Residents fought razing and created model of renewal Washington Hill's REBIRTH

January 30, 1994|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

For reminders of how she has spent much of her 68 years, Betty Hyatt needs only to look out the front window of her first-floor co-op in the 1700 block of E. Baltimore St.

Out there are the streets of Washington Hill, where the daughter of Russian immigrants played during the Depression, where the single mother raised five children, where the former church worker dreamed up ways to occupy restless neighborhood teen-agers.

She has devoted the past two decades to rebuilding those streets, to shaping solid rows of meticulous, red brick homes, some with marble steps and wrought iron railings, with doorway trim and cornices painted blue and green. Soon, she'll see the final pieces in place.

Since residents fought the wholesale razing of 27 blighted blocks north of Fells Point, the neighborhood has risen from a prime example of urban decay and neglect to a model of innovative renewal projects fueled by city-community partnerships and federal grants. By the mid-1980s, housing planners from Israel, Turkey, China and France were traipsing through co-ops on Fairmount Avenue, shopsteads on East Baltimore Street and dollar homesteads on Durham Street for **TC peek at redevelopment in the inner city. Ms. Hyatt, executive director of Citizens for Washington Hill since 1972, usually led the way.

Redevelopment stalled about seven years ago when federal money slowed to a trickle and other parts of the city were deemed needier. But today, workers are building affordable housing on the neighborhood's last major parcel. Planning resumed a year and half ago, federal financing came last fall and the first new homes should be finished next week.

The $4.5 million Washington Square includes 37 townhouses and 22 condominiums on four parcels of East Baltimore, Spring, Eden and Fairmount streets. Already, buyers have signed contracts to buy six of 10 new townhouses on East Baltimore, with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, walk-in closets and gas heat. Townhouses -- with market values from $72,000 to $91,000 -- will sell for $51,254 to $69,452 because of federal and city subsidies. One- to three-bedroom condominiums -- valued from $48,679 to $86,218 -- will sell for $34,674 to $63,718.

In a neighborhood close to public housing projects fighting their own battles with poverty, drugs and crime, Washington Square "will go a long way toward stabilizing the entire community," Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson said when the project broke ground last fall.

Longtime residents agree that Washington Square signals progress for Washington Hill, where some residents talk of auto break-ins, burglaries and fears of walking toward the Inner Harbor at night but still say benefits of city life outweigh the dangers.

Joan Burns, a state lobbyist for the Department of Human Resources who grew up in New York City, moved to Washington Hill from "small town" Annapolis 14 years ago. Her children were grown and she missed the city.

For a spacious, three-bedroom co-op on Fairmount Avenue with high ceilings, tall windows and a bedroom view of the Inner Harbor, Ms. Burns pays $494 a month. She walks to work and shopping in Fells Point and goes to nearby theater, movies and restaurants. Owning a share in a co-op -- in which residents hold stock in a company that owns and manages the complex -- allows her to build equity and get tax breaks.

"This is a communal type of place," she said. "We know each other. I don't think it will ever be a quaint Annapolis, but I don't want it to be too yuppie either."

Developer Betty Jean Murphy expects Washington Square to attract city people like Ms. Burns, professionals who work downtown and families who want an affordable home of their own. She and developer Elinor Bacon formed the Bacon-Murphy Partnership to manage the project, with architects Schamu, Machowski, Doo and Associates, general contractor Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse and sales agents Prudential Preferred Properties.

Ms. Murphy and Ms. Bacon, who have developed rental and for-sale properties mainly in the city liked Washington Hill's reputation for racial, cultural and economic diversity and mix of housing, businesses and institutions such as Church Home and Hospital and the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

"I can't believe everyone wants to live a sterile, homogenous neighborhood," said Ms. Murphy. "In order to be good at this, you have to gamble on the future. I believe people will want to live in the city."

Sense of community

In the early part of the century, Washington Hill was the choice of Jewish, Italian and German immigrants. Ms. Hyatt grew up in a Fayette Street rowhouse crammed with relatives: her father, who ran the toy department at Hochschild Kohn department store, mother, sister, cousins, grandparents, two uncles and an aunt.

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