Hilltop Housing to be demolished

Cutting-edge mixed-income community to replace it

April 21, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

The brick public housing complex built in 1969 to replace wooden cottages without indoor plumbing in part of Ellicott City's African-American ghetto is itself to be replaced. On the site will be a cutting-edge, mixed-income community that stresses integration with nearby areas instead of isolation.

A development team headed by Stavrou Associates of Annapolis is proposing Ellicott Heights, an upscale 265-unit replacement for the 94 townhouses and apartments called Hilltop Housing and the 60 apartments at nearby Ellicott Terrace. No one would be displaced, since the project would be done in stages over time, officials said.

"We think this is a real community. It's not going to be a project," landscape architect Kathy Poole of Poole Design told a combined meeting of the Howard County Housing Commission and the Housing and Community Development Board meeting at Hilltop on Tuesday night.

The idea for replacing public housing in Ellicott City is similar to the plan for demolishing and replacing the 100-unit Guilford Gardens housing on Guilford Road in East Columbia. Under housing director Stacy L. Spann, the county has sought to replace older, sometimes-run-down housing for low-income residents with new, mixed-income complexes that can pay for their own maintenance while removing any stigma by inviting market rate residents who don't get rent subsidies. Construction on the Guilford Gardens project has begun with infrastructure work.

But unlike Guilford Gardens, which is on a flat, single piece of land, the three portions of the Ellicott Heights development are on separate parcels, all on a steep incline as the land slopes down from U.S. 40 to the Patapsco River. In addition, the three parcels are separated by Ellicott Mills Drive.

The Stavrou development team hasn't settled on a single concept for the three-parcel project. That would take months of planning after discussions with residents and others, officials said. Two options were presented to the county board and commission, and the developers explained the basic ideas of enlarging or replacing the current recreation center on Fels Lane, connecting the homes and the recreation center, and integrating the community with nearby Main Street on the south and county government offices to the north. Construction could begin in two years.

One concept involved demolishing the Roger Carter Center, which was originally built as a segregated elementary school for black children in the 1950s and later served as county police headquarters. In that scenario, the recreation complex would be rebuilt on the north end of what is now Hilltop, with a large all-season gym and a new swimming pool. Thirteen homes would be built where the center sits now, facing Fels Lane. Each concept would center the community on a common green and would eliminate "dead-end" parking lots and large, unused spaces. The other option would expand and renovate the Carter center, replace all the Hilltop units, and renovate or replace the Ellicott Terrace apartments.

Moving the recreation center would be a better option than expanding and renovating the current building, which is now hard to access, architect Tom Liebel said. "It's a pretty good-sized building, but most of it is corridors."

The idea, he added, is to build homes that look like they belong in historic Ellicott City, including some buildings that might look like large manor homes from the outside, but which have up to six apartments on the inside.

"We want to build something so it feels like it's always been here," he said.

All these ideas are complicated to actually do, however, since the county's Recreation and Parks Department owns the Carter Center, while the Housing Commission owns other property. Environmental and financing problems would also have to be solved.

The new buildings would use first-class materials, cutting-edge environmental and energy-saving features, and designs that would encourage people to socialize and participate in community activities. There would be two community gardens, which will also help control water runoff on the hilly site, a pathway system, bus stops designed into the community and links to nearby destinations, the developers said.

"We want this to be a walkable community," Poole told the group, which met at Hilltop's newest building, the 24-unit Tiber Hudson assisted-living apartments at the foot of Mount Ida Drive.

Tom Carbo, deputy county housing director, said the Stavrou team was chosen from among 10 developers who applied for the job, though a month of negotiating a final contract remains. Stavrou was chosen April 12 over the other semi-finalist, Enterprise Partners/Wood Partners, officials said.

"Theirs was most achievable [plan] while still fitting all of our goals," Carbo said about how Stavrou was chosen for the $50 million development. In addition, county officials liked its vision and approach, he added.

Rents in the new community would range from $376 to $1,775 a month for two- to three-bedroom apartments, duplexes and townhouses with 700 to 1,300 square feet, according to Stavrou vice president Stephen J. Moore.

Board and commission members appeared enthusiastic about the proposals.

"I am so impressed with this," said board member Nancy Rhead.

"We're going to have an extremely nice project," said commission chairman William A. Ross, adding that the most important part is "that we're going to get rid of a public housing project."

Larry.carson@baltsun.com

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