City's vision for a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood: $250,000 solar-powered homes in an 'eco-village'

Mark Washington, the director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., talks Friday about a plan to build homes on a span of empty lots.
Mark Washington, the director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., talks Friday about a plan to build homes on a span of empty lots. (Ian Duncan / The Baltimore Sun)

A City Council member recalled how a decade ago, a street was so swarmed with drug dealers that you could barely drive down it.

On Friday, Democratic Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke returned to Tivoly Avenue with city officials from the mayor on down to announce a plan to line it with homes built with the latest construction techniques and selling for quarter of a million dollars.


“This is the promised land here today,” Clarke said of a neighborhood that in its earliest days offered residents yards and more space for their families as they moved up from East Baltimore. “It’s always been right here. We celebrate finding it again in this moment.”

The ambitious development proposal would transform a section of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood dubbed Tivoly Triangle. Officials and the developers are banking on the area’s proximity to some good schools and access to jobs at Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins Hospital to support the asking prices, which will be vastly higher than those for existing rowhouses nearby.

With Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger opting against reelection bids, more than 50 years of institutional memory will exit the Baltimore City Council chambers. They say it's time to let younger members carry on. City Hall is in flux because of the resignation of Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Michael Braverman, the city’s housing commissioner, is confident the new houses can sell and that the proposal is in line with a vision long held by neighborhood leaders.

“This is the aspiration of this community,” Braverman said.

The event Friday was to announce the selection of a partnership between Urban Green and LNW&A Development to carry out the first stage of the project.

The developers want to build 39 houses along the 2700 block of Tivoly Avenue, a mix of two- and three-bedroom homes. They call the project an “eco-village” that would generate the energy residents need to run their homes.


Mark James, the president of Urban Green, which is based in Washington, said the idea is to “create a new future.”

“Some people look at development based on the historical side of what the real estate is doing. In our case, we’re really talking about recreating the market,” James said.

For a decade the number of vacant houses in Baltimore has remained stubbornly flat, with almost 17,000 abandoned buildings blighting the city's streets. Housing officials say they're in a position to drive that number down by demolishing an average of four houses a day until next summer.

That means attracting people to the area. James said residents in the neighborhood will see new faces, families he expects to be drawn to the modern houses themselves, as well as to the schools and Clifton Park, which is just on the other side of Harford Road.

Some current residents attended Friday’s announcement and lingered afterward to inspect the architect’s renderings and a plan for a second phase of the project. They saw illustrations of two-story homes, topped with solar panels, forming an “L” around a park and connected by tree-lined streets and alleys.

Currently, the triangular area bounded by Harford Road, the Alameda and East 28th Street is mix of grassy lots, vacant houses awaiting demolition and a scattering of occupied homes. Rowhouses nearby are listed for sale at prices between $40,000 and $100,000.

Lena Horne, who said she was among the first African Americans to move to the area in the 1960s, asked representatives from the developers whether a proposed clubhouse would be open to existing residents. They didn’t know.

Horne, 68, said the prices the developers are pitching were “a lot of money,” but she hoped attracting people to the area might drive up the value of her home, which is across from the area being considered for redevelopment.

“If it looks right and they clean up the neighborhood, it will be alright,” she said. “I can see myself selling my home and making something off it.”

Morgan State University has reached a deal with developers to revamp the nearby Northwood Plaza shopping center, the president of the university tweeted.

Already, $10 million has been spent clearing the old vacant houses from the site and relocating the residents. If the second phase of the project gets going, more will have to be moved.

When Michelle Kane looked at the renderings, the 53-year-old saw that the area of the new park would include where her home stands. Won J. Lee’s store was nowhere to be found either. The two women sought answers from city officials and businessmen who were on hand.

Davin Hong, the architect for the project, told them the second phase was still “speculative.”

“It’s all to be determined,” Hong said. “What’s shown is just ‘What if.’ ”

Kane approached Braverman, who promised to connect her with someone from his team.

“I would expect those conversations to have happened with somebody,” he said.

The Baltimore housing department has a new framework for community development using targeted impact areas and new investment funds, under a plan to be released Wednesday by the Pugh administration. Commissioner Michael Braverman said the housing department is zeroed in on addressing blight.

“Nothing, we’ve had nothing,” Kane said.

While the second phase — 40 more homes, including some detached houses the developer hopes to sell for almost $300,000 — is still in the works, even the first part of the job could be a long time coming.

Jay Greene, the housing department’s chief of operations, said the award to the developer begins a period of negotiation over the terms of the transfer of the land. James said he still needs to determine the financing for the project, and it could be 18 months before ground is broken.

Nonetheless, community leaders were excited by what they saw Friday.

The officials credited Mark Washington, the director of the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp., for advocating for the neighborhood. Braverman told the crowd who had gathered for the event that Washington was “the hero of the day.”

Taking his turn at the podium after the politicians had spoken, Washington said the neighborhood’s leaders had reached this point because they “dared to dream and dared to believe.”

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