A comprehensive planning effort is under way to revive the Jones Falls as a viable waterway and its surroundings as a site for economic development.
The process of developing a master plan for the Jones Falls Valley involves a group of disparate individuals and institutions - environmentalists, real estate developers, city officials, the Baltimore Zoo and the Cylburn Arboretum, among others - working to re-imagine the area.
"It grew out of a recognition of the environmental aspect, the scenic river and woodlands. There are some fine buildings, not all in good repair, but we all wanted a look at what the possibilities are," said Michael Beer, a retired biophysics professor who is co-head of the Jones Falls Watershed Association.
The group will consider those possibilities again at a fourth and final public forum scheduled tonight. The groups have contracted with a consulting firm, AB Associates, to draw detailed sketches of the future development on the land along the Jones Falls, which winds through Woodberry, Mount Washington and other neighborhoods.
Among those footing the bill for the planning effort are the city's quasi-public Baltimore Development Corp., Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, and the Mass Transit Administration.
"We're all reasonably compatible," said William P. Miller, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., another organization participating in drawing up the plan.
An engine of economic growth during the early industrial age, the waterway that flows from Lake Roland to the Inner Harbor has been largely overlooked ever since the Jones Falls Expressway, or Interstate 83, was completed during the early 1960s.
Those involved have generated various ideas for the future.
Beer would like to see the Jones Falls used for urban canoeing and rock-climbing.
Alfred W. Barry III, the principal of AB Associates, views it as a natural connector between points in the city - one where a bike path or "greenway" could open the valley up to walkers or bicycle riders.
The city would like to build such a bikeway with funds provided under federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, and Barry hopes the path will fit into that plan.
But that will not be enough. As he sees it, the master plan needs to incorporate environmental and economic goals.
"Many of these historic [mill] buildings lend themselves to adaptive re-use," Barry said.
MTA officials are cooperating in the effort by considering an alternative parking lot design at the light rail station on West Cold Spring Lane and the JFX.
But the public process has encountered a few bumps.
Some environmental activists are fearful of more development in the Woodberry area, and the community group in another North Baltimore neighborhood, Sabina/Mattfeldt, plans to make clear that residents want to protect their privacy.
Diane Bieretz, a Sabina/Mattfeldt resident, said she would recommend that the greenway run parallel to - but not through - the neighborhood. She also said that the volume of traffic on Falls Road should be addressed.
The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at The Elm restaurant, 3100 Elm Ave.