Saturday, April 22, 2023

TOD - still mostly an aspiration in our region

A panel discussion organized by the Baltimore Business Journal with the topic Moving Greater Baltimore Forward with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) brought into stark focus that the concept is still mostly just an aspiration in this region, especially in Baltimore County where the panel took place. 

BBJ TOD discussion panel

BBJ editor Rhonda Pringle interviewed developer Mark Renbaum before the panel discussion to set the stage. He proposes a mixed use project to replace an ailing shopping center along a three decades old rail transit line. But instead of jubilation about an actual transit oriented development that isn't asking first for public money before making an investment which replaces decay and stagnation, there is hemming and hoeing and no movement. The project is hung up with an uncertain future that is largely depending on political decisions that are yet to be made. (See previous article here). The location, in Baltimore County, sits on land that is zoned commercial, a category which doesn't allow real TOD since it excludes residential use.  The term TOD is still not part of the County's zoning toolbox, even though transit rail stations are part of the County's landscape for more than 40 years. The current draft 2030 Masterplan which otherwise is a pretty innovative and courageous document mentions TOD as a goal in a short paragraph,  not what is needed to lift the project across the hurdles in Lutherville.

The maybe most prominent participant expected for the discussion panel and advertised as visionary was developer Howard Brown. Brown is the "father" of the only County TOD in place, the Owings Mills Metro Center.  Other than Owings Mills he completed a rail oriented project at Symphony Center in the City and has been promising another TOD at Charles and Baltimore Streets for 15 years, but so far all there is to see is a hole where the Mechanic Theatre once stood. However, Brown was a no-show and had his grandson David Adler sit in for him. The panel also also included MDOT Real Estate Director Nimisha Sharma, County Council Chair Julian Jones and the new CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee Mark Anthony Thomas and me.  

Metro Center: Isolated from Owings Mills neighborhoods

The Owings Metro  Center, the county's TOD flagship is a public private partnership between County, State and David S. Brown Enterprises that has been in the making for decades and resulted in a mixed use center that includes 350 apartments, a Marriott hotel, retail, and a branch of the Baltimore County Community College and the County library system and which is slated to expand to the other side of the Interstate 795 in the next few months. All partners describe the project as complex and difficult. When Brown started Metro Center most developers were still specialized in just one thing, offices, apartments or retail. True mixed use was still somewhat a novelty, at least in our region. For David Adler, mixed use is naturally what he wants to do. However, asked about the downtown Baltimore lot, Adler was non committal. The company seems to wait for a helping hand from the City.

The new urbanist Metro Center development in Owings Mills suffered from the beginning from the MDOT requirement that all surface park and ride parking spaces then on MDOT owned land had to be replaced in a giant multistory parking garage at an enormous cost, mostly shouldered by the public. The already unfortunate position of the Owings Mills Metro station in the median of an Interstate became even more unfortunate by the mammoth garage which blocks the view of the new town center. As I desribed in an earlier article, Metro Center is further hampered by the nearby redevelopments of the former mall  and the Solo Cup area, both also supported by the County. But both developments are isolated from Metro Center and as a result are their own destinations, siphoning energy away instead of being synergistic with the concept of an Owings Mills town center. 

Metro station in the median with giant parking garage blocking
the view of the TOD

In short, neither Metro Center as Baltimore County's flagship TOD nor Owings Mills as an envisioned new town with a center are quite on par with flourishing TODs on the Virginia side of Washington's Metro system or with the continually evolving Columbia Town Center. Many area residents prefer to go there instead of Owings Mills. This situation represents an excellent opportunity to catch up with additional TODs such as Lutherville, on land next to an existing light rail station and bus terminus. However, a recommendation to designate the station as TOD under state provisions is lingering for months at the Planning Department.  Another opportunity is the ailing Security Square Mall, located right where the east west transit "Red Line" would have ended. This line has become more likely again with the new Governor Moore. A large TOD would boost the chances for this additional transit line to become a reality. Although the mall is already served by two bus lines currently ending on the mall, transit isn't identified at all on a rendering for the redeveloped mall that is included in the draft masterplan 2030. On the panel everyone agreed, that mixed use around transit stations is the way to go in a time where open land for development is scarce and should be protected. 

