streets surrounding it in an effort to streamline redevelopment and re-open and consolidate roadways between Northeast Baltimore and Downtown. So why am I rehashing my old ideas? Because as time passes, older ideas still need to be discussed.
Old Town Mall today is and always has been a patchwork of Neighborhoods that don't really work as a unified Community. I believe this to be why previous attempts at reviving the area have not been successful. Only when the entire Community is looked at as one and it is known that different facets of the Community feed off one another will we see change for the better. This most recent article in the Baltimore Sun finally shows the City gets the hint by attempting revitalization by addressing not just Old Town Mall but the vacant land that once housed Somerset Homes and Forest St. Apartments which sits between the two.
My plan not only addresses the properties mentioned above but also addresses Pleasant View Gardens, Sojourner Douglass College, Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School, and Dunbar Middle. The ultimate goal of this Master Plan and any other Master Plan I've created for this area is to provide safe high quality mixed use development that compliments each other and fills in gaps between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Downtown. I've omitted some longer range goals such as the Edison Properties and LaTrobe Homes because I believe that in order for them to come to fruition, the JFX must first be demolished.
First we have the all but abandoned strip of Retail that is Old Town Mall. For whatever reason I have a soft spot for this beleaguered bunch of Historic Buildings. The key to revamping Old Town Mall lies in Gay St. In order fot this area to thrive Gay St. must be re-opened to vehicular traffic similar to what Lexington St. at Lexington Mall. This is all part of a master plan to re-open Gay St. in its entirety from Orleans St. to Broadway. Gay St,. due to its narrow length will have to north-bound one way. Right now Gay St. traffic is required to divert to Esnor St. bypassing Old Town Mall. Esnor St. would be closed when Gay St. is re-opened.  
The Baltimore Sun Article says that a revamped Old Town Mall will have Neighborhood conveniences such as a Pharmacy, small Restaurants, Dry Cleaner, Banks etc. It appears that the search for a Grocery Store has ended and the City has given up on that prospect. I have gone back and forth on whether or not I think a large Grocery Store is good for the area. My position right now (it's subject to change) that a large Grocer is needed. The area is after all in a Food Desert and given the future plans for development near Hopkins, the Edison Properties, and Somerset Homes, a critical mass of people will bring growth to the area. The site I would like to secure for a Grocery Store has Orleans St. frontage and is situated between Gay. St and Forrest St. I'm thinking a mixed use building over top of the store not unlike the Whole Foods at Inner Harbor East. 
Just east of my proposed Grocery Store lies the low density garden Apartment Complex known simply as Forrest St. Apartments. These Apartments do not go along with the overall vision of a mixed use mixed income Neighborhood of a relatively high density. When redeveloping these Apartments it must coincide with any development at the demolished Somerset Homes (pictured above pre-demolition). 
My vision is similar to that of Broadway Overlook (pictured above) which contains a Row House Style Apartment Building which the Forrest St./Somerset Homes site will contain and Town Homes. Broadway Overlook has a higher percentage of Town Homes than what I have planned for the Forrest St./Somerset Homes Site. It will be primarily home ownership with a good number below market rate as well as rentals some of which will also be below market rate for a true mixed income Community.
Speaking of mixed income Communities, our next piece of the puzzle is Pleasant View Gardens. Pleasant View Gardens is the reincarnation of the old LaFayette Courts public housing high rise. In stark contrast, Pleasant View Gardens is a decidedly low density Community with public housing Town Homes arranged in a circle appropriately named "New Hope Circle." Across Aisquith St. are a few Town Homes that are market rate home ownership and a Community Center. One block over on Central Avenue is a low income Senior Building. Pleasant View Gardens was Baltimore's first HOPE VI Community. The City learned some lessons when developing future HOPE VI Communities, most importantly that the income mix wasn't broad enough. Newer Communities such as Heritage Crossing, Albemarle Square, Broadway Overlook feature desired mix. 
With that in mind I'm proposing broadening the income mix at Pleasant View Gardens. The north eastern sector of New Hope Circle will feature below market rate home ownership options. This will be available for both existing and new Residents. Existing and new Residents can improve their existing or recently acquired homes in lieu of a down payment and whatever they're paying in rent will now be paid as a mortgage. The northwestern sector of New Hope Circle will become market rate Rentals. The southern sector of New Hope Circle will remain public housing thus creating a true mixed income Community for Pleasant view Gardens.                  
I have also in this Master Plan included two closed Schools and 1 School that may or may not close. The first two closed schools are Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Dunbar Middle (pictured above). Although they may contain small magnet and/or Charter Schools I believe that they can be transferred to one of many other under enrolled School Buildings given how there are 85,000 Students enrolled in City Schools and the building capacity for all City Schools combined is for close to 120,000 Students. 
With those figures in mind I think you can see how doing away with these two School Buildings isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. In the place of these two School Buildings would be Residential Development similar to what I'm proposing to replace Somerset Homes and Forrest St. Apartments which is a mixture of Apartments, Condos, and Town Homes. However I have up the density a little bit (pictured above) given that they're closer to Hopkins. It will, just like its Neighbors include a broad income mix inlcuding Market Rate Home Ownership and Rentals as well as below Market Rate Home Ownership and Rentals. 
Next we come to Sojourner Douglas College, which is reusing the building of the closed Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary Building. Although it pains me to say it, this School may close. Right now it is in danger of losing accreditation and if it does in fact lose its accreditation, the School's days are numbered. The true fate of Sojourner Douglas College won't be known until much later in the year. If Sojourner Douglas does close I would knock down the building and you guessed it! Build mixed income housing in the same variety of styles I have described this entire post. To add icing on the cake I would rehab and reuse the original Eastern High School building at Aisquith St. and Orleans St. as low income Apartments for Seniors.
As I said before, the City is now focusing on reviving Old Town Mall. They're also looking for uses for Forrest St. Apartments and Somerset Homes. Learning of this news I have decided to rehash my old ideas and/or update them for 2014. You can see that I have proposed the addition of a lot of housing. This is to create a critical mass of people so that the Retail uses at the new Old Town Mall can thrive.

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