Events

PLACE Affordable Housing Event – Press Releases, April 25, 2017 through May 12, 2017

Apr 25, 2017Star Democrat
Public forum set on housing in Port Street corridor
EASTON — A public forum is scheduled for a nonprofit to develop an analysis of the housing portion of the Port Street Small Area Master Plan. The Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and Town of Easton have been developing a master plan for the Port Street corridor and Easton Point, a document meant to provide a framework for future development in that area of town.

PLACE (Projects Linking Art, Community & Environment), a nonprofit community builder which acts as a nonprofit developer for cities and other municipal or nonprofit entities, will conduct a preliminary feasibility analysis of the affordable and innovation housing portions of the Port Street plan in May.

“The Easton Economic Development Corporation has identified the development of affordable housing as a priority project that could advance the overall goals of redeveloping Port Street and Easton Point due to the potential to harness market forces and the availability of existing infrastructure,” EEDC Executive Director Tracy Ward said. “The economic impact of this project to the Town of Easton would exceed $20 million.”

Working with a steering committee formed by the Easton Economic Development Corporation, PLACE will involve key stakeholders in a series of host meetings and focus groups between May 9 and 11 in Easton. The focus groups will address financial, quality of life, and housing and environment and will involve community leaders, elected officials and business representatives from each of the three areas.

A public forum will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, at the Easton Firehouse, 315 Aurora Park Drive, for the entire community to discuss the vision for the project, provide examples of similar developments around the country and describe the economic impact and other beneficial outcomes. PLACE will then present its findings from the visit to the stakeholders on the next day.

A further goal is for PLACE to determine its capacity and appropriateness to provide development services for the Port Street Small Area Master Plan affordable housing and innovation pieces. Through the Port Street Small Area Master Planning process, the community has identified the retention and development of affordable housing on Port Street to be a key priority.

Easton is currently generally underserved in affordable housing, according to the EEDC. Affordable housing currently available on Port Street is in disrepair and will require significant investment in the short term. The community has also been very vocal in their requests for supportive retail, environmentally sensitive development and healthy food options created through a market and/or gardens.

The Port Street Small Area Master Plan also calls for live and work spaces that would appeal to creative professionals and millennials. The PLACE team has extensive experience in developing new models for urban neighborhoods that demonstrate radical innovation in environmental design, live and work hubs for creatives and creative businesses, job creation through retail and manufacturing, affordable workforce housing and supportive housing for the most economically distressed.

For further information about the public forum on May 10 at the Easton Firehouse, contact Ward at 410-708-6932.

May 10, 2017 – Star Democrat
Port Street Project feasibility study launched
EASTON — Starting with two walking tours, the Port Street Project feasibility study was launched on Tuesday, May 9.The morning tour led community leaders through the historic Hill section while the afternoon tour began and ended on Port Street, including a stop at the old Moton High School and Habitat for Humanity homes.

Working with a steering committee formed by the Easton Economic Development Corporation, PLACE, which stands for Projects Linking Art, Community and Environment, began a series of meetings and focus groups that began Tuesday and will end May 11 in Easton. A public forum is planned for tonight at the library. The focus groups are designed to involve key stakeholders in addressing financial, quality of life, and housing and environment, according to an April 24 press release from the Easton Economic Development Corporation. The stakeholders include community leaders, elected officials and business representatives from each of the three areas.

The Minneapolis-based PLACE, a nonprofit developer for cities and other municipal or non-profit entities, is conducting the preliminary feasibility analysis of the affordable and innovation housing portions of the Port Street Small Area Master Plan. Talbot County Economic Development Commission (TCEDC) member Walter Chase said he was pleased with what he has heard so far. “I felt good about talking to them this morning, I really did,” he said. ”From the way they talk, they’re trying to keep the character of the community,” Chase said. “It’s important for people to stay here and work here with affordable housing and jobs.”

Through the Port Street Small Area Master Planning process, the community has identified the retention and development of affordable housing on Port Street to be a key priority. Easton is currently generally underserved in affordable housing, according to the TCEDC. ”The idea has merit,” Mayor Robert Willey said. “I’m concerned that the area is so big that when we chop it up in pieces, it won’t blend in, it won’t look like Easton.” His concern is providing most of the people with affordable housing. Willey said that he preferred the phrase “workforce” rather than “affordable” housing. But he said that older people need affordable housing as well. Willey said he’s also concerned with infrastructure. “If Port Street is a gateway from Easton Point to the downtown area, I’d like to see the Port Street area connect with public transportation,” Willey said. “We can’t go long without it.”

