A development group already at work on a rowhouse project in Upton has been picked to redevelop another stretch of vacant properties up the road on Pennsylvania Avenue.
The partnership of the Upton Planning Committee’s Upton-Westside CDC and Upton Renaissance LLC will purchase six adjacent lots at 2029 and 2033-2041 Pennsylvania Ave. from the city for $600, under a land disposition agreement approved by Baltimore’s spending board Wednesday.
The project is called the Shops at the Triangle and will include eight apartments and five storefronts, according to a summary in the city Department of Housing and Community Development’s 2019 annual report. According to the Feb. 24 spending board agenda, plans call for building out 10,000 square feet of residences, along with 5,000 square feet of retail space. The building will sit across from a plaza-like triangular pocket park at the intersection of North Fremont and Pennsylvania avenues and a block up from neighborhood assets like arts nonprofit Jubilee Arts and the Upton Boxing Center.
The properties’ value has been assessed at $6,000, but the city is selling them for much less because, per language regularly used by the spending board, “the sale will be a benefit to the community,” “eliminate blight” and “return the property to the Baltimore City tax rolls.”
Council President Nick Mosby made note of the “nominal cost” during Wednesday’s hearing. Kate Edwards, assistant commissioner for land transactions and management for the city Department of Housing and Community Development, responded that the mixed-use project is being financed in part with state funding, which is why the city is lowering the cost to one-tenth of the land’s assessed price.
“We’re excited about the growing interest in the Upton neighborhood, and Upton Renaissance is a key partner for redevelopment efforts in the area,” Acting Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy said in a statement. “The properties on Pennsylvania Avenue are representative of our harnessing the interest in the area in this new project through this development partnership.”
Leadership from the partners, including Upton Planning Committee and Upton Renaissance — itself a private partnership of local developer Dean Harrison’s Tower Hill Harrison Development, Parris Development and Construction in Southwest Baltimore and Washington, D.C.’s Stanton View Development — did not respond to email and phone messages requesting comment.
Upton Renaissance LLC is leading construction on other blocks a little less than a mile down the road. The city picked the group from six bidders in spring 2019 to develop 38 rowhouses in the 800 blocks of Harlem and Edmondson avenues in Upton, situated just off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The land included 28 vacant buildings on Harlem Avenue and 10 more homes being renovated on Edmondson. They sit just north of Heritage Crossing, a townhome community that replaced the high-rise Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace public housing projects after they were demolished in the 1990s.
Edwards told Mosby the developers also inquired about the Pennsylvania Avenue lots in 2019, and the city has since “been working with them.”
These latest plans come amid an envisioned renaissance for “The Avenue,” once home to blocks of clubs and theaters, shops and restaurants frequented by Black residents from the city and the surrounding region. Community partners last year launched the Black Arts District to celebrate the area’s Black cultural heritage and facilitate development of new housing, retail and performance spaces, with an eye toward benefitting those already residing in Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North.
The combined thoroughfare of Pennsylvania Avenue and Reisterstown Road holds a rare distinction in Baltimore of having three MTA Metro Subway stations, in addition to state-run bus lines. City leaders and stakeholders are also pushing to rezone more blocks to allow for more commercial activity.
Upton Planning Committee and Druid Heights Community Development Corp., among others, have for years been developing houses for homeownership along the corridor, but other developers have taken notice of the neighborhood.
Schreiber Brothers recently shared plans to rehabilitate a stretch of historic row homes along West North Avenue into highly energy-efficient apartments with ground-floor commercial spaces. And in August, Ohio-based developer Woda Cooper Cos. presented plans to a city design panel for a 50-unit, four-story affordable housing development at 2565 Pennsylvania Ave., with hopes of adding a second building next door.