The city of Annapolis and its housing authority have announced plans to raze, rebuild and double the occupancy of two Eastport public housing communities.
A primary goal of the project, announced Monday at a community meeting at Eastport United Methodist Church, is the transformation of Eastport Terrace and Harbour House into a 716-home mixed-income neighborhood.
More than 75 people attended the standing-room-only charrette, which welcomed residents and community leaders to share design ideas. Attendees entered the church’s multipurpose room and were assigned a table number. Even couples who came together were split up.
“Tonight, you are doing the dirty work,” said Matthew Fitzsimmons, a planner, architect and consultant who led the proceedings. “We want to walk away with big ideas.”
Fitzsimmons tasked attendees with redesigning the roughly 30-acre, federally owned property, which currently includes 357 housing units, the majority of which are two-bedroom apartments and town houses. No one had to pick up a pencil, however; each table was arranged with a giant map of Eastport and neat stacks of tiny color-coded blocks and tiles.
“When I first came in, it looked like we were going to be playing Monopoly,” said Roberta Clark, a resident of the housing authority property.
The analogy turned out to be apt, since the object of the charrette was to build a neighborhood with color-coded blocks representing everything from duplexes to town houses to four-story apartment buildings and reach the goal of 716 homes. Additional tiles represented community amenities, retail space, playgrounds, dog parks and streets.
“And the pool,” Clark said. “We can’t forget the pool.”
The prize, should the housing authority and the city “win” at this game of community planning, is a $50 million “Choice Neighborhood Initiative” grant. Plans aren’t due to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development until 2024, but work is underway in earnest using a $450,000 planning grant from HUD. Based on design input from residents, the consultants should have mock-ups ready in February, Fitzsimmons said.
Following national trends in low-income housing, HUD is encouraging cities to create mixed-income communities rather than enclaves of inexpensive homes for residents receiving subsidies.
“These houses are all going to look market rate,” Fitzsimmons said.
Clark’s table included Karen Jennings, a member of the Choice Neighborhood Initiative Task Force, longtime President Street homeowner Mike Pachler, Chief City Planner Eric Leshinsky and, for a time, Mayor Gavin Buckley.
“This is a chance to do something beautiful,” Buckley said, advocating for Table 4 to place light orange blocks closest to Hawkins Cove so residents in a high-rise would have views of Spa Creek.
Jennings suggested running Wells Street all the way through the new neighborhood so residents would feel connected to the rest of Eastport. She also lobbied for a grocery store at the heart of the property, to create a central corridor, and for the density of the homes to increase gradually, starting with duplexes facing President Street and gradually stepping up to four stories.
Earlier Monday, Fitzsimmons and his team of consultants held a mini-charrette with children who live at the housing authority property.
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“They were smarter than most of the adults,” he quipped, noting that the students lobbied for rooftop gardens and suggested that a day care center be located next to the leasing office, so parents could stop in after dropping off their kids.
Details like this encouraged Pachler, who has lived through several attempts to renovate Eastport Terrace (built in 1953) and Harbour House (finished in 1964). Education, retail space and public safety are important factors that haven’t been considered in the past, he said. He also agreed with his tablemates that increasing density closer to the water was a good idea, rather than building high-rises on President Street.
“We want to see change,” Pachler said. “I am cautiously optimistic.”
Planners, consultants, housing authority staff and City Council members were all upbeat about the process, with no mention of an adversarial legal relationship between the housing authority and the city.
At a council meeting last week, the housing authority’s Executive Director Melissa Maddox-Evans called on the city to drop its request, currently pending before a federal judge, to place HACA in federal receivership. Nor did anyone mention the rodent problems that have plagued HACA properties this fall. On Friday, city inspectors condemned a Madison Street unit as “unfit for human habitation.” It was at least the second mouse-filled apartment condemned in three weeks.
Clark, a county health department employee, said she is thankful she hasn’t had a problem with rodents. Her concerns are mostly related to public safety and community services. Few housing authority residents attended the charrette, she suspected, because so many have young children. Attendance was better at a September meeting on HACA’s campus, Clark said, but she was glad she attended the charrette, too.
“This was a good idea,” Clark said. “It gives me hope.”