Demolition plans cause mixed feelings at high-rises Some happy, others see loss of community at Lexington Terrace

September 27, 1995|By ROBERT HILSON JR. | ROBERT HILSON JR.,SUN STAFF

For 36 years, Barbara McKinney has lived in the high-rise at 755 W. Lexington St. in the Lexington Terrace housing development. Her sister was born there; so was her son. Ms. McKinney has spent many long hours painting the building's halls and planting flowers in its shadows.

So when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced Monday that the West Baltimore development would be demolished in March, she felt a part of her life would be left among the ruins.

"I just can't imagine living anywhere else," said Ms. McKinney, 43, who shares a two-bedroom, 10th-floor apartment with her 17-year-old son. "This seems like the place where I've always lived and always wanted to live."

The city has won a $22.7 million federal grant to demolish the five high-rise and 23 low-rise buildings that contain 677 units at Lexington Terrace and replace them with a mixture of private and public housing to be completed in 1998.

The new development will include more than 300 two-story townhouses, of which 203 will be rented and the remainder sold; a 100-unit apartment building for seniors; and a recreation center, day care center and business center.

Residents will be relocated sometime near the first of the year, housing officials said.

With the impending demolition sealed, residents have mixed feelings about the end of Lexington Terrace, which was built in the 1950s.

While some feel the development has long been dangerous and decrepit, others said crime has lessened in recent years and tenants are strongly united to keep it that way.

Youngsters still play basketball on an outdoor court within the development, and adults linger on balconies.

Karen Webber, who lives with her brother in a low-rise unit on West Lexington Street, is happy about the demolition and hopes her new housing won't need security bars on its windows.

"A lot of people who live here truly believe that if the city doesn't blow the buildings up, the idiots who come there will eventually blow them up. They have to come down, that's all there is to it," said Ms. Webber, a tenant of the development for less than two years.

"The way it is now, you always feel nervous when you're in your house at night. You don't want the window open too much," she said.

Sharon Cummings, a three-year resident, was also happy to hear of Mr. Schmoke's announcement.

"They couldn't get me out of here any sooner," Ms. Cummings said. "This place ain't nothing but trouble and criminals."

But others said crime at the development is mostly committed by outsiders -- and many tenants have little tolerance for them.

The drug dealers "know that we don't take no stuff off them so they don't come around here that much no more," said Junior Wilkerson, 45, who lives in the high-rise at 755 W. Lexington St.

"I think it's not that bad living here, definitely not so bad where it's got to be torn down," he said.

In recent years the development, just west of Martin Luther King Boulevard, has deteriorated, and many of the apartments in the high-rise buildings have been vacated and boarded.

Police said that in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lexington Terrace was a hub of drug dealing and related crime -- including gunfights.

But Ms. McKinney said the buildings have been crime-free recently.

"This is not like a lot of other places. There are no drive-bys, no drugs. It's a community environment where there's a togetherness," she said. "The people here are looking out for each other. Moving out of here scares me."

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