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Renderings for the Somerset portion of the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Project show a walkable community with mid-rise buildings and a pocket park.
Renderings for the Somerset portion of the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Project show a walkable community with mid-rise buildings and a pocket park. (Grimm and Parker)

With construction of the first building in an $889 million revitalization project in East Baltimore already underway, developers and architects have presented city officials the latest design plans for another building.

The building, slated for the 400 block of Aisquith St., adjacent to the Oldtown Mall, comprises one part of the overall vision for the Perkins Somerset Oldtown Transformation Project, which developers aim to build into a mixed-income community featuring both affordable and market-rate housing options.

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The redevelopment effort seeks to replace Perkins Homes and other the public housing projects that date back to the 1940s. Under the plan, financed with public and private funds, nearly 1,400 residents are to be moved out and relocated while the buildings are razed and redeveloped. City officials say residents will then be able to move back into affordable housing in a larger community that will have 1,345 housing units within a 244-acre “transformation zone.”

The full site encompasses the area between Baltimore’s more affluent Harbor East and the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

The area’s first building, fully financed and under construction on McElderry Street, will feature some 104 units. The second building is also fully financed, though the design is still being finalized, said Dana Henson, vice president of Henson Development Co., one of the project’s developers.

The first two buildings will feature retail options on the ground floor, Henson said. A grocery store could be placed in a planned fourth building, she said.

A pocket park will connect the first four buildings at a walkable intersection with wide sidewalks, which Henson and architects from the Grimm and Parker architecture firm told a city design panel Thursday will add vibrancy and an open community feel to the area.

Members of the city’s Urban Design and Architecture Advisory Panel stressed the need for adding trees, greenery and other landscaping features to the area that provides visual cohesion between the park and the surrounding area.

“There’s an opportunity to brand the neighborhood,” said panelist Sharon Bradley, a landscape architect.

Henson said the plan allows residents a choice between housing in Perkins, Somerset and Oldtown, though the Somerset community will provide interested parties with the first housing options.

She said the development team aims for potential residents to live in an affordable building — featuring stainless steel appliances, fitness centers and other amenities — that could pass for a fully market-rate one.

“We’re excited to provide this opportunity for another area, another choice in Baltimore,” Henson said. “Somerset will be an entirely new area of downtown, but it will all kind of blend together under the comprehensive plan.”

Housing officials have called Perkins Homes, which didn’t have air conditioning or washers and driers in its units, “unacceptable.”

The project received a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Grant in 2018 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which then-Mayor Catherine Pugh hailed as an important point of leverage in developing the community as an anchor in Baltimore’s historic East Side, which she said would evolve into a 21st century model of urban living.

In February, one of the project’s developers received a $3.37 million grant from the U.S. Treasury Department to help build affordable homes in the city’s Somerset neighborhood.

Pugh, who initially helped lead the revitalization effort as mayor, pledged that no resident would be evicted or displaced, but “carefully graduated” into the new housing units, according to a July 2018 op-ed she wrote for The Baltimore Sun.

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But opponents have said that the plan could pigeonhole potential residents seeking affordable units into housing they do not want. They’re concerned Perkins Homes residents could end up being moved to the new development at the Somerset Homes site — located away from the waterfront and near the city jail — while wealthier, white residents take over the redeveloped Perkins area.

The former Somerset Homes were torn down a decade ago and never rebuilt.

Housing officials were not available for comment, but previously have said they’re working to make sure tenants are accommodated.

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