Monday, June 29, 2015

Uplands without the Red Line: What's next?

More than a decade after boarding up the two and three story low income brick walk-ups, most of the former low income community called Uplands still looks like a weedy field. Only a small segment is built and it resembles somebody dropping a piece of suburbia from one of the new subdivisions in Howard or Baltimore County there. What went wrong?

Almost everything. And the loss of the Red Line won't help.

As another heroic effort of super-sized urban renewal, the Uplands have been burdened by all the same albatrosses that hung around the neck of other urban renewal efforts which consisted of clearing parts of Baltimore's poorer neighborhoods for a presumably better future.
Uplands in 1997

The original government initiative of creating a mono-culture of housing for war veterans thrown up to relieve post WWII housing shortages was well intended, even though it was steeped in the then common segregationist approach, black veterans to Cherry Hill and whites to the Uplands.

Initially the Uplands thrived, the tree lined streets looked compatible with surrounding neighborhoods and almost a 1000 units formed a real community.  But as is so frequent for affordable housing "projects", the complex fell into the hands of bad management and the area became a menace to the surrounding stable neighborhoods. After the head of the Maryland Property Group, which managed the apartments at the time, was convicted of embezzlement and went to the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, PA, the entire complex fell into receivership. and every last family was moved out. All thousand units were boarded up. HUD eventually gave it all to the City, all buildings got leveled, a masterplan developed (Goody Clancy, Boston) and a request for proposals was issued to develop the area back.

Pennrose eventually became the master developer, and was charged to complete the final step of what had been the HOPE VI formula for Murphy Homes, Lexington Terrace and Lafayette Square: displace demolish, and redevelop in a suburban style with a mix of for sale and rental homes and a mix of affordable and market rate.
suburban rental homes in the new Uplands
Except, somehow, out here, at the Uplands, demand for the new homes is sluggish and the vast dirt-fields weigh heavily on the few retailers remaining in the area that still reel from having lost 1000 households full of shoppers. The redevelopment is (Slogan: Suburban charm urban convenience") appears to be stuck in a time warp, between the time when the suburbs lost appeal and the city gained it with the real benefits of neither.
US 40 today, looking west with Skill Center on the left

A precedent of TOD in a similar situation, (Tempe, AZ)
Recently Councilwoman Helen Holton had stirred some hope that the Red Line could fuel advancement of the school plans for Edmondson High and make the Skill Center south of Edmondson available for somewhat denser transit oriented development that could help transform the ailing but historic Edmondson Village shopping center become part of a true village center with the Red Line Station in the center.

Those plans now lost a key element of leverage: The Red Line and promises to be one of the many victims of this huge loss of urban investment. It would have at least brought urban charm within reach.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

ArchPlan Inc. has been a consultant for Maryland Properties in 1997 compiling a feasibility analysis for renovation of the 1000 Upland Units. As a member of the AIA Urban Design Committee I participated in discussions with Baltimore Housing about the future of Uplands, the RFP and assisted in making TOD a component of the master developer RFP. ArchPlan was a consultant on the Red Line and assisted Councilwoman Helen Holton in defining possible development scenarios along the southside of US 40.

See also a 2013 Blog Article I posted on the Uplands.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

RIP Baltimore Red Line - Gloria Transit Mundi

A proper translation of this line of Latin would say:  Rest in peace Red Line, so goes the glory of the world. 
But let's butcher the translation a bit and say:
The Red Line has been killed but glory to the transit of the world!

Grant Corley of the volunteer action committee Red Line Now has written a wonderful obituary after the Governor killed the Baltimore Rail transit project that he and his group had fought so hard to keep. I want to share it here:

"Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.” — Winston Churchill

"Not to dream boldly may turn out to be simply irresponsible." — George Leonard
Light Rail in Minneapolis/St Paul, expanding. 
--------

The enormity of the damage inflicted on the Baltimore region by Gov. Hogan's irresponsible decision to kill the Red Line cannot be overstated. A stunning opportunity has been squandered, a city's potential curtailed on a scale difficult to fathom.

The Red Line would have directly created thousands of jobs and indirectly supported hundreds of thousands more throughout our region. It would have connected residents in isolated communities with work and opportunity. It would have made the city more attractive to Millennials and Baby Boomers who are looking to move to urban environments with quality transit. And, contrary to opponents' claims, it would have finally given Baltimore a connected public transit system, with vital links to the Metro Subway, the Central Light Rail, MARC, and our bus network.

Opponents complained the Red Line should not be built because it wasn't perfect enough, conveniently ignoring the fact that every major infrastructure project is imperfect and requires compromise and practicality to be ushered into the real world.

Opponents got their way. Now, instead of practicality — we have nothing at all.