The Governor, meanwhile, has appointed Joe McAndrew as a Assitant Secretary with a focus on TOD statewide. McAndrew with a Masters in regional planning understands that the first order of business has to be making best use of existing transit assets by using the land around stations as intensely as possible by putting dense "transit supportive" development there. This means uses that represent attractive "origins or destinations for transit riders", i.e. places where transit users would start or end a trip, ideally seven days a week and during most hours, not just rush hour. 

The right use can generate up to 5 riders a day on the same area that a single parking space plus its share of circulation aisles occupies.  In other words, parking a car all day at a transit stop for a trip to work is a wasteful use of space, far from being "transit oriented development". Insisting on replacing all surface parking at rail transit stations for continued use as a park and ride facility is, therefore, misguided. Additionally those garages fly in the face of climate change actions: The garages are not only very expensive and waste space, they also produce a lot of  CO2 because they are made from concrete, one of the worst CO2 emitters. The garages are also not future proof: Not only do they encourage car usage, they will likely stand empty in a few years when cars will not only be electric but self driving (at least in garages) and hopefully many people will make their car trips in hired, shared vehicles that are rarely parked.  Autonomous and shared mobility would reduce the needed space for parking drastically and require very different types of garages since autonomously parked cars would not need 22' wide drive aisles or 9' wide spaces. However, these insights have still not trickled down to the decision makers. Officials announced just this week a new $4 million conventional garage at Odenton, all in the name of TOD!

TOD viability on the WAMTA system (WAMTA)

Maryland has 106 rail transit stations, too many of them are still surrounded by parking lots or low density non-walkable uses. Too much development that is touted as TOD is in reality just "transit adjacent" with people driving and parking to the uses as if transit wasn't there at all. The lack of useful places to go via transit is the result of not enough transit and of not enough appropriate development at stations. No single development can solve the problem, no matter how good it is or where it is located. What is needed is a concerted effort that indicates the development potential of all 106 stations and puts the state's growth intentionally where transit is already the most useful. This requires a lot more collaboration between transit providers (MDOT) and local jurisdictions to achieve the optimal transit and land use balance. The result should be a win for transit, for the tax base of local jurisdictions and the quality of life in existing communities.

An example how this works can be seen in WAMTA's strategic TOD metrics and the growing number of stations that deserve the label TOD and represent high quality place-making. It is exactly this type of plan that Maryland needs for all the other stations in order to successfully combat air pollution, traffic congestion, under performing transit and meet its ambitious climate change targets. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The HS Bakery Store: From Rags to Riches

I recall vividly my disappointment when, fresh from the boat in 1986, I followed my nose detecting the yeasty small of fresh baking to the H&S bakery outlet store.  The smells had been deceiving: There was no warm crusty bread ready to be sliced, there were no rolls that deserved that name. Instead the place had the charm of a wholesale grab and run where a forklift wouldn't have been out of place except for lack of space. The goods looked stale, just like the sliced white bread, the hamburger and the hot dog buns that masqueraded as the bakery section in the grocery stores of the time, except cheaper. Everything ensconced in plastic, the outlet had nothing that was reminiscent of a Greek bakery, even less of the German ones I was used to with their rich selection of different bread loaves, rolls, pretzels and sweets on display in traditional wicker baskets and served over the counter.

When a bakery becomes a "bake-lab". (Photo Philipsen)

So with great anticipation I visited H&S new bakery this week, some 36 years later when bread selections in the US have come a long way. H&S new incarnation is called Kneads Bakeshop and goes from thrift to luxury in one giant leap.  

