Clay Street plans add homes

Housing authority looks at revitalization of downtown Annapolis

November 19, 2006|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,[sun reporter]

The redevelopment of two aging public housing communities could bring as many as 50 additional townhouses and apartments to downtown Annapolis, the city's housing authority said last week.

Architects unveiled three plans for the redesign of College Creek Terrace and Obery Court that include a waterfront park, senior housing, a community center, and 210 apartments and townhouses -- with 164 of the units serving as public housing.

Members of the revitalization committee, who met Tuesday to review the plans, said the preliminary sketches were a good start to a redevelopment process that began in the spring and will take about three years.

"These three plans give us an idea of what's possible. The real challenge now is to see how we get it done," said Eric Brown, executive director of the city's housing authority. "And to see how we can move forward and take the goodwill that has been created and make the concepts a reality."

Designed by Marks, Thomas Architects, a Baltimore firm, the concepts mirror plans suggested by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who sees the redevelopment of the two properties as part of a revitalization of the Clay Street neighborhood, which was for decades a thriving, mixed-income black community but has struggled recently with crime and poverty.

In recent years, the city has pumped about $2 million in grants into the community, improving safety and replacing building facades.

The two public housing communities are home to about 300 residents, some of whom have complained about mold, poor ventilation and uneven flooring. The authority houses about 2,200 residents in about 1,100 residences.

Last month, the state gave $500,000 to the authority for property repairs, which will bring the buildings up to code as redevelopment continues.

Obery Court, which was built in 1952 and partly sits on about 3 acres of waterfront land, will be torn down, making way for a park and possibly a pier and community gardens.

College Creek Terrace, built in 1946 and home to about 150 residents, will undergo a major facelift, at a cost of about $3.5 million, according to preliminary estimates.

The redesign could add as many as 174 parking spaces to a neighborhood where on-street parking often clogs Clay Street, which narrows near Obery Court.

Along Clay Street and about 100 feet off the water, the plans call for a complex of townhouses and apartments, built around a courtyard. Brown said that the number of units is to be determined and that he did not know how much the new complex would cost.

"If they are going to squeeze in a little more, are they going to make them smaller? They can't make them no smaller than what they are, we'll just have to see," said Alice Spencer, 78, who has lived in Obery Court for five decades. "But if they do like they say and give us back the same units, it would be nice. Then we would all be satisfied, I know I would. I may not live to see it, but it would be beautiful."

The basketball court and recreation center -- which the neighborhood has long outgrown -- would be replaced with an expanded community center.

Robert H. Eades, who is co-chairman of the revitalization committee and who has strongly pushed for maintaining the number of public housing units, said he was pleased that the plans don't reduce the number of low-income residences.

He is, however, leery of the increased density and sees it as a path to gentrifying the historic black community.

"I have to be satisfied that we were able to preserve 164 units, but, if it were up to me, we wouldn't bring in additional housing," Eades said, referring to the market-rate units. "They are going to change the whole dynamic of this community; it will no longer be an African-American community in Annapolis."

Trudy McFall, chairwoman of the authority's board of commissioners, said having more homeowners in the Clay Street community is consistent with the way the neighborhood used to be.

"I think it's good for the neighborhood, and it's good for Annapolis residents to have a source of homeownership in the time ahead," McFall said. "We're getting to the redesign of the Clay Street area that would satisfy a great deal of interests ... and it doesn't require anything that changes the historic scale and feel of the neighborhood."

Also, Habitat for Humanity has built or is planning to construct a dozen houses in the community.

The committee is expected to wrap up discussions next month and make recommendations to the housing authority.

Early next year, the agency will apply for state funding, and look for an architect and development partners.

"These concepts are pretty close. They will be the groundwork, but there is plenty of room to continue to refine and work toward what everybody thinks is a doable plan," McFall said.

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