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Group's vision for new village gets initial OK


Baltimore County's first charrette, a new experiment in intensive community-based planning for development at the old Kingsley Park apartment complex, has cleared its initial hurdle -- the county Planning Board.

The panel on Thursday approved a charrette vote that endorses the working group's vision of a new village to replace the 60-year-old complex of run-down apartments troubled by crime and violence. The vote was 48-0.

The board's endorsement allows officials to begin work on a "pattern book" reflecting the development plans from the charrette.

That plan should be ready by August.

The planning board will then conduct a community meeting and vote on the proposal. Once the property -- located at Old Eastern Avenue and Back River Neck Road -- is sold, construction could start within a year, said Arnold K. "Pat" Keller, director of the Office of Planning.

"There was a nice juxtaposition at play here," Keller said yesterday, referring to the charrette presentation to the board. "What started as a controversial project to close the complex down turned into what we saw at the meeting -- citizens saying, 'Hey, we did this great thing.'

"We even saw the planning board members smiling," said Keller.

Once a developer purchases the 18-acre property in Essex, possibly by September, the blueprint adopted by the community members with assistance from the advisory group from Design Collective Inc. must be followed as a contingency for sale.

Nellie Grinage reminded the board of that requirement.

Grinage, president of the East Hopewell Avenue Community Association and a 15-year resident of the small, historically black enclave that dates back a century, said she and her neighbors are happy about the new plan.

But, she added, county officials must be sure to hold the developer within the confines of the community's vision.

Kingsley Park, a dilapidated World War II-era apartment complex being demolished, is one of three rundown rental properties closed down. Riverdale was razed for a new housing development in 1999, and the Villages of Tall Trees was purchased by the county, torn down in 2002, and is being replaced by a public park.

The redevelopment of the site where Kingsley Park stood is part of the ambitious east-side revitalization. Last Tuesday, more than 50 developers toured a 50-acre tract now called Middle River Depot that will be eventually developed as the gateway to the county's waterfront.

The charrette procedure will be part of any new development in the county.

Under that process, up to a weeklong series of meetings are held during which residents and business leaders design a new neighborhood.

Developers who participate in the charrette program bypass the property's existing zoning and the traditional development route, sometimes avoiding years of bureaucratic wrangling.

The blueprint for the new village where Kingsley Park stood includes up to 86 units in a three-story senior housing facility, 73 single-family detached homes and 43 townhouses, offering 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 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.

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