City moves ahead on new neighborhood

1,100 mixed-income units set on site of church, apartments

July 27, 2006|By ERIC SIEGEL | ERIC SIEGEL,SUN REPORTER

Nearly two years after the project was announced, Baltimore officials are moving ahead with what would be the city's biggest new housing development in decades -- 1,100 mixed-income units on 130 acres that includes the sites of a vacant low-income apartment complex that would be razed and a prominent church that would be relocated.

The city released yesterday a request for qualifications for a master developer for the Uplands Redevelopment Site in Southwest Baltimore, off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore County line.

The master developer would oversee the creation of apartments, rowhouses and single-family homes as well as new roads, sidewalks and sewer lines for what the city says will be "an entirely new city neighborhood characterized by opportunity for economic and social diversity and by a distinctly urban, pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented community."

Separately, the city's Board of Estimates approved a $7.1 million payment to the New Psalmist Baptist Church, the second of three scheduled payments totaling $14.2 million that would compensate the 7,000-member congregation for moving to a city-owned parcel in the Seton Business Park in Northwest Baltimore.

The development has been stalled by a federal lawsuit filed in 2003 against the city and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Legal Aid Bureau on behalf of several former tenants of the Uplands Apartments complex who sought assurances that some of the new housing units would be inexpensive enough to give them an opportunity to return.

Settlement talks in the lawsuit have been going on for more than a year. The latest docket entry, entered last week, was an order requesting that the parties submit a written status report by Aug. 17.

Christopher Shea, Baltimore's deputy housing commissioner, said yesterday that the parties to the suit had reached an "agreement in principle" in the case, which he declined to specify.

"In good faith, we're moving forward with development," he said.

A Legal Aid spokesman said the lawyers handling the case were out of the office and unavailable for comment.

Most of the planned 800 for-sale units would be priced from the low $200,000s to the mid-$300,000s, he said.

"Our policy objective is to respond to the dramatic need for housing for the middle class of the city and the region," he said.

The city plans to sell the property at market rate to the master developer but would consider a possible discount as a subsidy to ensure affordability, Shea said. A special taxing district would be created to pay for public improvements, Shea said.

Under the timetable released yesterday, the city expects to select a master developer for the project by the second week in October -- around the time the city expects to begin demolishing the 979-unit, low-rise apartment complex.

HUD foreclosed on the apartment complex three years ago after the private owner defaulted on a federally backed mortgage and later sold it to the city for $40.

In September 2004, the city announced the deal to acquire the New Psalmist property next to the apartment complex and a nearby parcel that contained auxiliary church buildings.

Plans also call for the city to acquire and raze 14 businesses in a triangular patch of land that would help create a gateway to the project. Shea said he hoped to reach an amicable settlement with most of the owners.

John Murphy, a lawyer who represents six of the businesses, said he was pursuing an argument before the Maryland Court of Special Appeals that the urban renewal ordinance that allows the city to seize the properties is invalid, but he acknowledged that officials had met with his clients.

"If they can come up with something that's agreeable, that's fine," he said.

eric.siegel@baltsun.com

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