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Progress in Uplands community is gaining steam

RentalsApartmentsHomesSalesBusinessU.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentPersonal Income

After more than a decade of cajoling, legal wrangling and building, the residences at Uplands, the $238 million residential community in Southwest Baltimore, are coming to life.

"There's a momentum that's built up that's going to be very, very difficult to stop," Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said at a ribbon-cutting event Monday, complete with a marching band and color guard from neighboring Edmondson-Westside High School.

Although about 15 percent of the residences planned for Uplands are finished — most of the 63-acre site remains vacant, graded soil — city officials and the community's developers seem confident that the project has cleared its hurdles. Still, not everyone is satisfied with the progress.

Uplands, built on the former site of the rundown, low-income Uplands Apartments off Edmondson Avenue, offers a mix of affordable homes and market-rate and subsidized rental units.

About 20 homes have been finished and sold. They range in price from $200,000 to $250,000, but some buyers are able to get mortgages as low as $135,000 because of incentives and subsidies, said Thomas A. Baum, president of Bozzuto Homes Inc., which has planned duplexes, townhouses and detached, single-family homes for the community.

"We really offer a broad range of affordability," Baum said. There has been significant interest in the available lots. Since a sales center opened in a model home in April, about 50 people a week have stopped in for tours, he said.

Nearly all of the roughly 100 rental units that have been built are leased, said Mark Dambly, president of Pennrose Properties LLC, Uplands' lead developer. People began moving into the rental units last year. The market-rate units leased more quickly than the subsidized units, he said.

Under current plans, the community will consist of 761 residences and is expected to generate $2.5 million in property tax revenue annually, according to the development team. Some storefronts also are being planned. Baltimore's housing office said the development will take 10 years to complete.

"It's communities like Uplands that will help keep residents here," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at the ribbon-cutting.

The sprawling Uplands Apartments, nearly 1,000 units in all, were built in the late 1940s as market-rate units. The complex became a privately managed, low-income property in the early 1970s. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development bought the complex at a foreclosure sale in 2003 after the private owner defaulted on a federally backed mortgage.

Years of prodding by homeowners surrounding the complex, tired of looking at the dilapidated structures, led the city to buy it from HUD in 2004 for less than $100.

The city began exploring ideas for the site, but action was stalled by a nearly five-year federal lawsuit. Former Uplands Apartments tenants filed the suit, concerned that they wouldn't be able to afford to live in the new development. Work finally started on Uplands in late 2010.

Angela Bethea-Spearman, president of the Uplands Community Association and chairwoman of the Southwest Community Development Corp., is pleased with the tidy residences and the landscaped green space that she now sees when she opens the front door of her home on Old Frederick Road. She moved in across the street from the Uplands Apartments in 1980 and was among the leaders of the community's appeal for redevelopment.

"The neighbors are very proud of how the community is coming along," Bethea-Spearman said. "It's exciting to see the neighbors so excited."

The neighborhood, after dealing with the Uplands Apartments' landlord, originally hoped for a community that would have only owner-occupied homes, she said. Likewise, neighbors wanted to keep retail businesses out of the development because nearby stores were unkempt.

Community members agreed to rental units after the developers argued that apartments would allow a more diverse mix of residents, Bethea-Spearman said. They also were told that allowing well-managed commercial space at Uplands might encourage nearby businesses to clean up, she said.

Delores Johnson, who moved into an Uplands rental in December, said her two-bedroom apartment has a quality interior and that the neighbors are friendly. She also appreciates that the property is tightly regulated, citing the community's no-smoking policy.

But such restrictions rub Barbara Reid the wrong way. Unlike Johnson, Reid is a former resident of the Uplands Apartments who was given a spot in the new development as a result of the settlement in the tenants' lawsuit.

She said the easy-going nature of the former apartments isn't evident in the new community, which is monitored by surveillance cameras and security patrols.

"The only thing we can do is pay rent," Reid said. "It's not like a freedom place."

steve.kilar@baltsun.com

twitter.com/stevekilar

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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