Vacant rowhouses to be demolished Mayor made pledge to Sandtown area BALTIMORE CITY

September 24, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Melody Simmons | JoAnna Daemmrich and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers

An ambitious plan by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to rid Sandtown-Winchester of nearly 700 boarded-up properties within a year will begin soon with the demolition of blocks of dilapidated rowhomes.

Wrecking crews will tear down all the vacant, blighted homes in the 1300 and 1400 blocks of N. Bruce St., the 900 block of Whatcoat St., and the 900 block of N. Woodyear St., housing officials confirmed yesterday. Some of the blocks are almost completely empty.

Razing 136 of the small row- homes lining extremely narrow streets is expected to cost about $615,900, said Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. The remaining 534 homes will be rebuilt at a cost still to be determined, he said.

In March, the mayor pledged to see to it that every abandoned house is renovated or razed to complete the West Baltimore neighborhood's highly touted renaissance.

After meeting with residents during a high-profile tour through Sandtown-Winchester last week, Mr. Schmoke said he is sticking to his one-year timetable to turn around the 670 boarded-up properties.

U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Attorney General Janet Reno followed the mayor up Whatcoat Street on Sept. 15 to shake hands with residents and look at a flower garden that used to be an abandoned, trash-strewn lot. They were in town to see what was once one of the city's poorest neighborhoods but now is a model for urban renewal.

"I know that it is an ambitious timetable, but we think it's important to set a goal, set a deadline and see how far we can get," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday.

Joseph Morris, a Sandtown-Winchester homeowner who spends much of his time caring for the garden on Whatcoat, is pleased by the plan. He said the city has offered to give the five homeowners on his block the deeds to newly constructed homes in return for allowing their existing homes to be torn down.

"They want the city to hurry up and get them out of there," he said. "The landlords don't do anything, and the houses are rat-infested."

Mr. Schmoke has promised to replace many of the blighted row- homes with new homes similar to Nehemiah Housing, a nationally recognized homeownership project in Sandtown-Winchester. But some of the properties will be turned into gardens and parks.

The effort represents a new direction for the city. In the past, housing officials scrambled to renovate as many vacant homes as possible. But recently, the mayor and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III have said empty, unsafe houses clustered in narrow alleys should be demolished rather than renovated.

Vacant homes dot nearly every one of the 72 city blocks in Sandtown-Winchester, bounded by Lafayette Avenue, North Avenue, Monroe Street, and Pennsylvania and Fremont avenues. The city recently gave the Community Law Center, a nonprofit legal agency, a $627,500 contract to acquire the properties.

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