According to a press release from the TCEDC, “Affordable housing currently available on Port Street is in disrepair and will require significant investment in the short term. The community has also been very vocal in their requests for supportive retail, environmentally sensitive development and healthy food options created through a market and/or gardens.” ”The Port Street Small Area Master Plan also calls for live/work spaces that would appeal to creative professionals and millennials,” the press release stated. “The PLACE team has extensive experience in developing new models for urban neighborhoods that demonstrate radical innovation in environmental design, live/work hubs for creatives and creative businesses, job creation through retail and manufacturing, affordable workforce housing, and supportive housing for the most economically distressed.”

“The Easton Economic Development Corporation has identified the development of affordable housing as a priority project that could advance the overall goals of redeveloping Port Street and Easton Point due to the potential to harness market forces and the availability of existing infrastructure,” corporation executive director Tracy Ward said. “The economic impact of this project to the Town of Easton would exceed $20 million.” According to its website, PLACE is a nonprofit organization with a mission baked right into its name: Projects Linking Art, Community & Environment.

The organization exists to create affordable living and working for people of all income levels and backgrounds within sustainable, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities. ”Charting new territory and confronting difficult challenges is part of our organizational DNA,” the website states. “PLACE continually seeks new ways to challenge the status quo, and ultimately to create beautiful, visionary places in which people from all walks of life can live, work, play, and create.”

For further information about the public forum at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, at the Talbot County Library, 100 West Dover Street, Easton, call Tracy Ward at 443-798-4077.

May 11, 2017 – Star Democrat
Gentrification fears appear at Port Street forum
EASTON — The point of the public forum Wednesday night, May 10, at the Talbot County Free Library on future redevelopment of Port Street in Easton was not necessarily to set a specific vision for the area. Instead, Chris Velasco, co-founder of PLACE, and his team gathered information to find out if redeveloping that area of town would be feasible.

But fears of gentrification arose at the public forum, and there were worries of those living in the area of Port Street being priced out of homes, something town and county officials said they want to make sure doesn’t happen with any future development there. Residential infrastructure is aging on Port Street in town east of state Route 322, and most properties in the neighborhood are individually owned homes or housing communities.

Easton’s only waterfront can be found west of Route 322, called Easton Point at the end of Port Street, which is undergoing a long process of annexation and potential change to commercial zoning for the properties there. Londonderry on the Tred Avon, a retirement community where each unit is privately owned, also is west of Route 322 on Port Street. Economic development, town and county officials are seeking to redevelop the area, and are in the process of forming a community-minded vision for it.

There is already a draft plan formed for Port Street, and it is proposed for inclusion into Easton’s comprehensive plan, said Tracy Ward, executive director of the Easton Economic Development Corporation. It is not a final plan, but hundreds of people have participated in forming it, including several community meetings, work groups and committees, she said. “It has been a good two and a half years that we’ve been studying Port Street and thinking about what could happen along Port Street to connect Talbot County and Easton’s waterfront at Easton Point to the town of Easton,” Ward said. “It’s a plan that is really showing you concepts of what might happen. It is not at all likely to represent what actually will happen, but the idea is to start to identify some principles of which we can agree upon that would guide future development that is inevitable along Port Street and on Easton Point,” she said.

The Easton Economic Development Corporation board invited PLACE, a nonprofit based out of Minneapolis, Minn., to come to Easton to help guide officials through the process of evaluating the potential for redeveloping housing along Port Street.

Velasco spent a lot of time Wednesday talking about past projects PLACE has done. He said PLACE, which focuses on solving issues community members have with a specific area, doesn’t “parachute” one idea used in a redevelopment project to another location. Instead, it forms separate visions for each project that are focused on community member participation. PLACE staffers have been in Easton this week and held a tour of the area and meetings with community leaders to get an idea of what redevelopment on Port Street could look like and the current struggles of that portion of town.

