Erecting an iron fence that fear has wrought 8-foot barrier planned for Hollander Ridge

April 29, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

They live so close to Linda Walker that they are practically neighbors. But as Joe and Gisella Frisone go about working, shopping and gardening, their paths never cross hers.

For 20 years, theirs have been separate worlds on opposite sides of the city-county line: Ms. Walker in Hollander Ridge, a struggling Baltimore housing project, and the Frisones in Rosedale, a middle-class Baltimore County community right behind it.

Now the divide, deepened by fears of crime including the recent slaying of an elderly woman, is about to be made formal. The city and county have agreed to put a tall, wrought-iron fence around Hollander Ridge.

The 8-foot-tall fence, specially designed with curved posts to deter people from climbing over, will cost $750,000 to $1 million in taxpayer funds.

Fencing in Hollander Ridge strikes some people as peculiar because of the price and the timing. Baltimore, after all, wants to desegregate its public housing by giving poor black families rental subsidies to move to more affluent, largely white suburbs.

"Is it ironic? Sure. A fence is a very tangible divider," said Barbara Samuels, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, which negotiated the far-reaching desegregation plan.

Yet for very different reasons, many residents in Hollander Ridge and Rosedale want the fence built. So do Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk and other local leaders.

One reason is simple. There already is a fence between the neighborhoods, a collapsing, chain-link fence with large gaps that give access to Rosedale for drug dealers and other criminals.

In an attempt to curtail the crime, the city turned to the federal government for help in 1994, then stationed guards at the entrance to Hollander Ridge and barricaded the only road still open into the county.

The cocaine and heroin trafficking slowed but didn't stop. Hollander Ridge residents complain it continues because people come through the old fence -- and Rosedale residents complain the drug trade has spread to their streets.

In the past year, county police reported a marked increase in burglaries, holdups, car thefts and other crimes in Rosedale. Then, in February, an elderly woman was smothered in her Rosedale home. Police charged two men from Hollander Ridge in her death.

"Everyone was outraged," said Darryl Buhrman, president of the Rosedale Community Association. "We realize the fence alone is not the solution, but it's going to afford some protection."

There is another, less-discussed, reason for the wrought-iron fence. It's a compromise: What some Rosedale residents wanted was a large highway-sound-barrier type of wall.

Will the new fence make for good neighbors?

In an era of heightened security concerns, fences, gates and guardhouses have become increasingly common at private apartment and townhouse complexes. Putting up public barriers, however, often raises issues of race and class divisions.

In Annapolis, a new townhouse community provoked an outcry three years ago by building a fence next to a public housing project.

Guilford, a wealthy Baltimore neighborhood, drew criticism two years ago by proposing traffic barricades at several streets after the slaying of an elderly couple. They were put up quietly after the controversy faded with the arrest of the couple's grandson.

"Fences may make good neighbors, but they don't generally make good public policy," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden. "It shows one community wants to keep another out."

From the moment it opened in 1976, Hollander Ridge, Baltimore's second-largest housing development, has been a remote, isolated place to live.

The 522 earth-colored townhouses and 20-story senior apartment building are wedged between an industrial strip and the intersection of two freeways: Interstate 95 and the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. There are few stores nearby, and bus service is limited.

Over the years, the Hollander Ridge buildings deteriorated, and the tenants, mostly African-Americans, became poorer. A third of the 1,000 apartments are deserted. The average income of residents, mostly mothers of young children or seniors, is less than $6,000 a year.

On the east side is Rosedale, a predominantly white neighborhood of working- and middle-class families across the city line. Some of the ranch and Cape Cod-style homes on the hilly streets overlook Hollander Ridge; some are right beside the broken-down fence.

To Ms. Walker, a tenant leader who has lived at Hollander Ridge since it opened, a new fence is just a security measure.

"You can't climb over it, which is one of the problems we've had. We've had all types of people coming in here."

Ms. Walker, 41, also thinks the fence will be more attractive than the remnants of the old one. But some of her neighbors say the new fence will make it more difficult for them to walk in and out of Hollander Ridge. The old one doesn't surround the development.

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