For many of our neighbors in West Baltimore, this is a tragedy. It continues the long legacy of cutting off their communities from the rest of the region and its economy. In Southeast Baltimore, it will be interesting to see how residents deal with increasing traffic and parking headaches now that there will be no new transit alternative, particularly with massive new developments planned throughout the district. Perhaps a Circulator can be tossed on the street, but this is redundant to the existing MTA buses, and it will be stuck in traffic along with everyone else.

It is unlikely that the Red Line will be revived, at least for the foreseeable future. The $1 billion in federal funding waiting for the project will disappear soon. Too bad: the Red Line was truly on the one-yard line when it was fumbled.

So, the question is: what do we do now?

For one thing: hold your elected representatives accountable, at both the local and state level. While some of our electeds did stand firm for the Red Line, support from local and state officials overall was tepid, at best. Then, of course, there was the handful of local politicians who worked overtime to criticize and undermine the Red Line. They succeeded, and Baltimore has come up empty-handed, and all the poorer for it.

Generally speaking, if Baltimore-area residents want quality transit, we have to start organizing for it. We need to make it an ongoing issue, as much as schools, crime, taxes and trash. If elected officials are not confronted by the overwhelming need for better citywide transit, then they can continue to comfortably ignore it. We need to be in officials' faces at meetings, on the campaign trail, and in the media.

And we need regional transit solutions that serve the city and county. Beware of boutique "solutions" like streetcars and circulators with questionable funding, limited routes, and generally half-baked schemes.

Congratulations to our friends at Purple Line Now! and all of those who support the Purple Line in the DC suburbs. 

Although the Governor is severely cutting back the funding allocated for that project, it has a lifeline for now, and it will serve residents of the Washington area well.

We do want to thank our elected officials who valiantly DID fight for the Red Line. And we want to thank you, Red Line Now followers, for voicing your support and doing what you could to agitate for the project. 

For the moment, we have lost a worthy dream for our dear old city, but you have fought the good fight. Baltimore needs more of that as we move into our new landscape, whatever that may be.

Grant Corley
Red Line Now!

Thank you, Grant, for allowing me to post this here. Your setting your eyes on the future is much appreciated, no matter that the current administration has announced a trip back to the asphalt  policies of the fifties, not provided any alternative, slighted thousands that had formed a broad regional consensus on what to do and chose to stab a dagger into the heart of our region. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Red Line killed, Purple Line to move forward with 1/4 of State funding

Here the latest news collated by Bill Tarr of the MTA:

Special Edition
Hogan says no to Red Line, yes to Purple
By Michael Dresser
The Baltimore Sun
June 25, 2015, 3:09 PM
Dashing Baltimore's hopes for an east-west light rail line, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he will not build the $2.9 billion Red Line.
"The current proposal makes no sense whatsoever," the governor told a State House news conference.
But Hogan, making his first appearance since announcing Monday he has cancer, gave mass transit advocates a limited victory by giving the green light to construction of a slimmed-down version of the Purple Line light rail project in the Washington suburbs.
During his campaign last year, Hogan had said the state could not afford either project. After he took office, however, he ordered Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn to evaluate both and make a recommendation on whether to proceed.
By deciding not to go ahead with the Red Line, the Republican governor is dealing a major blow to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had hoped that construction of the light rail project across Baltimore would bring a windfall in terms of jobs and economic development.
As planned, the 14-mile Red Line would run from Woodlawn in the west to Bayview in the east, with trains running in a tunnel under downtown, Harbor East and Fells Point. The governor's decision comes after years of environmental studies and public meetings and tens of millions of dollars in state spending on design and engineering.
Rahn said Thursday the "fatal flaw" of the Red Line project was the plan to rely on a $1 billion tunnel under downtown, Harbor East and Fells Point. He said the administration would try to provide transportation assistance to Baltimore in others ways, but he offered no specifics.
Hogan also announced almost $2 billion in spending for road and bridge projects on state highways. Asked if any of that money would go to state roadways within the Baltimore city limits, Hogan said, "Not that I know of."