“The reason that we all do what we do is because we are passionate about a few things. One is involving the community in the development process,” Velasco said. “Very often, development happens and you have very little involvement in it, and it can have a real lasting impact on your community. So we’ve really committed ourselves to community-driven processes of development.” Whatever happens on Port Street, Velasco said it’s important to find out “what does affordable housing mean” so people aren’t priced out of living on or around Port Street. At the same time, he said Easton has “some of the most distinctive kind of building stock in the country,” and any kind of future development would have to “fit harmoniously” with the town, and hopefully spur future development in the area. Velasco also said future development could include an appropriate industry for that area of town, to give the people who live there jobs.

The projects PLACE completes involve some type of all-encompassing housing — a place to live, work and eat, and one that accomplishes those goals while saving its residents money on energy, transportation and other things. They also involve some sort of public-private partnership, so for-profit companies can provide capital for the projects and later benefit from appreciation. But much of what was talked about Wednesday wasn’t anything concrete, beyond the initial drive to involve community members in the process, something those who live on or around Port Street said at the public forum they wished PLACE had done more of. “What happens to Port Street will affect what happens to us,” said Joan Brooks, who lives near Port Street. Velasco said PLACE talked to three people who live in that area of Port Street before the meeting, something Brooks criticized at the forum.

“Regardless of what anyone has a perception about this, this used to be a viable, quality African-American neighborhood and community, and now it seems like it’s a sense of it’s just property to redevelop,’ Brooks said.Former town council member Moonyene Jackson-Amis was upset more people in the Port Street neighborhood were not contacted, although Easton Economic Development Corporation board member Rose Potter said they tried to spread the word about the public forum as best as they could.

Jackson-Amis helped start the town’s first affordable housing initiative in the early 2000s, she said. Providing affordable housing in Easton is something people have been discussing for years, and Jackson-Amis said something needs to spur it, “because it’s the same conversation we’ve been having for years.” “I hope they will consider the various perspectives and that if they come up with something that works and that the folks who live on Port Street or in the area can have some equity in it, which is what (Velasco) said, then to me that would be very important,” Jackson-Amis said. “Affordability is different; a young professional has a different set of needs, and a family person has something else, and if you’re a dishwasher, that’s altogether different.”

After the public forum, Velasco spoke with Brooks and Jackson-Amis, inviting them to be part of the conversation and inquiring what the best way would be to reach out to those who live in the Port Street neighborhood. Talbot County Council President Jennifer Williams said she had mixed feelings about redevelopment on Port Street. She said gentrification in the Port Street neighborhood is one of her concerns, too, and the “idea of trying to acquire properties to be able to create a bigger project, and I think that has to be done very delicately.” “You don’t want to see some of these families who have lived in the Port Street area for years, and in some instances generations, kind of being forced out,” Williams said.

She also said consideration has to be taken for the watermen community that works out of Easton Point, to make sure that there’s still a viable place for them to dock and deliver their daily catches while commercial properties develop around them. She said the Talbot County Housing Commission is working on several affordable housing initiatives and redeveloping housing in that area of town, including ventures with private companies to provide the capital for projects.

Williams asked the question: Why would the county pay an organization to do something the county already is getting for free? “To me, what differentiates this group that has come in is they don’t just do the housing. They do the whole workspace community; it’s like all-encompassing housing,” she said. “I’m very optimistic, very excited. I really want to see Port Street move along, but there’s some hesitation to make sure it’s done right and it’s done taking all the components into consideration, all the various competing interests into consideration, and you’re trying to reconcile it in a way that works for everybody,” she said.

May 12, 2017 – Star Democrat
Talbot leaders share ideas for Port Street Project
EASTON — About 30 local community and business leaders gathered Thursday morning, May 11, at Heartfields Assisted Living on Port Street to participate in one of the focus groups that shared ideas for the revitalization of Port Street. Chris Velasco, executive director of PLACE, facilitated the breakfast focus group.

The focus groups were designed to involve key stakeholders in addressing financial, quality of life, and housing and environment, according to an April 24 press release from the Easton Economic Development Corporation. The stakeholders include community leaders, elected officials and business representatives from each of the three areas. Working with a steering committee formed by the Easton Economic Development Corporation, PLACE, which stands for Projects Linking Art, Community and Environment, began a series of meetings and four focus groups that started Tuesday, May 9, and ended with an 11 a.m. wrap-up session at Bartlett Pear Inn Thursday, May 11. Velasco spent about a half hour at the Thursday breakfast focus group explaining the mission and completed projects of PLACE. The nonprofit organization was invited to conduct a feasibility study for the Port Street Redevelopment Project. Four of its principal leaders were present.

