Charles Village cries for help

October 05, 1994

Charles Village was one of the symbols of Baltimore's urban renaissance -- a dowdy, old, Victorian rowhouse community that was rejuvenated by professionals and students in the 1970s. The very name is so recent it was dreamt up only in 1967 by Grace Darin, an Evening Sun copy editor. It stuck and today describes an area defined roughly by the Homewood campus and 33rd Street, Greenmount Avenue, 20th Street and Howard Street.

In recent years, something of a crisis of confidence has developed among many Charles Villagers. What once was a seemingly inevitable movement toward improvement seems to have slowed or halted. Examples of creeping blight are in evidence; so is fear of crime. Plentiful "For sale" signs seem to indicate that many want to move out -- and are having little success in selling their homes. Meanwhile, many long-time residents say their repeated complaints to the authorities fail to produce any action.

Charles Village property owners are now voting on a controversial plan that, if approved, would establish an experimental benefits district and management authority to coordinate stepped-up safety, sanitation and promotion. In essence, property owners, whether residential or commercial, would pay an extra tax each year that would be used for improvements.

"People are beginning to realize that they are taking control of their own future," Edward Hargadon, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, says of the proposal.

The experimental benefits district has created an intense controversy in the 65-square-block area it covers. The letter balloting has taken on all the characteristics of a fierce political fight. Many see the vote as a crucial turning point, even though the district initially would be in operation only for three years. If residents agreed to continue it after that, they would have to persuade their representatives in Annapolis to pass new enabling legislation.

When the plan was initially proposed, this newspaper had grave reservations about it. We felt it might lead to a growing Balkanization among city neighborhoods. The Schmoke administration also opposed it.

The ability of the plan's proponents to get the enabling legislation through the General Assembly changes the situation. the majority of Charles Village property owners want to saddle themselves with extra payments in hopes of improvements, they clearly ought to have a chance to do so.

Ever since its renaissance, Charles Village residents have been unusually active in community affairs. If nothing else, the current campaign is going to reinvigorate community participation and focus it sharply on the measures needed to improve the area and polish and sustain its appeal.

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