Revival comes slowly to Dundalk

4 years after study, some lament delays


Four years ago, Dundalk sat down and did some serious dreaming.

Residents from neighborhoods such as Turners Station and Dun-Logan joined forces with a team of national experts to craft a blueprint for the redevelopment of a struggling working-class community.

The collaboration produced sparkling possibilities: uniting Baltimore County with Baltimore City via a streetscaped Dundalk Avenue and water taxis; a walking trail showcasing Dundalk's history in steel, aviation and shipbuilding; and a marina district, sports facility and hotel.

Today, county officials will break ground on the long-awaited, $2.3 million streetscape for the community's main boulevard. But many of the other projects envisioned by the Urban Development Assistance Team remain on the drawing board, and some in Dundalk say the area is still waiting for its piece of eastern Baltimore County's revitalization.

"`Nothing has happened' - I grow weary of telling that to my constituents in Dundalk," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, a Democrat who is chairman of the county House delegation. "It's always `Something is in the works' in my district while development projects have exploded in Essex and Middle River."

Carolyn Jones, leader of an umbrella organization representing 15 neighborhood groups, agreed.

"The perception here is that county officials are our version of Nero - fiddling while Rome burns," said Jones, president of the Greater Dundalk Alliance. "Since the UDAT study, absolutely nothing of substance has happened. Those promises have not developed."

A spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said Smith "recognizes the importance of the renaissance of Dundalk, places a high priority on it. ... We understand people wanting things to happen faster."

The spokesman, Donald I. Mohler, said Smith is particularly frustrated about efforts to revitalize the Yorkway corridor, an area that suffers from poverty and crime. The UDAT plan called for the World War II-era rental properties there to be replaced by new housing. But the more than 50 properties in Yorkway have 16 individual owners, making the problem difficult to resolve.

"The executive is frustrated that the process is taking so long," said Mohler.

County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said that about $130 million - about $100 million in private funds and the remainder in county and state monies - has been spent on or dedicated to improving Dundalk. The money, he said, is going toward infrastructure such as sidewalks and curbs, community centers, a new park, traffic enhancements and planned housing developments near Bear Creek.

Cove Point Apartments, a new four-story residence for active seniors, opened in September on Peninsula Expressway.

"I can't fathom how anyone can say we have not paid attention to Dundalk," Olszewski said.

With county government encouraging a grass-roots approach, the UDAT team of planners and designers huddled for a week in 2001 with neighborhood leaders in a local church hall. Their vision: an ambitious revitalization based on the area's rich history, a place that would attract young homeowners.

Among the ideas adopted in Dundalk were a Technology Trail from Heritage Park to the water, featuring a museum and open-air exhibits of aircraft and symbols of Dundalk's steel-making past, such as huge steam pipes, giant gears and ore carts. There were plans for "Key Quay," a marina district that would include an amateur sports center, a cruise ship terminal, a hotel and a park.

Turners Station, Dundalk's historically black enclave, would have a new gateway, featuring a traffic roundabout and a lighthouse motif. Water taxis could link the Inner Harbor and Canton in the city with Dundalk's waterfront.

Dundalk Village Center, designed in 1918 by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. and seen as the symbolic heart of the community, would be reinvigorated with new shops and lofts. And the Yorkway corridor would be redeveloped.

Hopes soared then because UDAT teams have for decades been coming up with recommendations that lead to the revitalization of communities across the country. But some Dundalk residents say they are particularly frustrated that these ideas have not become reality.

They see the strides being made in nearby Essex and Middle River, where a Community Conservation plan was adopted in 1995 and a separate UDAT team formed a plan in 2003.

In June, residents and business leaders agreed to a new housing complex on the site of the Kingsley Park Apartments, a crime-ridden property in Essex. Another troubled site in Essex, Riverdale Apartments, was razed in 2002 and a housing development called WaterView was built.

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