Woodlawn-Liberty residents fight back against poor image New plan addresses issues of concern

June 10, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

If communities in Baltimore County had their own personalities, like siblings in a family, the Woodlawn-Liberty Road area would be the maligned, misunderstood and unappreciated child, residents believe.

William Obriecht, who has lived in the area for 28 years, thinks the county has a tendency to ignore older communities like Woodlawn-Liberty.

Karen Gray, a five-year resident, says the area would benefit from having a paid community organizer working full time on its needs.

Ella White Campbell, who has lived in the area about 20 years, says a "subtle form of steering" has been going on in the community, which has the county's largest black population.

But all three are encouraged by a new county plan they helped create that looks at issues concerning community residents and possible solutions. Among the issues tackled in "The Woodlawn-Liberty Community Plan" are community services, housing, historic preservation and education services. The plan calls for:

* Establishing a team of county officials, with representatives from departments dealing with community development, social services, planning, aging, police and substance abuse to identify the community's needs.

* Monitoring home ownership trends and directing the efforts of home ownership programs to neighborhoods that are shifting from owner-occupancy to rental to create incentives for people to buy their homes.

* Including historically significant buildings within the area on the Baltimore County landmarks list.

* Establishing programs to identify and foster gifted and talented minority students and requiring exit interviews for teachers who transfer or leave the area schools, which have a high turnover rate.

* Requiring consistent facade, signage and streetscaping for all properties along a street in commercial zones. All commercial properties that abut a residential area would have to provide a landscape buffer between the residential and commercial uses. And there would be restrictions on the types of businesses permitted.

4 And then there is the community's image problem.

"There must be coordinated efforts to improve the Woodlawn-Liberty area's image," the report says. "An improved image could result in attracting new residents and prosperous businesses, and instill current residents with pride to continue to maintain and support their community."

The area's poor image is mostly one of perception, said Ervin McDaniel, who works for the county's office of planning and zoning. "Once you are away from Liberty Road, there are well-kept homes," he said.

The Woodlawn-Liberty Community Plan area includes 10 census tracts bounded by Milford Mill Road and the Milford Mill metro center to the north, Interstate-70 to the south, the Baltimore boundary line to the east, and the Baltimore Beltway on the west. The area in the plan has 10 neighborhoods, with a 1990 estimated population of 27,159, and covers a land area of about 4,387 acres. In 1970, 2,353 blacks lived in the area, with 27,823 whites. By 1990, there were an estimated 18,123 blacks and 9,036 whites.

The Social Security Administration is in the area, along with the sprawling Woodlawn Cemetery. But the sometimes drab commercialism of Liberty Road is often the only thing outsiders think of when the area is mentioned.

A hodgepodge of fast food places, convenience stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, service stations and other establishments lines each side of the road. Mrs. Campbell and other residents say the over-commercialized Liberty Road corridor is not what the area is all about.

"I chose to move to the area because of the fine schools, the bargain in terms of homes and the accessibility to the Beltway," Mrs. Campbell said.

Mrs. Gray described her neighborhood of well-kept homes near Gwynn Oaks Park as a beautiful place to live. She and her husband, William, also chose to buy a home in the area because he works at the Social Security Administration, she said.

Mrs. Gray, chairwoman of the education committee that worked on the report, said the community's bad image has spilled over into what people think about the schools.

"There is a general feeling that the schools are not up to par," she said. "People are concerned that they are not getting a good education for their kids."

One reason for such thinking, she says, is that over the last few decades the area has shifted from predominately white to mostly black.

"The perception is that because some of the schools are predominately black, they can not be that good," she said.

The schools have a high turnover rate for teachers, and test scores are "generally lower" than in other county schools, Mrs. Gray said.

At a public hearing before the Planning Board Thursday night, Linda Soaper said that problems in the area schools are real. "It's not just a perception," she said.

Jessie L. Douglas, an assistant superintendent for county schools in that area, said there shouldn't be any generalizations about the schools.

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