Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says city housing officials have scheduled a meeting that could untangle problems that have thwarted a developer's efforts to buy from the city five vacant, rat-infested buildings.
"We look forward to working with that developer," Schmoke said yesterday. "We like to see that kind of initiative."
Edward W. Lee Jr., the contractor and landlord interested in buying the properties, is scheduled to meet early next week with David Elam, development director with the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.
The city scheduled the meeting after Lee vented his frustration in a story that appeared Monday in The Evening Sun.
Lee, who owns more than 30 buildings in the city, said he has spent four years trying to persuade the city to sell him five vacant buildings in the 800 block of N. Fulton Ave. -- a low-income area of West Baltimore. He said he wants convert the structures to apartment buildings.
Lee's efforts to secure the buildings became snagged in the machinery of city government and the Baltimore Housing Authority, which now owns one of the properties. Sales of housing authority properties are governed by strict federal guidelines.
Also, city officials now say, one of the buildings has been snared in a legal dispute over an insurance claim -- a problem Lee says he knew nothing about until it was mentioned by a reporter this week.
Schmoke and housing officials say the city on several occasions has offered to sell Lee four of the five properties.
"That's absolutely, categorically not true," Lee said. "I defy anybody to prove that they offered those properties to me."
Moreover, Lee said, if that offer is on the table at next week's meeting he will gladly accept it. "I don't have any problems with accepting four properties," Lee said. "I want this to move forward."
The properties Lee wants are near two apartment buildings he owns. Lee said the vacant buildings create many problems for his tenants -- ranging from the stench of dogs and cats that have died in the buildings to the sound of rats scratching on the buildings' walls.
While Schmoke said he wants Lee's situation resolved, he defended the work of the city's housing agency, pointing out that the year-old Community Development Financing Authority has provided backing for 190 housing renovations and purchases.
"[Lee's] case was an unique situation," Schmoke said. "