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Jones Falls renewal begins


An ambitious effort to revitalize Baltimore's Jones Falls Valley moves into high gear this weekend, as more than 100 community leaders, business owners, architects, environmentalists and others gather to begin mapping the area's future.

Participants will meet Saturday for a five-hour charette, or intensive brainstorming session, to generate design ideas for up to 15 areas along a four-mile stretch of the Jones Falls Valley, from Penn Station north to Robert E. Lee Park.

The goal is to take suggestions for the diverse areas along the valley and create a master plan that can guide economic development and environmental restoration efforts over the next 40 years or more, said Al Barry of A.B. Associates, a private consulting firm that is coordinating the planning effort.

Registered participants will begin work at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Andrew White Student Center on the campus of Loyola College, Charles Street and Cold Spring Lane. During the morning session, small groups will develop ideas for specific areas, such as Hampden/Remington or Mount Washington.

A wrap-up presentation of the ideas generated will be held from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the center. That portion of the charette is open to the general public.

"What we hope to do is explore major development opportunities and ways to enhance the environmental aspects of the valley," Barry said. "This is a way to bring people together and see what ideas we can come up with."

This is the first comprehensive planning effort for the Jones Falls Valley since the 1950s. It began in March, and organizers aim to release a preliminary report for community discussion by Sept. 17, the start of the annual Jones Falls Celebration weekend. The charette is part of a series of public forums designed to let community representatives participate in the 18-month planning effort.

Barry said organizers want to bring environmentalists and developers together to discuss areas that have potential for redevelopment and areas that need protection. The organizers also want to investigate ways to capitalize on the corridor's historic, architectural, recreational and economic assets, he said.

"Nobody's kidding anybody that we're coming up with a straitjacket" for development, he said. "We want to look at the valley as a system and find ways that development can be coordinated."

Possible ideas for discussion include an interchange at Pimlico Road and Interstate 83, moving the Cold Spring Lane light rail stop north of Cold Spring Lane and ways to improve links between neighborhoods and the fallsway. Planners also might discuss "deconstructing" portions of the elevated expressway if it becomes structurally unsound to open up areas now in its shadow.

Communities along the Jones Falls Valley include Bare Hills, Brick Hill, Coldspring, Evergreen, Hampden, Hoes Heights, Lake Falls, Lake Roland, Medfield, Mount Washington, North Roland Park, Poplar Hill, Remington, Reservoir Hill, Roland Park, Sabina/Mattfeld, Stone Hill, Village of Cross Keys, Woodberry and Wyman Park.

Other public forums related to the Jones Falls will be on economic development and preservation, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 28 at The Elm, 3100 Elm Ave.; and on linkages and accessibility, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 18 at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, 1905 Falls Road.

The Jones Falls Master Plan is a partnership of Baltimore Development Corp.; the Baltimore Zoo; Greater Homewood Community Corp.; the Jones Falls Watershed Association; the Mass Transit Administration; the Parks and People Foundation; Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse; and local businesses and residents.

Other professionals involved in the planning effort include Mahan Rykiel Associates; Lipman Frizzell and Mitchell; A.G. Environmental Restoration; and transportation planner Gerry Neilly. Funding has been provided by the Abell Foundation, the Morris Goldseker Foundation of Maryland and the BDC.

To participate in the charette, call A.B. Associates at 410-547-6900.

Barry noted that plans can be valuable in showing an area's potential for investment and improvement, long before private developers discover it.

For example, he said, Baltimore's planning department surveyed the Boston Street corridor in the 1970s and prepared a study showing how the Canton waterfront could be redeveloped to support thousands of residents.

After that study, he said, Mayor William Donald Schaefer suggested that business owners Louis Grasmick and John Paterakis build townhouses in Canton, the first houses constructed directly on Baltimore's waterfront in more than 100 years. Two decades later, the area is still in the midst of revival.

Barry said he believes the Jones Falls Valley is ripe for strategic redevelopment in the same way Canton was in the 1970s.

"Most people today understand the potential of the Canton waterfront," he said. The Jones Falls Valley is "a waterfront of a different scale. ... Sometimes you just need a plan to show the real estate community that something can happen."

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