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Neighborhoodsby Ed Gunts9:39 amFeb 26, 20160

Generational divide is behind the dispute over Northwood Plaza makeover

Residents testify in Annapolis about legislation that would ban Morgan State student housing from a proposed $50 million development

Above: The Senate hearing room was crowded with residents for and against the student housing proposal.

Paula Purviance is a Morgan State graduate who has lived near the campus for decades.

But as much as she supports the school, she doesn’t want Morgan State students living in a new development planned for the present site of the Northwood Plaza shopping center, which is close to her home.

“I love Morgan,” Purviance told a state Senate hearing on Wednesday. “As Morgan graduates, we do advocate for Morgan to expand its boundaries. But we just don’t [want] 350 students and the cars and the noise and all of the things that come with students.”

Purviance was one of more than a dozen Northwood area residents who traveled to Annapolis to speak about a highly divisive proposal to build apartments for 350 Morgan State students as part of a proposed $50 million redevelopment of the shopping center.

State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43rd) introduced a bill last month that would prevent Morgan State from providing student housing at Northwood Plaza unless the redevelopment plan is supported by the Hillen Road Improvement Association.

Longtime Northwood residents Shirley Lewis, Katie Norwood and Paul Purviance all testified against building Morgan student housing at the proposed new plaza site. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

Longtime Northwood residents Shirley Lewis, Katie Norwood and Paula Purviance testified against building Morgan student housing at the plaza site. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

The group is one of three community organizations that surround the property, which is north of Havenwood Road between Hillen Road and Loch Raven Boulevard.

The Hillen group opposes making student housing part of the mix, while the Original Northwood Association and the New Northwood Community Association support student housing in the project.

During a hearing before the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which Conway chairs, Northwood residents gave their views of the development plan – and opinions about Conway’s bill.

How Best to Revitalize “Northwood Pla”?

As the residents spoke, it became clear that a generational divide affects the way they think about student housing.

No one said they are opposed to redeveloping the shopping center, which is outdated and in poor condition. One resident said her family calls it the “Northwood Pla” because its illuminated letters are always going out.

Where they differed was what they thought about making student housing part of the project, which would be called Northwood Commons and include a new grocery store, shops and restaurants.

Several elderly residents said they believe student housing will bring noise, trash, fighting, parking and traffic problems – as well as bright lights late at night.

Stacy Ridgeway, president of the Hillen group, told the legislators about recent incidents of crime on the Morgan campus, including a student stabbing death earlier this month.

“We’re not anti-student,” Ridgeway stated, but “we have an aging community. We would like for our residents to be able to go over to the shopping center in peace.”

“Totally Different Generation”

Many younger area residents said they would welcome student housing because it would enable the developer to bring in better stores and restaurants. Those amenities, they said, would make the area more livable and help increase property values.

“We have a lot of pre-baby boomers and post-baby boomers,” said Dana Andrusik, speaking about his group, the Original Northwood Association. “They,” he said, referring to the Hillen association, “have residents who are 81, 82, 85 years old and have lived there 45 years. It’s a totally different generation.”

The subject of a dispute that is dividing a Northeast community: aging Northwood Plaza. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

The site of the dispute that is splitting a Northeast community: the aging Northwood Plaza. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

New Form of Discrimination?

Several residents took exception to Conway’s bill, saying it is unfair to pass legislation that gives one community organization (the Hillen group) veto power over the project.

Haywood Wilson, a member of Original Northwood, said Conway’s bill reminds him of the civil rights protests in the early 1960s, when businesses in Northwood Plaza wouldn’t serve Morgan students solely because of their race.

“This week marks the 53rd anniversary of when the plaza was integrated,” Wilson told the panel.

“I still feel a sense of outrage that 50 years after Morgan State students were arrested trying to integrate the plaza, that we’re still having this battle over having them there.”

For Wilson, Conway’s bill “is really not about buildings. It’s about discriminating against a specific group of individuals, Morgan State students. . . What I would ask the senator to do is consider that these kids are the same kids that fought this battle years ago.”

Anthony Angion, of nearby Ednor Gardens. said he opposes Conway’s bill because it gives more power to one group and is divisive.

“This bill is taking away my right as a taxpaying, lifelong, home-owning resident of Maryland to voice my concerns about a redevelopment that will directly or indirectly affect me. And it is being taken away by my own senator,” he said.

“We finally have someone who wants to develop this area,” he told Conway, “and you are putting forward a bill that divides us.”

Compromise in the Air

Proponents of student housing said they have seen some progress in negotiations since Conway introduced her bill.

Richard Skolasky, president of Original Northwood, said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford convened a meeting in Annapolis last week that brought representatives of the three neighborhood groups together with the developer and Morgan State President David Wilson.

At that meeting, Skolasky said, the developer indicated that he may be able to lower the height of the buildings from five stories to three.

Conway characterized the developer’s willingness to lower the height as a sign of moving “in a small direction of compromise.”

Another meeting among the stakeholders, Skolasky said, is scheduled next week on the Morgan campus.

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