In Baltimore County, the words are apt to conjure up unpleasant visions such as potholes and puddles, weeds and trash cans, barking dogs and stray cats and maybe an aging car or two.
From Catonsville to Dundalk, residents of some of the county's oldest neighborhoods have to keep their trash cans out front and prefer not to park behind their homes because of huge potholes and loose concrete in their alleys.
But relief -- in the form of fresh concrete -- is coming as the county paves its way through a list of the 109 worst alleys in a streamlined reconstruction program. Even so, the bottom of the list will not be reached for a year or longer.
The work, an integral part of the Ruppersberger administration's plan to gird older communities against blight and keep them attractive for young homebuyers, is slowly taking on the results of years of neglect -- and it is an expensive task.
The county has appropriated $9.6 million through next year, and plans to spend $20.9 million by 2002 on alley overhauls.
Christine Morgan and Sally Gutierrez can attest to the program's success -- at least in their Catonsville neighborhood.
For the past year, their alley behind the neatly kept brick rowhouses on Cherrydell Road was in such bad shape -- undermined by a natural spring -- that trash trucks no longer could use it. Residents kept trash cans on their front porches.
"It's a major inconvenience. I don't like to store my garbage out front," said Gutierrez, a 15-year resident, as workers put the finishing touches on a smooth new alley, including a drain for the subterranean spring.
Morgan, a 22-year resident, said the new alley is "just wonderful."
The women worried, as have county officials, that older homes such as theirs could be snapped up by investors and rented out if the neighborhood infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate and property values fall.
James T. Pollard, a 10-year Cherrydell Road resident, organized an effort to get the alley overhauled just as the county was streamlining the system through which communities petition for repaving.
Under the old system, it could take five to eight years to get a new alley -- in the rare times when the two-phase process functioned.
Because alleys are not considered public property, homeowners have to pay for the work. Repaving required a petition signed by at least two-thirds of the owners on each affected block.
Years would pass before the county would schedule the job, and the owners would be told their individual cost based on the length of their properties. That's when people with big yards and end houses would change their minds, blocking the work.
To get around that roadblock, the county has taken a new approach -- repaving the alleys that need it, and billing homeowners a flat $750 each. It is payable without interest in $50 installments over 15 years, or at the time a house is sold.
"I think it's great, actually," said David Lewis, a 16-year resident of the 100 block of Hampshire Road in Essex, where the alley was repaved last month. He shrugged off the $50-a-year payments as minimal.
In Catonsville, work is under way to replace an old alley behind Small Court off Edmondson Avenue -- one that had not been repaved in the 42 years Robert and Anne Adair have lived there.
Robert Adair said he petitioned the county for repaving in 1990, but the owners of a large apartment house across the alley from his rowhouse property backed out because of the cost of the work. Adair said his bill under the old system would have been $2,000.
Pub Date: 8/26/96