Hope, doubt greet plan for renewal East side residents say they want to see city's effort in action

October 17, 1997|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

There is no joy in the 1800 block of N. Castle St. in East Baltimore -- just hope mixed with a dollop of skepticism.

"Like the guy said on the 'A-Team,' 'I love it when a plan comes together,' " Harry Staton, one of the few people living on the desolate block, said yesterday. "Let us see the plan come together, and we'll love it then we'll have something to talk about."

Staton's block is one of 18 on Baltimore's east side scheduled for an extensive revitalization effort designed to transform some of the city's most blighted neighborhoods.

On Wednesday, top city leaders approved spending $1.7 million -- the first installment of $34.1 million that would renovate and offer for sale 500 rowhouses and demolish 400 more.

Staton, 47, a lifetime East Baltimorean who has lived on North Castle Street since 1989 and is one of the few people still living on the block, thinks almost any plan the city would have for the block would be better than what is there right now.

"You can see what it looks like, so it's self-explanatory," said Staton. "It's going to make a tremendous difference if they put something worthwhile in place of it."

The sentiment that anything will be better than the status quo is shared by Wanda Robinson, 34, another lifelong East Baltimorean, who spoke from a vantage point two blocks away.

"There's not a lot up there anyway," Robinson said. "Most of the houses are vacant. People don't care."

Residents offered eulogies of the neighborhood's better days, which were interrupted by an influx of drug dealers and the dominance of absentee slumlords.

"It's the drugs," Edward Sampson, 57, said without hesitation when asked about the decay of once-solid neighborhoods in East Baltimore.

Sampson -- who rents in the 1300 block of N. Bond St., another block earmarked for renovation -- said the plan could eliminate venues for drug dealers, who often use the vacant buildings as stash houses.

"If they tear this stuff down, there won't be any problem with drugs. There won't be anything to hide behind," he said.

Residents also hope that the plan might lead to more responsive ownership of the properties in the neighborhood.

"A lot of the landlords have these places for a tax write-off, so they don't care," said Kieshawn Pittman, 25. "So with this, maybe it'll be all right."

Officials say that because most of the 900 houses affected by the plan are vacant, only about 90 families will have to be moved. Pittman, however, said some may not return to see the results of the revitalization.

"A lot of people want to leave the neighborhood anyway," she said.

Pub Date: 10/17/97

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