Private builders are being sought to replace a cluster of rotting, vacant rowhouses in Middle East with at least 45 homes or duplexes that will list for up to $257,000 — the first market-rate housing built at the East Baltimore Development Inc. site since 2009.
A request for proposals was released in June by Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership LLC, the master developer for the $1.8 billion EBDI project, with a July 13 deadline.
In it, Forest City said it is seeking to sell the development rights to four contiguous parcels in the 2000 block of East Eager Street with construction to begin no later than the summer of 2013.
Deserted and lined with shade trees, the block contains decaying, boarded-up rowhouses built in 1920 and emptied of residents over the last decade as EBDI relocated 732 households to make room for a massive redevelopment that for the most part has still not materialized.
The new housing signals the first of what some say will be a flurry of residential construction at the 88-acre project.
The work will take place at a time when the partners who oversee the project — EBDI, the Johns Hopkins University, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Forest City — are making a push to attract middle class homeowners and families to the heart of the site, where a $43 million public charter school is under construction and expected to open in 2013.
It also indicates a change in direction for EBDI.
Dennis W. Miller, the nonprofit’s senior vice president of real estate development, was scheduled to leave his post Sunday, according to City Councilman Carl Stokes, whose 12th District includes the EBDI area, and a newsletter from the Truth and Reconciliation Council, a local community group.
With Miller’s departure, responsibility for residential development at the project will shift from EBDI to the private developer, Forest City, Stokes said.
Miller and Christopher Shea, EBDI’s CEO, did not respond to requests for comment.
“It’s a good move,” Stokes said of the push for residential development at the site. “It is what the elected officials have been asking for, that we move strongly for homeownership for people.”
Stokes, Councilman Warren Branch and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young have been advocating for housing starts at the EBDI project for nearly two years.
They joined other elected officials on May 30 to denounce EBDI and threatened to shut down construction on the project — except for the school — in part because the nonprofit had not made good on a plan to build 599 mixed-income housing units at the development by now.
Only 220 housing units have been built at EBDI so far — most of them rental units for senior citizens and other tenants. Soon, a 20-story residence tower for Hopkins graduate students is expected to open at Ashland Avenue and Wolfe Street with 321 apartment units.
New market-rate housing has been slow to come, partly because of the recession and partly because an original developer, A&R Development Corp., withdrew in 2009 after completing five condominium units at 1704 E. Eager St.. Three of the units have been sold.
Plans for other residential development include demolition of the vacant, blighted 800 block of Madera Street near the charter school campus, to be replaced by new housing, and interior rehabs of 20 decrepit rowhouses along the 1000 block of McDonough Street.
“It’s going to help repopulate the area,” Stokes said. “It’s the missing piece.”
Scott Levitan, Forest City senior vice president at the EBDI project, said the RFP represented “one component” of a two-tiered residential development plan.
“It is for up to 45” units, Levitan said, of the initial phase, adding that the total will be 250 units in both phases.
Detailed plans will be submitted to the city this summer, Levitan added, as part of a revision of the EBDI Planned Unit Development, or PUD, pursuant to the development’s new master plan.
The original RFP for the 45 units said the developers would be responsible for demolishing two sections of the Eager Street redevelopment — a departure from the original plans set forth by EBDI to fund demolition and site preparation with money from tax increment financing, or TIF, bonds sold by the city to private investors for the EBDI project.
The TIF bonds for EBDI totaled $78 million and were sold in two batches in 2008 and 2009. Since then, EBDI officials have earmarked $8 million of the TIF funds for the gym and library of the charter school to supplement private donations for the project.
When asked on June 12 about the RFP request to require private developers to pay for the demolition, Levitan initially declined to comment. But nearly an hour later, he emailed an “addendum” to The Daily Record stating that the request for developers to demolish two sections of the project had been withdrawn from the RFP.
“Demolition, debris removal, and backfill of all existing structures within the development sites offered in the Eager Street Rowhouse Development RFP solicitation (Sections I, II, III & IV) will be undertaken by Forest City – New East Baltimore Partnership on behalf of EBDI,” the addendum said. “Demolition, debris removal, and backfill will be completed and development sites ready for construction upon transfer of developments rights to the successful bidder of the RFP solicitation.”
Levitan said in a follow-up email that “FCNEBP will be reimbursed by EBDI for the cost” of the demolition.
This summer, EBDI and its partners will ask city planners and elected officials to approve a proposed third version of a master plan for the redevelopment that includes ultimately adding 2,000 new and renovated housing units.
At a recent retail convention in Las Vegas, Stokes said he met with executives from Forest City’s corporate headquarters in Cleveland and with officials of national builders, including Ryland Homes, to discuss residential construction at the EBDI site.
That conversation should include current residents, said Donald Gresham, a community activist who was relocated to a newly rehabbed rowhouse in December 2011 on McDonough Street.
“They have no communication with the community at all,” Gresham said, of the developers, adding a survey sent out by Johns Hopkins and EBDI officials last year about preferences for new housing at EBDI did not query all local residents and had created friction in the community.
“They didn’t ask, they are not concerned, they are not interested in the historical part of this community. The people were relocated for gentrification,” Gresham said.