Village plan for shoreline to transform Middle River

Stores, luxury homes planned in Balto. Co.

January 05, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

In a sweeping vision for Baltimore County's shoreline, officials have crafted an ambitious blueprint for a waterfront village featuring tony restaurants and shops, hundreds of new homes and a spruced-up fronting along Middle River.

Initially, about $30 million in state and county money would be used to demolish rundown businesses and dilapidated housing complexes, transforming more than 400 acres into an area that could attract developers and new residents.

Private investments tallying more than $70 million would be needed to build housing and commercial projects there.

"Most of this is aimed at attracting public investment," said Michael Davis, an aide to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "With this kind of message from the county, we feel the private sector will see the great potential of the new east side."

The waterfront plan -- along with a $26 million proposal to begin transforming an Owings Mill commuter parking lot into a town center -- were to be outlined today by Ruppersberger as part of Baltimore County's legislative agenda for 2000.

The county's shoreline -- 175 miles of creeks, Chesapeake Bay and rivers -- has long been seen as one of its greatest assets. Advocates have pushed for development that could compete with Havre de Grace, Chestertown and Rock Hall, bringing badly needed money to the economically depressed east side.

"We could follow the lead of premier water destinations around the country. People go to the water," said Wayne Miskiewicz, president of an association representing 60 marina owners.

That has been the thinking of Ruppersberger, who set out to revitalize the older communities in the county after he was elected in 1994. On the east side, waterfront development has long been the centerpiece of that strategy.

As crime-ridden apartment complexes like Riverdale and Chesapeake villages were razed, officials explored possible sites, such as Dark Head Cove near Martin State Airport, as a potential "mini-Harborplace."

That idea was abandoned because investors could not be attracted.

But as the $65 million extension of White Marsh Boulevard into Middle River became a reality -- and with it the promise of light industry and hundreds of middle-income homes -- the waterfront development became more feasible, according to officials.

Along the east side's waterways, old shacks are being torn down to make way for expensive houses. One house by Middle River in Turkey Point recently went on the market for nearly $1 million.

To county Planning Director Arnold F. Keller, the two worlds of eastern Baltimore County -- the stark poverty of a mother in a nearly empty Tall Trees apartment and riverfront homes with hot tubs -- have been an interesting paradox.

"The east side is like two trains going in different directions," said Keller. "We have to work to support one and stem the other."

State Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat, said the latest plan "raises the potential to stabilize much of Essex and Middle River for the next several generations."

The waterfront redevelopment project will be funded with $15 million in county funds, along with $12 million that has been allocated for the purchase of the Villages of Tall Trees apartments and $3 million more in future state money.

The Essex-Middle River plan hinges on passage of legislation by the General Assembly this year so that the county can condemn businesses like old auto-repair garages and a night club.

Key elements of the waterfront include:

Using the head of Middle River to draw tourists and boaters into a revitalized area less than 1 1/2 miles from both the Baltimore Beltway and a planned extension of White Marsh Boulevard.

Developing nearly 64 acres of county property, where Riverdale Village apartments once stood, into single-family homes, recreation space and stores. County economic development director Robert L. Hannon said he has talked with several home builders but has discouraged representatives from several large "box" discount stores eyeing that site.

Razing at least seven properties near the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and Old Eastern Avenue to permit a reconfiguration for better traffic flow and a clearer view of Middle River.

Creating a large park after the Villages of Tall Trees -- where 2,500 people live -- is purchased and demolished. Officials are negotiating with the 38 property owners. The county wants to raze the adjacent Essextowne Townhome apartments and Gussie's Liquor and Carry-Out.

Redeveloping Buedel's, Riley's and Cutter marinas on the head of Middle River for a mixed-used destination that would include restaurants, water taxis and satellite parking.

Davis said if the Essex-Middle River project succeeds, "we'll look to duplicate it elsewhere on the county's waterfront."

But some residents, like Wilson Point native Gary Rosenberger, said they'll remain skeptical until the project materializes.

"If this dream finally becomes reality, it's tremendously exciting," said Rosenberger, owner of Cutter Marine Yacht Basin at the head of Middle River.

"But for too long, we've been trying to run a luxury business in a low-rent neighborhood," said Rosenberger, adding that half of his 165 yacht slips have been vacant for years. "A lot of my customers had to get past the hookers and drug dealers on the streets."

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