=========================================================
Maryland will move forward on Purple Line, with counties’ help
By Robert McCartney,, Ovetta Wiggins and Katherine Shaver
Bethesda Now
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) gave tentative approval to the Purple Line Thursday, saying he is willing to build the light-rail line if Montgomery and Prince George’s counties pick up more of the cost and the project is modified to save state taxpayers money. The state’s portion of the cost would be $168 million, he said.
Partly to appease his political base in rural areas and outer suburbs, Hogan simultaneously announced he was increasing spending on roads and bridges by $1.35 billion in coming years.
Hogan’s conditional backing for the 16-mile Purple Line marks a significant reversal for a staunch fiscal conservative who strongly opposed the project when he campaigned for governor last year.
He shifted under pressure from Washington-area politicians and business leaders, who said the project was crucial to improving transit and encouraging economic development n the inner suburbs. He also was apparently influenced by Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn, who came to support the project as long as the costs were reduced.
Nevertheless, the new conditions that Hogan attached to the project disappointed some Purple Line supporters. They worried the process of winning final approval would drag out so long that it would die for lack of support needed from private companies and the federal government.
In a reversal of his own, Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett (D) said he was willing to consider contributing $50 million more to the project providing it were not altered so much that it cost Montgomery the economic and transportation benefits.
Leggett previously had said Montgomery couldn’t afford to spend any more for the project. It was not immediately clear whether Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D), whose county isn’t as flush as Montgomery, would be willing to ante up more, as well.
=========================================================
Hogan Says State Will Move Forward with the Purple Line
The state will budget significantly less for the project
BY ANDREW METCALF
Gov. Larry Hogan has decided the state will move forward with the Purple Line. The Republican governor made his decision after months of speculation about whether he’ll kill the $2.45 billion light-rail project.
Hogan said the state will fund the project with $168 million, “a fraction” of the cost of the $700 million previously proposed. The governor said he will ask Montgomery County and Prince George's County to increase the size of their investments.
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said the alignment will remain the same.
This post will be updated as we hear more information about the governor’s new plan. The project got its start as a proposal for a trolley running along an abandoned railroad line—known as the Georgetown Branch—about 30 years ago.
Since then the project has ballooned in scope to a 16-mile train system linking Bethesda with New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Its 21 stations would include locations in downtown Silver Spring and at the University of Maryland. The project is designed to connect neighborhoods in southern Montgomery and Prince George’s counties with employment centers like Bethesda, Silver Spring and College Park.
Over the years the project has gone through name and design changes. Former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich dubbed it the “Bi-County Transitway” and also attempted to have it turned from a rail system to a bus system to reduce costs. Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley restored the Purpl Line name after defeating Ehrlich in 2006. In 2013, the Maryland General Assembly approved a gas tax increase to raise funds to build transportation projects, including the Purple Line.
But Hogan put the project back into limbo when he was elected in November. The governor frequently criticized the project for being too expensive while on the campaign trail last year.
After taking office, Hogan stayed largely quiet on the project, except for an interview in May with The Washington Post in which he said the price of project is not acceptable. In June, the newspaper reported the state’s transportation secretary, Pete Rahn, was backing the project, but only if costs could be reduced.
Since Hogan took office, supporters of the Purple Line have focused on its business development potential. Business groups as well as transit advocacy groups have lobbied the governor by saying the light-rail is likely to spur development along its route and bring jobs to the state—a key campaign promise of Hogan’s.
Previously, advocates highlighted the route’s potential to alleviate the congestion on the overtaxed roadways of southern Maryland. The project has long been derided by opponents. A
Wall Street Journal columnist questioned the ridership numbers. The Town of Chevy Chase spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against it. The county and state had to iron out an agreement with Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase to mitigate the rail line’s impact on its property.
Even a tiny shrimp-like creature—an endangered amphipod—has gotten caught up in the controversy surrounding the project. The amphipod is the subject of a federal lawsuit contesting that the project will damage the critter’s habitat, a possible violation of the Endangered Species Act.
If the light-rail train is built, the Maryland Transit Administration estimates it will carry about
58,000 riders per day if it opens as scheduled in 2020 and ridership could rise to 74,000 by 2040.
Under the most recent cost-sharing plan, the state would split the costs with the federal government, and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties as well as the private contractor that would be picked to build the rail line. The state would commit around $700 million, the federal government had planned to kick in another $900 million and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties planned to pay $120 million each. The private provider would pay the difference, based on the bid the state selects. The state has estimated the line will cost about $550 million per year to operate.
The Purple Line is one of two major transportation initiatives being pursued currently in the county, with the other being a network of bus rapid transit routes that have also been running into political opposition.
=========================================================
30

Comment:

Hogan calls the Red Line fundamentally flawed, Rahn identifies the "at least one billion dollar tunnel" as the fatal flaw. He cited the current LRT line as the second worst performing in the country. One of its problems is that it fights surface traffic downtown.In light of this particular reference, it is hard to see how the suggested Red Line tunnel is supposed to be the deciding flaw. Those tunnels for light rail are common the world over. In the US we see them in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Pittsburgh.

It is also difficult to understand why Hogan Rahn can be so dismissive about a design that passed all reviews of the Federal Transit Administration and rigorous performance tests including cost effectiveness.
The suggested expenditures of nearly two billion dollars on highways, $850 million of that on brand new road projects is even harder to understand. "Roads in every county of the state" as the Governor stressed, including $190 million for widening Route 404 going to the beach.

