Opportunity at Uplands

February 23, 2003

THE CITY OF Baltimore has a rare redevelopment opportunity with the pending foreclosure of the run-down 1,035-unit Uplands Apartments near Edmondson Village on the city's southwest edge. It's a rare redevelopment opportunity that should not be squandered.

When the Uplands garden units were built in 1948, they were on the cutting edge of suburbanization. Across the street, a pioneering shopping center, anchored by two department stores, was doing brisk business.

But all that changed in the 1960s. In a single decade, the shopping center lost its gloss and Uplands Apartments became a badly mismanaged complex catering exclusively to tenants on public assistance.

The Uplands site, consisting of 46 acres with mature trees and hilly terrain, is splendid. Downtown Baltimore is only 10 or 15 minutes' drive to the east; heading west, the Baltimore Beltway is even closer. If location is everything, as the real estate adage goes, this acreage has everything.

When the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development relinquishes Uplands in June, the city should aim high, inviting leading builders, including national firms, to compete for a chance to develop the site. The goal must be a plan that strengthens the surrounding neighborhoods. Edmondson Village needs rejuvenation and new investment; farther south, the deterioration in Irvington must be arrested as well. Uplands provides a chance to do all that.

An imaginative developer could turn it into a desirable neighborhood of single-family homes as well as townhouses, market-rate rentals as well as subsidized ones. Even a retail component could be included at Edmondson Avenue and Old Frederick Road.

Unfortunately, the city's record has not been good in recent residential redevelopment decisions. In far too many cases, officials have thrown away precious opportunities by accepting half-measures. A case in point is the former Memorial Stadium site along 33rd Street. Instead of turning the 29-acre parcel into an inviting new community, City Hall frittered away its tax revenue potential by handing the property over it to a senior housing developer.

This time, City Hall must make sure Uplands is redeveloped in a way that offers the entire Edmondson Avenue corridor its very best shot at long-term revitalization.

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