Uplands offers ‘neighborhood of choice’ in W. Baltimore

Daily Record
By Melody Simmons

Posted: 7:13 pm Mon, June 3, 2013

The first residents of 23 for-sale units in a $238 million redevelopment of the West Baltimore community of Uplands moved in last week, officials said Monday as the ambitious project officially opened amid cautious optimism.

The development, dubbed an “urban village,” is on 63 acres off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore County line. It will hold 761 new residences — rentals and subsidized and market-rate for-sale units — once it is built out over seven phases, said Mark H. Dambly, president of Pennrose Properties LLC, one of the developers.

“This is not just a typical redevelopment; it is a transformative opportunity to revitalize this part of Baltimore city,” Dambly said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake echoed the sentiment, saying: “It is now a neighborhood of choice and a neighborhood of opportunity.”

Phase 1 of the massive project was the reason for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. The first phase includes 23 for-sale units and 104 rentals.

Eight years ago, when the 979-unit Uplands Apartments complex was on the site, the area was beset by blight and violent crime. In 2004, the city bought the last remaining part of the troubled development from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and began planning for a new community — funded with private, local, state and federal dollars.

“The original vision was a homeownership community, an all-homeownership community,” said Angela Bethea-Spearman, a local activist who monitored the Uplands development and the relocation of hundreds of families from the apartment complex by the city. “We’ve come quite a long way to a mixed-use community. I’ve learned a lot. No, it has not been a smooth transition, but it’s good.”

The housing units for sale are priced “in the $200,000” range, a spokesman for Uplands said, and with public subsidies, families may be able to move the purchase price to near $135,000 for a three-bedroom home.

So far, 22 homes have been sold, and another 19 for-sale homes will break ground next week, said Tom Bozzuto, chairman and CEO of The Bozzuto Group, one of the partners in the project.

Homes will be built over the next several years as mortgage loans are approved for potential buyers. Developers have remained cautious about building too aggressively at Uplands because of the stringent restrictions on residential loan applications since the banking crisis and housing collapse of 2008, said Tom Baum, president of the development consortium Uplands Visionaries.

“There was concern about homeownership and the ability to qualify for loans and whether that demand was there,” Baum said. “There was worry about the economy and jobs and folks struggling with job creation. We were doing this at a time when the economy was uncertain.”

On Monday, officials opened a model on Scarlet Oak Lane, where the for-sale duplexes and townhomes are located. It showed a modern duplex unit with three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, an open first-floor plan and finished basement. Outside, local politicians and city officials mingled with developers; members of the marching band from Edmondson-Westside High School entertained the crowd with the 1970s song “Beginnings.”

The new Uplands development was built by Uplands Visionaries LLC, a public and private real estate consortium managed by Pennrose Properties LLC that is made up Bozzuto Homes, Cryor Development LLC, Harrison Development LLC, KMJ Uplands LLC, Scientia Uplands LLC and the Southwest Baltimore Community Development Corp. Inc.

“This is about the opportunity to own a home in Baltimore,” said City Councilwoman Helen Holton, whose 8th District includes the Uplands site and who has monitored the development for more than a decade.