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EBDI development plan draws fire from Middle East residents

Residents of Middle East reacted angrily again Wednesday night against efforts to present a new development plan for their community, saying they have been disenfranchised from the process and fear they will be priced out of their neighborhood.

In a third meeting at East Baltimore Development Inc., called to discuss a proposed plan for the 88-acre redevelopment near Johns Hopkins Hospital, several residents stopped a presentation on future housing to vent their frustration about their lack of participation in planning the project, now 10 years old.

“At the end of the day, we have to live with the unknown,” said Donald Gresham, a community activist and resident of Middle East. “We didn’t ask for this.”

Resident Phyllis Hubbard questioned the affordability of up to 250 new housing units. The homes are to be built by 2014, according to the presentation made by Scott Levitan, senior vice president of Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, master developer for the project.

“There needs to be a conversation about this community,” Hubbard said. “Even with the salary I make, I would not be able to afford [the new housing]. More needs to be done.”

The plan calls for new housing units that would cost $190,000 and up.

Christopher Shea, CEO of EBDI, addressed the housing affordability issue by saying that EBDI has been “able to secure a Section 8 voucher for almost every resident in this development.”

Click to see all EBDI-related storiesAfterward, in response to a question from The Daily Record, Shea said the vouchers were for residents who had already left the community.

Reginald Fitzgerald, another resident, made an impassioned plea for residents to unite and seek a strong role in shaping the plan for their community.

“These people are trying to take what we got,” he said. “Y’all ain’t got nowhere to go now.” Where you gonna go? This is called Pandora’s Box.”

The meeting began with an orderly 30-minute presentation by Levitan on future housing plans for the development.

Those plans include 243 new rental units along Eager Street and 102 for-sale units nearby “expected to stimulate demand” for new residents to move there.

Construction, Levitan said, is expected to start in mid-2012.

Using maps, Levitan showed where the new residential buildings would be located and their scale compared to the tallest building on the site, the 20-story graduate student tower being built for Johns Hopkins University students at 929 N. Wolfe St.

He also said a set of 25 rowhouses at McDonough and Chase streets are to be renovated during 2013, so they will be ready for owner-occupants before the new East Baltimore Community School opens in late 2013.

The meeting ended with uncertainty about when the next session would take place. It was the third contentious meeting on the proposed plan in a month.

EBDI was formed in 2001 as a nonprofit development group charged with redeveloping Middle East. The group has since formed a partnership with the city and state, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Johns Hopkins University for the redevelopment.

The EBDI site was originally intended to house a world-class biotech park with 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 revamping plans and trying to regain momentum.

At their last meeting with EBDI officials, on Aug. 11, Middle East residents questioned the motives and intent of EBDI and Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership in the latest plan to redesign their community, which has seen 31 acres razed to make room for the redevelopment. Another 57 acres await the wrecking ball.

And on July 28, residents shut down a meeting and did not allow Scott Levitan, senior vice president of Forest City, to present the plan because Levitan did not make copies available before the meeting.

The new development plan, by local marketing firm Carton Donofrio, is the third master plan in the redevelopment project’s decade-long history.

It calls for “revisioning” the Middle East community and renaming it Beacon Park. Other highlights in the 52-page document include:

-345 upscale housing units

-a 6-acre urban park

-a grocery

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

The report also calls for adding retail and office space, a hotel and a $40 million public school.

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

The new park would be a three-block swath through the EBDI footprint, along Wolfe Street where it intersects with Ashland Avenue, Eager Street and Chase Street.

Partners in establishing the community’s wellness theme would include the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the 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, in 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. This was 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 plan calls for new housing units that would cost $190,000 and up. Many Middle East residents opposed that idea at both meetings because they said they want to remain in the community but could not afford such housing.

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 — including $212.6 million in public funds.

So far, only one of the private lab structures has been built, the John G. Rangos Sr. Building. It opened in 2008 and is not fully leased.

On Aug. 10, the state Board of Public Works approved the sale of up to $200 million in bonds to build a lab for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on a parcel at the EBDI site originally intended for a private life sciences building.

Gov. Martin O’Malley directed relocation of the lab to the EBDI site, and the Maryland Economic Development Corp., the state’s development arm, is developing the site. O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore when the EBDI project was launched.

Residents have complained that the Carton Donofrio plan was drawn from a survey that did not include the entire Middle East community.

The 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. Others received the survey as well, but they were selected by income and ZIP code, officials have said.