Coldspring: Still a Lovable Gamble


Happy birthday, Coldspring! It's been 15 years since the first residents moved in to the deckhouses of Coldspring Newtown on the hills between Greenspring Avenue and Jones Falls Expressway.

I remember. I was among those celebrating the occasion at Sandy Rosenberg's new digs overlooking Cylburn Park.

Sandy -- who progressed from a city bureaucrat and television producer to a state delegate -- is the longest living resident of Coldspring. Recently, he bought the adjoining apartment, cut through the concrete, doubling his living space. That, the 42-year-old politician explained, made more sense than moving.

"The reason it's attractive to me is the location," he said.

Throughout its existence Coldspring has been an object of uncompromising love or hate. Some wax enthusiastic about its architecture and varied population, others condemn it as a questionably designed white elephant that never should have been funded by city taxpayers.

When planning for the new town began in the late 1960s, the 570-acre site straddling both sides of Cold Spring Lane was the largest vacant privately-owned parcel in the city. It had been left undeveloped because of its difficult terrain.

Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III decided that the city should acquire the land for a 3,800-unit new community to attract middle-class families fleeing to the counties.

Among those who thought "Young Tommy" had lost his mind was Reuben Caplan, the district's councilman. He advocated an industrial park instead.

Other objected to the city spending millions of scarce dollars to subsidize housing and mortgages for middle-class families who did not need such taxpayers' support. But gradually Coldspring became a reality.

Over the years, the grandiose development plan shrank. Today, the community consists of only 250 townhouses and a 150-unit senior citizen complex.

Overseas work assignments took me away from Coldspring for eight years. Eventually, I sold my home. But I still keep in touch with my former neighbors.

Recently, there has been plenty of news.

First, Charles and Lola Laubheim, two retired school teachers in their early 70s, started a determined drive to reactivate Coldspring's residents. A landscaping program was launched. It spawned a literary club as well as wine and eating clubs. And that's just the beginning.

Even more significant is the announcement that expansion of Coldspring will begin in the spring. The new section, Cylburn Hills, will consist of 55 town houses and 47 single-family detached homes, all with such standard features as fireplaces and individual garages. Expected prices: $99,000-$140,000.

"Our concept is to take advantage of the ecology, not to overbuild and to price the houses affordably for people who want to live in the city," explains Daniel Henson of Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse Inc.

The announcement -- after several false starts -- has created a wave of enthusiasm in Coldspring.

For a long time, many residents have been waiting for bigger units to be built; the new section promises to offer 2,000-square-foot townhouses and single-family houses as large as 2,800 square feet.

With their exteriors of stained cedar shingles, the new houses will look different from the cinder block design of the original sections by Moshe Safdie, the Israeli architect.

"It's a kind of transitional design between the stark contemporary of Coldspring and suburban," resident Mimi Ward says of the mock-ups. "I think they will blend well."

If the new houses sell well, they may trigger the development of luxury apartments and condominiums that have been on the drawing board for years.

Fifteen years ago, the first Coldspring residents felt like urban pioneers. They were taking a gamble, not knowing how their investment would turn out. Would a racially, economically and socially diverse neighborhood last in a city that has so few of them?

"What's amazing after all this time is that there are still people who believe in the Coldspring idea," says M. Jay Brodie, an original resident who commutes to his Washington job as executive director of the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corp.

"Everybody says they never feel uncomfortable in this community. Ideologically, it is an important concept," seconds Mrs. Laubheim.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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