Sale of apartment complex to R.I. firm spurs hope Repairs due soon at run-down Lake in the Woods in Lansdowne.

December 16, 1991|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Evening Sun Staff

The long-awaited renovation of the dilapidated Lake in the Woods apartments in Lansdowne is expected to begin soon, now that the 303-unit complex has been sold to a Rhode Island company.

Sale of the property from Lake in the Woods Limited Partnership to Circle Terrace Associated Limited Partnership came after several years of pressure from Baltimore County officials to rectify many problems at the complex, which is home to low- and moderate-income families.

Circle Terrace, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Landex Corp. of Rhode Island, settled on the 16.7-acre property Dec. 6 for $16.6 million.

Plagued by roach and rat infestation, sewage backups, infrequent maintenance, frequent loss of heat and high drug activity, the complex has a current occupancy rate of just 59 percent.

Large pot holes dot the roadways in the complex and numerous windows are boarded up in most of the 23 buildings that feature garden apartments.

Community leaders reacted with both joy and apprehension to news of the sale of the 19-year-old complex, which one leader described as "worse than the slums of the inner city."

"At last, something is being done that will benefit the people who live there as well as the entire community," said Alverta Dockins, president of the Lansdowne Improvement Association.

"This is so fantastic. I might be out there shaking the hand of the first nail-driver I see," said Theresa Lowry, a community activist who fought for nearly 16 years for improvements at the complex.

Lynn Silver, former head of the tenants' association at the complex, said that after all the false promises over the years to improve Lake in the Woods, she was apprehensive about the new owner's plans to rehabilitate the apartments.

"If they do the kind of quality work they have promised to do, then it will be a great benefit for the tenants," Silver said. "Conditions have deteriorated so badly that a slap of paint might seem like a great improvement."

Renovations are expected to be completed within 18 months, according to Larry Hatcher, deputy manager of the Baltimore regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Work must begin within 10 days of the settlement, he added.

Under the sale agreement, Circle Terrace agreed to build a community center. A new non-profit tenants' association will own 0.5 percent of the complex with the option to buy the facility after 15 years and operate it as a cooperative.

Rents for the newly renovated one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments will increase substantially but, as a condition of sale, all units will come under HUD's Section 8 rent-subsidy program, said Hatcher.

Lake in the Woods was built in 1972 around a 7.5-acre lake that was once the site of a quarry. It had been owned since then by Lake in the Woods Limited Partnership, which built the project for $3.75 million with financial aid from a HUD housing program for low- and moderate-income families.

Over the years, the project deteriorated badly. A HUD fact sheet on the proposed rehabilitation plan said the run-down condition was due to deficiencies in the original design and construction, years of poor management and deferred maintenance and unaddressed tenant abuse.

In the spring of 1989 alone, the county Fire Department cited the complex for more than 300 fire code violations. The county Department of Community Development cited more than 2,000 building code violations in that same year.

And in May 1990, the county Department of Permits and Licenses was forced to post one of the buildings as unsafe for occupancy because of a sewage backup that flooded the building. Seven families had to be housed temporarily in a nearby motel while repairs were made and the building cleaned.

"This place looks worse than some of the slums in the inner city of Baltimore," said Lowry. "The people there didn't deserve to live like that. But they are mostly low-income people and, in my opinion, government didn't worry themselves too much about it."

Silver said her bathroom ceiling has been replaced four times because of leaking water and sewer pipes. Her kitchen floor dips in the middle. The washer and dryers in the basement of her building have been unusable because of sewage backup, she said, and drug dealers often use the basement to conduct their illegal business.

"Conditions are just deplorable," said Silver, 36, a mother of three.

Until 1988, the county did not have any rental housing code under which to force the owners to fix up Lake in the Woods. Finally, after such a code was enacted, the county had the means to cite the owners for livability violations.

The violations were issued, said Frank Welsh, director of the county Department of Community Development, as leverage to resolve the long-standing problems at the complex. After discussions between the county agency, HUD and the old owners that lasted more than a year, the owners finally agreed to sell.

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