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Team works up vision for Kingsley Park site


The dreamers came into town to feed on the ideas of a community.

In meeting after meeting, design experts heard from people in Middle River and Essex who said they did not want the monotony of blocks upon blocks of rowhouses. The residents and business owners said they wanted a variety of duplexes, townhouses and cottages, with open front porches and alleys. And they said that housing for senior citizens was critical.

"Every day it seemed to change a little," said Eric Hyne, a designer from Pennsylvania working with a team hired by the county to shape a new community to replace the dilapidated Kingsley Park apartment complex. "It was like the pieces of a puzzle coming together. It became clear the people here wanted a real place, a community."

In the series of meetings - called a charrette - county officials and area residents offered ideas and suggestions to the team from Design Collective Inc. The team of architects and planners retired to a cramped room at a local Catholic school. There, often working 14-hour shifts with laptop computers and artist's renderings, they sketched out a vision for the community - including a three-story senior citizen facility and a green village square.

The team members are scheduled to work through the weekend to place finishing touches on their work. A final presentation of the group's findings will be made at 7 p.m. Monday at Mars Estates Elementary School.

Unlike previous community-designer collaborations that generated wide-ranging visions of a large area, the Kingsley Park effort will produce a template that will guide developers.

The process is part of a new county strategy that includes adopting ideas from those living and working in the new development's area. Under the new blueprint, there is greater regulatory flexibility for developers who must agree to work within the plan designed by the architectural consultants and approved by community members.

"When you consider such divergent groups - the area folks who know what they want to see replace Kingsley Park and the visionary professionals - this has been a pretty amazing process," said Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, director of the Office of Planning.

Keller said the county could sell the 18-acre tract to a builder by September.

To many, replacing the Kingsley Park apartments is far more significant than just creating a new neighborhood. The development will eventually stand where open-air drug markets flourished and gunfire was common.

Officials also said that the World War II-era apartments were obsolete and residents there faced unsafe or unhealthful living conditions.

"I am happy they are tearing Kingsley down because criminals being chased by the police would run into our neighborhood and try to hide in our sheds, our shrubbery," said Nellie Grinage, president of the East Hopewell Avenue Community Association and a 15-year resident of the small historically black enclave, which dates back a century.

The older east-side communities are the focus of redevelopment. While other troubled apartment complexes such as Riverdale and Villages of Tall Trees have been razed, new housing developments have been built or are scheduled for completion.

When Route 43 is extended from White Marsh onto Eastern Boulevard early next year, officials plan a 1,000-acre Baltimore Crossroads @ 95, a mixed-business site that could attract up to 10,000 new jobs. The federal government also is set to sell for mixed-use development a property on which a historic airplane factory building could anchor retail, residences and other businesses, some sports related.

Across Old Eastern Avenue from Kingsley Park, which is being demolished, the county is creating a $5 million public park that will feature a community building housing a gym, outdoor athletic fields and walking trails.

"My husband and I have been watching this area for a couple of years, and when we had enough of the flooding on Millers Island, we moved and bought a new home on Hopewell Avenue on Hopkins Creek because we knew Kingsley Park was going away," said Monika Duffy, who attended a charrette meeting Thursday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel's parish campus.

"Some of our friends called it a $175,000 gamble, but we are close to the water, it's quiet and we don't look at it as a gamble anymore," Duffy said.

A block away from Kingsley Park, Joe Furst has owned the Loft Lounge for 18 years, a neighborhood tavern and cut-rate store.

"After all this area has been though, we can't go any way but up," said Furst, a retired ironworker. "If things go well, I'd like to stay in business here another 20 years."

All this, of course, is music to the ears of county Executive James T. Smith Jr.

"Kingsley Park was such a blight on everyone that surrounding residents actually felt depressed by the impact of that place," Smith said. "What we are seeing with this charrette are people engaged, not receiving lip service or giving it. They feel this will be a place to be proud of, a place with promise they helped shape."

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