Crying for help Park Heights: As city fails to curb crime and grime, declining area ponders extra tax.

November 05, 1997

DEPENDING ON who you are, the Parks Heights Avenue-Reisterstown Road corridor is either bathed in a nostalgic glow or is defined by the harsh realities of crime and grime. A turn-of-the-century "streetcar neighborhood," the area experienced rapid racial change in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the loss of its middle-class social glue in a flight to the suburbs.

Despite sporadic city efforts over three decades, nothing has managed to arrest the deterioration of the area that is home to about 17,000 Baltimoreans. A growing number of the corridor's pleasant, tree-lined streets are now pockmarked by vacant and vandalized rowhouses. Two commercial cores, at Cold Spring Lane and Belvedere Avenue, fight for survival.

Private efforts to reverse the Park Heights Avenue-Reisterstown Road corridor's decay continue, however.

A three-year drive, funded by a $534,000 grant from the Hoffberger, Goldseker and Straus foundations, is targeting absentee landlords and business owners, who abet drug dealing and contribute to the area's blighted conditions.

Meanwhile, there is talk of creating a community benefits district, financed through service charges on property owners and business interests, including Pimlico Race Course, to tackle sanitation and maintenance issues the city has neglected to address. Del. Salima S. Marriott is trying to raise $50,000 so . .TC referendum can be conducted to determine if sufficient support exists for such a district.

We seriously doubt the impoverished Park Heights Avenue-Reisterstown Road corridor is capable of financially supporting a community tax district. Granted, such districts have built confidence in some middle-class areas of the city. But they have succeeded because: 1) those communities are wealthy enough to pay for the effort, and 2) critical trouble spots have been relatively few.

Only a more determined city government role can make a lasting difference in the Park Heights corridor. But such intervention is unlikely as long as its community organizations get bogged down in turf battles and internal feuds, discouraging residents from involvement in self-help initiatives. In order to succeed, Park Heights needs to pull together.

Pub Date: 11/05/97

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