Dundalk ponders renovation of Hidden Cove Neighbors fear creation of low-income housing

March 23, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Plans by a Florida company to spend $28 million to buy and renovate a run-down waterfront Dundalk apartment complex are on the line tonight as area residents hold another public discussion on the project, which has renewed local fears about low-income housing.

Southern Apartment Specialists Inc. of Orlando, Fla., is seeking to use federal tax credits to buy and renovate the 504-unit Hidden Cove Apartments on Paulette Road.

County officials support the proposal, fearing that if left alone, the complex -- which is 30 percent vacant -- will deteriorate.

But area residents are concerned that, to qualify for the tax credits, the developer must agree to reserve 400 units for people making less than $33,600 a year and accept tenants with federal rent subsidies.

County officials -- including Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, and Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger -- say that if residents don't trust the deal, there won't be one. County approval is required under state law.

The Hidden Cove controversy is an example of how difficult it can be to overcome years of neglect and distrust while trying to strengthen older communities by renovating or removing thousands of aging apartments.

At a raucous public meeting on the proposal two weeks ago, angry residents voiced concern about the crime and decay they fear could result from opening the door to low- to moderate-income people.

"People feel Dundalk has been dumped on so long. We don't want to be dumped on again," said West Inverness Community Association President Patricia Herman about the emotional reaction at the first meeting.

Richard T. Coley, chief operating officer of SASI, defended the project.

He said his company can't afford renovations without government incentives.

But Coley said that after the reception he received March 11, he was ready to abandon the deal -- and still might.

The proposal has set off Dundalk's traditional fears about low-income housing -- despite assurances from county officials that the developer will screen tenants, turn over 20 acres of grasslands next to Lynch Cove to the county for a park and provide a day care center for area children.

"The big question is how do we know we can believe them?" Herman said of the business owners and county officials. "Nobody trusts politicians. How do you know you can trust anybody?"

But DePazzo -- who four years ago criticized federally subsidized housing while helping to lead noisy opposition to the federal Moving to Opportunity program -- warned that the community could be worse off if the deal fails.

"If this does not go through, I see the current owner putting it up for auction," DePazzo warned, noting that the Philadelphia company that owns the complex is losing $1 million a year.

Herman, a 20-year resident of the 2,000-rowhouse Inverness community, said she feels caught in the middle.

"If nothing is done with it [Hidden Cove], it's just going to get worse," she said. Yet most of the people who attended the meeting March 11 seemed vigorously opposed.

She and several others met again with the developers March 18 in DePazzo's council office. "I wanted to hear the proposals in a sane meeting," she said.

No politicians or county officials are invited to the 7 p.m. meeting today at Sandy Plains Elementary School. Anyone who becomes unruly will be asked to leave, Herman said.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

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