Urban Affairs: Blue Collars, White Collars Learn to Share Evolving Locust Point Neighborhood - Southern Maryland Headline News

Urban Affairs: Blue Collars, White Collars Learn to Share Evolving Locust Point Neighborhood


By JIMMY REED

This article is one in a series that looks at the confrontation between industry and growing real estate development in Baltimore.

BALTIMORE—Michael Gentile, 58, and his partner, Stephen Yasko, 50, spent a recent Saturday afternoon at the Locust Point neighborhood dog park, walking their golden retriever, Hudson. Soon, they will be moving from Canton, across the harbor, to quieter Locust Point.

The couple is looking forward to their new townhome, safe neighborhood, and “tremendous view of the harbor.”

“It’s very ‘up-and-coming’ over here,” Yasko said. “There’s just something about it.”

Locust Point is home to many of Baltimore’s port industries including the hulking Domino Sugar factory. It’s crisscrossed by freight lines that run close to the brick townhouses.

And Locust Point remains proud of being a neighborhood on a southern Baltimore peninsula, where some families have lived and worked in port jobs for generations.

But over the last decade, this neighborhood has evolved from a place dominated by families living in two-story rowhouses to one where single people and young couples — including some Ravens and Orioles players — are moving into high-rise luxury apartments at Silo Point and McHenry Row. And Under Armour, selling its hip athletic-wear worldwide, has settled its offices there, just a few blocks from “The Star-Spangled Banner’s” birthplace at Fort McHenry.

The area has developed a new personality. The old place now has a dog park, bike lanes, a wine market, and a Harris Teeter grocery store — all joining taverns where generations of port workers have been grabbing a beer at the end of the workday.

There’s the water taxi that motors across the harbor to Fells Point and Canton. Young families are organizing to improve the local school, Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School.

Even the traditional sounds are changing, as Locust Point officials recently announced the institution of a “quiet zone,” which will reduce the blaring of CSX train horns, which sound day and night.

In the city of Baltimore, which has been losing population for decades, waterfront communities like Locust Point are success stories.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she wants to boost Baltimore’s population by 10,000 families in the next 10 years. And communities like Locust Point could drive that increase.

But the growth has created some challenges.

The influx of young people—who jump on the interstate for jobs off the peninsula, who prefer sitting on roof decks to sitting on front steps — has caused some skepticism among the longtime residents who have defined Locust Point.

Locust Point Civic Association President Terry Hickey said some older Locust Point residents refer to newcomers as “yuppies...a general blanket term for someone who wants to change the city.”

Bill Lear, 53, who has lived in Locust Point all his life, says, “It seems like a lot of the new people that came into the neighborhood are from outer space.”

Regardless of whether yuppies or space aliens are moving in, there is no denying that the community is growing.

“Every vacant lot, every possible place you can build, someone has built a house,” Baltimore City Councilman William H. Cole IV said.

***

Since the 1960s, Baltimore has seen a decline in its population. From 2000 to 2010, the city went from about 651,000 people to about 621,000 people, according to census data. But Locust Point has done the opposite.

From 2000 to 2010, Locust Point’s population increased from 1,929 residents to 2,138 residents, according to census data. Total housing units increased by 32 percent, rising from 979 units in 2000 to 1,292 units in 2010—and that was before McHenry Row, with 250 upscale apartments, opened last year.

The biggest change this community has seen over the past decade has been the type of people moving in. From 2000 to 2010, Locust Point saw a 148 percent increase in 25-to-34-year- olds in the area, rising from 288 people in 2000 to 714 people in 2010, according to the same data.

These types of increases have been seen not only in Locust Point, but in all of South Baltimore. Over the same decade, South Baltimore’s population increased from 5,881 people in 2000 to 6,406 people in 2010, census data show.

The data also show that South Baltimore, which includes more than 40 individual communities, has seen an increase in young people. The percentage of 25-to-44-year-olds increased from 34 percent in 2000 to 51 percent in 2010.

With its growth, Locust Point is “bucking the trend” seen throughout the rest of Baltimore, said Matthew Kachura, program manager at the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, a research institution at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute.

So why are these young people coming to South Baltimore and Locust Point?

“The reasons for growth are location, location, location,” Brent Flickinger, southern district planner for the city’s planning department, said in an e-mail. “Any property on the water is desirable in Baltimore, especially so close to downtown.”

“If you live in Baltimore, you’re surrounded by a lot of noise and pollution. People go to Locust Point to get a release from that,” Flickinger said. “I just think it's human nature to be near water.”

Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute, said Locust Point, though a geographically isolated peninsula, does not feel isolated because of its direct access to I-95, one of the busiest highways in the country, and its straight shot down Key Highway and Fort Avenue into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

“And then there is the housing stock and development that have gone through there,” Kachura said. “It’s a nice combination of location and price.”

