Community group is created in effort to unify Little Italy Splinter association says it represents residents

September 14, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

A community group has been formed to unite and represent the residents of Baltimore's Little Italy, a neighborhood long divided over parking problems and legal disputes.

"We need a new breath of life in Little Italy," said Gia Blattermann, an officer and a founding member of the Little Italy Owners-Residents Association, which has about 40 members.

"We have so many challenges ahead of us. We must face them as a unified community or we will lose out."

If the new organization is able to unify residents, it will be the first time in months that peace has prevailed in Little Italy. Residents have been fighting since May over whether a vacant parking lot on Central Avenue should be used to provide valet parking for customers of the area's restaurants.

But it was an earlier controversy -- over unpaid legal bills and a $5 million lawsuit -- that divided the neighborhood and the community's leaders.

In June 1995, the Little Italy Community Organization was sued by the owner of the Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse at Exeter and Fleet streets, who attempted to convert the building into an apartment complex. The community organization hired an attorney and took legal action to block the development, which later fell through. Many residents say they never voted to hire the lawyer.

After the dispute over $19,000 in unpaid legal bills erupted, three of the officers of the Little Italy Community Organization resigned. The group -- now headed by a transition team that once included Blattermann -- represents 500 people, among them business owners and residents.

"We formed the residents association basically because the community is frustrated with not having a strong community group that represents the interests of the residents," said Ray Charlton, president of the Little Italy Owners-Residents Association, who is a former member of LICO's transition team.

He and Blattermann left the team last month.

"LICO serves both the residents and the businesses in the area, and as we all know, it's difficult for any one group to serve two masters," Blattermann said. "That's why the Little Italy Restaurant Association was formed, and that is why this group has been formed."

The Little Italy Restaurant Association represents many of the dining establishments in the area. Residents may attend the group's meetings but are not allowed to vote.

"We want to be a respectable and responsible community organization that works with other community groups and city officials to resolve issues of concern to Little Italy residents," Charlton said.

"How can LIORA be representative of the community if they are only concentrating on the interests of residents?" asked Richard Ingrao, who is on the LICO transition team.

"I just don't see why there's a need for this association, because LICO already represents the interests of the residents. In fact, this group is counterproductive to the community because it undermines the authority of LICO to represent the community as a whole."

"This organization was not formed to kill any other group off," Blattermann said. "We simply want to strengthen our community and put the controversies of the past behind us."

Charlton added that opposition from Ingrao and others in Little Italy will not deter leaders of the residents association from proceeding with their plans to work with city officials.

The group has met with officials from Baltimore's Department of Public Works to discuss construction of a sewage pipeline. And at the association's next meeting, scheduled Sept. 30, Charlton said city Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and representatives from the Southeastern police district will talk to residents about crime prevention.

"As president of LIORA, I feel I have to answer to the people and be accountable to them," Charlton said.

"The community wanted to meet with people from city agencies who could answer their questions about crime prevention and the impact future construction will have on Little Italy, so we've asked city officials to come to our meetings. It's a perfect example of what our group is all about -- addressing the concerns of residents."

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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