One can only assume that it is a political decision to build at least one of the lines, spend lots of money on highways and bad-mouth the line that had to be killed.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Decision time for transportation in Maryland. Today?


Governor Hogan, himself battling life changing cancer is scheduled to make major announcements today about Maryland's infrastructure and transportation system that will be life changing in their own way.
Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn (right). Photo: Daily Record

Since Hogan won the election, a big guessing game has been going on what he will do with the two big "New Starts" transportation projects that have been in the works for over ten years and are projected to cost a combined $5.4 billion dollars, the Purple Line connecting Bethesda with Silver Springa nd New Carrollton and the Red Line connecting Security Square Mall and SSA with the Bayview medical center. Both projects are essentially fully designed and ready for construction beginning in 2016 provided the bid packages are released on time (or in the case of the Purple Line, the design-build-operate Public Private Partnership request for proposals already out gets a new submission deadline). Both projects have received the nod to each get $900 in scarce federal dollars. The O'Malley gas tax increase of 2013 is supposed to fund the State portion for both projects.

With over ten years of planning under the belt and over $450 million spent on design and small amounts of testing soils for tunneling etc., it is fair to say that thousands are waiting very intently for decisions to be made if these projects move forward at all, and if, with what modifications. Businesses, communities, consultants and the regional economy at large hang in the balance. To have these projects or not is expected to make a big difference for the Baltimore and the Washington regions, although opinions on what kind of difference vary. The Baltimore based Daily Record reports today what they expect to be decided regarding the Purple Line:
Hogan tasked Rahn with finding ways to reduce the costs of the project. Sources say $300 million in reductions — a combination of changes in design elements to stations, changes in how the project is financed, and increasing the contributions required of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties — could be part of the mix should the governor decide to move forward.
Federal legislators have urged Hogan to approve the project citing the loss of $900 million in federal aid. (article)

In the last few days there is an additional buzz about the possibility of MARC trains to be extended to Delaware and about prospects for a MagLev super fast train between Baltimore and Washington. It is possible that these discussions are the administration's way of throwing some meat to transit
(Photo: SUN)
supporters, should the decision be to kill the Purple Line cold. Red Line supporters will try to read from the Purple Line decision what it may mean for the fate of the Baltimore transit line. Is having the Purple Line move forward in some form a good sign for the red Line or does it mean that its chances get diminished in light of an administration that has cast doubt on these lines being "affordable".

It is likely that this evening there will be some more clarity about the future of transit in Maryland.

Update: Shortly after noon, the WP reported this:
Gov. Larry Hogan will announce plans to spend nearly $2 billion on roads, highways and bridges throughout the state of Maryland, a state senator who has been informed of the announcement said Thursday.
Of that, that $1.35 billion will be for new projects, Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Harford County, said. About $625 million will be announced for projects that already have been lined up.
“I think it’s definitely needed, especially with regards to the maintenance of our infrastructure,” Jennings said.
A senior Hogan administration official confirmed the details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak ahead of the announcement Thursday afternoon.
If correct this would mean the end of at least one of the rail projects since the additional road funding would have to come from the transportation trust fund and Hogan has eliminated any additional intake.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Links:
SUN article about possible extension of Maryland commuter trains up to Delaware
Washington Post article about possible extension of Maryland commuter trains up to Delaware

Purple Line alignment (from Purple Line website)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The suburban office park struggles to survive

The death of anything is usually not good news, but here is an exception: reports of the death of the suburban office park may be exaggerated but they are welcome to anyone who has seen the damage those office parks in the middle of nowhere are doing to landscapes, cities and those who have to work there.
Rutherford Office Park in Woodlawn, Baltimore County

PES, a DC based economic consultant just inside the District line from Maryland and run by by Anita B. Morrison and Abigail B. Ferretti, studied Montgomery County's office parks and came away with stunning, but not entirely surprising insights such as this:
By mid-year 2014, 11 large Montgomery County office buildings totaling 2.25 million square feet stood almost or totally vacant, and another nine, totaling 1.4 million more square feet, were “almost totally available,”

The numbers, to be honest, show a weakness in the overall regional office market, not just Montgomery County and not just single use office parks.

“Plentiful free parking is no longer sufficient to attract tenants,” the report finds.
In desirable submarkets with lower vacancy rates, public transportation access and mixed-use environments, recovery will come faster. For single-use office parks, “new construction will come much more slowly.”
Rutherford Park: Greenery, parking and easy beltway access are not enough
The study’s results may not shock, but they are sobering. And this is by no means only a Montgomery County issue. More than 71 million square feet of office space is vacant across the D.C. region. Fairfax County, Va., accounts for the largest share, 28 percent, followed by D.C. with 22 percent, Montgomery with 15 percent and Prince George’s County with 7 percent. In Loudoun, Va., huge swaths of land are zoned for office parks that have not been built because there’s no leasing interest.

