Residents defend Locust House Complex for elderly criticized over odors

tenants plan defense

March 25, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

About three dozen residents of Locust House gathered yesterday to vent their frustrations about criticisms of their home, then decided to compose an open letter to the community to counter the negative publicity.

The many tenants who spoke disagreed about reports for the past three years about intermittent foul odors at the building, a subsidized housing complex for 99 elderly and disabled persons on Locust Street in Westminster.

Some dismissed the complaints as the work of a troublemaker. Others -- especially those on the first and second floors -- said they had smelled things ranging from sewer gas to cabbage, to gasoline and turpentine.

"We're trying to straighten things out," said Mary Brown, 63, president of the tenants association. "We have to put a stop to this. This is a beautiful place to live."

"I'll get a letter written up and send it around if anyone is willing to sign, showing that Mr. Humphrey and them are doing everything they can to make it safe," she said, referring to the Humphrey Management Co. of Silver Spring.

Air quality tests on samples taken from the building interior three months ago attributed one odor to gasoline, possibly from a paint-stripping chemical, but levels were too low to pose a hazard to residents, according to a report prepared by Scientific Control Inc. of Edgewood.

"We are satisfied with the results of that specific test but not with the conclusion as far as the origin is concerned," Greg Keller, a county livability code inspector, said at the time. "It still does not account for the smell."

Brown recalled "a terrible odor" once while playing bingo, "but it's not going to harm anybody."

The manager called the health department, she noted.

"Anybody who has anything to say can move on out," Brown said. "I'm on the seventh floor -- higher than anybody else if it goes boom."

Resident Barry Hollenbaugh said: "How would we feel if an inspection happened and they said, 'That's it: Close the place down?' People here would be homeless -- homeless. Think about that."

Brown and others agreed to write a letter summarizing their concerns about the negative publicity. They were uncertain who would receive the letters.

"The staff, if anything, goes out of their way to plan activities for us," said resident James Kendall. "If we didn't have these activities, rumors would fly worse than they do now."

After the meeting, several residents said they had lived at other facilities but chose Locust House, which has a waiting list. Some said they had moved out, but returned.

Keith Davis, the new resident manager, declined to say how many were on the waiting list, or to make any comment about the odor complaints.

Locust House serves the handicapped or disabled, and persons 62 or older.

Norman Condon Jr. & Sons of New Windsor removed an underground tank next to the high-rise on March 18, a day after electrical workers discovered the tank on county property.

But there was no odor from the tank, said Condon.

"We think it was an expansion tank, by the smokestack of the old distillery there," he said. "It was full of water," which was pumped out and hauled away.

"There was no gas odor, no sewer gas," Condon said. "We were sniffing. I don't think it's coming from there. I can't say there aren't other tanks there, though."

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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