1000 Friends Eyes Future of Pikesville

Sept. 6’s community meeting focused on the Armory’s revitalization. (Photo by David Stuck)

Mel Mintz and Howard Needle have high expectations for the future of the Pikesville Armory. At a community meeting at the Pikesville Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on Sept. 6, they said the future of Pikesville hinges largely on a successful revitalization of the military complex.

Mintz and Needle, co-founders of the community group 1000 Friends of Pikesville, want to see the Armory transformed into a multiuse facility with a focus on arts, education and community programming. Specifically, they envision the Pikesville library and senior center being moved to the site, along with the creation of an arts district, green space and ball fields.

“There is no question that the Armory has the potential of being the gem — for being the magnet — that will bring Pikesville to life,” Needle said.

The meeting, which drew more than 100 people, came one day after Gov. Larry Hogan announced a commission to consider future uses of the 14-acre property located at 610 Reisterstown Road.

Three years ago, Mintz said he and Needle started the 1000 Friends group with two goals: to get 1,000 members and to get the county to create a new revitalization plan. A formal revitalization plan for Pikesville had not been put together since 2003.

“We’ve done both,” Mintz said.

County officials commissioned a three-phase study of the Pikesville commercial revitalization district in May that is expected to be completed in a little more than a year and will tackle the area anew.

The first phase, which includes a review of Pikesville’s conditions, demographics, planned or proposed projects and private and public facilities, began in May and is still ongoing. The second phase, which will include input from residents, is expected to begin this fall. Using the information from the first two phases, a formal revitalization plan will be created and released to the public.

Community leaders and elected officials agree that the Armory, which was built in 1903, is poised to anchor efforts to revitalize Pikesville.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who was picked by Hogan to lead the Armory commission, will decide who should own the Armory property, how it should be redeveloped and who should fund the redevelopment. Zirkin said his commission, which will boast 15 elected officials and community group leaders, will hold its first public meeting within the next month. The commission is open to any and all suggestions, Zirkin added.

Zirkin, a lifelong Pikesville resident, said the issue hits close to home and is one of his top focuses. He believes the Armory should be used in a way that provides value to the community and fully supports the 1000 Friends group’s proposal, calling it “a good start.”

“This is for the community, period,” Zirkin said. “It’s going to be a completely open process.”

Despite years of revitalization talk, though, some in the audience on Sept. 6 said more has to be done in their opinion to address the shuttered storefronts and vacant buildings surrounding the Armory.

Concerns were also raised over whether there would be a strip mall or any other private development project at the Armory; a resident said, “We don’t need anymore of that.”

But because the Armory is on the National Register of Historic Places, there are restrictions on how many changes can be made to the site, which boasts four buildings, open space and parking.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-District 2), who represents Pikesville, has the authority to determine zoning for the land. She said it is not her intention to build homes on the property, which is zoned for 5.5 units per acre.

“We need some creative thinking,” Almond said. “We need to think outside the box. We need to make this happen.”

The property has gone through the state clearinghouse process, but no buyers have been selected. While the 1000 Friends group and the county each made a claim, the county’s is conditional upon a study of the site’s conditions and historic constraints.

Regardless of who acquires the property, Needle said he hopes to work with the county to sell the current Pikesville library and senior center and parlay “the millions it will generate” into the Armory redevelopment.

Needle feels if the Armory site is not successful, Pikesville will not reach its full potential, and all of the hard work that is being done to redevelop the area will be diminished.

“Will we lack the boldness and the strength to change the attitude in Towson that says, ‘We can’t spend the necessary money to be creative and bold and invest in our future?’” Needle said, referring to the county seat. “We can’t afford not to do it.”

Almond, who is considering a run for county executive, said the county has shown a strong commitment to the Armory and that it is open to exploring public-private partnerships. While she asserted she is doing everything she can to ensure the county buys the property, she said the logistics will take some time to come together.

“It’s not as simple as it sounds, because it’s going to cost a lot of money,” Almond said. “We have to figure out who is going to maintain it.”

Democratic County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, she noted, has set aside money in the county budget to help fund a “fabric study,” though she didn’t recall the exact total. The study will cost between $100,000 and $150,000, according to the county executive’s office, and would require a private investor to fund half of it.

In the meantime, Needle has taken a proactive approach to see if the plan 1000 Friends has proposed is feasible. His group has secured a $35,000 pledge from Bill Struever, founder of American Communities Trust, a Baltimore-based foundation, and the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition to pay for a feasible study, Needle said. The Goldseker Foundation, one of the city’s largest charitable foundations, has also expressed an interest in the study, Needle added, “but only if the county expresses a serious interest in acquiring the property.”

State officials have also vowed to do their part to help meet funding needs.

When the 90-day General Assembly session starts in January, Zirkin vowed to get funds put into the state budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018, for an environmental study.

Mintz urged community members to remain optimistic with how things will proceed, saying, “The sun is shining on Pikesville,” which drew nods of agreement and applause from many in the crowd.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

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