People come and go, but unity stays put


April 17, 1994|By Adriane B. Miller | Adriane B. Miller,Contributing Writer

On Saturday, April 23, the residents of Belair-Edison will forget their differences, stop worrying about litter and crime and gangs. They'll grab the kids, flying discs and blankets, and head for a picnic in the park.

The annual Belair-Edison Spring Festival Community Picnic and Flea Market, followed Sunday by a neighborhoodwide real estate open house, are big doings in the city community. The events bring together residents who are increasingly besieged by urban problems but who manage to put them aside to have fun.

Belair-Edison struggles with the same problems as all city neighborhoods. Crime is a big concern. Residents wonder how to occupy groups of teen-agers with nothing to do. They question the quality of public schools. They fume at high car insurance and property tax rates.

In addition, the community of 8,000 homes -- almost all rowhouses -- is feeling its age, says Tracy Durkin, executive director of the Belair-Edison Housing Service. Seniors are dying or moving away. Young families are moving out to single-family detached homes. The result is a glut of houses for sale.

And the rate of homeownership is down, too, says Stephen F. Simpson, president of the community association. About 70 percent of the homes are owner-occupied now. A few decades ago, he says, 98 percent were owner-occupied. And one of Belair-Edison's most troublesome problems, Mr. Simpson says, is the lack of community involvement by newcomers.

Yet, in spite of its difficulties, Belair-Edison has a strong sense of hope -- because so many of its residents do get involved -- Mr. Simpson says.

The Belair-Edison Community Association has about 1,000 member households, each paying $5 in dues. Not bad, some say, considering other neighborhoods have trouble getting anyone to join.

"I point to various areas around the city and say, 'These are people with the same demographics as ours. Look where we are and look where they are. We have a viable community and property values are relatively high. It's because of the community association," Mr. Simpson says.

"We are involved. People in this neighborhood never have to feel that they stand alone. Sure, there's an upswing in crime, a considerable increase. But that's reflective citywide," he says.

Ms. Durkin said she doesn't think the neighborhood's crime is rising here any more than in any other part of the city. A block watch program keeps the area relatively safe.

"Sometimes the perception is greater than the reality," she says.

David Sann, a Belair-Edison homeowner and volunteer with the housing service, says he hears a lot about urban ills but mostly from people who have never been to his neighborhood.

"You get a lot of naysayers," says Mr. Sann. "But the tax thing is a wash. If our house were in [Baltimore] County it would cost double what it did here in the city."

Attractive to first-timers

The average price of a home -- about $54,000 -- makes Belair-Edison an attractive landing place for first-time leaps into homeownership.

The houses here are 50 to 60 years old, and many of its residents moved here when the places were new. But large numbers of young families live here, too. Children are playing outdoors in great hordes on sunny afternoons, kids in diapers and whispering teen-agers alike.

Mr. Simpson says young professionals without children also make up a big part of the community. Many of them are first-time buyers like Mr. Sann and his wife, Debbie Straka, both 28.

The couple bought their first house on Sheldon Avenue in Belair-Edison about two years ago. Mr. Sann says he and Ms. Straka may want more room eventually, but for now, they like the proximity to their offices downtown. They like the quiet, neighborly feeling of its streets. They like the fact that the community is integrated.

A 'tolerant community'

Mr. Sann and Ms. Straka, both white, live next door to another young, married, working couple with no children in their first home. They are black.

"We feel very strongly if you don't want to live in an integrated community, we won't be any good for you and you won't be any good for us," Mr. Simpson says.

He guesses the community is about half black, half white, with several other ethnic groups throughout.

"We have a small Vietnamese population, a relatively small group of Hispanics, and a few Gypsies," Mr. Simpson says.

"It's a very tolerant community," he says. "We're kind of proud of that."

Residents are also proud of their vintage Baltimore architecture. Row after row after row of red brick, white trim townhouses, squarely facing the street, line blocks.

All but about 50 of the homes in the community are rowhouses. Single-family detached homes are concentrated along Richmond, Brendan, Kentucky and Kenyon avenues.

Each home is built solid on a thick foundation. No false brick facades here, the bricks are structural parts of the house. Most of the rowhouses have two to four bedrooms.

* Population: 13,649 (1990 Census)

* Commuting time to downtown Baltimore: 15 minutes

* Commuting time to Washington: 1 hour

* Public schools: Brehms Lane Elementary, Sinclair Lane Elementary, Northeast Middle, Herring Run Junior High and Lake Clifton-Eastern High schools

* Shopping: Erdman Shopping Center on Erdman Avenue and Sinclair Lane; Freedom Shopping Center on Erdman Avenue; shops and stores along Belair Road

* Nearest mall: Mondawmin Mall to the west; Eastpoint Mall in Baltimore County to the east

* Points of interest: Clifton Park and Municipal Golf Course, borders area to the west; Herring Run Park, borders to the north and east; Lake Montebello and Memorial Stadium

* Average price of single-family home*: $53,596

* ZIP codes: 21206, 21213

* Average price for homes sold through the Central Maryland Multiple Listing Service over the past 12 months.

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