As Wyman Park residents prepare to meet Thursday with architects of a plan to construct two buildings amid woods on the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, their sentiments range from misgivings to optimism about the forthcoming town-gown dialogue.
The environmental and visual impacts are sure to be high on the list of community concerns, neighbors said in interviews about the project, which Hopkins officials hope to complete by spring 2004 along winding San Martin Drive.
Speaking of a master plan the university unveiled with fanfare nearly two years ago, Hampden business owner and Wyman Park Community Association board member Joe Leatherman said the latest plans were an unwelcome surprise: "We thought no longer would Wyman Park be considered the back door, and that the integration of nature and campus would be respected. You know, the walls were coming down for Waverly, Hampden and Charles Village," communities that hug the university.
A question to be raised, Leatherman continued, is whether developing more real estate is necessary, especially because the university owns the old Eastern High School, less than two miles from the campus in North Baltimore.
A conservation easement
Although the two buildings being designed will be on a site designated two years ago for development, Leatherman and others voiced concerns about their placement in a wooded stream valley protected by a forest conservation easement.
Dennis O'Shea, a university spokesman, said the buildings - one of which will house the Carnegie Institution, which does scientific research - conform to the 2000 master plan. O'Shea also said the second building - which does not have a defined use - would be built atop an existing asphalt parking lot and improve the health of the sylvan setting.
At a hearing Thursday, at which the city's Design Advisory Panel gave preliminary approval to the project, designers said they would replace trees lost to construction. University planners did not know how many trees would have to come down.
"The idea is to create a setting which not only complements but enhances the green character of the space, which now is almost clifflike. We'll put a more gentle grade on the slope and create a pathway rather than a steep staircase," O'Shea said. A mix of native trees would be planted to create a more vibrant landscape, O'Shea said.
The larger building, the proposed 80,000-square-foot copper-and-glass Carnegie Institution, would be shaped something like a pinwheel. The 40,000-square-foot building would have three levels of parking, for more than 500 cars.
'Receptive to our concerns'
Kathleen Talty, chairwoman of the Wyman Park Community Association's task force on the Johns Hopkins University buildings, said Friday that the task force had met a few times since the fall with university officials and the architects to discuss the design. However, she said she had not been told of the city design panel meeting. Talty, a lawyer, said Friday, "We didn't know they were going before the DAP. ... But we are optimistic we can have some input since [JHU officials] have been very receptive to our concerns about the sensory impact."
The new buildings are likely to be visible through bare trees in the 3500 block of Beech Ave. this time of year, neighbors said.
Talty said she was pleased the plans placed the buildings where visibility is minimized for most residents.