The first builders arrived this week at a half empty 1970s public housing project within a West Baltimore neighborhood. Over the next year, the 1970s Rosemont Homes, a village of town houses, will emerge renewed, with an upgraded recreation center.
Rosemont, a neighborhood that follows the contours of the hilly Gwynns Falls Valley south of Walbrook, is a community where residents remain proud of their tidy streets.
“It’s a blessing that the recreation center will be restored,” said Robert Hunt, a longtime Rosemont resident. “We’re a community with a majority of homeowners ... I consider Rosemont my oasis.”
He recalled in the mid-70s when the Housing Authority of Baltimore City took a seven-acre piece of land on the neighborhood’s southern border adjacent to the CSX-Western Maryland Railway tracks and constructed 106 town houses along a steep hillside. A new school, Belmont Elementary, was also built.
The centerpiece of the neighborhood within a neighborhood was a recreation center not far from Leon Day Park, a baseball field across Franklintown Road in Leakin Park.
The ball field commemorates Leon Day, the professional baseball player who, beginning in 1934, played in the Negro leagues when the color barrier prevented him from competing in Major League Baseball. Day was elected to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, in 1995, the year he died, and lived not far the ballfield named for him on Harlem Avenue.
The neighborhood came under a cloud in the 1960s when Interstate 70 was proposed to run through the nearby Gwynns Fall-Leakin Park. Activists and critics of the road defeated that idea, although portions of the road, the so-called Highway to Nowhere, were built in West Baltimore.
The city condemned and purchased numerous Rosemont homes, but later resold them back to neighborhood residents and other buyers.
The focus of the current projected work at Rosemont Homes are the 14 residential town house blocks built along the hillside. There are 106 town houses that vary in size. The largest have five bedrooms and about half are occupied. No displacement is planned.
The Baltimore City Housing Authority will retain ownership of the land, but a new entity, Rosemont Limited Partnership, will own and manage the renovated complex. The estimated cost is $43 million.
“The Housing Authority is very much a partner with us,” said Catherine Stokes, the manager of the current effort. “The authority is the steward of the property.”
Rents will remain at 30% of residents’ income, she said. The rents range from $1,400 to $1,800.
“Residents will be moving into significantly renovated homes, but the rents will remain the same as they were paying before the renovation,” she said.
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Stokes is a director of development for Telesis, a Washington, D.C., developer, whose mission statement says it is “certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.”
Stokes managed another Telesis effort in Baltimore, the transformation of the Barclay neighborhood near Greenmount Avenue and 22nd Street, where more than 250 homes were rehabilitated into a mix of affordable rental and ownership beginning in 2011.
She was also involved with upgrades at two elderly housing sites, the Ellerslie in Pen Lucy and the Brentwood on East 25th Street.
Her group was also a partner in the refurbishment of Henrietta Lacks Village in Turners Station.
“The challenge here is the homes are now nearly 50 years old and in need of redevelopment,” said Stokes. “They’ll be getting all new fixtures and finishes. There will be a transformation of the exteriors and the interiors.”
The Rev. Meldon D. Dickens, pastor of Isaiah Baptist Church, who is active in the nonprofit Coppin Heights Community Development Corp. in West Baltimore, said, “We believe in development without displacement.
“But we also think about our communities that have been underserved and we see this as an opportunity for improving the neighborhood.”