The 25th Street Station plan holds Baltimore back [Commentary]

The region needs more thoughtful development

November 19, 2013|By Bruce Willen

The Baltimore City Planning Commission seems poised to approve the redesigned 25th Street Station development Thursday, despite serious concerns about the legality of the process and the strenuous objections of neighboring community and business associations. On behalf of my neighbors in Old Goucher and Remington, I ask that the commission withhold approval of the project until it receives a full City Council review, and until the developer presents a design that strengthens our community.

This isn't just about 25th Street Station. This is about the future development of Baltimore — not only tomorrow, but in five, 10 and 20 years time. Do we want to be a world-class city that continues to attract young entrepreneurs and visionaries and lifts up all of our residents? Or do we want to encourage the cheapest, least-thoughtful types of development that do little to enrich the character and economy of Baltimore?

Baltimore is experiencing a renaissance. For the first time in decades, we see people moving back to the city. Young people and families are choosing to stay in Baltimore and invest their savings and energy here. I live across the street from the proposed development, and I love the exciting positive changes taking place in Remington and Old Goucher. Hundreds of new residents are moving to our neighborhoods while new businesses and development projects have sparked revitalization throughout the area. The proposed 25th Street Station project is out of touch with what is happening in our community.

The development is also out of sync with a 21st-century understanding of smart, profitable, and sustainable urban design. Dense, mixed-use developments and walkable neighborhoods generate exponentially more economic activity and tax revenue than low-density, suburban developments. Young and old alike are trading in their cars for bikes and public transportation. Other cities have realized this and are actively discouraging the type of auto-centric suburban development proposed at 25th Street Station. Even in the suburbs, new shopping centers are moving away from this outdated model, attempting to imitate the pedestrian environment of the city.

In Washington, D.C., several new Walmarts are currently under construction. Unlike the proposed Baltimore project, Washington's new Walmarts adhere to a 21st-century design model that welcomes pedestrians, integrates into the urban fabric, and adds value to the surrounding neighborhoods and the city's tax base. The 25th Street Station project is being designed by the very same architects as the Washington stores. Baltimore deserves at least the same quality of development as Washington.

There are many reasons why our neighborhood does not support the current iteration of this project, but most importantly we want our city to thrive in the future. As currently proposed, 25th Street Station will ultimately hold back the growth and revitalization of our neighborhood. We don't want to mortgage our neighborhoods' futures for the promise of a few hundred low-wage jobs, which will come at the expense of better paying businesses in the area. We welcome new development at this site, but it must have clear long-term benefits for our community and the city as a whole.

The developer himself, Rick Walker, even admitted at a recent community meeting that he would have approached the project differently if he had anticipated the changes taking places in Baltimore. Despite this hindsight, he refuses to revisit this development, which is completely inappropriate for this part of the city. Had he more fully reached out to the community (as other developers have done), we could have helped him craft a project that attracts neighborhood support and would be much more profitable and successful in the long run.

We should not encourage this type of cheap, suburban development in Baltimore. Instead, we should make this project a long-term asset to the city, rather than another Port Covington disaster that underutilizes valuable property and drains away potential tax revenues.

I ask the planning commission to think beyond the details of the proposed changes. Please consider the future of our neighborhoods and the future of our city. If we want Baltimore to grow and thrive, we cannot allow the type of development being proposed here. Please support the concerns of our residents and send the project back for review through the proper channels. Help make this development the asset to Baltimore that it should be.

Bruce Willen is an Old Goucher resident and co-owner of Post Typography, a graphic-design firm based in Baltimore.

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