Team's ideas for improving Essex-Middle River outlined

Proposals are praised, but they won't be cheap

October 27, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A national design team unveiled a broad outline yesterday for improving Essex-Middle River through new community gateways and commercial hubs, abundant public spaces and improved public schools, and issued a call for volunteer "sparkplugs."

What must come now, residents and officials agreed, is the investment to sustain the redevelopment of eastern Baltimore County.

"It's time to summon that pride and accomplishment that was the hallmark of this area during and after World War II," said Hannah Twaddle, a planner from Virginia and one of 10 members of the Urban Design Assistance Team that studied Essex-Middle River for a week.

In their study, design team members focused on several potential centers: the old section of downtown Essex in the 400 and 500 blocks of Eastern Blvd., the proposed waterfront destination on Dark Head Cove near Martin State Airport, the Martin Boulevard area, Back River Neck Road and the federal General Services Administration Depot near where the Route 43 extension will meet Eastern Boulevard.

They proposed a modernized approach to the Back River bridge, commercial and housing pods straddling the Route 43 extension and a spruced-up Martin Boulevard..

If the plans become reality, a revitalization of the area will mean additional jobs and new family housing, UDAT members said.

One feature of Essex-Middle River that stood out to the group of architects, planners, designers and preservationists, the group leader said, was how residents felt about their collective future.

"These communities are full of pride and history, but they are places that are in sore need of celebration and connecting," said Steven Gaddis, a Durham, N.C., architect who is leading the team. Gaddis said the communities "have had a negative feeling" about themselves.

The design team's work was impressive, most agreed. But many had concerns about where the money would come from to put the ideas into action.

"What is needed even before that is additional detailed planning, making specifics from the goals" of the design team, said John B. Gontrum, a lawyer and co-chairman of the Essex Renaissance Corp.'s steering committee.

Other recommendations included improving public schools, widening sidewalks, calming traffic and creating additional parking in new or redeveloped business districts.

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