Cherry Hill residents' suggestions to form part of 5-year master plan Ideas for improvement abound at rally, brainstorming session

November 07, 1995|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

A 19-year-old suggested "youth recreation programs," as he sat under the makeshift basketball backboard mounted on a Bethune Road light pole. A mother urged "more police patrols" as she nervously looked at some men hanging around the grocery store parking lot.

Cherry Hill residents seem to have plenty of ideas for improving a community that lags behind much of the city in student test scores, home ownership and median income. A new community planning initiative, Cherry Hill 2000, seeks to gather those ideas and turn them into a five-year plan for the neighborhood.

"We want the community to come together to map out and achieve a strategic plan," said Michael Browne, a member of the Cherry Hill Development Corp.'s board of directors. The corporation is a nonprofit group organizing the initiative. "The idea is not just to have programs but for the community to plan together for lasting change."

The corporation's efforts to jump-start community interest in strategic planning began last weekend, with a Friday rally and on Saturday, a seven-hour ideas session attended by 120.

Because it may be impossible to eliminate drug-dealing completely in five years, Mr. Browne said one goal suggested was that crime be isolated by reducing the number of supposed drug-selling "hot spots" in Cherry Hill.

Other suggestions included developing industrial park land and strengthening the community's role in forming the curriculum for local schools. The corporation plans to take some of these ideas and produce a five-year plan early next year, Mr. Browne said.

"I have not seen this sort of community planning by the people themselves for years," said state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, who attended Friday night. "That's absolutely the right path to take."

The initiative grew from community objections to Harbor Hospital Center's master plan, released in March 1994. The plan called for an expanded hospital to attract more senior citizens for elder care -- a move that would alter traffic patterns in the area.

The hospital has contributed $8,000 for use in the planning effort, which has included a new community newsletter. The first edition of the newsletter is upbeat, but Cherry Hill's troubles are deeply rooted, according to a May 1995 report from the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State.

Only 17 percent of residents own their residences, compared with 48 percent citywide, according to the report and 1990 census figures. And 68 percent of households in Cherry Hill are headed by females, almost twice the percentage citywide.

Complaints about education and crime are related to family breakdown and "disinvestment in the community," the report concluded.

Residents say the community also needs more city services. They often mention health care, because of the number of residents with chronic ailments such as asthma and diabetes. The city also needs to do more to keep children occupied, said John Brown, 19.

At the same time, Mr. Brown and others pointed to hopeful signs. Public housing along Seagull Avenue and Bethune Road is being renovated.

"We sit on a hill," said Democratic Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, a Cherry Hill resident. "So our light shall shine for all of Baltimore to see."

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