Baltimore area office parks are located in the County along I-695 on the west (The Rutherford Park near Martins West), in Hunt Valley and Owings Mills.  Except for the westside, the other areas are struggling to become mixed use "town-centers", a move that cannot come fast enough if the PES study is representative.
The study’s recommendations:
  • Diversify existing office parks with a mix of uses
  • Invest in transit
  • Use tax-increment financing to fund parking garages that eliminate surface parking lots, freeing up land for infill development
  • Create and upgrade public spaces and the “walkable environment"
  • Remove “any zoning impediments” to redevelopment
PES' recommendation #2 makes transit an asset that speaks for Hunt Valley and Owings Mills and an argument that applies to both the Red and the Purple lines that would both increase access to office parks and employment centers.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


BBJ article about the PES report

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The post-steel future of Sparrows Point

If one looks at the great post industrial reclamations from the Ruhr valley in Germany to the rebirth of Pittsburgh and the High Line in New York, the Docklands in London or Hafen City in Hamburg, one wonders if Maryland spent enough time thinking about the future of one of the greatest sites of all, Sparrows Point. 

Already the great monuments of steel making are largely leveled, re-purposing was not considered. History obliterated.
Demolition at Sparrows Point (Sun photo)


The site deserves as much consideration as, say, the old Stapleton Airport site in Denver, place of a whole new city based on competitions and lots of masterplanning. It doesn't seem to happen where Bethlehem steel once stood. Instead of a public debate the private owner commissioned a masterplan and parts of the site are already assigned to warehousing and the like. 

Not likely that something as great as Bethlehem Steel will rise there again. Instead pragmatic, impromptu and maybe useful stuff will spring up. As County Councilman Todd Crandell puts it, "I am glad there is an owner who is willing to stick with this for a a longer time, not just suck profits out and leave and has the capacity to deal with the big environmental issues.
Greatness which would be responsive to the stunning qualities of this site would take a very hard push. Now would be the time to ensure that such a masterplan as conceived, not only one that administers opportunities that happen to come along. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

SUN article
http://www.baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz-sparrows-point-tour-20150622-story.html
BBJ article

updated after an inquiry with Councilman Crandell.

the stunning location of Sparrows Point

Port Authority Sites in relation to Sparrows Point


Monday, June 22, 2015

Another chapter in the the long history of the Congress Hotel

Zahlco, a company based in Pikesville and Toronto has bought the Congress Hotel on 306 West Franklin Street for $3 million, a price that is lower than the renovation cost was 15 years ago. The company plans to spend another million dollars to upgrade the place and increase the rents by 20-30%. The building is currently almost fully occupied except for the commercial and retail spaces on the first floor.
Congress Hotel as seen from the alley across Franklin Street


From a 1999 SUN article:
"Doing the Congress has been a dream of mine for many, many years, and now maybe it will finally come true," he said. "I think that with the city's newfound interest on the west side, [it] will be a showpiece for the area and a catalyst for additional development. All of the studies show there is a pent-up demand for housing" on the west side.
Ted Rouse, a partner of Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, said he is especially encouraged by other development near the Congress, such as the Gallery Towers apartments at 111 E. Centre St. and the conversion to office space of the former Hochschild Kohn warehouse at Park Avenue and Centre Street.
Rouse said he expects the apartments to attract young urban professionals and others who want to live within walking distance of downtown Baltimore and cultural institutions such as the Peabody Institute.
"We think the neighborhood is improving and there's a renaissance of interest in downtown housing," Rouse said. "This is such a beautiful, historic building. There's a growing recognition that the Charles Street corridor can expand" and "the 500 and 600 blocks of Howard St. can be an anchor for activity."
With a project cost of over $5 million in 2000 the original team sold the property in 2013 for 2.35 million. The sale of $3 million in 2015 shows recent appreciation but a loss for the original rehab team. That is not too surprising if one takes current conditions and compares them with the aspirations Ted Rouse had in 1999. The 500 and 600 block of Howard Street are still in the same condition they were then, even though 521 Park Avenue is a strong indicator for a better future. One would wish that the pitch given in the advertisement for the Congress would be closer to reality:
A beautiful historic landmark in a cosmopolitan neighborhood, The Congress offers luxurious amenities and remarkable conveniences. The Congress is situated near the Seton Hill Market Center and surrounded by prestigious Mt. Vernon communities. Boutiques, theaters, museums, concert halls and first class dining fare are all within a short stroll. A variety of distinct floorplans to choose from, all have been remarkably updated, you'll find everything you need with all the comforts of home and the convenience of downtown living. With its classic architecture and charming atmosphere, The Congress stands in a class of its own.
 As for Winstead Rouse, son of the legendary Jim Rouse, he still believes in the Westside and is currently pursuing a theater coop in the  400 block of Howard Street. As I noted earlier in a separate posting, there is indeed much progress in the area, it is just coming later than anticipated.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article
1999 article when renovation was announced

