Charles Village's return to vitality Some crimes decline after year of extra tax, but criticism remains

July 16, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Last year, Jackie Bailey wanted to move her home nursing business from Charles Village. She was tired of the trash and people sleeping in her doorway.

Today, the trash and vagrants are gone. Now Bailey says she's buying the building she rents on 25th Street and keeping her 30 employees in the neighborhood.

She gives credit to her change of heart to the sanitation and security crews of the Charles Village Community Benefits District, the city's first residential area to charge an extra tax for cleanup and safety.

A year after its inception, the tax district -- while still a sore subject with some -- has helped to rejuvenate many parts of the 100-block area it covers in the center city.

Property crimes have dropped by 20 percent since the district was established. Along with eight security guards, volunteer block captains patrol the streets and newly acquainted neighbors clean alleys together.

The benefits district staff urges new businesses to move in and old ones to expand, while architects volunteer their time to draw streetscapes for a future Charles Village.

With a private grant, a consultant is designing a blueprint for the community's future, coordinating transportation, housing and retail projects in the area that borders the Johns Hopkins University, Union Memorial Hos pital and some of the poorest, most crime-ridden areas of the city.

Unlike other neighborhood master plans, which are designed by city government, this one comes directly from the community and "will focus on people's dreams on how to make the neighborhood better," said Alfred W. Barry III, a former city planner hired to draft the plan.

Tracy Durkin, director of the benefits district, said she believes the 350 volunteers and 105 block captains in the greater Charles Village area are proof of the benefits district's success.

'The heart of it'

"If you can mobilize 350 people to go out and improve the neighborhood, that's the heart of it," she said.

Frank Jannuzi, a block captain who coordinates cleanups in his community, said: "The benefits district has begun to build a much closer sense of community inside Charles Village and that's what enables us to mobilize for cleanups."

In more than a dozen interviews, many Charles villagers said they swear by the benefits district as the hope for their neighborhood's future. Detractors, however, say they see little evidence of security guards or sanitation workers.

"There were a bunch of promises made, few of which have been realized. There certainly isn't a visible security force in place 24 hours a day," said resident Grenville B. Whitman, referring to literature promoting the district before its enactment.

And to some, the neighborhood doesn't look any cleaner.

"It's filthy," said Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, who lives near Greenmount Avenue.

"I realize it's not a maid service, but I think we should see somebody coming around once in a while to clean up," said Shapiro, an early supporter who says she now is disappointed with the benefits district.

Despite the benefits district, some continue to leave the area.

Teacher Gina Davis finds no change in the 2400 block of Guilford Ave., where she and her roommate watch the same drug dealers do business near their home, despite calls to the police and benefits district security guards.

And since a bullet ricocheted into their living room and the streetlight was shot out behind their bathroom window, they've decided to leave the city.

Nonetheless, Sgt. Jack Kincaid of the Police Department's Northern District said he believes that the benefits district's security detail has played a role in reducing community crime.

"They report a lot of drug activity to us. They're a part of the extra eyes and ears out there patrolling," he said, adding that more intensive police surveillance in Charles Village also has helped bring down crime.

Most crimes decline

Kincaid says crime statistics for the first six months of the year -- compared with the same period last year, before the benefits district went into affect -- back him up.

Property crimes, such as car thefts, larcenies, commercial burglaries and robberies -- all crimes that increased before the benefits district -- have dropped considerably.

Kincaid said robberies are down 21 percent -- from 145 to 114; commercial burglaries dropped by 20 percent -- from 60 to 48; larcenies are down 13 percent -- from 640 to 556; and auto thefts dropped by 24 percent -- from 119 to 91.

However, home burglaries increased by 3 percent -- from 138 to 142. The number of murders increased to four -- up from two -- and rapes rose from two to six.

Mary Lewis, a block captain in the higher crime community of Harwood at the southern end of the district, said she notices less drug dealing since the guards began work.

When the benefits district started, she said, "We weren't seeing security, then it all worked out. You started seeing them in less influential parts of Harwood," she said.

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