2 projects could spark a rebirth in Dundalk

Apartments for elderly, upscale housing planned

December 22, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The winds of change are carrying the prospect of a true renaissance to the former blue- collar bastion of Dundalk, complete with the community's first gated housing development - the Lakes at Stansbury Shores.

Private developers are working on two projects. The larger one, Stansbury Shores, is headed by John H. Riehl IV, principal of Obrecht-Riehl Properties of Baltimore. He is crafting a blueprint for an upscale development with up to 50 homes, along with condominiums, a small midrise building for seniors and boat slips off Bear Creek.

On the same peninsula in eastern Baltimore County, J. Joseph Clarke, president of J. Joseph Clarke Enterprises, is waiting for the go-ahead to build a midrise apartment building for the elderly.

"I join the residents of the county's east side in being excited about the revitalization," said Riehl. "There have been some troubled properties in this community, but I am optimistic things are turning around."

With the two projects, Dundalk jumps into the community redevelopment process begun eight years ago by then-County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and picked up by his successor, James T. Smith Jr., who talks about promoting the "renaissance" of older communities.

Until recently, Essex and Middle River received the lion's share of the $800 million in redevelopment largesse directed toward the east side. But because of increased advocacy by community leaders, a community blueprint developed by a team of national designers and action by public officials, Dundalk is showing signs of rebirth without losing its heritage.

Doubts in Dundalk

Still, some trepidation and suspicion remain, because strangers - especially those offering idyllic promises - are judged by what they do, not what they say.

Many longtime residents continue to harbor a "don't dump on Dundalk" attitude, one shaped by events such as the recent plans to dump sludge and build a federal maximum-security prison on Sollers Point, near the historic Turners Station neighborhood. The Sollers Point plan is now up in the air after Maryland Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes demanded that the Justice Department drop such a "reckless proposal." Also, Ruppersberger, now a congressman, has introduced legislation that would block a federal prison from being built in Maryland.

"They keep coming at us," said Richard W. McJilton, a lifelong Dundalk resident and president of the local Chamber of Commerce. "And that's why we are always on edge, very apprehensive about what other people know is good for us."

A strong sense of pride runs through Dundalk, hit hard over the decades by the loss of thousands of well-paying jobs in steel, shipbuilding, auto manufacturing and other blue-collar professions.

Most residents acknowledge, some grudgingly, that change must come if the community is to remain viable and attractive to younger homeowners.

Riehl is developing a 63-acre tract owned by Johns Hopkins Real Estate. The university's realty arm has dug up a large oil tank and is performing other environmental cleanup before closing the sale to Riehl. A heating oil company used to occupy the site.

"You dig until you don't find any more" tanks or polluted ground, said Brian Dembeck, executive director of Hopkins real estate. An independent consultant, working with university engineers, is expected to give final approval for the site this month.

Because the property is along Bear Creek, the developer will face strict environmental regulations.

"We hope to submit a concept plan to county officials by the end of this year and have the development process hopefully completed by late summer or early fall 2004," Riehl said.

He wants to build 50 upscale, single-family homes, with additional condominiums. It is unclear what form the condos would take.

Clarke said he is waiting for the state to grant tax credits before he begins his project on a narrow, 12-acre tract owned by CSX Corp. near Merritt Boulevard and Vietnam Veterans Highway.

"We studied our demographics, and that area of Baltimore County shows it can utilize an apartment facility for the elderly, not a nursing home," Clarke said.

The land is under contract for $500,000, with final sale dependent on the approval of tax credits, a CSX railroad official said.

The building would be an L-shaped, four-story structure with one- and two-bedroom apartments for residents over age 62. The facility would be near an elementary school and Bullneck Creek.

Revitalization, finally

There are other signs that change is coming to Dundalk. Surveyors have been out on Dundalk Avenue preparing for a $2 million project that includes trees, new lighting and other improvements. McJilton calls the activity "encouraging."

A $1.1 million traffic roundabout at the end of Dundalk Avenue, near Turners Station, is at the planning stage.

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