Waterfront plan could revitalize Middle River site Homes, restaurant, marina are part of $34 million project

September 26, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

In the first major commitment to revitalize Baltimore County's aging east side, a team of developers plans a $34 million housing community and upscale restaurant-marina on Middle River.

The ambitious project, to be named Hopewell Pointe, calls for 221 semi-detached homes and waterfront condominiums on a peninsula known as Hopkins Landing.

The centerpiece of the 55-acre property will be a "tablecloth" restaurant and marina designed "with the flair of something you see in Hilton Head," said Thomas E. Carski, one of the partners in the venture.

The project carries the endorsement of county officials, who hope it will draw young families to the area and help the county use its 173-mile-long shoreline to attract more tourists and investors.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who represents the area, said the project's success "is essential to the revival of the east side." He and other officials are moving aggressively to eliminate the glut of multifamily housing in that area and to improve the area's image.

For example, Riverdale Village and Chesapeake Village -- apartment complexes frequented by narcotics dealers and prostitutes -- eventually will be razed and the county plans single-family homes in their place.

County and federal officials also are working on a plan to relocate hundreds of residents of Tidewater Village in Chase, where more than 400 units will be torn down for a new park.

Ellwood A. Sinsky, another development partner, said Hopewell's 104 semi-detached homes -- paired units linked by garages -- will "start near the $90,000 price tag and go to $150,000." The 117 condos, he said, will be designed to attract "empty nesters and retirees."

The site also will include residents-only docking and fishing piers and meandering foot paths through the peninsula.

Development could begin in the fall of 1997, said Michael H. Davis, chief aide for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III.

Once built, Hopewell Pointe will stand in stark contrast to the Villages of Tall Trees, just a block away across Old Eastern Avenue. Once the most troubled crime area in the county, the sprawling apartment complex has been targeted by police, working with residents to reduce criminal activity.

While developers say they have confidence that Tall Trees will not detract from Hopewell Pointe, they "are wrestling with whether to make it a gated community," said Sinsky.

Gardina already has recommended rezoning the Hopewell property to limit housing density and has proposed other zoning changes such as height allowances for the condominiums. An adjoining property on the peninsula will also be rezoned, he said, "to remain compatible with Hopewell if there is future development on that neighboring tract."

"We must prevent further decay," said Gardina, who worked with Ruppersberger and other county officials to put the project on a fast track.

"The option is to continue to ignore the region and allow it to degenerate into a ghetto. Unless the downward spiral of the area is reversed, it will become Baltimore County's no man's land."

County officials said the developers' applications for permits from agencies such as the Department of Public Works, environment and zoning will be expedited.

Samuel G. Crozier, a Daft, McCune and Walker Inc. planner who is working with the developers, said that "from the beginning, we realize there are strict environmental guidelines in relationship to the river and bay.

"But we have designed the property with the scores of trees there. We are working around the trees instead of tearing them down."

Davis said the developers "think they can make money and they wouldn't have shown this commitment if the county executive and County Council didn't have the vision for Middle River and Essex."

"What we are doing here is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," said county planning director Pat Keller.

Keller said Hopkins Landing was originally approved for development of 300 "cheap town homes."

"It would have been an abomination, places and people packed like sardines and the same old problem that has faced the area for decades," he said.

"The encouraging aspect about this is that it's a money-driven project, not one cent of public funds involved, and the developers have their dollars at stake. No, they are not going for good citizenship awards. They are businessmen who see Dutch's and Vince's vision and believe in it."

Since taking office, Ruppersberger has pledged to revitalize the county's eastern area, hit hard by industrial job losses and crime in dilapidated apartment complexes built for World War II factory workers.

Along the waterfront, Essex and Middle River are showing some signs of becoming pricey areas. Summer cottages, known locally as shore shacks, are being torn down and replaced with $500,000 houses.

Luxury townhouses are being built off Turkey Point Road. And Fairwinds, an upscale community featuring "Outer Banks" style homes on stilt pilings, is under construction in Middle River.

"We all met over crab cakes in the winter and came up with the Hopewell concept, drew it on a napkin actually," said Carski, who manages Fairwinds.

"The waterfront is Baltimore County's oasis, it's what the water means to places like Annapolis and Havre de Grace.

"One of the charms of this project will be going through the bureaucracy faster. At Fairwinds, we started the development of 90 homes 5 1/2 years ago.

"Today, with all the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through, the building portion is only halfway completed."

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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