While bulldozers moved earth in the background, more than 100 people crowded into a tent in Middle River on Thursday to celebrate the rebirth of a 17-acre site on Baltimore County's east side.
The county has razed a crime-ridden apartment complex and brokered a partnership to build Renaissance Square, a community that promises affordable homes to seniors and working families. Officials, developers, clergy and former Kingsley Park residents extolled the project, which includes 81 apartments for seniors and 115 homes, many of them priced for moderate-income families.
"This has been a long journey, from a blighted community to stalemates with the property's owner to acquisition of this property, and now to newfound hope that this community will again be a neighborhood," said Councilman John Olszewski Sr. "Seniors who have paid their dues through a lifetime of work will live here along with working families."
The county purchased Kingsley Park Apartments in 2003, razed the buildings, relocated 300 tenant families and made plans to sell the land for new development. The deal cost taxpayers nearly $5 million, and an estimated $11 million was forgiven in state and federal loans owed by the previous owners. As part of its purchase agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the county had to ensure that 75 percent of the homes would be sold to buyers who met income eligibility requirements. Officials quickly discovered that those restrictions deterred most developers.
Instead of selling the land, the County Council approved a deal in 2007 to give the property on Old Eastern Avenue, and $4.1 million in subsidies, to Enterprise Homes and Mark Building, a move that some council members questioned. "I know there was some disagreement," Olszewski said. "We spend a lot of money on land preservation in northern areas of the county. Here we are spending money on the preservation of community."
Chickie Grayson, president and chief executive officer of Enterprise Homes, said the company would not have been able to build the project without public money. The company broke ground about six weeks ago, with the first senior housing units expected to be ready for occupancy at the end of this year.
"This is a great day in Middle River and the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this community," said County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "Now there will be a new neighborhood, where there was once squalor."