Thursday, May 18, 2017

Suburban City: Orchard Ridge

Baltimore is full of surprises and allows new discoveries all the time. Some of my own recent discoveries will be featured on this blog

Making a turn and being transferred into what looks entirely like a new suburban subdivision in the county is one of the surprises one can have bicycling or driving in Baltimore and turning off the beaten path. 
Orchard Ridge 2017 (photo Philipsen)

Baltimore officials have long believed that suburban housing will attract people to the City.  An example for this concept is Heritage Crossing, the suburban style replacement of what used to be the Murphy Home highrises immediately next to downtown.

Two contemporary examples of giving suburban tract housing developers a piece of the city are on display in the Uplands on the westside of the City and the development of Orchard Ridge on the northeast side, both "subdivisions" by Pennrose. In both cases Pennrose promotes"suburban charm with urban amenities", a slogan that I consider somehow backwards.
Whether you choose a one or two-bedroom apartment or a two or three-bedroom townhome, you’ll find a modern design and large windows that make coming home something special. Adding to these wonderful comforts, you’ll also enjoy all of the extras at Orchard Ridge such as our community room, resident fitness center and a variety of resident events and services.
Orchard Ridge provides residents a quick commute to downtown Baltimore with easy access to I-895, Pulaski Highway, and Belair Road. Located minutes away from Herring Run Park, Orchard Ridge offers residents suburban charm with a close proximity to urban amenities such as shopping, dining and entertainment. (Pennrose brochure)
Suburbia in the City (Photo: Klaus Philipsen)
But the similarities to the suburbs in the counties are superficial, once one understands the genesis of both projects. Both originated with public or low income housing garden apartments deemed obsolete by Baltimore Housing and subsequently demolished in favor of a vaguely new urbanist development mix of homeownership and rental units and also include low income housing and a community center, a mix rarely found in the "real" suburbs.

Orchard Ridge is with just over 54 acres smaller than the Uplands where 1000 garden apartments had been leveled and are planned to be replaced with a total of 691 units, but only a fraction has been built to date. Orchard Ridge's history goes back to 292 units which were completed by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) in 1954 as the Claremont Homes. Together with Freedom Village, a former blighted Federal housing property that the HABC acquired in 2002, and Claremont Extension, an apartment tower, a total of 752 units were demolished.

The new comprehensive redevelopment is a 461-unit, mixed-income community of townhouses and semi-detached homes, including a new apartment building, as well as a centrally located community center. 142 of those units are designated as "affordable". The builder is Harkins and the site plan design is STV. The project reminds of the HOPE VI redevelopments but has a different funding stream with $3.2 million from a HUD grant of up to $40,000 per unit for purchasers of bankrupt HUD properties (such as Freedom Village) if they keep units affordable.Other money comes from tax credit equity and debt.
Orchard Ridge development plan (STV)

The suburban feel comes from the fact that a fairly large areas gets developed in one time period (even though development was phased) and from the well known current day vernacular architecture mix of traditional form and new materials. Most buildings are three story townhouses with pitched roofs, front porches, and bay windows. The buildings are wood-frame construction with a combination of brick cladding and fiber-cement siding. The bay windows are clad in PVC panels with PVC trim. Porches have fiberglass columns on brick piers and vinyl porch railings.

Orchard Ridge and Uplands are part of the massive efforts of HABC to upgrade housing stock in Baltimore with the side effect of massively reducing the amount of affordable housing and reducing density overall. In all, Orchard Ridge and the Uplands seem better suited to be models for the counties that urgently need to include affordable housing. As long as they don't, the over 40% overall reduction of HABC housing inside the City remains worrisome since poverty rates remain high.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA