Harford Road's revival Hope: Residents bordering this deteriorating business corridor have united to help bring about a rebirth. Already, they and the city have helped lure a Safeway.

July 25, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Andy Todaro jokes that his tiny Montebello Delicatessen on Harford Road is an "oasis in the desert."

In a deteriorated business strip a few blocks north of Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore, he has two sidewalk tables framed by lush magenta petunias and a Pepsi sign that has misspelled his deli's name for more than 15 years.

It's hardly Harborplace. But Todaro and his neighbors hope his little sidewalk cafe is a sign of the rejuvenation of the Harford Road commercial corridor -- from Parkside Drive to Echodale Avenue.

A year ago, residents of the bordering neighborhoods formed the Harford Road Partnership, known as HARP. The nonprofit community development corporation's aim is to plan -- and control -- the corridor's development.

"It's the gateway of the community and not reflective of the community," said HARP Director Marian Gillis, referring to the stable residential neighborhoods of Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Lauraville, Morgan Park, Waltherson and Mayfield.

"Northeast Baltimore is strategic," she said. "There's a lot of taxes here. The demographics here show a lot of middle-class people who, if they cared to, could move to the suburbs. But they've chosen to live here because of what this area has to offer. Encouraging them to stay and enhancing what's here is what HARP is all about."

HARP's first accomplishment was to lure a supermarket to Harford Road. After advertising for bids, community and city officials agreed to give exclusive rights to Safeway to build a 42,500-square-foot store on the site of an unused Mass Transit Administration bus barn on the 4400 block of Harford Road.

A City Council bill to transfer the property to Safeway is pending. Construction is to begin this year.

HARP members hope the supermarket will be a magnet for other businesses.

"I don't make a lot of use of our commercial corridor. It's not pedestrian-friendly," said HARP board President Tom Chalkley of Arcadia. "The thing that excited folks is the idea of bringing in stores that will actually draw folks from the neighborhood down to the corridor with the grocery store as anchor."

News of the supermarket has not pleased everyone along the corridor.

In Beverly Hills, where many houses adjoin the Safeway site, the community association has voted to oppose it. Some residents worry it would bring more traffic, noise, trash and crime. Resident Anthony Mezatasta Jr. said he's concerned that "unwanted undesirables will come north" from poorer neighborhoods to shop there.

But Todaro welcomes the new supermarket, despite the possibility that it might hurt his business.

He remembers better times when the bus barn employed 250 people, many of whom ate at his deli. Since the bus barn closed more than 10 years ago, his business has struggled, he said.

His menu hangs above the deli counter, neatly handwritten and complete with his illustrations of shrimp and fish. New fans have been installed in the original tin ceiling. He grows herbs out back that he uses in his recipes.

Todaro lives upstairs and has watched the community struggle, with people coming into his deli asking for free food. For a few years, he ran a soup kitchen on winter Sundays at a nearby church.

Along with HARP's recent activities, Todaro hopes to upgrade the facade of his business -- and correct the misspelling on the sign. "I believe that once a few of us start fixing up, it will snowball," he said.

HARP leaders want to design a Harford Road corridor that links the park to the commercial area with wider sidewalks and businesses, such as a bike shop, that encourage use of the park.

"Everyone loves Herring Run Park and the greenness of the community. There's a real connection between the park and the neighborhood," says Kathleen G. Kotarba, who has lived in Arcadia since 1982 and is executive director of the city Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation.

HARP plans a series of community forums next month to explore town planning, business development, transportation and design of public spaces.

The forums will be followed by sessions with the town planning firm of Duany and Plater-Zyberk from Sept. 5 to 10. The final planning session will result in a master plan for the corridor.

Democratic City Councilman Martin O'Malley of Beverly Hills is among HARP's early supporters.

"I had spent so much time fighting pawnshops and Section 8 housing, things that destabilize neighborhoods. It's nice to be involved with people who are being proactive about long-term development and trying to harness the future instead of falling victim to it," he said.

HARP hopes to transform the vacant gas stations, sagging facades and hodgepodge development into a village passers-by will want to visit.

Today Harford Road "is a means to get someplace and not a place in and of itself," said resident Eric L. Holcomb, a historic preservation analyst for the city.

"We're trying to make it a place in and of itself."

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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