Don't move train station from Main Street

Protest
A request to move the Laurel MARC train station to the races a mile or so to the north would be counter to previously stated policies of supporting small towns, main streets and historic town cores.



The vice president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, Sal Sinatra, suggested moving Preakness from Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course to Laurel Park last month. (Capital Gazette)
Laurels historic train station at the foot of its Main Street, place of an impressive annual Fourth of July parade, is key to Laurel's identity as an incorporated small town, the only one in Prince George's County that has its own zoning authority. A station makes a town a real place, maybe more so than even city hall. 

The station was also key to several recent TOD initiatives of MDOT that includes new apartments near the station and a restoration of the station building itself. 
HANOVER, MD (December 3, 2009) - Transportation Secretary Beverley K. Swaim-Staley today announced the award of exclusive negotiating rights to Patriot Realty of Rockville to develop a transit-oriented development at the Laurel MARC Station.  This award moves this planned Smart Growth development one more step forward in creating a mixed-use project that will provide retail, office and residential space around one of the busiest transit stations along the MARC Camden line."By creating development and density around established transit stations, we can improve the adjacent communities, increase transit use and create a better environment by reducing the number of cars on the road," said Secretary Swaim-Staley.  "Governor O'Malley has made Transit-Oriented Development projects a top priority because they link land use and transportation in a way that benefits both residents and the environment." (MDOT press release)
The idea of moving the station has come up before, for decades actually, originally revolving around the lack of parking at the Main Street station. The Laurel Race Track station already exists as a on demand stop and the 2020 MARC masterplan indicates expanded parking there but not moving the downtown Laurel station.
The Laurel Trains station before renovation work

Laurel Train Station, a designated historic structure

It had just seemed that a new understanding of urban design that sees a station as a center of activity and not a center of a parking lot prevailed for good. 

But there is always an opportunity of reverting from smart growth back to dumb growth. Let's hope, though, this isn't the case in Laurel a town struggling to hold its own in a sea of sprawl. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Capital Gazette article:


Friday, June 19, 2015

Baltimore Heritage recognizes successful Baltimore preservation projects

Last night preservationists convened at the historic refurbished bank that is now the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater downtown to celebrate successful historic preservation across Maryland.

Notable preservation designs that received awards from Baltimore Heritage included the Fells Point Police Station, the Shakespeare Theater, 520 Park Avenue, the second floor renovation above City Cafe and MICA's conversion of 1801 Falls Road into their Social Design department and many others.

Daniel Henson (second from right) and his team receiving the award for their upper Fells Point project Fells Point Station
Marty Azola received the Douglas Gordon Award for his many decades of developing outstanding preservation projects from the Towson jail to the just recently completed Ivy luxory hotel.  

Maybe most memorable was Mark Thistel's introduction for the award to the Downtown Partnership for their 2011 initiative of the downtown designation of historic landmarks, a significant change of mind regarding historic preservation.

Among the awards were two about historic Baltimore communities. Naturally, I am happy to report that the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation  (DHCDC) and "Community Architect" ArchPlan, my firm, got one of the historic communities awards for restoring 10 historic but completely dilapidated rowhouses on Druid Hill Avenue and McCulloh Street for first time homebuyers. (The DHCDC Gateway Development). MC Mark Thistel did not fail to mention that those homes are located within a 1/2 mile of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, the core area of the West Baltimore unrest, an area with scarce investment.

This was not an easy task, because those houses were mere ruins (see photos below) when we started under a program for tax credits really designed for homeowners and not a CDC.  There were marble wainscot panels to be collected in the basements and installed back at the entry vestibules, balusters to be constructed from scratch while newel posts that had somehow miraculously survived in some instances needed to be kept. One ruin had to be clawed back from city condemnation and all had to be documented in the lovely three part tax credit applications to be filled out for each property individually and approved by both the Maryland Historic Trust (MHT) and the National Park Service. 

There is some irony to the current condition that such buildings either perish entirely by neglect or they are restored to the famous Standards of the Secretary of the Interior which are, shall we say, meticulous. There should be something between these extremes, but that is another story. 


