March 24, 2022
By Nancy R. Goldring, Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann, Beth Miller, Peta N. Richkus and Will Schwarz
Goldring is the president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association. Kleinmann is with the Greater Baltimore Group of the Maryland Sierra Club. Miller is with the Green Towson Alliance. Richkus is with Indivisible Towson. Schwarz is president of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.
Many of the facts behind Adria Crutchfield and Tom Coale’s commentary, “Baltimore County Needs Red Maple Place,” Maryland Matters, March 14], are indisputable: Baltimore County’s long and shameful history of explicit and institutional racism; a critical need for affordable housing in locations with easy access to public transportation and services; the county’s failure to make any real progress on its 2016 Voluntary Conciliation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and that its overall profile makes it logical that Towson census tracts are among those listed as good candidates for affordable housing units.
Unfortunately, the conclusion that opposition to Red Maple Place is “misguided, racist hostility to low-income families” misses the mark.
Baltimore County could hardly select a worse property to meet the need for affordable housing. The site is located in Historic East Towson, one of the few historically African-American communities still remaining in Baltimore County.
Its origins date to the 1700s and the slave plantation now known as Hampton National Historic Site. Some of the Ridgely family’s hundreds of manumitted slaves began their own community in the 1850s a few miles away in East Towson. Generations built homes and raised families there. Churches and community life flourished.
Unconscionably, for most of its history, Towson’s Black community has been the dumping ground for things white people didn’t want in their own neighborhoods.
Some examples: A massive BGE power substation relocated to the heart of the neighborhood in 1965, erasing eight homes. In the 1980s, more East Towson homes were lost to the construction of the Towson bypass. Several homes were razed to make way for a Stanley Black and Decker parking lot. The District Courthouse, the Towson library and four affordable housing projects also encroach on land that was originally part of the East Towson community.
Three previous proposals for the property (in 1956, 1960 and 1973 for apartments, offices and condominiums, respectively) failed, indicating enormous challenges for development that made the site unsellable as well. The owner of the property, a well-connected developer, was stuck.
Baltimore County to the rescue: under the previous administration the county brokered a deal between the property owner and Homes for America, thereby solving the developer’s dilemma. Two birds with one stone: the possibility of “movement” on the voluntary conciliation agreement commitments and making an influential developer happy.
Also a matter of record; the relationship between Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, whose executive director and a board member authored the March 14 commentary, and its property partner, Homes for America, the nonprofit housing development corporation which specializes in developing and preserving affordable rental housing and is the developer of Red Maple Place, is a fiduciary one of long-standing.
Now comes Red Maple Place, a fully-formed product with no meaningful flexibility to its size or configuration. It’s disingenuous for the BRHP representatives to gloss over the objections that arose during the process as due to “aesthetics (and) environmental concerns.”
Homes for America and the county acted together to roll over Historic East Towson like a bulldozer.
The county waived one development and environmental standard after another to shoehorn this project into the last remaining green space in Towson. With too much building for the site, design standards, environmental laws and open space public facilities, all provisions put in place to protect the quality of life and health of Baltimore County citizens, were waived to enable this project.
To name the project for a native tree, so many of which will be destroyed by its construction, adds insult to injury.
Alternate, available adjacent sites in East Towson were also suggested which would have helped the county move forward on its voluntary conciliation agreement commitments without the environmental impact of the proposed site. This was rejected.
It is completely accurate to say the objections included “targeting a historically Black community.” As if doing so is acceptable.
The voluntary conciliation agreement stipulates the county is “to avoid clustering families using housing choice vouchers (i.e. subsidized housing) in racially segregated or low-income areas.” The African-American East Towson census tracts are among the poorest in the Towson area.
Clearly, the objections to Red Maple Place were not to affordable housing – a great need in Baltimore County. To charge otherwise undercuts the believability of the proponents’ arguments.
The many organizations and community members that support Historic East Towson will continue to object to locating the proposed project on the Historic East Towson site, as yet one more manifestation of the institutional racism that has systematically worked to destroy this almost 200-year-old African-American community over many decades.
This commentary was published in Maryland Matters.