Rebelling against the image of America's sterile suburbs, Baltimore County officials yesterday selected a developer who wants to create a village of winding streets, porch-front homes and small shops on the site of the former Riverdale apartments in Middle River.
The Riverdale project - the cornerstone of an ambitious effort to revitalize the county's eastern waterfront - was awarded to WaterView Joint Venture of Owings Mills.
The principal behind WaterView, Mark Building Co., has built more than 1,000 upscale houses in western Baltimore County and White Marsh, the Village of Cross Keys in north Baltimore and in Howard and Frederick counties.
Mark's reputation as a dependable builder of new subdivisions in those areas helped with yesterday's decision, officials said.
"We're thrilled we were selected," said Mark's president, Lawrence I. Rosenberg.
The other finalists were Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc. of Baltimore and Coscan/Adler Limited Partnership of Columbia.
"It wasn't easy," said Andrea J. Van Arsdale, a county planning specialist and member of the selection committee. "All three firms offered solid, forward-thinking plans."
The official announcement of the Riverdale developer will be made today by County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.
Once completed, the 63-acre Riverdale project - the former site of World War II-era apartments that became bleak and crime-infested and were torn down - will bring young families back into an area that lost tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs in recent decades.
Officials said WaterView and the county will hammer out a contract for the redevelopment, including a purchase price for the land.
In documents seeking proposals, county officials said they wanted to recoup the cost of demolition, waste removal and other costs connected with razing the old Riverdale - at least $3 million.
Heading up the design component for the WaterView combine is Urban Design Associates LTD of Pittsburgh. That firm, Rosenberg said, enjoys an international reputation for planning work in Europe and the village of Celebration near DisneyWorld in Florida.
"With community input through the planning and development process, we have no doubt Riverdale will be the entire renewed area's front-door address," Rosenberg said.
Yesterday, Ruppersberger leaned back in a chair in his Towson office and breathed a sigh of relief.
"We've been looking at where we were; now we can look where we are going, finally," said Ruppersberger, who ran into a buzz saw of opposition from county residents who rejected Senate Bill 509, a revitalization plan that would have given the county broad condemnation powers.
"I lived in Riverdale as a small child, and this is very exciting because it allows the citizens to see a community and government moving together, they have something they can look at and work on with us," Ruppersberger said.
Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area, added another dash of controversy this week, demanding that the number of houses planned for Riverdale be reduced by nearly 20 percent.
Last night, Gardina was ebullient about the selection of WaterView.
"It's an absolutely great deal," he said. "It's one of the better plans. The density issue can be addressed when the project hits the County Council."
The selection of WaterView seemed partially aimed at that demand. WaterView is planning 175 houses ranging in price from $140,000 to $175,000 without amenities, while its competitors called for 202 or 187 houses.
"That really was one of the primary reasons we chose WaterView," said Robert Palmer, a Bowleys Quarters marina owner and member of the eight-person committee that unanimously selected the winner. "WaterView had the largest lots and more square footage per home than the other two finalists. Buyer value was a chief concern of ours."
The committee's other members included Laura Hanley, a community leader from Middlesex, Chris Shein of the Maryland chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and county officials, such as planning chief Arnold "Pat" Keller and chief procurement officer Darla Herbold.
Other favorable features about WaterView's development plan, committee members said, were the position of a 3.8-acre commercial center, the winding roadways and the replacement of a proposed senior living center with a small park.
WaterView kept the commercial location west of the residential area while the other planners placed it near the headwaters of Middle River or closer to the center of the development.
The commercial cluster positioning, said county economic development director Robert L. Hannon, was crucial "because it is inclusive to the entire community. Not only will WaterView residents be able to walk to their supermarket or child-care facility, folks who live across Eastern Boulevard will be able to do the same."
A Mars supermarket, a CVS pharmacy and other small or abandoned businesses will be torn down. A new market, drugstore and smaller shops will be built.
Most of all, said Van Arsdale, the committee members wanted the new Riverdale to stand as a signature community for the new hopes of the east side.
"We wanted a sense of older neighborhoods in the Baltimore area, where you take a drive down the street and a house is what you see," she said.
"There would be no gaping mouths of open garages facing the street, or runway-sized driveways for SUVs in front of the homes. We wanted substance and character, not the sterile subdivisions normally associated with suburban life."