On this warm and sunny spring day the place was buzzing. It is instantly clear that  lots of people wanted to check out how far the Baltimore icon bakery had come. 

 To cut straight to the chase: As far as it has come, the new brainchild of H&S "NextGen" isn't any closer to a European style bakery than grandfather's outlet store. I am sure, most people won't mind.

The “next gens” of the family, grandchildren of John Paterakis, teamed up to create Kneads, a bakeshop & café inspired by a shared familial history of artisanal craft, infused with the advancements in baking technology, enveloped in an elegant blend between rustic and contemporary aesthetics. The next gens, Adam, Kira, Shawn, and Ryan Paterakis, are proud to present, Kneads Bakeshop! (website)

The old thrift store in Fells Point (Archive photo from website)

It is nice to see that the grandchildren came to a consensus after the Paterakis family for years had garnered headlines for their feuding over the old man's estate. It is also nice to see that their bakery products can range beyond Hamburger buns. 

But even for folks who could care less about the character of European bakeries the product of the next-gen brainstorming may have strayed just too far.  

This isn't really a "shop" ( but rather a very large well designed "wait to be seated" self-order restaurant cum gift shop plus a showcase bakery ("bakelab") operation behind glass in the background. There even is a loft to look down on the bakers in the "bake-lab". The design is from the local architectural branch of CI Design, also located in Harbor East.

While sweets get a prominent spot in a glass case at the counter where the orders are placed, the main bakery staples,  bread, baguettes, and bagels, are relegated to the side, where they are sitting in the sun of the storefront on a shelf , hidden behind olive oils, soaps and other giftshop style items. Set up for self-service, the "hand crafted" breads are once again encased in plastic bags which means, the crust will get soft, a mistake that most bakeries selling artisan bread learned to avoid.

Old world bakery (Amsterdam 2023, photo Philipsen)

Prices are generally reminiscent of a jewelry store. .Baguettes go for $4.and no bread is less than $7.   A multigrain bread costs $9, (a similar bread at Giant or Lidl costs $4.99). In the food section "two eggs any style" are $17, a hamburger costs $21 (one has to hope that it is significantly better than those $2.89 ones at McDonalds, famously featuring H&S' soft buns). A soup costs $14 and even a crème brulé desert sets you back $15. A bottle of Natty Boh can be had for a reasonable $5 but if you want to go for a glass of wine, nothing is less than $13! 

While the restaurant area is attractive and well appointed, this isn't a Vienna coffee shop where one can "park at a table", unfold the laptop and stretch a single cup of coffee for hours on end. To do this (slow food?) one would do better going to the nearby upper level of Whole Foods with its view of City Dock and the Living Classroom where one can even chill on an outdoor deck on Adirondack chairs without having to take out a mortgage first. 

Sweets and dessert display at Kneads (Photo Philipsen)

This conversion from the old thrift and wholesale  store to the new chic establishment befits the trajectory of Harbor East where Kneads is located, and there isn't much wrong that. A large city such as Baltimore should have at least one district with higher end stores and restaurants.

For the more budget minded lovers of Old World style crusty bread,  the new Kneads store isn't the only choice. 

Nowadays there are plenty of bakeries in the area that have recognized that there are, indeed, better things than sliced bread. 

Local bake shops that sell a variety of crusty old World style breads have become plentiful, even though, most of them charge significantly more than their counterparts in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin or Vienna, for reasons that are not entirely clear. But if budget really matters, one can now get Euro style breads at Whole Foods,  at Wegman's and, even at the German discounter Lidl, where they sell for a reasonable cost. For a treat, try out Kneads, its worth a visit.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Banner article about the Kneads opening

Photo Gallery (all photos Klaus Philipsen):

"wait to be seated"

The Kneads facility at Eastern and Central

Clearing the required "freeboard" (above expected high water levels) requires a ramp

Bread isn't front and center in this "bakery"

A view across the main dining room 

"All you knead is loaf"

Custom designed light fixtures

outdoor seating is an option