Plans for Park Heights redevelopment move ahead

A nonprofit group has won the rights to oversee development in the Park Heights area, but it must meet benchmarks to prove it is making progress in the troubled area under an agreement approved Wednesday by the city's spending board.

Park Heights Renaissance Inc. will develop or seek developers for the bulk of the 1,500-acre Park Heights Master Plan area under a memorandum of understanding approved by the five-member Board of Estimates.

The core of the blighted neighborhood, a 62-acre tract designated as the "Major Redevelopment Area," will be subject to a separate agreement that has not been finalized, city housing department spokeswoman Cheron Porter said.

Under the deal approved Wednesday, Park Heights Renaissance will be able to issue its own requests for proposals for development plans. The nonprofit will be required to "present any and all projects at a community-wide meeting;" the city will acquire the land for development, relocate families and businesses, and sell to developers.

Park Heights Renaissance must meet certain criteria, including completing the construction of 50 housing units within the first two years of issuing a request for proposals and hiring 50 neighborhood residents for development or construction jobs.

The spending board also approved a deal to turn the former site of the Pall Mall Apartments, a crime-plagued publicly subsidized complex known as "The Ranch," into apartments for seniors.

Those plans, which were proposed by Park Heights Renaissance and Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., now await action by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Several other projects are under way, including the construction of a farm with hoop-shaped greenhouses on a vacant lot and planning a garden for children near a childcare center, said Julius "Julio" Colon, president and CEO of Park Heights Renaissance.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who represented the neighborhood when she was a city councilwoman, lauded the agreement and the plans for the apartments.

"For me, it's inspirational because I know how much Park Heights can be," she said. "This is a major step because we're not just dreaming but doing."

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