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Community challenges new EBDI plan

During a second contentious meeting in two weeks, a group of Middle East residents Thursday night challenged a new plan for the massive redevelopment of their community by East Baltimore Development Inc.

For more than an hour, about 50 angry residents of the area questioned the motives and intent of EBDI and Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership in redesigning their community, part of which has been razed to make room for the redevelopment.

“There is a lack of trust in this room,” said Kia-Michelle Massey, a resident, to Scott Levitan, senior vice president of Forest City. “You came up with a recommendation from a survey that people here say they were not a part of.”

Another resident, Nia Redmond, a member of the EBDI board, told Levitan, “You should ask for a refund. This is embarrassing.”

The controversy began as soon as the meeting was called to order by Janice Hamilton Outtz, a representative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, who advised the residents that the planning process would require patience.

“From the beginning, Casey’s role has centered on helping residents to be heard,” she said. “We also know that getting this right takes time and we’re going to put in the time.”

Patrick McCarthy, the Casey Foundation’s new president, attended the meeting and took notes.

“I am here to hear what folks have to say. I’m here just to listen,” he said.

The Casey Foundation is a partner in the redevelopment project with EBDI, the city and state and the Johns Hopkins University.

Click here for all EBDI-related storiesChristopher Shea, CEO of EBDI, also told the residents that the process of refining the redevelopment plan would take time.

“Tonight is the beginning of a good dialogue of the components of [the plan],” he said. “This will take time.”

But shortly after that, a heated debate began that occupied the meeting for more than an hour. Finally, after a brief presentation of the plan, the meeting was adjourned until Aug. 24.

On July 28, Levitan attempted to present the plan to Middle East residents, but the residents protested that they did not see copies of the plan before the meeting. Levitan ended the session and scheduled a meeting for Thursday.

Residents asked many of the same questions Thursday, including whether the new housing will be affordable to them and how they can be more-active partners with EBDI in the project.

“This plan is not resident-driven,” said Lawrence Brown, a postdoctoral fellow at Morgan State University. “It lacks a shared vision.”

Brown suggested that Levitan reject the plan and start over.

The report details plans for a new phase of the 88-acre redevelopment in Middle East that include:

-345 upscale housing units

-a 6-acre urban park

-a grocery

-a “wellness” theme to connect the project to nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The new plans also include adding retail and office space, a hotel and a $40 million public school.

The EBDI site was originally intended to hold a world-class biotech park of 1.1 million square feet and as many as five life-sciences buildings plus up to 900 housing units.

But with more than 700 households relocated, more than 600 houses and other buildings demolished and another 700 vacant rowhouses awaiting demolition, the $1.8 billion project has stalled and its developers are trying to regain momentum.

So far, only one private lab structure has been built, the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, which opened in 2008 and is not fully leased. This week, the state Board of Public Works approved sale of up to $200 million in bonds to build a new lab for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on a parcel at the EBDI site originally intended for a private life sciences building.

The Carton Donofrio plan is the third master plan in the redevelopment project’s decade-long history. It calls for a “revisioning” of the Middle East community.

No funding sources are identified by Carton Donofrio or Forest City. Instead, the draft report states a need to identify funding for rental and for-sale housing, the large park, a 44,000-square-foot fitness facility, a 12,000-square-foot grocery, a hotel and possibly a conference center.

Besides proposing a new community name of “Beacon Park,” the plan outlines several recommendations and presents a new design with a three-block park along the EBDI footprint, along Wolfe Street where it intersects with Ashland Avenue, Eager Street and Chase Street.

The theme of “wellness” would prevail as the new image of the new community, the report states.

Partners in that would include the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the city’s Office of Sustainability, Department of Housing and Community Development and Food Policy Task Force, the report says.

The report also calls for expanding the EBDI redevelopment area to include all of Broadway — a direct contrast to past plans.

Shea, EBDI’s CEO, said at an April 28 hearing before a City Council committee that he was “not looking to expand the footprint” of the EBDI area, in response to concerns from East Baltimore residents over further property condemnations under eminent domain laws.

Last year, EBDI and Forest City said the Carton Donofrio study was commissioned to create a plan to market Middle East to middle-class families and commercial developers, using “psychographics and additional market research” to transform an urban neighborhood pockmarked by blight and crime into an upscale area.

The project is just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. A five-month investigation by The Daily Record this year found the project has cost $564 million so far — $212.6 million in public funds.

The Carton Donofrio plan began after a survey was sent by email in February to Hopkins employees by Andrew B. Frank, special assistant to Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels on economic development initiatives.

Parts of the plan calls to build upscale housing costing $190,000 and upwards – which was rejected by residents last month because many who want to remain in the community said they could not afford such high housing costs.