Communities Seek Strong Voice In City Development

by Alice Cherbonnier
     OVER 300 PEOPLE took part in three “Solutions Forums” last month, identifying city strengths and weaknesses as the political guard is about to change.
     At the culminating Neighborhood Congress Convention on Monday, June 28 at City College, participants reviewed and debated proposed solutions to the four major issues identified at the forums: crime and drugs, sanitation, housing and open space, and youth and education.
     One idea advanced by the forums was “include citizen involvement in all decisions about new development.”
     This sentiment is widespread in Baltimore right now, as the booming national economy works its way into the more economically viable areas of the city.
     In Charles Village, two issues have occupied residents during past months; both are about to be resolved.
     One issue pitted residents against city officials who installed parking meters along streets in the commercial area near Johns Hopkins University. The meters were intended to stimulate parking turn-over, which would be desirable for the burgeoning businesses--Rocky Run Tap and Grill, Sam’s Bagels, Niwana restaurant, among others--that are locating, improving, or expanding.
     Each metered space, however, meant one less space where residents with permits could park for free. A coalition called Save Our Streets (SOS) was formed, and it has fought to assure that residents’ needs will be taken into account as economic development proceeds.
     At a Town Meeting on June 16, SOS achieved some of its goals. “We feel good,” said Robin Kellogg, a longtime renter who spearheaded the effort. “Our main concern was the 32nd Street meters. We wanted to keep the street strictly residential.”
     Subject to ratification by the Charles Village Civic Association (CVCA), the meters on 32nd Street--and the posts that were awaiting meters--are to be removed, while angled parking is to be instituted on 30th and 31st Streets.
     Another outcome of the parking controversy is the formation of a North Charles Village Residents’ Coalition, which will have a voice on the CVCA board through Louis Rosenstock, of the 3100 block St. Paul Street.
     A few blocks south, another group of activists called the Committee for Responsible Development on 25th Street has been fighting to save the facades of six Edwardian townhouses facing West 25th Street at its intersection with North Charles Street. The developer for the site intends to demolish those buildings as well as four burned-out townhouses facing Charles Street, in order to provide a clear plot for its tenant, CVS.
     Activists appealed to CVS to incorporate existing architecture in its plans. Working with architect Calvin Kern Kobsa through the Neighborhood Design Center, a plan was offered showing how the property could accommodate CVS while retaining the facades and having small store fronts facing 25th Street. CVS rejected the plan as being more expensive than estimated by the Committee’s professional advisors. The last tenant to leave was the nonprofit BNN Books, which will continue operating at festivals and other venues, as well as on the internet.
     The wrecking ball was expected to have done its work by now, but the buildings still stand as this paper goes to press. Opponents of the demolition believe they have achieved at least a temporary reprieve. By a letter sent on June 9, the Committee--joined by Sheila Rees, then CVCA president, and Clara King, president of the South Charles Village Community Association--alerted Daniel P. Hension III, Commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, that there appeared to be an oversight in the development planning process.
     Development Guidebook, a manual prepared by the City to be used by developers working on projects in Baltimore City, shows that the proposed CVS site falls within a special Parking Lot District. As such, a City Council ordinance signed by the Mayor is needed before a permit may be issued to demolish buildings to make room for parking.
     The letter concluded with this paragraph:
     “As you know, aspects of this project, including the design of the proposed retail structure on W. 25th St. and certain actions taken by the developer, have frustrated our community and created a volatile atmosphere. We wish to ensure that this unfortunate situation is not compounded by any failure of City regulations designed specifically to protect us.”
     Mr. Henson responded, by a letter dated June 11, that the matter had been referred to Catherine Fennell, the City’s Development Director.
     Since that exchange of letters there has been no further news. Meanwhile, the Committee continues to gather signatures on a petition opposing the demolition. New signatures are faxed regularly to CVS headquarters in Rhode Island.
     The Belvedere Square Improvement Association (BIA), facing developer James Ward’s proposed tripling of commercial space at Belvedere Square, will have veto power over what is done to the shopping district. That’s the arrangement agreed upon by the York Road Planning Council, an umbrella group of community organizations along the corridor. If any one of three community associations abutting Belvedere Square--BIA, Lake/ Evesham, or Chinquapin Park--objects, the developer will need to go back to the drawing board.
     Catherine Evans, BIA president, stressed that her group is not unfriendly to businesses. “We’re trying to reframe the dialogue [with Mr. Ward]. The question we want to deal with is ‘What will it take to revitalize Belvedere Square’?”
     Since the story broke about the proposed expansion--which would have required razing homes on Orkney Road, Rosebank Avenue, Belvedere Avenue, and behind Jerry’s Belvedere tavern--Ms. Evans said, “We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from all over North Baltimore. It’s very gratifying.”
     Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) and Presbyterian Homes, Inc., joint venturers in redeveloping the Memorial Stadium site, were awarded exclusive negotiating rights with the City to redevelop the property. Their $47 million project, called Stadium Place, calls for an affordable 550-resident retirement community, a branch of the YMCA, and small businesses along 33rd Street. The stadium will be totally demolished.
     According to GEDCO executive director Julia Pierson, preliminary plans will be taken to the City’s Design Advisory Panel (DAP) this month for an initial review. In August, a market study will be presented to the City. She said an “interest list” of potential occupants is already forming; call 433-2442 for details.
     The five communities involved in choosing the Stadium Place project from among three proposals for the site were the Better Greenmount Alliance for Business and Community; Waverly Improvement Association; Better Waverly Community Organization, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello Community Corporation, and Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association.
     The Department of Housing and Community Development has received four proposals for the properties known as City Life Museums: Carroll Mansion, 1840 House, Exhibition Center, Shot Tower, and Brewer’s Park. One calls for law office and rentals; another expands a school for emotionally disturbed middle- and high-school-age children; a third would expand a nearby brewery; and another would operate several buildings as museums while making the exhibition center into a restaurant and office space, and the Archaelogy Museum into a 15-room bed and breakfast. A decision on which proposal will gain negotiating rights is due to be made early this month.

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This story was published on June 30, 1999.