Road to nowhere awaits a purpose

November 26, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

In the South Baltimore community of Brooklyn, the city has built a road that goes nowhere. Complete with sidewalks, street lights and fire hydrants, it cost the taxpayers $590,000 and dead-ends on a vacant piece of land.

The land, near the intersection of Potee and Garrett streets, is the future site of a district court building that has yet to be funded by the General Assembly.

Despite the uncertain date of the court's construction -- which has been delayed for several years -- the city went ahead and built the half-block extension of Garrett Street 2 1/2 years ago.

"I passed [the road], wondered why it was paved. I was surprised. Why not wait to pave it until the court is under construction?" said Chief Judge Robert F. Sweeney of the Maryland District Court.

Judge Sweeney said the Brooklyn court building "will be funded in the [1994 legislative] session" or, at the latest, in 1995.

In explaining the delay, the chief judge said other new court buildings around the state took priority for state construction funds over the years.

"I couldn't spend all of my chits at the General Assembly in Baltimore City. I've had a terrible problem in Towson where we've been in the basement of the parking garage," Judge Sweeney said.

Zack Germroth, spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, said that the city built the road in 1991 because city officials believed the state was "ready to go forward with the courthouse at that time."

For the Brooklyn community, the new road is a symbol of the city's failure to follow through with its plans to revitalize the area.

"To have spent the money on the road without being able to follow up [with the courthouse] is ludicrous," said Delores Barnes, president of Concerned Citizens for a Better Brooklyn.

"We've been very disappointed ever since because of the deteriorating condition down there," she said, referring to the area around the road.

The land purchased for the courthouse and other development was previously home to a junkyard and for many years was an eyesore to people driving into the city from its southern boundary.

Local businesses hoped the elimination of the junkyard and the new development "would be a face lift for the Brooklyn area, and Baltimore would be proud to say, 'This is the gateway to the city,' " said Peg Crocetti Hanna, who was president of the now-defunct Brooklyn Business and Professional Association in the 1980s.

In 1985, the city purchased the 16-acre junkyard next to Ms. Hanna's Italian restaurant at Potee and Garrett streets for $1.4 million, according to city records.

In 1987, the city sold 6.3 acres of the land to the state for the court building for $500,000, according to state records.

But the state legislature delayed funding of the courthouse, and no other development materialized for the rest of the land, which remains vacant.

The city also purchased property across Potee Street from the court building site, which also remains undeveloped.

In July, Ms. Hanna's restaurant -- Castelle d'Abruzzo -- closed its doors for lack of customers after 15 years in business.

She said she and her family had kept the business open, and even expanded the dining room, in anticipation of the courthouse. But the construction delay -- coupled with the recession -- forced them to shut down.

"We could survive if we could bring some life back to the area XTC and become a part of the core of Baltimore City. And the courthouse was part of it," she said.

In the 1980s, Ms. Hanna worked with the city to make Brooklyn's commercial district an urban renewal area. She also served on the mayor's advisory committee on small businesses.

But shortly after Kurt L. Schmoke became mayor in 1987, Ms. Hanna received a letter announcing that he was disbanding the committee.

After that happened, "I knew no one to contact in the city. I heard nothing," she said.

Mr. Germroth said that the city is waiting for the courthouse to be built before it seeks proposals for the adjacent land. The courthouse would be the "anchor" for other development, he said.

Along with the frustrated merchants and community leaders, state Sen. George W. Della Jr., who represents South Baltimore, has been keeping watch on the delayed court building and the rest of the undeveloped land.

"I don't see any activity coming forth from [the housing department] in any commercial revitalization areas [including Brooklyn]," said Mr. Della.

But he is optimistic that the court building will be funded next year.

"We have been put off time and time again for what sounded like good, logical reasons, but I think the time has come [to fund the courthouse]," he said.

When told the cost of the road, he said, "I can't believe it cost $590,00. That's a heck of a lot of money. It still goes nowhere."

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