Guiding their own future

Hillsdale Heights: Tightly knit Forest Park community decides its future is expansion -- on its terms.

Bright Lights

July 12, 1999

HILLSDALE HEIGHTS is a sliver of a city neighborhood of mostly 40-year-old custom homes overlooking the Forest Park golf course and Leakin Park. Some are straight out of House & Garden magazine, with large swimming pools and cabanas. Others are more modest. But at a time when other, similar communities are against further development, Hillsdale Height wants more houses built.

"We are doing this for our neighborhood -- to get the right people in," says Winfield Willis, the neighborhood association's housing chairman, who is heading efforts to build new houses on a forested hillside.

Years ago, a group of residents decided they had to safeguard their investment. Fearful of what would happen to an adjoining parcel, they formed a community development corporation, bought the land and chose a single builder. "We try to control the development," says Victor Bonaparte, a resident and a veteran planner for the city and state.

If no hiccups develop, the first of the 11 houses, priced between $180,000 and $250,000, could go up before the year's end. "We think we have a site that is as nice as any in the county," says Mr. Willis, speculating that one reason for the middle-class families' exodus from Baltimore City is the shortage of detached single-family housing.

The owners of the fewer than 50 homes in Hillsdale Heights have shown commendable initiative. By guiding their own future, they have created a development model.

Bright Lights spotlights people who make a difference in the quality of life of this area. It appears periodically in this column.

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