Md. aims to entice private developers to state-owned sites

New Web site provides information to promote potential of properties

12 parcels in initial marketing

October 09, 2003|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The overgrown 17 acres in Brooklyn used to be a landfill, but now it's just a dump.

Since a salvage yard there closed in 1985, the Potee Street property has sat vacant, a scruffy eyesore and a magnet for trash. It's frustrating for residents, who see the potential for good - a supermarket, for instance - on this very visible piece of land that is a bad introduction to the Baltimore community.

Now, the state Department of Planning is hoping to change all of that with some creative marketing aimed at luring private developers to selected state-owned sites.

Planners will officially unveil a Web site today, called "Maryland Smart Sites," to promote properties like the one in Brooklyn that are crying out for redevelopment. They're starting with a dozen parcels, from an old factory in Cumberland to a bigger-than-needed parking lot in Cockeysville that could be transformed into offices.

It's the most aggressive attempt yet by the state to market ignored and often challenging land, said Chuck Gates, a Department of Planning spokesman.

"In the past, a lot of these sites have just sat," he said.

Some of the properties are vacant, some have unused buildings, some aren't being used to their fullest and many have unique difficulties - from location to contamination.

Sam Bradner, development coordinator for the department's Office of Smart Growth, hopes that a one-stop Web site with photographs, maps and details ranging from zoning to tax incentives will convince developers that the projects are worth it, stumbling blocks and all.

At the very least, planners said, saves investors from having to call a bevy of agencies to collect basic information.

"It's a cohesive package," Bradner said. "You can go to one spot and understand all the things that are available, as well as some potential hurdles."

The results of redevelopment can be impressive.

Gates said a crumbling department store on York Road on the city-county line - long vacant - was infecting the Anneslie Shopping Center in which it sat, convincing businesses to leave.

Developers finished remodeling the building, now occupied by the state and county, at the beginning of last year, and by the end of the year the center was full. They added more space this spring. "One project can turn around an entire community," Gates said.

The Maryland Smart Sites tool was modeled after a fledgling Web site operated by the North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute. No properties are listed there yet, but the institute has been getting lots of inquiries from communities eager to advertise their idle spots that could be made useful again.

"The whole concept of Smart Growth is to encourage infill development," said Joe Alexander, a senior project manager at the nonprofit institute.

It's often more expensive to adapt old buildings than to construct anew because modern building codes and wheelchair-access requirements are easier to address when you're starting fresh, said Bill Struever, chief executive officer of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse in Baltimore, which specializes in redevelopment projects.

But it's still profitable work, if done right. Tax incentives help level the playing field, he said.

"The headaches and complications keep at least some of the competition away," Struever added.

Sam Himmelrich, the lead developer on a project that converted to offices the former Montgomery Ward warehouse in Baltimore, checked out the Web site yesterday and declared it a sensible idea. "If you're the state and there are properties that you seek to redevelop, then having them out there to look at is great," Himmelrich said.

Patrick Moylan, president of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn, is delighted that the long-empty land on Potee Street is finally getting some publicity. It sits across from an Interstate 895 ramp on the banks of the Patapsco River, owned in part by the state and in part by the city.

Any change isn't necessarily better than no change - community leaders aren't eager to see a used car lot - but they would love to have a grocery store or a job training center. Moylan is confident development will come. "It's a prime piece of land," he said.

Still, he appreciates the virtual limelight that the state is shining on the property. Its condition is a sore point in town.

"So many people commute up and down that street that that's their impression of Brooklyn - that it's run-down, that it's abandoned, that it's a dump," Moylan said. "So they're not encouraged to drive two blocks in to see it's a really nice area."

Maryland Smart Sites online

-Launched today

-Designed to lure developers to publicly owned properties that are crying out for reuse.

-Will start by highlighting about a dozen sites and will be updated regularly.

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