Redevelopment `opportunity' at Uplands

City would acquire, raze W. Baltimore apartments for mixed-income housing

February 10, 2003|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Eyeing a "major opportunity" for redevelopment, the city wants to acquire and raze a sprawling, nearly vacant subsidized apartment complex in West Baltimore and create a mixed-income community of hundreds of homes.

The city's plans for the Uplands Apartments, off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore County line, are particularly significant because of the location of the complex amid stable middle- and upper-income neighborhoods, the size of the site and the number of units that would be demolished.

At 46 acres, Uplands is half again as large as the Memorial Stadium site in Northeast Baltimore and as big as the combined Inner Harbor East and Allied Signal sites along the waterfront.

And with more than 900 rental units, contained in about 50 low-rise buildings set amid winding roads, Uplands has more apartments than any of the public housing high-rises that have been torn down to make way for a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing units.

The redevelopment plans would spell the end of the half-century-old, privately owned complex, which has been in sharp decline for at least a decade, and set the stage for a debate over how much low-income housing should be put there.

Calling Uplands a "major blighting influence on an otherwise solid area," Baltimore housing commissioner Paul T. Graziano said: "We're going to eliminate blight and create wealth and increase the tax base for the city."

The city plans to advertise next month for a master planner, and hopes to have a design for the Uplands site and some nearby areas by September, Graziano said.

The number and type of units that would be built, as well as the percentage of affordable units, "will be the subject of much deliberation in the planning reviews," Graziano said. "We're not talking about re-creating anything remotely like what's there now."

Construction "of hundreds of units" would be done by private developers chosen in a competitive bidding process and would take several years to complete, Graziano said.

Tens of millions

"This is a major opportunity," he said. "In terms of housing opportunities, this is the biggest that's out there right now."

The price for the effort would depend on the number and type of units to be built, but would certainly be in the tens of millions of dollars. The cost of demolishing the buildings, which would be funded with public money, is estimated at $5.5 million, with millions more required for new streets and utility lines.

Financial details are still to be worked out. The public portion of the new construction could come from a combination of federal subsidies for affordable housing, tax-exempt bonds or bonds based on future taxes, Graziano said. The plan would have to include enough units to make the project financially feasible for developers, he added.

The Uplands Apartments are now operated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which took over two years ago after a partnership headed by developer Morton Sarubin defaulted on the federally backed project.

In a letter to Graziano last month, HUD said it plans to foreclose on the property June 2. The letter said HUD cannot wait until after the planning process is complete to transfer the property to the city but must do so the day it forecloses.

HUD has requested $1.9 million for the property, but the city hopes to get it for a nominal fee, officials say. A private buyer could take over by bidding more than the $14 million outstanding on the mortgage, but that is considered highly unlikely.

HUD, which has been spending $380,000 a month to maintain the property, said in the letter that it expects the last of the tenants to be out by April 30. As of last week, about 80 families remained.

Affordable housing

A key question for those still there, housing advocates and community leaders say, is how many of the new units would be set aside for low-income families.

James Pettiford, 34, who has lived in Uplands for six years and was recently approved for a subsidized apartment in Randallstown, said a mouse problem and lack of hot water make him happy to leave, but that he would like to move back if given the chance.

"Overall, I loved living here. It's a nice area, and it's convenient to a lot of things," said Pettiford, who has two small children and makes $11.25 an hour as a truck driver for the city. "I would definitely be disappointed if it's not redone as affordable housing."

Pettiford is not alone in his desire to return to the complex, for the same reason the city finds it so desirable.

"The majority do want to return. It's a prime location," said Karen Forbes, a coordinator with the Legal Aid Bureau's housing preservation program who has been assisting the tenants.

Forbes said her goal is "to bring as many affordable units back to the property as possible without creating this concentration of poverty." Half to two-thirds of the units should be designated for low-income residents, she said, with many of them being rental units.

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