Madison Park, Bolton Hill associations team up on Pedestal Gardens design

Following the lead of neighboring Madison Park residents and the Madison Park Improvement Association, BHCA’s leadership is asking city officials to oppose recent design proposals for the redevelopment of Pedestal Gardens. They want the developers to build mixed-income housing that enables ownership for new and redeveloped townhouses, in addition to affordable workforce units and subsidized apartments for low-income tenants.

Pedestal Gardens is a string of five properties built in and since 1964 with federal money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to house low-income families in the Madison Park and Marble Hill neighborhoods to the west of Eutaw Place, as well as apartments on Bolton Hill’s western border at Eutaw Place. In recent years negligent management, violence, and drug-dealing in and around the buildings made them undesirable. A Boston-based developer acquired ownership of the troubled complex in 2015 and secured townhouses and vacant land nearby as well.

The first phase of their redevelopment is called Marshall Gardens to honor the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who grew up nearby. Mostly complete and occupied since 2021, it entails 60 townhouses and 27 apartments in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Division Street and along the 500 blocks of Wilson, Laurens and Roberts streets.

But in February the owners, The Community Builders (TCB), without notice to a community advisory group they had been working with, submitted designs to the city planning office for renewing apartment buildings on the Madison Park – Bolton Hill border around Eutaw Marshburn school. They proposed leveling current buildings but then replacing them with similar structures almost certain to attract only low-income tenants with few options, according to MPIA’s vice president Nicholas Cohen, who spoke at BHCA’s April meeting.

Cohen (who also chairs the Midtown Community Benefits District board of directors) said the proposal lacked the vision the community has articulated. “If we do not act, we risk perpetuating the cycle of poverty and racism for another 40 years,” he said. “Mixed housing, where neighbors share resources, enables all to thrive,” he said. “We’ve seen the success of this model in other areas of the city, and it’s essential to promote it in our neighborhoods.”

To the surprise of many, the planning agency’s Urban Design and Architectural Advisory Panel on Feb. 23 rejected TCB’s submission, calling it lazy and unimaginative and sending them back to their drawing boards. Bolton Hill resident Charlie Duff, a building developer not involved in the Pedestal Gardens project, told the BHCA meeting that there were several ways that TCB could redesign the proposed rebuild to make room for more townhouses and green spaces and a better mix of market-rate and subsidized units.

He said he consulted with David Bramble, who is building 300 market-rate apartments, townhouses and eventually retail across North Avenue. Bramble (a Madison Park resident) agreed that mixed housing would work economically for Pedestal Gardens and benefit the neighboring communities.

Cohen noted that in recent years vacant townhouses along Madison and McCulloh streets in Madison Park have been renovated and occupied by homeowners. He said that while the Pedestal Gardens project has its most significant impact on Madison Park, a bad outcome will affect Bolton Hill and Marble Hill, as well. “Conversely, a happy ending benefits us all regarding community development, social stability and property values.”

BHCA and MPIA have asked city leaders to pay attention. Cohen encouraged Bolton Hill residents to “voice your concerns to local and state officials” and demand a creative and inclusive mixed housing plan from TCB. “We cannot let TCB’s proposed plans for Pedestal Gardens continue to concentrate poverty and maintain the racial ‘red line’ along Eutaw Place,” he said.

–Bill Hamilton