End is near for WWII-era apartments After years of neglect, half of East Balto. Co. complex will be razed

September 01, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A large portion of the Riverdale Village Apartments -- a World War II-era housing complex that slipped through years of decay into a symbol of shameful neglect on Baltimore County's East side -- is nearing the end.

Soon after officials foreclose on a government-held mortgage this month in the county Circuit Court, half of Riverdale Village will be demolished.

"It was just a dreadful place, and we all should have a toast when the place comes down," said P. David Fields, director of the county Office of Community Conservation.

The foreclosure by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against Riverdale owner James Schlesinger of New York will initiate a series of administrative and legal steps on Sept. 18 that will culminate with the sale of the 452-unit section on Eastern Boulevard in Middle River to the county.

The price: $1.

The doomed section is a ghost town of vacant buildings and overgrown weeds. The three families remaining will be relocated, possibly to the surviving portion of Riverdale whose mortgage is held by Chase Bank of New York. But officials hope eventually to tear down that portion, too.

Riverdale, built to house wartime defense workers, was one of the first dilapidated apartment complexes targeted by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III in his aggressive revitalization strategy for older neighborhoods in the southeast and southwest areas.

"Part of the community conservation strategy is to get rid of complexes which have outlived their usefulness," said Ruppersberger spokesman Michael Davis. "The consensus has been clear for a long time -- get rid of Riverdale."

In Essex-Middle River, nearly 45 percent of the housing is renter-occupied. Officials hope that by demolishing complexes like Riverdale, the population density can be lowered and more single-family homes constructed.

Chesapeake Village near Martin State Airport is another privately owned complex targeted for demolition.

"Essex and Middle River have lots of proud people there, and to have a place like Riverdale in their midst was an insult," Fields said.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, the Perry Hall Democrat whose 5th District includes Riverdale, likened the complex to a monument to the bad old days of develop and forget.

"Riverdale is a prime example of what can happen when a landlord and a county neglect a development for so many years," said Gardina, who has fought hard to demolish the complex.

"We don't want to make a big show of knocking down Riverdale," he said. "We want it down as fast and cheaply as we can, probably bulldozer."

Rick Cammack, president of the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce, said it is "in one way a shame to see a historic piece of property razed."

"But here we are 50 years later, and it's time to take steps to eliminate the drug traffic and prostitution that have flourished there," he added.

"We're chasing out the demon, putting it into a better state to redevelop," he said. "We're rid of that piece of real estate and look forward to a brighter day."

He said preliminary plans for the Riverdale property include homes, a park and retail space.

Public and police officials had long complained that Riverdale had become a marketplace for crack cocaine and heroin dealers, and a prime location for prostitutes. "The sooner it comes down, the better," said Capt. Jim Johnson, commander of the Essex Precinct.

Johnson said the apartment complex averaged 3,000 police service calls a year for juvenile crime, narcotics violations and violent disturbances. "Even when it was mostly vacant, we got hundreds of calls. It's one of the worst places in the county."

The foreclosure will follow action by the Baltimore office of HUD, which ruled recently that landlord Schlesinger cannot participate any HUD-related business nationwide for a year.

HUD paid off the $5.4 million mortgage on the dying section of Riverdale in June after Schlesinger had defaulted on the mortgage payments since January 1993.

Reached by telephone at his Connecticut office, Schlesinger said he agreed to turn over control of Riverdale to HUD.

"I have agreed to cooperate -- I've done the best that I can do," he said. "Look, the economy changed, the property went bad, the deal went bad. Now they have a million questions. I lost between two and three million dollars on that place."

The inspector general for HUD's Philadelphia regional office is investigating Schlesinger's operation of Riverdale, according to Robert G. Iber, an official in the housing agency's multifamily housing office in Baltimore.

According to HUD documents, the Riverdale residents' security deposit account was underfunded by $139,303 in 1988, by $101,763 in 1989 and by $127,843 in 1990. The status of the tenants' security deposit account is unknown, because Schlesinger did not provide any audited financial statement to HUD after Dec. 31, 1991.

"The implication of any criminal activity here is absurd," Schlesinger said.

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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