A thousand new homes for Southwest Baltimore

November 27, 2005

When people talk about Baltimore's economic renaissance, the focus is most frequently on a handful of neighborhoods on or near the Inner Harbor. But city planners know that if Baltimore is to thrive, expansive new developments are needed across the city.

A model for that vision - an ambitious 100-acre development in Southwest Baltimore called Uplands - appears poised to move forward within a few months, with expected settlement of a legal dispute over availability of housing for former lower-income residents of the site. City planners expect that as many as 1,100 new housing units, including apartments, rowhouses and detached homes, are expected to be built on the site, with prices as high as $400,000.

The city began putting together pieces of the property when the owner of the sprawling Uplands apartment complex off Edmondson Avenue, near the Baltimore County line, defaulted on a federally backed mortgage. Officials of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development complained that the complex had fallen into "deplorable condition."

The city bought the property for $40 in 2003 and, last year, added to it when the New Psalmist Baptist Church struck a deal to swap its adjacent home for a new location in a Northwest Baltimore business park.

City planners are excited about the site because it is next to stable middle- and upper-middle-income neighborhoods. David Dixon, a principal in Boston-based Goody Clancy, has prepared a development plan with input from local community leaders that features a revitalization of Uplands Park and development of a number of smaller, internal parks within a one- or two-block walk of any residence of the neighborhood.

Larger-proportioned apartment and condominium buildings are planned near Edmondson Avenue and North Athol Avenue; less heavily traveled streets lined with single-family and duplex homes would loop through the site.

As the planning has gone forward, so has a legal challenge of the Uplands redevelopment, filed in federal court in 2003 by former tenants of the abandoned low-income Uplands apartments who contended that the housing proposed for the site is too expensive to allow them to return.

Last year, a federal judge asked HUD officials to reconsider the fair-housing implications of its deal to sell the property to the city. Since then, lawyers for HUD, the city and former Uplands tenants have been in extended talks on that issue. Last week, there were reports that a settlement including provisions for moderate-income housing was near.

When a deal is formally agreed, the City Council is expected to act quickly to move the development forward.

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