Piecing together the Knox Box Puzzle

Knox Box  Ownership
Image courtesy of the DiamondbackKnox BoxesThe Diamondback reported today on the continued ownership consolidation of the Knox Boxes just south of campus. A quick search through Maryland’s Real Property database (complete with purchase prices) reveals that Knox Village Partners LLC and Knox Box Realty LLC have acquired over half of 52 dilapidated units in just one year. The Diamondback traced these two companies to one owner, Janet Firth, who stated her intention is only to provide “high quality student housing” by renovating the existing buildings. She cited thousands of dollars in renovations to the buildings as proof of this, but failed to mention that much of that money went towards meeting city fire codes (indeed student David Ellis died in a fire on one of her properties last year).

The Knox Box Area is a slum, plain and simple, and it will be redeveloped. It’s zoned for mixed use and will likely become very high density student housing. We’ll be following this important area closely over the coming months and bringing you schematics of proposed buildings that an architecture masters student has been working on for his thesis.


We would like to point out two oversights of this post. The first, and most important, is that we mentioned the death of David Ellis without mentioning that in his case, even the existing fire codes would not have saved his life.  The fire did, however, lead to stricter fire code enforcement in College Park and exposed flaws in the system which are still being addressed today (at Santa Fe, for instance).

Furthermore, it should be noted that Mrs. Firth led the way in retrofitting all her basement Knox Boxes with larger windows and housed her tenants in a local hotel during the retrofit. Though Mrs. Firth was Mr. Ellis’s landlord, we did not mean to suggest that Mrs. Firth was a negligent landlord.

Second, we are very excited about the potential redevelopment of this area and see the continued consolidation of these properties as a positive step toward that end.  We are glad to see a local developer taking charge to build what will come to benefit everyone.

4 thoughts on “Piecing together the Knox Box Puzzle”

  1. Any thoughts on whether optimal redevelopment of the area requires changing the road layout back there?

    According to urban theorist Jane Jacobs, dense neighborhoods rely on short blocks so as to increase the “path-crossing” of residents, thus fostering increased interaction.

    Additionally, a straightened street pattern might make navigation through the neighborhood more intuitive and thus more inviting.

    Also, straight roads provide expansive views, which could reduce the opportunities for crime.

    Not all these issues are the responsibility of the developer (well, a hypothetical redeveloper), but it will be interesting to see what the architecture thesis recommends.

  2. I once lived in a knox box (which appears to now be owned by Janet). At the time (about 2 years ago) my landlord said he was part of a group of landlords that had plans to buy all the knox boxes, raze them, and put up high rises.

    Is there any word on whether this is still in the works?

  3. janet firth is a slum lord, she can put people up in hotels when there is media attention because she is swindling tenants when no one is looking.

  4. Janet Firth has recently sold all of her Knox Box properties (50+ 3-unit properties) to another investor.

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