In a move that would help revitalize Baltimore County's eastside, a development group is weighing a $10.8 million plan to buy and remodel a major portion of the Villages of Tall Trees, a World War II-era complex once known as the area's crime capital.
The proposal by Baltimore-based Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., which would cover 80 apartment buildings, is being hailed by county officials eager to revive an area that deteriorated as it lost thousands of well-paid industrial jobs.
"With a quality firm like Struever interested in the eastside, it's a signal things are improving," said Michael H. Davis, a spokesman for the county executive.
The federal and county governments financed a community center and other features several years ago to help revitalize the area, and now they are "starting to realize a return on our investment," Davis said.
The redevelopment proposal illustrates the changing face of communities such as Middle River and Essex, where county officials want to reduce the glut of apartments and promote waterfront development.
But even as Struever considers its plan, another highly touted private redevelopment plan at Tall Trees has been thwarted.Thomas J. Coulthard III, who leads a group of investors, planned to transform one of Tall Trees' 105 apartment buildings into condominiums, which would have supported the county's interest in promoting homeownership on the eastside.
Coulthard, who manages three cemeteries in Baltimore and Dundalk, converted the condemned apartment house at 1602 Doolittle Road that his group owned into stylish condos with three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
But Coulthard says his $235,000 effort last spring "was a comedy of errors."
Public officials and community leaders "say they want to promote homeownership, but they don't give you any help," he said. "The [property owners'] association didn't want my condo to happen."
According to Blanche M. Martin, president of the Tall Trees Association, Coulthard and his group "didn't legally convert the building to condos. They never came to the association of owners at Tall Trees for approval. They built and then tried to sell them."
Coulthard abandoned the condo plan and is renting the units for $700 a month. The first residents, scheduled to move in next month, will receive federal housing assistance, Martin said.
Coulthard has also put the building up for sale.
Tall Trees, a rental community constructed just after World War II in Essex on Back River Neck Road, became the most crime-ridden area of the county. The county has tried to revitalize the complex, but making comprehensive changes has been difficult because dozens of ownership groups control the buildings. But in recent months, a heightened police presence and a $300,000 wrought-iron and brick fence around the property have helped stabilize the area.
Other changes on the eastside hold promise. Less than a block away, work has begun at Hopewell Pointe, a $34 million development of 221 detached homes and condominiums off Middle River. Funded with private money over five to 10 years, Hopewell Pointe, which is being built by a group of developers, will feature a restaurant and marina for residents.
Three other troubled, privately owned rental complexes -- Riverdale, Chesapeake Village and Tidewater Village -- will be demolished or partly dismantled. The county hopes to see single-family homes and parkland on those sites.
Ted Rouse, a partner in the Struever firm, said his company is conducting a feasibility study while seeking private financing for the Tall Trees buildings it wants to buy and renovate.
Nancy Hatfield, who owns 17 of the Tall Trees buildings with her husband, said, "We have a written and signed agreement [with Struever]. We should know about the final steps the first week in January.
"This will go a long way to putting Tall Trees under a [single] majority ownership," she said.
Capt. Jim Johnson, commander of the Essex police precinct, said the prospect of not dealing with a large number of landlords is appealing. "I'll be ecstatic to see a single owner, or even something even approaching that."
County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said at the dedication of the Coulthard condominium project in March that it was "a major step in improving the area, bringing in homeowners."
Now he says he would "like to see the new owners of Tall Trees raze their buildings and put up commercial development and single-family homes. The last thing the area needs is continuing to offer apartments," he said, referring to the Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse Inc. project.
"The new ownership at Tall Trees could be an improvement to work with," Gardina said, "but I'd like to work with the new owners and encourage them in another direction."
Pub Date: 11/24/97