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Hudson's Corner: Complex near Cold Spring light rail a sign of smart growth

Moshe Safdie

I am not one to push for more development in north Baltimore, but a proposal presented at the June 7 meeting of the Roland Park Civic League makes a lot of sense.

The Linthicum-based Landex Companies wants to build 250 market rate apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space and underground parking near the Cold Spring Lane light rail station. The concept would be a "town center" complex.

New apartments and retail would bring more business and people into the city. With a shrinking city population, that would be a good thing.

No one mentioned a supermarket, but a food store there would make sense, so renters might actually be able to get away without having a car.

This development would help further the mayor's goal of increasing the city's population by 22,500 over the next 10 years. It would enhance an existing neighborhood. The proposed complex would expand the neighborhood around Coldspring Newtown, modern development, designed by Moshe Safdie, and one that has never fully realized its potential

New shopping opportunities would be a good addition to Coldspring's attractive swim and tennis club, the Waldorf School and frequent community events. The recent addition of the Loyola University sports complex and the revitalization of Cylburn Arboretum have brought more action to the area. An apartment and retail complex would bring even more. Certainly, residents would feel safe living next door to the Northern District police station.

With a public-transportation-challenged city, affordable apartments near clean, convenient light rail would be a boon. The light rail stop would be a bonanza to people living in apartments within walking distance. It would also be what the city, in its comprehensive rezoning plan, categorizes as transit-oriented development.

Bravo to the developer and to the architect, Roland Park resident Donald Kann, for tackling a forward-thinking possibility. Forward thinking is what a city needs to be vibrant.

As it is, the Cold Spring Lane station is not a handy stop for many. No parking lot is there. Crossing Cold Spring Lane from Coldspring Newtown or from the parking lot at the Poly-Western complex is a death-defying proposition.

The only hitch to this promising proposal seems to be that Baltimore Gas & Electric plans to build a substation nearby on land the company has owned since the 1930s. According to Landex, a high-voltage substation would interfere with the woodland ambience and discourage people from moving there.

Apparently, there are some exquisite views of woods and water from the site where Landex wants to build.

BGE says it needs to build a bigger substation to replace the 1972 substation farther north. The demand in north Baltimore is on the rise and a bigger, newer substation is needed.

A possible alternative would be for BGE to swap land with Baltimore City and build the substation on a stump dump, where the city has dumped trees for years. BGE, however, says an engineering study shows the site is not stable enough for a substation. The study also shows that it would be too expensive to remove the organic debris, which is 20 feet deep.

A suggestion at the Civic League meeting to drill steel eye beams into the ground is also not possible, according to the BGE representative present at the meeting.

The Landex proposal seems to be an opportunity too good to miss on behalf of smart growth and for increasing a viable city neighborhood. It also seems that something might be worked out, if all parties — the city, the developer and BGE — would come back together with open minds and see what can be done for the future health, economic and environmental good of the city.

This Cold Spring Lane development proposal by Landex makes sense.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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