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"Main Street" Project May Accelerate Change In Remington

Just three blocks north of a planned Walmart, a second project hopes to be the neighborhood’s “Main Street.” 

Called “Remington Row,” the project would bring a grocery store, office space, locally-owned retail, and about 150 apartments to three blocks of Remington Avenue.

A big plus for many who live there is the track record of Seawall Development. They remade the old Census building on Howard Street into affordable apartments for teachers and offices for non-profits. They did the same with Union Mill in Hampden.

Ryan Flanigan, 27, lives in Remington and says Seawall has been a positive community partner. “They have been very open,” he said. “They have been interested in our input. You know, I'm optimistic about it. I think it’s a well-conceived, new urbanist project that has lots of great features.”

One of Seawall’s partners, Evan Morville, said the company sees itself “as neighbors and not guests in the communities that we do projects.”

It’s no surprise that Remington is an appealing place to build. It’s close to I-83, Penn Station, Johns Hopkins’ Homewood campus and the University of Baltimore. But, as with so many other new urban projects, the big question is rent. The cheapest one-bedroom apartment in Remington Row will be $1,100 a month. If you paid thirty percent of your income to housing (per federal guidelines for affordability), then you would have to make $44,000 a year to afford that. The city’s median household income is about $41,000.  Plus, a one-bedroom can’t shelter a family.

Alice Bassett-Jellema is the vicar of the Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, and lived in the neighborhood for about 15 years. She saw rapid turnover during the housing boom of the mid-2000s, and fears more of the same. ”The demographics will improve because you will have changed the people,” she said. “You won’t have changed the lives of my people. You will have exchanged the people.”

In order to prevent this kind of displacement, affordable housing advocates want the city to require developers to build some affordable units when they get help from the city, like a change in zoning.  The City Council passed a zoning change for 25th Street Station - that’s where the Walmart and some new apartments will be. Seawall plans to apply for its own zoning change for Remington Row. And the city does have a mechanism to require that some affordable units be built: the “inclusionary housing law,” first passed in 2007. But Matt Hill of the Public Justice Center says that only about 25 units have been created under the auspices of the law. “The city’s current inclusionary housing law is just like Swiss cheese,” he said. “And it’s just not creating the kinds of units that the folks who had drafted the law intended.”

There is an Inclusionary Housing Board, which can suggest improvements to the law. One member is City Planning Director Tom Stosur. “The Board, I think, wants to work with the Housing Department and the Mayor’s Office to see if we can make some improvements to have a better system for providing affordable housing over the long term,” he said.

Seawall’s Morville says that their prices are as low as they can go in order for the project to secure financing. “Investing in a neighborhood like Remington that hasn’t had a lot of new construction is somewhat of a risk,” he said. “[It’s] a lot of risk for us, it’s a lot of risk for the banks and they have to underwrite it in a way that they feel comfortable.”

Hill points to Montgomery County as a model for inclusionary housing. But Morgan State urban planning professor Daniel Campo says that although Remington Row won’t benefit everyone, the city is trying to attract residents. “It’s really difficult for the Planning Department…to address all of these issues while still courting development.”