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Community members agree on blueprint


A group of about 200 eastern Baltimore County residents and business leaders has approved a plan to build a community with homes, including senior housing, on the spot where the Kingsley Park apartments are being demolished.

The blueprint for the new village includes up to 86 units for a three-story senior housing facility, 73 single-family detached homes and 43 townhouses with a range of prices. A developer would be required to adhere to the plan, which is designed to foster a sense of connection among neighbors, with landscaped common areas and walking trails.

The Essex and Middle River residents voted Monday night in favor of the plan, which was the product of a weeklong series of meetings called a "charrette."

Yesterday, as a bulldozer droned in the background, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. praised local residents who are helping to shape a future community.

"See the rubble in back of me," said Smith, speaking in a tent on the site and referring to mounds of broken concrete from the razed buildings. "That goes, and what will be rising in its place is a dream come true for everyone."

Smith announced the plan for new homes to replace the dilapidated apartment complex that was troubled by open-air drug dealing and violence.

When a developer purchases the 18-acre property, possibly by September, the blueprint adopted by the community members and the advisory group that worked with them must be followed as a contingency for sale, officials said.

Based in two east-side schools, residents worked with an advisory team of architects and planners from Design Collective Inc. of Baltimore and produced the plan that includes intermingled housing styles.

The plan incorporates front porches, gables and dormers on the homes, with a small amount of retail space within the senior housing building for a doctor's office, pharmacy or deli. Most garages will face alleys, rather than the front of the house. Other details include trees along streets, lawns in front of the houses, and a variety of fences and hedges.

Matt D'Amico, a partner in Design Collective Inc., said he has led or participated in 20 other charrettes in communities along the East Coast. He called the effort in Essex-Middle River "magic."

"I've lived in Baltimore for 15 years, and I know that local people have approached the east-side renaissance with just a little bit of doubt, just wondering if this was really happening in an area that was long ignored," said D'Amico.

"Well, people rolled up their sleeves, had respect for other opinions, compromised and came up with a beautiful plan with their hard work," he said.

Arnold F. "Pat" Keller, director of the Office of Planning, said a "pattern book" reflecting the plans from the charrette will be made. The county planning board will hold two public meetings, and construction could start within a year, Keller said.

"Times have changed a lot around here," said Rocky Jones, president of Essex-Middle River Civic Council, an umbrella group for nearly two dozen neighborhood groups. He came to hear Smith's remarks because "we finally have a voice in what happens where we live."

"The new development that goes up will have design standards, a quality that people will buy," he said.

Jones and others present at yesterday's ceremony said the next order of business should be finding a new name for the property. Already, they said, Kingsley Park and its dark memories are beginning to fade.

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