Fight against blight continues Neighborhood organizations battling plan to deal with ills along Liberty Road corridor.

April 09, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

A story about the Liberty Road corridor in The Evening Sun yesterday should have reported that Ella White Campbell lives in Stevenswood. The Evening Sun regrets the error.

Driving past the gasoline stations, the fast-food places and the clutter of signs along Liberty Road, Ella White Campbell points out perceived trouble spots as though they are potholes in the road.

Over there is Woodmoor Shopping Center. "This has been one of the major sore spots in the community because it is so downtrodden," she says.


Then, there's Body Talk, a year-old nude dancing club that recently inspired the General Assembly to pass an emergency state law barring booze at such places. "Goodness gracious. It's a trauma," she says.

And, all along the strip "the same kind of stores," she laments. "Hair salons, cleaners, fast food, gasoline stations. . . ."

Long before a single article of clothing was shed at any Liberty Road commercial establishment, with its subsequent publicity, community groups have been fighting for greater control over the hodgepodge of stores, businesses and homes along this corridor traversing western Baltimore County.

As far back as the 1950s, civic groups fretted that the road was becoming a "gasoline alley," that many of its filling stations were becoming "hot rod hangouts."

The Liberty Communities Development Corporation, a group of about 200 business owners along the corridor, has drafted a plan to deal with some of the ills along Liberty Road, in the eight-mile stretch from the city line to Deer Park Road.

Campbell, as president of the Liberty Road Community Council, a group of neighborhood organizations along the corridor, is campaigning against the plan, although she favors most of its recommendations.

Some of the disagreement is substantial. But the conflict is partly about who speaks for the affected communities such as Woodmoor, Milford Mill and Randallstown.

In denouncing the plan to the county Planning Board last month as "an abomination of justice," Campbell, joined by others, objected to being excluded from the original drafting.

Jim Janas, the corporation staff director, counters that residents have had opportunities to comment on the plan, including at the recent Planning Board hearing. But the corporation had a reason for declining a seat at the drafting table to Campbell and her allies.

"We are not going to involve Ella White Campbell in this project. We know her response -- anti-everything," Janas says. "We're not masochistic."

Campbell and other residential leaders do oppose some of the plan's proposals, such as connector roads and more development. But she and her allies do favor much about the plan.

For instance, the Woodmoor Shopping Center that Campbell scores and that is owned by the organization of the late billionaire Harry Weinberg is one property the development corporation hopes to help renovate.

As for its criticism of Campbell, the corporation has much the same concerns over Liberty Road's evolution as does she. "We've got more places to get your car greased," Janas says.

Indeed, the four-lane road is lined with auto places and fast-food franchises as well as a Chinese restaurant with golden dragons on its roof and a surplus store marked with a rocket. It also has new and redesigned shopping centers with bright white and aqua facades. Between the strip shopping lots are wedged residential stretches, including new apartment complexes and older, slate-roofed houses with ample yards.

In 1963, when Rosario Caccamisi opened his barber shop in Liberty Plaza, closer to the western end of the corridor, "it was nothing but woods out here," he remembers.

Business was slow for a couple of years as he waited for the development near the Beltway to come west. When it did, Caccamisi added a beauty parlor to become Rosario's Total Hair Care.

He later became a leader of the Stoneybrook neighborhood organization as it fought to divert the planned Metro line to Owings Mills, where it is today. Says Caccamisi of plans to run the train line through their back yards: "They were going to turn this place into the Bronx."

But he couldn't stop the building of three more shopping centers nearby. With the arrival of these and others, "business has been spread so far apart," he says.

As Caccamisi discovered, one couldn't stop change in the corridor.

Emily Wolfson, an early Liberty Road area settler, recalls that her eldest child was bounced among nine different schools before graduating because "the schools were filled before they finished them."

She and her husband moved to Church Lane, just off what was then a two-lane Liberty Road, in 1957. She said they figured that her husband's Veterans Administration mortgage loan could buy more house there than in an older, established neighborhood such as Towson.

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