Friday, February 19, 2016

Affordable Housing and demolition on North Avenue

Woda Development, headquartered in Ohio, has become a hero of affordable housing in Baltimore, especially after the record time re-build of the Mary Harvin Transformation Center with 61 affordable apartments for senior citizens and a community center with job training, counseling for those living with HIV/AIDS and other services after the devastating fire on the day of last April's unrest.

The current conditions of the north side of the 3000 block proposed for the new affordable apartments 
Woda had already completed affordable housing in Penn North, a few hundred feet from where the unrest had started, the 91 unit Penn Square Apartments. And further west on North Avenue, in 2012 Woda had completed  the Gateway South development, affordable units designed by Cho Benn and Holback which I highlighted in a architectural critique as an example that affordable housing doesn't have to be ugly.

Yesterday, Kevin V. Bell, Senior Vice President at the Woda Group was back in Baltimore for the presentation of the Gateway North Apartments, right across from his earlier project in the 3000 block of West North Avenue. The project sitting within view of Coppin University will be 82,000 sf, 41 apartments and a smattering of retail and community spaces.
Proposed Woda Design (Marks Thomas Architects)

UDARP was not entirely smitten by the proposal. They criticized that the two sole demo survivors, previously rehabbed rowhouses were too isolated to be convincing. Panelists requested that the differentiation between the part of the block with retail and the part without should pick up the language of the existing conditions in which the rowhouses are set back from the sidewalk. They suggested that the massing should be broken up to reflect what was successfully done on the south blocks. Especially the two lane drive that takes up almost the entire backyard drew comments. It was seen as a waste of space when a narrower one way circulation system could easily be conceived. Developer Kevin Bell got visibly agitated by some of the suggestions, signaling to his design team members to object.
The south block is broken up with access in the center
While the south-side was built on largely vacant land, the north-side requires demolition of an entire row of dilapidated historic houses and a large villa. The missed preservation aspect of the design got short thrift in the review because the presentation aerial had craftily photo-shopped away what was to be demolished, no historic preservation rules apply here and clearly, the developer didn't want to deal with rehabilitation and single rowhomes or villas to complicate the project supported by low income tax credits.

The two rowhouses were only spared the wrecking ball because they are owned by the City which is also the offerer of the land for this project and were fixed up with City funds. The most significant but dilapidated corner house was suggested to be taken down and replaced by a row of trees to cover up some of the now exposed firewall in plain view when going west on North Avenue. All other structures, including a once fairly splendid villa were not even mentioned, much less discussed.
The proposed north block (Marks Thomas)

Sure, the villa is completely devoured by weeds and is not in stable shape anymore, but as everybody knows by now, those buildings can be restored beautifully and can add an authentic note to new construction.

How beautiful would it be to take the corner-house on the east end out of the deal and let HABC find somebody to renovate it and use the villa for the community functions. With all this new demo money flowing into the City, Housing should prove, that demolition is their last resort as Commissioner Graziano never tires to emphasize.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article about UDARP (subscribers only)

Looking west on North Avenue, Coppin State is not far

Current abandoned rowhouses along the 3000 block are set back

the demolition of this opulent manison was not even mentioned in the UDARP presentation 

Woda Senior VP, Kevin Bell (Photo: BBJ)