Homes to rise by B&O center

99 townhouses, condos slated for rail museum lot

January 25, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN REPORTER

A "work force" housing project of 99 townhouses and condominiums is slated to rise on a parking lot near the B&O Railroad Museum in Southwest Baltimore's Washington Village/Pigtown neighborhood.

New City Partners, a Baltimore-based developer that targets neighborhoods in transition, is buying 2.5 acres in the 1100 block of James Street from the museum, which had used the surplus property occasionally for overflow parking. The developer is also planning to revitalize a block in the neighborhood's commercial district along Washington Boulevard.

The developer, who unveiled the project yesterday before a city design panel, expects to build a mix of housing types and price ranges that would be affordable to working-class families, said managing partner Kirsten Brecht. She said the company expects the housing market to turn around by the time the houses are ready for sale, currently projected to be in 2010.

"We've got a lot of confidence in the neighborhood," Brecht said. "One of our goals ... is to attract new homeowners and increase the support for all the commercial revitalization" slated for the area.

Eight new mixed-use projects are planned over the next three years, she said, which will bring in new restaurants, shops and apartments.

New City Partners is hoping soon to embark on one of those projects, a $2.2 million effort to revitalize the 700 block of Washington Boulevard. The Baltimore Development Corp. selected New City in a competitive bidding process in August 2006 and has been acquiring the mostly vacant properties to turn over to the developer. New City plans one or two first-floor restaurants with eight apartments or condominiums on the upper floors.

The proposed townhouse development, two blocks from Washington Boulevard, will abut the Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center.

The development will be located just south of the University of Maryland Baltimore's biotechnology park and about a mile from the Inner Harbor.

Brecht said preliminary pricing estimates range from $150,000 for the smallest units to $500,000 for the biggest townhouses.

The nearby Camden Crossing housing development has proved the strength of the market in the neighborhood, Brecht said. Homes in that development, started about five years ago, are now about 90 percent sold at prices from $180,000 to $600,000, she told panel members.

"Here is a model of success, and people will move into our neighborhood," she said.

Plans by architecture firm Hord Coplan Macht, presented to the city's Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel, call for three separate rows of low-rise condominiums and townhouses clustered around community open space. A hybrid style of multifamily housing is proposed, with single-family townhouses built over either one or two levels of condominiums. The homes will feature balconies, some with views of the B&O roundhouse or downtown.

Architects said the plan maximizes density, which will allow them to keep the home prices affordable, and eliminate the need to build costly in-ground or structured parking.

Building homes will help eliminate blight from the area, which had become a haven for drug trafficking, the developer said.

The B&O museum had purchased the property in the early 1990s as part of a larger parcel, then subdivided the surplus portion, said Courtney Wilson, the museum's executive director. He said he could not disclose the sales price to New City because the property is still under contract.

The museum asked for proposals from developers and chose the New City development, which he said would help to improve James Street.

"It's really a terribly blighted street," Wilson said. "We can't imagine that in the best interest of the museum that having a new development to clean that up wouldn't be of great benefit."

The plans will need to come back to the design panel for a formal recommendation. And the project still needs City Council approval to change the land use in the area's Urban Renewal Plan from commercial to residential and for a rezoning to residential.

Members of the design panel had mostly positive comments for the preliminary plans they reviewed.

"It's exciting to have something of this nature in the neighborhood," said Mark Cameron, a panel member.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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