In city, `walkability' is key

Insider's Guide To Washington Hill

May 04, 2008|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to the Sun

Tucked between Orleans Street, Central Avenue, Lombard Street and Washington Street, the neighborhood of Washington Hill began as a shipping center in the mid-1700s, later transforming into a mostly residential neighborhood during the mid-1800s.

Named for the former Washington Medical College, the site of Edgar Allan Poe's death, the neighborhood banded together during the 1970s to fight urban decay, saving many of its historic buildings. The city's successful "shopsteading" program preserved many of the neighborhood's storefront buildings.

With Johns Hopkins Hospital as its adjacent neighbor to the north and Fells Point a few blocks to the south, the "walkability" of Washington Hill continues to be an outstanding asset that has attracted urban renewal projects, with more in the works.

Today the neighborhood is a close-knit area where people know their neighbors by name. It's an extremely diverse neighborhood, said Kinji Scott, the executive director of the Citizens for Washington Hill.

"We have a very strong community," said Scott. "Most of the people in the neighborhood who are homeowners have been here some 20-plus years. They have something invested, not only in housing, but also in what goes on in the community."

Scott serves as the paid, full-time director of the community association, which allows a quick response to any neighborhood issues.

"We have people who like to be involved in the community, they like to see things done and they like to know their neighbors," said Scott.

Housing stock --Many of the houses found in Washington Hill are two- and three-story brick rowhouses. Various architectural styles, some dating to the late 1700s and early 1800s, can be found throughout. The housing stock is widely varied, offering co-ops, condominiums, new garage townhouses, rentals and public housing.

"If you're a Hopkins employee, you can walk to work. But you can also walk to the amenities in the area, the restaurants, the shops and the water taxi," said Craig Thomson, an associate broker with Long & Foster in Roland Park.

Washington Hill is home to a handful of highly successful co-ops, including the popular Washington Hill Mutual Homes, founded in 1976, which offers 218 units along Fairmount Avenue, Broadway and Baltimore Street. On East Baltimore Street, there are several colorful storefronts that house 32 units, known as Artists' Housing Inc. This co-op was designed in the mid-1980s with large spaces, so artists could work where they live.

"If I had somebody looking for an art studio, I'd take them right over to Baltimore Street," said Thomson. "The problem is, there's nothing for sale. That tells you something."

Broadway Overlook offers new townhouses and apartments on the former Church Home and Hospital site (which, before that, was Washington Medical College), where federally subsidized housing is mixed in with market-rate housing and rental units. A new, 36-townhouse development called Lombard Court features Italianate and Victorian-style homes with garages in a courtyard setting selling in the upper $400,000 range. The Gateway at Washington Hill, three city blocks cleared for development, is approved for a mix of retail, office and residential construction.

Typically, a renovated three-story townhouse in Washington Hill sells in the high $200,000 or low $300,000 price range.

Schools --City Springs School, Commodore John Rogers Elementary and Lombard Middle serve students in Washington Hill. All three schools have failed to meet state proficiency levels in mathematics and reading. They have also failed to meet the state's Adequate Yearly Progress, which is used to track academic progress and make accountability decisions. Lombard Middle is scheduled to close in 2009 with students moving to the city charter high school, Baltimore Freedom Academy, which serves grades 9 through 12. The high school has met the state's AYP and has a graduation rate of 96 percent.

Crime --In the past three months, there have been six larcenies from vehicles, one burglary and three aggravated assaults in the neighborhood, according to statistics from the Baltimore City Police Web site.

Scott said the association is working hard to combat problems and continues to work closely with the Baltimore City Police Department's Southeastern District.

"If we identify your property as being a nuisance property ... we will move on you to have you evicted," said Scott.

Transportation --Washington Hill is convenient to major bus routes and to Metro subway stops at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Shot Tower.

Shopping --Neighborhood shops are available in Washington Hill, but for a mall setting, Harborplace and The Gallery are only a short bike ride or walking distance away.

Dining in --Whole Foods Market, at Inner Harbor East, is within walking distance, as is Broadway Market.

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