Brand-name houses for city homebuyers

Building on success: Purchasers should be offered the same amenities they seek in suburban developments.

May 06, 1999

IF THOUSANDS of city residents choose to move to their suburban dream houses each year, why aren't new houses being built in Baltimore with the same amenities -- multicar garages, cathedral ceilings, Palladian windows, big bathrooms and top-of-the-line kitchens?

And if suburban buyers prefer the products of Ryland, Trafalgar and Washington Homes, why not contract with these same, familiar builders to do large developments in the city? After all, Ryland's two previous small projects -- Montgomery Square and Woodlands at Coldspring -- sold like hot cakes.

Yet so few new homes are being built in the $100,000-plus range throughout the city that a recent report proposes setting a goal of just 100 new houses of this type each year. "Middle-class residents are critical to the social, fiscal and political life of the city," the Market Rate Housing Council report stated.

City Hall and private developers have also given scant attention to homebuyers looking for new, single-family, detached houses in the $200,000-plus range. If such houses -- with features common in the suburbs -- are not even offered, losing would-be purchasers to the suburbs becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The irony is that the market for upscale homes in Guilford, Roland Park, Homeland and Mount Washington is booming.

When a new mayor and City Council are installed in December, their priorities should include the creation of enough middle-class housing to satisfy the needs of well-to-do homeowners wanting to invest in Baltimore. Much progress has been made in the past several years in supplying low- and medium-income buyers with affordable choices. Similarly, several projects are under way to meet the demand for market-rate, rental housing near the University of Maryland's downtown campus and the business district.

Expanding the city's new-house market will not be possible without redeveloping such areas as Forest Park and Windsor Hills, where deteriorated frame houses on big, forested lots are coming down. Properly marketed, those neighborhoods could be made attractive again.

Many other demolition sites are in areas that don't appeal to middle-class homebuyers. Even there, though, creative accumulation of land could offer redevelopment opportunities. (The city has razed 6,000 vacant houses since 1993).

One intriguing possibility is Reservoir Hill, north of Bolton Hill. Much clearing of land has been done. More is scheduled, not only along side streets but at potentially prestigious Druid Park Lake Drive sites. If redevelopment is done creatively, Reservoir Hill could become a demonstration project of middle-class potential.

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