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Druid Heights Community is a once flourishing rowhouse community
where enough of the fabric and many occupied homes still line major arteries like McCulloh and Druid Heights
that demolition would be a bad option.



From the front houses still look reasonably intact 
From the inside utter devastation makes historic preservation according to the rules an almost impossible task


Features like the mosaic tiles, the ceiling medaillons, the plaster moldings and stair railings need to be
painstakenly restored or reconstructed.
Stair configurations, locations and railing details had to be restored to a state as they used to be when intact

Roscoe Johnson of the Druid Heights CDC sits on a
reconstructed stair
From the DHCDC website:
The Gateway Housing Development (Gateway) targeted vacant buildings existing between the 1800 – 2200 blocks of McCulloh Street and Druid Hill Avenues. These streets serve as the main entry and exit through fares for the neighborhood. The Gateway Development will also rehabilitate vacant houses on targeted blocks in order to stabilize that area of the community.
The Druid Heights community is located within the Old West Baltimore Historical District. The revitalization of the homes will provide opportunities for potential homeowners to benefit from Maryland Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit issued by Maryland Department of Planning and the Maryland Historical Trust.
All houses will include “Green Building” amenities that will include modern kitchens and bathrooms with all new appliances. The houses will contain all new roofing, flooring, and heating, plumbing and central air conditioning systems. The total square footage of the houses ranges from 1,400 – 2,257. Sales prices start at $109,000.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

A growing cluster of galleries in the Bromo District

With the large and abandoned Metro West office complex looming to the west, the 500 block of West Franklin Street has an unassuming presence with its small houses forming a neat row and edge of the historic Seaton Hill Community extending north. On the South side of the block a large former assisted living complex is currently being transformed into student housing catering to the nearby University of Maryland.

The small storefronts are notoriously hard to fill these days and have seen a steady turnover in recent years from vacant to hair-salon to clothing store back to vacant. But lately the landlord who owns most of these properties, the French Company, has mined the new vibes of the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District by leasing one after the other of the stores to artists for their studios and galleries. FreddyOpen Space,

The latest will be the First World gallery in the place of the former Hair Salon "Perfect Ten" which moved a few buildings to the west into a former McDonalds drive through building. Yesterday you artists were seen carrying out stained drywall to spruce the place up for the brandnew gallery. "It is exciting" one of them said. They promised to keep the storewindows open unlike their neighboring gallery which installed frosted glass.

In support of the galleries including the artists in the H&H camping building Gallery Four a new coffee shop will open across the street on the ground floor of 429 N. Eutaw Street. Tentative name: New American Diner. And to top it off: the Contemptary and Deana Haggag will set shop next to the planned cafe. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Gallery Freddy, Franklin Street

Overview of new activities here

Besides the official Bromo Arts District employees, projects in this area are overseen by bevy of energetic people and offer many other options besides the city’s older established alt spaces. There is the long running Gallery Four, the appropriately namedCurrent, the irony-laden Freddy, the collective Open Space, young and energetic Platform Gallery, the new hyper EMP Collective and more. Not far away on Saratoga Street, housed inside Maryland Art Place, is the godmother of the new West side scene: the long running 14Karat Cabaret.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Making stuff in the postindustrial city


This is the West Baltimore Ice House, now a derelict shell. It was here where ice was made until not all that long ago.

Baltimore is full of such reminders of our past industrial strength. Will making come back to "legacy cities" like Baltimore as manufacturing, as maker spaces or in some other not yet discussed form? 

If you have suggestions, examples, sources for the topic, please send to info@archplan.com for this week's blog article on Community Architect.

Factories in the Carroll Camden Industrial Park

Factories in the Carroll Camden Industrial Park

Factories in the Carroll Camden Industrial Park



Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, June 15, 2015

Anirban Basu's Five Recommendations for a "City on the Hill" - MostlyWrong?

When I read Anirban Basu's opinion piece about Baltimore in the wake of the unrest today (see in full below), I felt compelled to write a rebuttal. (Opinion pieces is not what I  usually do in these daily updates).

Basu's comments all come from the perspective of a man who looks in as a possible business investor or a visitor from another place or the suburbs, not from the perspective of the communities in dire straits, the biblical allusion of "the city on the hill" not withstanding. I can see now why Hogan used him as an adviser.
Economist Basu, a frequent commentator and
adviser in the region.

On his five points, I disagree with four:

1. Reduce the council: I don't think council-manic salaries are a relevant factor in the city's expenses. To have fewer council people, i.e. larger districts will make council people less accountable to their constituents, not more and does not solve the "fiefdom" problem he correctly describes. 

