The Baltimore Board of Estimates has approved the sale of three vacant, dilapidated properties to a developer who had been trying unsuccessfully for four years to buy the buildings from the city.
The board yesterday approved the sale of the buildings -- located at 833, 835, and 837 N. Fulton Ave. -- to developer Edward W. Lee Jr. for $1,500. The developer, who owns more than 30 buildings citywide, plans to refurbish the Harlem Park buildings into 12 rental housing units for low- and moderate-income people.
Lee's effort to buy five vacant, rat-infested properties from the city had been snagged in the machinery of city government and the Baltimore Housing Authority for four years until last fall.
A break in the negotiations came after Lee's frustration with the city's unresponsiveness was reported in The Evening Sun last October.
The article prompted city housing officials to meet with Lee and finally iron out a deal for three of the five buildings. The other two properties are still snarled in federal red tape, according to a city housing spokesman.
But Lee says he hopes to be able to buy those properties next summer, when he plans to have completed $170,000 in renovations on the three buildings now being sold to him by the city. He says he will begin work on those after going before the city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals for permission to put four housing units in each building.
"I feel very positive," Lee said. "What happened in the past happened. But the point is that things are now moving in the right direction."
That was not always the case. Despite an apparent lack of interest by anybody else in the properties and the Schmoke administration's stated goal of reducing the city's stock of 5,000 vacant houses, Lee's repeated inquiries to the city about the properties yielded nothing but frustration before last fall. Although the city expressed interest in Lee's plans, most of his letters and phone calls went unanswered by the city, Lee said.
Making the city's inaction worse for Lee was that the vacant buildings adjoin two properties in which he has invested a significant amount of money to refurbish.
One, at 838 N. Fulton Ave., cost $100,000 to renovate several years ago, Lee said. And that investment was imperiled by water gathered in the adjoining vacant buildings. Also, rats in the vacant buildings regularly alarmed Lee's tenants by scratching on the walls.
But now that he is dealing more easily with the city, Lee has expanded his plans. He hopes to buy a city-owned lot in the 800 block of Fulton Ave. and erect five new, four-unit apartment buildings. He estimates that job will cost $700,000.
If all of his plans move forward, the Harlem Park native estimates that he he will spend $1.2 million in his old neighborhood, renovating and building 40 apartment units in a community shunned by many investors.
"I feel great," Lee said. "I'm happy that things are now moving forward."