HUD grant to fund redevelopment planning in West Baltimore

Pedestal Gardens complex is focus of effort to reconnect Bolton Hill to neighboring communities

March 18, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

A West Baltimore housing complex will be the focus of a redevelopment plan funded by a federal revitalization grant as part of a local effort to combat decades of racial and economic segregation, officials announced Friday.

Baltimore is one of 17 cities receiving Choice Neighborhood Initiative planning grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Working with urban design and planning firm Goody Clancy & Associates, Jubilee Baltimore Inc. will use the $213,000 and additional contributions from the city of Baltimore and nonprofits to create a redevelopment plan to reconnect Bolton Hill to western neighbors such as Madison Park, Druid Heights and Upton, said Charlie Duff, Jubilee's director.

Bolton Hill has long been a high-investment neighborhood, he said. But only a block away, the vacancy rate doubles. Madison Street, McCullough Street and Druid Hill Avenue have beautiful houses but 30 percent remain empty, Duff said.

"It's time to knit this part of Baltimore back together again," he said.

The plan will center on Pedestal Gardens, a 203-unit, federally subsidized housing complex managed by Foresight Affordable Housing, but also extend over an area that includes two schools and the Bolton Hill Shopping Center, Duff said.

"The theory of Choice Neighborhoods is that if you can sort of fix, improve one of these developments, you can make it possible for the whole neighborhood around it to improve," Duff said.

The grants are designed to mitigate problems that perpetuate communities of concentrated poverty, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood can be a better indicator of poor outcomes for children than the economic status of their parents, he said.

"We can predict the life expectancy of children by the ZIP code they grow up in," he said.

Regional HUD officials joined Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, city housing director Paul Graziano and neighborhood association leaders Friday afternoon on Eutaw Place to praise the efforts. They noted that this initiative would piggyback on other projects already under way, such as the State Center redevelopment.

"Now we have an opportunity to work together on something that benefits all of us," said Polly Duke, president of the Mount Royal Improvement Association, which represents Bolton Hill.

"This has been a dividing line," she said, pointing to Eutaw Place.

Adrian Harpool agreed. The Madison Park Improvement Association member also serves on the board of the Midtown Community Development Corp.

"People in the community are somewhat isolated," he said. "We have that median strip … people rarely cross over."

But both Duke and Harpool said the plan will give the neighborhoods an opportunity to work together. Jubilee organized neighborhood associations on both sides of Eutaw Place to figure out what could be done to address problems affecting the area.

The plan would develop ways to convert the automobile-focused design of Pedestal Gardens — buildings surrounding parking in a central courtyard — into something more urban and pedestrian-friendly, Duff said. The complex is set off from the community by a brick and metal fence.

Some residents of Pedestal Gardens say they would appreciate a change.

"It feels like a jail. It feels like I'm in Central Booking," said Elise Washington, 21, who has lived in Pedestal Gardens for 10 years.

It could take 18 months to two years to develop the plan with community input.

The grant leverages the power of private investment, Duff said. In addition to the federal funds, the city will contribute $115,000, as well as in-kind donations from the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners and the Midtown Community Development Corp., Duff said.

Once completed, city agencies such as the planning commission would have to adopt the plan before it would guide redevelopment in the area, Duff said. And Choice grant awardees are put into the pipeline for implementation grants that can be worth millions of dollars, he added.

John G. Hoffer III, a development consultant for Foresight Affordable Housing, said their properties are part of the surrounding neighborhood and should integrate with it.

The grant offers money to hire skilled planners, he said, and when completed it may bring "some really significant capital grant money" to bring the suggested changes into fruition.

"In the end, it means a much nicer place for the residents," Hoffer said.

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