The Minneapolis-based PLACE, a nonprofit developer for cities and other municipal or nonprofit entities, is conducting the preliminary feasibility analysis of the affordable and innovation housing portions of the Port Street Small Area Master Plan. A short question-and-answer segment that followed was concluded with a discussion that resulted from guided questions like “What’s most important for you to see in this project?” and “What are key critical needs you’re hearing in your community?” Touting the successful communities he said PLACE has developed, Velasco showcased the nonprofit’s work in a slide show, highlighting the process of planning and building “holistic, 360-degree” communities, as well as the final results.

“Affordable housing is an issue across the country,” Velasco said. “But we also address transportation needs and access to healthy foods,” among other factors. When developing communities, Velasco said “a lot of public input” is important. “PLACE likes to start with live-and-work space that brings small businesses and residents under the same roof,” he said. “It’s transformational for lives and communities.”

Several themes emerged during the discussion, and the need for effective communication was a dominant one. Velasco stressed several times the need for consensus building, but with an aim toward making all stakeholders feel heard and included in the process, especially in the first phases. Rose Potter of Trappe cited uninformed county citizens who tend to speak negatively about the plan as a barrier to implementing it. “Sometimes (communications) is misleading and that can be detrimental,” she said. “We do have a well-organized group of naysayers who can be loud and organized,” one participant said. “We need to make sure we have a balanced way to get information out.”

“A good community-driven process cultivates dissent,” Velasco said. “It should be brought to the table. (Dissenters) can respect the process even if they don’t like a product. They can help make end result better.” Discussion participants brought up the need to establish a theme. “We need assurance that if changes come along they fit within that vision,” one leader said. “If plans change, there shouldn’t be a hodge-podge of things that don’t complement each other.”

Civil engineer Bob Rauch said he would like to see the “ambitious project broken down, with sustainable projects within the larger plan.” “It’s a rather massive plan,” Easton Mayor Bob Willey said. “But when you break it up, each piece (should fit together with the whole). Once it’s finished, it should feel like Easton. It should feel like one town.” “I think that’s important,” Velasco said. “In a robust community process, people will bring their own knowledge, and it will be more art than science in determining what feels like Easton to different groups and melding them together.” “We’re doing everything we can to make sure people who live on Port Street stay there and live there with dignity.”

Easton Councilman Ron Engle said after the meeting. “Lots of things went on, on Port Street that people don’t know about. We want it to keep its community identity. It’s not gentrification.” “Port Street has a fantastic history,” Economic Development Commission member Ted Bautz said. “It’s a celebration of American life. There ought to be a way of capturing that as an amenity for the town and for tourism.” “There can be a balkanization of (segments) of the process,” Velasco said. “Twenty-five percent of people can be intransigent about working with us. There can be linchpin properties that slow down the process.” “This is a complicated aggregation of sites, and we have to make sure we’ve developed a toolbox strategy and put it out there in an open fashion,” Velasco said. Leaders shared what they wanted to see in a revitalized Port Street corridor.

Affordable housing headed the list of needs as well as transportation solutions that will not cause extra congestion. Velasco said PLACE looks for alternatives to car transportation. “When you design things for cars, you get cars,” he said. Preferring the term “mobility,” Velasco said that designing “alternatives to help people get around helps build equity; some people can’t afford cars.” Talbot County Councilman Dirck Bartlett said providing restaurants was important since “Easton traditionally was a waterfront town” like St. Michaels and Oxford.

Attracting millennials into the community was another need a participant voiced. Bartlett mentioned environmental issues as a concern for planning. “Whatever we do should improve the situation, not make it worse.” Velasco said while it sounds easy to say, nine out of 10 developers tend to make the environment worse. A challenging issue would be the “slow steady grade from the Hill” that sends run-off water directly into the river. Velasco asked if there were stakeholders “who would be key to have around the table?”

Answers included the spiritual community, bankers, hospital personnel, members of the housing commission, the historical society, the arts community, watermen, Hispanic groups, public safety officers and young professionals. ”We think mixed-income communities are healthier than communities with one strata of income,” Velasco said. “PLACE likes to start with a live-and-work space that brings small businesses and residents under the same roof. It’s transformational for lives and communities.”
For more information about PLACE, go to www.welcometoplace.org

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