Union Collective is going green with the help of the Friends of the Jones Falls advocacy group and a nearly $50,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
In 2017, Union Collective transformed an empty, 155,000-square foot Sears Roebuck warehouse into a business and manufacturing hub in the Medfield neighborhood. The collective is currently home to Union Craft Brewing, the Charmery’s ice cream factory, an Earth Treks indoor rock climbing gym, Baltimore Spirits Company, Well Crafted Kitchen and Vent Coffee Roasters.
Now, Union Collective is looking to take care of one of the community’s oldest neighbors: the Jones Falls.
Chris Attenborough, Union Craft Brewing’s general manager and project manager for Union Collective, said improving the environment just outside the brewery’s doors has always been a goal.
Union Collective started the formal planning process for implementing green infrastructure about a year ago with assistance from Ashley Traut, a holistic sustainability consultant at Gaiacene Services LLC, who has more than a decade of experience facilitating green infrastructure projects in Baltimore and who will manage the design efforts of this project.
Shortly after the conceptual project plans started, Attenborough began working with the Friends of the Jones Falls, which he said turned out to be the “perfect pairing” to make this project happen.
The grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) will help pay for the bulk of the design and implementation costs for a green infrastructure master plan to mitigate stormwater run-off from the business collective. The groups are also looking for an additional grant to pay for any costs not covered by the money from NFWF, according to Nathan Dennies, communications chair for the Friends of the Jones Falls.
One of the main threats to the Jones Falls watershed is flooding. Large summer storms regularly cause sites along the Jones Falls to flood, including in the area around the old Meadow Mill factory, south of Union Collective, Dennies said.
The green infrastructure master plan will include bioretention and stormwater management elements, such as tree and meadow plantings and green roofs, that Dennies said will aid flood prevention.
In addition to preventing floods, the master plan will also improve accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists coming from surrounding neighborhoods and the nearby light rail station, Dennies said.
Another focus area for the plan will be habitat maintenance and protection.
“The Jones Falls is rich in biodiversity and it’s home to lots of migratory birds that come through as they’re flying north, especially in the spring and fall,” he said. “So we need to make sure that we’re maintaining an environment that helps to support that biodiversity.”
The design phase of the plan is expected to begin within the next six weeks, however a design firm has not yet been selected, Dennies said.
Attenborough anticipates that the plan will be implemented in stages. The groups have already begun community stream cleanups and invasive species removal, and they hope to start planting some native species soon, he said.
Other segments of the project, like the installation of stormwater management systems, are expected to take longer. Due to those systems requiring another round of fundraising and a large amount of engineering and permitting, Attenborough said the groups are hoping to start those more complex pieces of the project in the next 12 to 18 months.
Attenborough does not expect the plan to interrupt the day-to-day operations of any of the businesses in the Union Collective. In fact, he hopes the plan’s integrated walking and biking public routes will only improve access to the businesses as the project unfolds.
Dennies said the green infrastructure master plan is the Friends of the Jones Falls’ first major project since the group formed in 2018. Stakeholders met two years ago to discuss major issues along the Jones Falls watershed. From those meetings, the Friends of the Jones Falls group was formed.
“The goal was really to have an inclusive board that represents the watershed for Baltimore County down to the Inner Harbor, to make sure that we’re capturing neighborhoods, developers, businesses, environmentalists and historic preservationists for a real holistic approach,” Dennies said.
The Central Baltimore Partnership is currently acting as the fiscal sponsor of the Friends of the Jones Falls, which is a volunteer-based advocacy organization.
As Union Collective looks to craft a more environmentally responsible business, Dennies hopes that other businesses and organizations along the Jones Falls watershed will follow in their footsteps.
“One of the big takeaways for me is it’s an example of what private partners can do to be good stewards of the Jones Falls Watershed,” he said. “I think Union Collective is leading the way with that and they’re really showing that they care about their location that they’re stewards of.”
Attenborough echoed Dennies’ goal of the Union Collective project having a ripple effect for other groups in the area to create a more environmentally sustainable community.
“With the improved stormwater plan, public green space, walking access, and biking infrastructure, we hope to increase environmental public engagement and awareness leading to more projects just like this one,” he said. “This is just one piece in a network of change that needs to happen.”