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Developer previews Edgewood housing

The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore developer is going ahead with plans to raze a cluster of dilapidated and long vacant buildings in Edgewood and replace them with nearly 300 new homes.

The Shelter Group offered residents a preview of its site plan for the 28-acre Washington Court community that will include 44 single-family homes, 144 townhouses and a 100-unit apartment complex designed for active seniors. The community meeting, which drew about 100 to Edgewood Elementary last week, fulfilled a requirement in the county's lengthy development review process.

Edgewood, like most of the county, is expected to benefit from growth at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. The base, part of the nationwide Base Closure and Realignment Commission process known as BRAC, could bring as many as 10,000 new jobs and thousands of prospective home buyers to the area.

"Our target market is the professionals working here now and those moving here with BRAC," said Jeff Rosen, development associate with The Shelter Group. "We are ultimately looking at an intergenerational mix of families."

By the end of next year, 51 brick buildings, which were post World War II Army officer quarters, should be demolished to make way for the new homes. The project will be constructed in phases, with the senior housing built first. Depending on the market, the final phase could be completed by 2012.

Washington Court was vacated more than 20 years ago and never refurbished. The only recent user has been the sheriff's department, which frequently trains at the site.

"I can't wait to see those rat-infested buildings come down," said Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, whose district includes the Edgewood area. "It will be a big day for Edgewood."

Harford County acquired the property, which has public water and sewer and is just off Edgewood Road near Cedar Drive, for $982,000 about eight years ago from the federal government. In 2006, officials called for development proposals for renovating the property. The Shelter Group won the contract as well as a $400,000 state grant to assist with demolition.

Sam Gibson, a longtime Edgewood resident and community activist, participated on a panel that reviewed proposals for the property.

"They had the best bid and the best integration with the community," he said of The Shelter Group proposal.

But he has since become leery of the plan, fearing it will open the door to more federally subsidized housing in a community that already has about 23 percent of Harford's low-income housing. He said he cannot support the project, until the federal government freezes subsidized, or Section 8, housing in Edgewood.

"We are tired of having Section 8 shoved down our throats and tired of the element of crime that comes with it," Gibson said. "The community is inundated with Section 8. It has caused us harm and devalued our homes. I want those buildings torn down, but, until they promise us no Section 8, I want no new building."

During the informational meeting, The Shelter Group staff insisted that the homes will be sold at market value. The senior apartments, a mix of one- and two-bedroom floor plans, will be age-limited to lease holders, who are 62 and older. Younger family members will not be allowed to reside with the tenant and controls will be in place to ensure residents adhere to the terms of the lease.

"We are not planning low-income housing," Rosen repeatedly said at the meeting.

Beth Hendrix, deputy director of the county Department of Community Services, said officials realize low-income housing is a valid concern for Edgewood, but they remain committed to the project.

"The county and the developer are trying to be open and honest about this project," she said.

Residents saw a site plan that included a village green entryway, walking paths and pocket parks with benches. The drawing also showed a new access road that the developer will build to connect the property to Willoughby Beach Road.

The audience raised questions about traffic and infrastructure. They also wanted assurances that the contractor will complete the work, regardless of the economy. Several developments in the area have suffered from the downturn in the housing market and remain unfinished.

"Our contract with the county requires that we finish the plan," said Jeffrey K. Hettleman, executive vice president of The Shelter Group.

Hettleman also assured the audience that he will refer all comments to the planning and zoning department, which reviews all development plans.

"By the end of the meeting, people seemed to be satisfied with the answers," Hendrix said. "They were asking when the demolition would occur because they want to come out and watch."

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