Creating renewal area to be proposed

City could then buy land for Uplands development

Targets 14 commercial properties

September 13, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Moving quickly to turn a vacant, sprawling apartment complex into a major new housing development, the administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley plans to introduce legislation today in the City Council to create the Uplands Renewal Area in Southwest Baltimore.

Creating the renewal area will enable the city to enforce design standards on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Uplands Apartments off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore City-Baltimore County line and to acquire and demolish 14 commercial properties bordering the complex to build residences.

On Sept. 1, city officials said that they would assemble land for the city's largest new residential development in decades by relocating New Psalmist Baptist Church and combining the church's property with that of the cleared apartments to create a 100-acre site that would eventually contain 1,100 new apartments, condominiums and single-family homes at prices of up to $400,000.

Roughly half the land is on the site of the apartments; the remainder is on the site of New Psalmist adjacent to the apartment complex and a church-owned parcel nearby.

The renewal plan to be introduced today includes the Uplands Apartments, the commercial properties in a triangular patch of land that borders Edmondson Avenue and a parking lot of the city's the Westside Skills Center, also on Edmondson. The church properties are not included.

Plans call for 546 housing units to be constructed on the apartment site, with another 150 to be built on the site of the commercial properties.

On Thursday, the city's Planning Commission approved a master plan for the 52-acre Uplands Apartments property, which the city acquired from the federal government in December for a nominal sum. The master plan calls for the creation of parks, redesign of streets and construction of various types of housing.

"The renewal plan provides the tools that you need" to make the master plan a reality, city Planning Director Otis Rolley III said during the commission's meeting.

The meeting also provided a forum for the public airing of concerns by a representative of the businesses, which include a liquor store, a convenience store and carry-out restaurants. The businesses have long been considered a blighting influence by neighborhood leaders.

"We're still somewhat in a dilemma of how we're going to be treated," said Arthur W. Lambert, the owner of an insurance agency whose property is among those to be acquired under the renewal plan and the president of the Edmondson Village Triangle Association.

"We somewhat feel we've been left out. We haven't begun to have the attention New Psalmist had," he added.

Planning Commission Chairman Peter E. Auchincloss said relocation was governed by federal regulations and that the commission would be willing to hear any additional comments when it considered the renewal plan, possibly as soon as Sept. 30.

Under the proposed legislation, displaced businesses will be given "favorable consideration, but not necessarily priority" in review of commercial redevelopment proposals by the city's housing department.

Concern was also expressed at the meeting by a lawyer for New Psalmist.

The church's pastor and congregation strongly supported relocation to the Seton Business Park as a move that would be good for both the church and the city. However, attorney Kimberly N. Tarver said that elements of the $16.5 million relocation agreement are contingent upon approval of the City Council and the Board of Estimates.

If the deal is called off because those approvals are not granted and New Psalmist has to remain at its current location, she said, there would be "serious implications to the church" from changes in traffic patters envisioned by the renewal plan.

But Douglass Austin, deputy city housing commissioner, said categorically, "We are not going to let that deal fall apart."

That deal includes payments from the city to the church of $2.4 million in the value of the land in the Seton Business Park in Northwest Baltimore and $14.1 million in cash.

The city is to put $8 million in escrow by the end of next year and make a final payment of $6.1 million no later than June 30, 2010 - the deadline for the church to complete its move.

He said that the church's need for more space was "one of the most contentious pieces of the process we had to deal with."

Austin told the Planning Commission that the city would not wait until the creation of the Uplands Renewal Area to begin work on the project.

The city will solicit bids to clear the complex next month and hopes demolition will begin by the end of the year.

"It's a major demolition job. It's going to run between $8 [million] and $9 million," he said.

The city hopes to select a master developer for the Uplands site by early next year, Austin said. Construction of the first new units is expected to begin in the fall of next year, he said.

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