Baltimore’s Planning Commission on Thursday approved a developer’s plan to add five new townhouses at the western edge of Hampden in North Baltimore, in spite of the neighborhood association’s objections about the parking arrangement and front-facing design of the new residences.
The new houses will be built on two currently vacant lots on Ash Street, near the bottom end of W. 36th Street overlooking I-83. The developer and property owner, TRM Realty, plans to put two townhomes on one lot at 3550 Ash Street and three more on another lot at 3600 Ash Street.
Both parcels are separated by a lot in between, technically the terminus of W. 36th Street, though one of the developer’s hired civil engineers from Colbert, Matz, Rosenfelt said they skipped over that property because prepping it for construction would have required a costly relocation of utility poles and streetlights and other work.
All five houses will be two stories tall from the front with front-facing garages and curb cuts leading into their driveways, differing from most of that section of Hampden, where street parking and non-interrupted sidewalks are the norm. City Planner Matt DeSantis said the Planning Department asked TRM Realty to move the homes forward, requiring future dwellers to park inside the garages instead of in a shallow driveway.
He said that alteration satisfies city design policies, and “will hopefully address some of the design concerns about having cars parked in the front yards of these homes.”
Not so for the Hampden Community Council. The neighborhood association submitted a letter of opposition to the plan, citing a loss of parking spots on the street to curb cuts and the design disparity between the garages and other houses nearby. The letter said HCC met twice with TRM Realty in summer of 2017, and that “nearby neighbors also convened a working group to work through community concerns” with the developer, but thereafter communication ceased.
The letter also said HCC took a survey of members, and found residents wanted the designs to look more like the historic homes in the neighborhood.
Davon Barbour, who sits on the nine-member Planning Commission, flagged the letter to TRM co-founder Stewart Miley (also a project manager for Hawkeye Construction, which is owned by two of TRM’s founders). “It’s always better to meet your neighbors before the public hearing,” Barbour said.
Miley replied that “conversations were definitely continued” after the first meeting, including with members of HCC’s zoning committee, but “nothing ever really came to fruition” with the community council. He noted he also posted about TRM’s building plans on the Hampden Neighbors Facebook group, and got positive feedback.
“There was also negative feedback, but largely I think it was warmly welcomed.”
TRM submitted a list to the Planning Commission of three immediate neighbors and other Hampden residents who expressed support for the townhome plans.
The commission went on to approve the move unanimously minutes later.
On a phone call Thursday, Hampden Community Council president Matt Stegman labeled the decision “disappointing.” He reiterated HCC’s concerns about parking, partly because of a couple street spaces being lost to the driveways, and more so because of the precedent that front-facing garages could set for other builders drawn to the neighborhood’s hot real estate market.
Miley, who lives in Hampden and says he’s rehabbed at least a half-dozen houses there since 2006, said after the hearing, “Every time I’ve met with Hampden Community Council, from the get-go they seemed to have a design that they want, and they don’t want anyone to go against it. But selling real estate in 2018, people want a parking spot if they can.”
He also said Hampden real estate is so in-demand lately that there’s not much space left for developers to buy up property—”I don’t know where they think driveways are gonna crop up all over the place”—and that adding driveways should help ease issues for cars and trucks turning at Ash and W. 36th Street by relocating parking spots on the street into driveways or garages.
Stegman didn’t parse words about the Planning Commission’s vote of approval.
“It’s reflective of a land use decision-making process that is tilted to make things easier for developers and doesn’t serve the people, the residents of the city,” he said. He also noted the timing of the Planning Commission’s monthly hearings, which happen on weekday afternoons (Thursday’s was at 2:30 p.m.), “benefits somebody whose business it is to be there,” and not residents who have to be at work.
“You have a process that is not set up for the community to actually have a meaningful voice.”
Miley said he plans to meet with Colbert, Matz, Rosenfelt’s engineers and TRM’s hired architect, Owings Mills-based Design Evolution Architecture, to see when they can break ground.
“I’m hoping in the next month or so. This has been an ongoing thing for a year-plus now.”
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