2. Tear down, baby, tear down. It is the rownhouses that he wants torn down at a "Detroit pace" that make the very fabric of our city. I have rehabbed many houses on Fulton Avenue, Monroe, Mount and Carey Streets, on Druid Hill Avenue and McCulloh Street and also done some new construction on Baker Street. Even if full gut rehab is costly, there is no way to replicate the grandeur and beauty of those old big rowhouses and their rich architecture with the type new construction we do or can afford today. Besides, don't forget, there still live people in between the vacants! I say, use Boston and DC as a model, they re-filled their vacants and tore down only a few. 

3. Tax reductions: I agree. The reductions alone will be made up by new growth drawn in by lower property taxes. Basu should advise Hogan to have the State secure the difference so the city can do tax reductions at a faster pace and with less risk.

4. A new Arena and expanded convention center? This is particularly disappointing from an economist. Study after study shows that these investments rarely ever pay off for cities and that the market for conventions is hopelessly overbuilt. Who paid him to stick this recommendation in or does he really believe that the continuation of mega projects will get the city on a sound footing?

5. Panhandling: This one takes the cake. It is panhandlers who keep the city down! Good God, if anyone ever had the economics backwards! 

More in depth articles on urban revitalization, investment and community development can be seen on my blog Community Architect.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore will get better, but only if we make it so

Five ideas to make Baltimore better, starting with a smaller City Council.


It's tough to be from Baltimore. Friends supply assurances that things will get better, but we can't simply hope that time will heal most wounds. We are in trouble, and we are not nearly the city we want to be. Here are five ideas we hope can push us closer to being a city on the hill.


1. Employ fewer council people.

We support 15 members on the Baltimore City Council; 14 are elected by district, and a president is elected at large. Since there are 14 legislative districts in Baltimore, each elected member is a monopolist — head of his or her own fiefdom. This lends itself to political favoritism. Moreover, having so many council people makes it difficult to hold them accountable; there are simply too many to monitor. A recent Baltimore Sun review of nearly 700 City Council committee votes indicates that about a quarter of council members miss their committee votes. Three members missed more than half their votes.
There are also finances to consider. Each of these council people "earn" more than $60,000 per annum serving in these part-time positions in a city of a bit more than 620,000. Other communities support fewer council people and seem to get by just fine. San Francisco, with a population of more than 850,000, has 11 council members; vibrant Seattle, home to more than 650,000 people, supports only nine council members; and Baltimore County, with a population greater than 825,000, supports seven.


2. Tear down vacant homes at a Detroit-like pace.

Whether during the riots or their immediate aftermath, images of Baltimore's abandoned housing stock were on display. Why is this housing stock still in existence? The mayor and City Council are already the largest owners of real estate in Baltimore, and they have significant control over those property owners who have code violations attached to their properties, unpaid taxes and water bills. Detroit figured it out. They recently increased their pace of demolitions from 200 homes per month to 200 per week, though they've also run into funding issues this year.


3. Offer property tax reductions every year without fail.

In her most recent budget, the mayor failed to offer a property tax reduction. Mistake. People are willing to buy into an enterprise with promise even before much of that promise is realized. In financial markets, people search for the next hot stock — the company that's under the radar screen but loaded with potential. Today, Baltimore's property tax rate is not competitive. But more middle class residents will buy into the city if there is a credible promise that the city will chip away at its tax rate year after year. City Hall hasn't bought into this notion yet, but eventually, someone farsighted will.


4. Build a new arena and expand the convention center.

Baltimore obviously has bigger issues than an outdated arena and inadequately sized convention center. But investing in new visitor and meeting capacity is important and represents a way that the state of Maryland can constructively support Baltimore's beleaguered business community. This past legislative session, the governor and general assembly did a credible job dealing with the bulk of the state's structural fiscal shortfalls. For now, the state's AAA bond rating seems secure. Let's leverage that into investment that creates jobs and causes people to reconsider Baltimore.


5. Say no to aggressive panhandling.

We call it the central business district for a reason. Downtowns are about commerce; no shame in that. But wherever one goes, whether in front of Camden Yards or at any prominent intersection, there are panhandlers, many of them aggressive and persistent. In 2011, New Orleans passed a law against aggressive panhandling in its French Quarter including approaching or following pedestrians, repetitive soliciting, or the intentional blocking of pedestrian or vehicular traffic. The city bans panhandling in or near parks and playgrounds. Perhaps most importantly, panhandling cannot occur within 20 feet of an intersection or market crosswalk.

It is time for Baltimore to remind the balance of the world that we can be a gracious, welcoming and charming city. Driving away business and tax base helps no one, particularly those who rely most upon city services.


Anirban Basu (abasu@sagepolicy.com) was a member of Gov. Larry Hogan's transition team and is CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc, where Elizabeth Martin, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, is an intern.