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Educationby Ed Gunts1:31 pmFeb 5, 20160

Bill would bar Morgan student housing at Northwood Plaza

Sen. Joan Carter Conway takes a neighborhood controversy to Annapolis

Above: Sen. Joan Carter Conway at the State Capitol.

BREAKING NEWS (6 p.m., Feb. 5) – Morgan State University announced it is backing off  from plans to provide student housing at the Northwood Plaza site until three community groups can reach agreement on what the project will contain.

MSU President David Wilson disclosed the university’s position in a statement released late today. “Morgan takes pride in the way it listens to its neighbors. . . Until all community groups are able to support the proposal, Morgan will not move forward on this.”

The development comes a day after State Sen. Joan Carter Conway introduced a bill in Annapolis that would bar Morgan from housing students on the property.

Taking sides in a neighborhood battle involving Morgan State University, State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43rd) has introduced a bill in Annapolis that would bar the university from housing students on property currently occupied by the Northwood Plaza shopping center.

The ban would be removed only if student housing is approved by the Hillen Road Improvement Association, which has voiced objections to the housing plan supported by university officials and two neighboring community associations.

In addition, Morgan State would not be able to provide financial aid for housing to any Morgan students who lease an apartment on the redeveloped Northwood Plaza property under Senate Bill 540, which was introduced yesterday and referred to the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

“The [Morgan] Board of Regents may not enter into any contract for student housing that is located in the 1500 block of Havenwood Road in Baltimore City unless the Hillen Road Improvement Association approves,” the Conway bill states.

The 1500 block of Havenwood is the location of the Northwood Plaza in Northeast Baltimore.

Blow to Redevelopment Plans

If passed, the legislation would be a setback for Morgan State University president David Wilson, who has been a proponent of plans to redevelop Northwood Plaza as a “Main Street-style” mixed-use development with stores at street level and housing for 350 Morgan State students on upper floors.

Morgan would not be part of the development team but is building a new “west campus” next to Northwood Plaza and has been involved in the planning for the shopping center’s redevelopment.

The $50 million proposal, called Northwood Commons, has the support of the Original Northwood Association and the New Northwood Community Association, which have started an online petition to show support for the project.

But the idea of including student housing is opposed by the Hillen Road Improvement Association, which represents residents whose houses face the shopping center.

Developer Mark Renbaum, who is working with the current owners of the shopping center, has indicated that he needs to include the student housing to make the project economically viable.

Rebuff to Morgan State President

Sen. Conway told The Brew earlier this week that she does not oppose redevelopment of Northwood Plaza, but does oppose the “student housing piece” of Renbaum’s plan.

Conway said she is supporting the Hillen Road Improvement Association because she believes its members have the greatest chance of being adversely impacted by the development.

She noted that Morgan already has plans to build more student housing next to the Morgan View I residences on Pentridge Road, and student housing was never supposed to be part of a development on the Northwood Plaza property.

Morgan State President Wilson, she added, does not set policy about student housing for the university. She said only the Board of Regents does, and Wilson reports to the Board of Regents.

Clinton Coleman, a spokesman for Morgan, could not be reached today for comment.

Proponent “Taken Aback”

Richard Skolasky, president of the Original Northwood Association, said he was “taken aback” to learn about the bill’s introduction and found it “deeply troubling.”

He said Conway did not mention it to him when they spoke on Wednesday. Because the bill is so broad in its language, he said, it most likely would kill the current plans for the redevelopment of Northwood Plaza.

Skolasky said he applauds Conway for being a champion of neighbors who have concerns about the development. But “she needs to realize that we have a representative democracy. She has been elected to represent her district, not two blocks in her district. . . A bill like this cuts Morgan State off at the knees.”

Skolasky said his organization has tried to build support for its position by contacting Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore Development Corporation and Live Baltimore.

He said he has not heard back from any of them.

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