Eastport Residents To Planners: 'Leave Us Alone'

June 30, 1991|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff writer

On a summer evening, a breeze tinged with salt you can taste blows cool and gentle along the narrow streets by Back Creek.

And the generations gather again to savor it.

For blocks around, the old folks sit on their stoops watching theworld go by, ever so slowly, just the way they like it. Their children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews play on the pavements, onthe streets or down by the dock.

It's always been this way for the black families whose ancestors settled here in Eastport more than acentury ago.

But on this summer night, the talk turns to whether the neighborhood will survive, and whether the little houses ultimately will be squeezed out by soaring property values and taxes no old-timers could afford.

One after another, longtime residents shake their heads in disbelief when they speak of architects' visions for thefuture of the waterfront: a floating restaurant, a boardwalk, a market like the one at City Dock in Annapolis, pavilions, water taxi stops, specialty shops, outdoor areas for artisans, an international yacht center.

Three teams of architects dreamed up the three widely varying versions of what Back Creek's waterfront should be, at the behest of city planners, as part of a weekend brainstorming session. Cityofficials say they want to preserve both the small-town character and the rich maritime tradition, while keeping large-scale development off about three acres being sold by Bert Jabin's Yacht Yard.

Residents offer a decidedly different view.

"They going to save our neighborhood? Huh? How do you save it by putting in a boardwalk and restaurant and all these shops and such?" says Velma Weems, sitting on the porch at the Chester Avenue house where her parents and grandparents grew up.

"They should just take these drawings and shove them," adds the 57-year-old mother of seven children. "They got no right coming in here doing things to route people out of their homes. What arethey trying to do, turn us into a little Ocean City or Harborplace?"

Down the street, Harry Blunt and James Snowden, two retired NavalAcademy cooks clad in sweat suits, sit on folding lawn chairs at Second Street and Chester Avenue. They too worry about the future of their neighborhood.

"It's all about rich people," says Snowden, a 56-year-old lifelong resident.

"It's not for no poor people, I tell you that. Ain't nothing for poor people but work. And we gonna be squeezed out, most definitely. We could go to City Hall all year-round, and we'd still get squeezed out."

"Hell, we just wish they'd leave us alone," adds Blunt, 65. "When we was coming up, nobody wanted to live anywhere near the water, so that's where we ended up. Now, you can't keep them away, and there ain't gonna be no place for us left to go."

City planners call such fears unfounded and promise to spare the neighborhood. They hasten to point out that nobody knows yet who might buy the land or when or how projects like those conceived by the volunteer architects might be financed.

The Chesapeake chapter of the American Institute of Architects is reviewing the designs and plans to incorporate elements of each into a single recommendation to city leaders by August.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, whose district includes the Back Creek waterfront, says all three teams of architects envisioned much less intense development than what would beallowed along Back Creek under current land-use restrictions.

Moreover, she says, none of the plans would prove profitable, as a bigger project might.

Thus, city officials hope to limit the amount of development by finding at least partial financing from a non-profit group or a public agency. The city itself plans to spend no money on the project, however.

"The intent is to maintain that specialness about Eastport, to keep it a village within a city." Moyer says.

"And you have to work very hard at that. Just because it's that way today doesn't mean it's going to stay that way. But I don't want to yuppie-fy Eastport."

Some residents remain less than assured.

Geneva Brown sits on a wicker chair inside the enclosed porch of her baby-blue shingled house on Second Street, looking out over the water where she taught her four children to swim and where her father set out on a workboat to dredge for oysters.

"The oughta just leave things as they are," says the 79-year-old. "Can't they leave anything alone?

"What they're talking about would just take out the black folks, because most of them couldn't afford to stay around here. After all this time, it doesn't seem like there's gonna be any place left for us."

Around the corner, on Bay Shore Avenue, 67-year-old Lucille Little says she's seen the architects' drawings and models and heard city officials' promises.

And, she adds, she has no doubt what will become of Bay Shore and Chester avenues, Second Street and East Street-- the places her family has called home for four generations.

"It's gonna be just like the city, just like downtown," she says. "If you ever been to downtown Annapolis, you know what that's like.

"Itjust seems like there's a method to their madness," Little adds. "Itjust seems like they want to push us out, but there's just nowhere for us to go."

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