Baltimore city officials, armed with their marketing program, Live Baltimore, have also made an effort to persuade Washington residents to make a move an hour north.

“There was significant push to put up billboards and signs on the D.C. Metro stating how it’s a 45-minute train ride on the express,” Kachura said.

The waterfront in Locust Point has been there forever. What has not are the new developments that have taken shape in the area like high-rise luxury apartments at Silo Point, the $120 million retail and apartment complex at McHenry Row, and Under Armour.

Mark Sapperstein, McHenry Row developer, said, “I wanted to build a place that would entice people not to leave (Locust Point.)” He lured Harris Teeter there, the chain’s first grocery in Baltimore. Currently, 86 percent of McHenry Row’s units, with a median rent price of $2,000 a month, are filled.

Sapperstein has also recently entered negotiations with Silo Point ‘s developer, Turner Development Co., about building 55 townhomes near the 24-story former grain elevator, now luxury condos.

Developers love building on the water. But the city relies on port industries for jobs.

In 2004, the city approved a Maritime Industrial Zoning Overlay District, called the MIZOD, to protect port industries’ deep-water access.

Helen Delich Bentley, former Maryland congresswoman and former chairwoman of the federal maritime commission, is a strong supporter of the MIZOD and maintains that waterfront property should be reserved for the port, which has provided people with jobs for decades.

New developers “don’t say where they are going to get decent jobs if they take over all of the industry on the waterfront,” Bentley said.

In the past few years, Under Armour has created hundreds of jobs, but its plan to expand on the waterfront worries people who want to protect that land for port industries - - especially since the port is on track to surpass its own record-breaking tonnage mark set last year.

Patrick Turner, the president of Turner Development Co., understands the importance of the port but said he believes prohibiting development in industrial areas may not be the best choice for the city.

Turner said these areas would be better suited for “mixed-use development,” where developers combine retail and residential units in the same building.

While port-related industries and other companies want to expand in Locust Point, the MIZOD restricts what waterfront space is available. That sometimes creates a standoff between port companies and developers.

***

The changing face of Locust Point is not being driven by the residents who have lived there since the neighborhood’s manufacturing days. Rather, it is being driven by new residents like Gentile and Yasko: young, white-collar people moving from other parts of Baltimore.

They appear to be attracted in part by the deep sense of community, the tradition of family they find in Locust Point.

Across the harbor, Canton is thriving. But the atmosphere, with restaurants and bars attracting weekend crowds, is not for everyone. It wasn’t for Michael Gentile and Stephen Yasko.

“The chicken bones and pizza crusts (thrown on the streets) drove us crazy, and it’s no better now that (Michael) Phelps moved in,” Gentile said. In Locust Point, “people don’t just party and leave. People actually live here.”

When a blue-collar community with its port traditions begins to transform into a younger, white-collar community, there are bound to be some issues.

For instance, longtime residents say they are not bothered by the freight train horns that sound at all hours as the trains head to the port and Domino Sugar. But some newcomers complain loudly about the noise of the trains and trucks that work the docks.

Councilman Cole said he and Locust Point officials understand the complaints, but the traffic and noise, they say, come with living in a working neighborhood.

“The schedule isn’t going to be set on an individual’s sleeping habits,” Cole said. “It’s going to be set on when the cargo gets here. Or when it has to get out.”

But most neighborhood leaders say the complaints and tensions between new and old residents are few, and manageable.

Locust Point Civic Association President Terry Hickey said people come to Locust Point for the same reasons they always have: to live in a safe urban community with a small-town vibe.

“Locust Point is an industrial plot of land. We don’t have the big houses. It’s always been a working-class neighborhood,” he said.

Delegate Brian McHale, a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and a Locust Point native, whose grandparents settled in Locust Point in 1900, said the biggest difference in the community today is its lack of dependence on the port.

“Back in my day, everyone was working. Maybe half of the Locust Point population worked at the port or was involved in the industry,” said McHale, a member of the International Longshoremen’s Association. “Today, people are not coming here for port jobs.”

Both Hickey and McHale pointed to the changing ways of communication in today’s society as a possible reason to why there may be some community division.

“New residents are not communicating the same as we did before,” McHale said. “With a large emphasis on social media, it’s just a different time,” he said.

Despite this, Hickey stands firm on every resident in the community, new or old, having an opportunity to meet and ease any tensions there are.

“(The civic association) does as good a job as anybody reaching out to people. We’re a neighborhood where if you want to know everyone, you can,” Hickey said.

Mary Clare Fischer, Nahal Mottaghian and Kate Yoon contributed to this article.

Sponsored Content

Reader Comments

Featured Sponsor

Southern Maryland Higher Education Center
SMHEC also offers facilities for your special events or corporate meetings!

Follow SoMd HL News