Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Charles North: No High Rises Please

During the latter half of the 20th Century, the Charles North Neighborhood was nothing more than blight separating Baltimore's showcase neighborhoods of Charles Village and Mount Vernon. A big reason this neighborhood became blighted was due to the fact that North Avenue runs directly through it and Goucher College, an institute that anchored neighborhood both in employment and residence had moved to Towson thereby emptying out the neighborhood.
In the early 2000s, in order to revitalize Charles North and neighboring Greenmount West, were designated an Arts & Entertainment District known as Station North. The City looked to capitalize on the area's proximity to Penn Station, Mount Vernon, Charles Village, Johns Hopkins University, MICA, and University of Baltimore which are all within a stones throw of Station North. This post however, will only discuss the Charles North portion of the district.
The Arts & Entertainment designation brought artists far and wide to Charles North and taking up residence in the area and opening businesses which brought both sweat equity and foot traffic back into the area. Buildings that long been vacant like the North Avenue Market, the Center Theatre, the Parkway Theatre, and the Charles Theatre are seeing brilliant restorations while businesses like the Windup Space and Joe Squared Pizza have drawn more people into the area.
There's a downside to Arts & Entertainment Districts though. They're meant to be for those with lower incomes to rent or purchase homes and businesses in the area and revitalize them using sweat equity. Sadly, this sweat equity make the property values sky rocket and the very Residents who helped create this vibrant Neighborhood are then priced out as landlords look to raise the rents and full on gentrify the Neighborhood. Charles North was no different.

In 2008, a Master Plan for the Charles North community was published and it showed six high end high rises buildings dominating the landscape of Charles North. I don't have a picture of the rendering but the high rises resemble those currently proposed for Port Covington. That part of the Master Plan did not go over well for Charles North Residents. Actually, very few parts of it did since they the Residents, built the Community into what it is today and they didn't want the City butting in to the Community they built.
I was for the Master Plan in 2008 when it came out. My mind has since changed and I am now not for them. Charles North was one Community that I believe benefited from the economy crashing in 2008. Had that not happened I believe the high rises would have been built and Charles North Residents would begin to be priced out of the Neighborhood they rebuilt.
As the years went by, existing buildings continued to be rehabbed and brought back to life. Throughout Charles North there a few buildings demolished quite possibly to make way for the proposed high rises. As of now, only one plan for a high rise has been submitted and that's in the surface level parking lot just above Penn Station.
So why did I flip flop on the issue of high rises? Well that's simple, I walk around the Charles North area and I see a plethora of Art Galleries, independent Restaurants and Pubs, a diverse array of Residents and Businesses, beautifully restored buildings, a landscaped median made up of work by local Artists. I don't want to see any of that change. As higher incomes flood the Neighborhood so too do the chain stores and the increased rents. In addition, the architectural gems in the area waiting to be restored would have a higher chance of hitting the wrecking ball.
So what do I have in mind for Charles North? More of the same, more rehabbed Artist Housing, more Local Businesses setting up shop, more green space, an expanded North Avenue median, a fully renovated Penn Station with its upper floors used a Hotel, and no affordable rent hikes. I would like all of that and more but no high rises please.


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