The orderly withdrawal of the last Army unit leaving the old Fort Holabird could soon turn into a rout, as area residents move to block a Baltimore drug and alcohol treatment center from moving in.
The Army Crime Records Center, which is relocating, will move the last of its 2.3 million criminal investigative files to Fort Belvoir, Va., tomorrow. In its place, Nehemiah House, a Rosedale shelter, plans to open a 40-bed residential treatment center for homeless men.
But outraged Southeast Baltimore residents are protesting, charging that they had no notice of the proposed move. "They may be planning it, but we're planning to stop it," said Gladys Cimaglia, 72, president of the St. Helena Community Association.
The move of the 65-employee records center fulfills a 1988 recommendation by the defense secretary's Commission on Base Realignment and Closure.
Most of the military investigators' files resemble the tedious reports of their civilian counterparts -- burglaries, assaults and drug busts.
But the Army keeps some interesting odds and ends, such as tape-recorded interviews with helicopter pilots who witnessed the aftermath of the 1968 My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. soldiers. Or the investigation of Iva Toguri D'Aquino, convicted of treason -- and later pardoned -- for her World War II broadcasts of Japanese propaganda as "Tokyo Rose."
Nehemiah House won the right to occupy the two buildings under a federal law concerning the disposal of surplus federal property. That law gives a preference to organizations serving the homeless.
The law was changed last fall to give communities greater involvement, but the process that chose Nehemiah House was completed four months earlier, in June.
Nehemiah House would use the 18,000-square-foot main building as a live-in drug and alcohol addiction treatment center, said program director John Wanger.
"We're excited about the new center. It will fill a major need in Baltimore and Baltimore County," he said, adding that it can open six to eight months after Nehemiah House receives the go-ahead to move in.
Nehemiah House will need approval from the Baltimore City Council to open the center, said Alfred W. Barry, assistant director of the city planning department.
Neighborhood residents fear the treatment center would depress home values. "We wouldn't be able to give our houses away if those drug addicts move in," says Kyle Akers, a retired autoworker who lives next to the Army property.
Mrs. Cimaglia, who has lived in the neighborhood for 51 years, was angered to learn recently that plans had progressed so far without government officials or Nehemiah House consulting the community. Her group and other neighborhood opponents will meet at 7:30 this evening at Colgate Elementary School to plan to fight the treatment center.
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a 3rd District Democrat, joined St. Helena residents who were shocked at the lack of consultation.
"I'm outraged," he said. "You don't put a facility like this in a community without involving the community, which appears to be the case here."
And state Sen. Perry Sfikas, a Baltimore Democrat whose district includes the site, declared his "complete opposition" to the center. He said he would help community residents organize the fight it.