Redevelopment plans upset church members Proposal fails to incorporate social services

June 25, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Some church members are angry at plans to redevelop their West Baltimore neighborhood without including social service facilities suggested by the churches.

About 70 members of the churches surrounding the George P. Murphy Homes along Pennsylvania Avenue met yesterday with developers hired by the city to raze and redevelop the high-rise public housing units.

Church members said city leaders solicited their input and support for plans to build single-family and townhouses on the site. In exchange, church leaders said, they expected the city to incorporate their plans to operate facilities such as day care centers and shelters.

Meeting in the sanctuary of the Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church, church leaders said the plans to redevelop Murphy Homes fail to include church social service projects.

"You cannot develop in this community without full and open dialogue with the church community," said Leronia Josey, an attorney for Bethel AME Church.

The demolition of the Murphy Homes is the latest in the city's effort to knock down its five high-rise public housing developments. The $50 million Murphy plan also includes demolishing the adjacent low-rise Emerson Julian Gardens. The 800 public housing units would be replaced with 362 homes, half of which will require purchasing the property.

The Murphy project is anchored by a $31.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. As part of the grant application, 18 churches lent their support to the plan.

At yesterday's meeting, church leaders told Enterprise Homes Inc., the developers of the project, that they expected their plans for church social service projects to be included.

"We want to own a piece of the rock of our own community," said the Rev. Dennis V. Proctor, pastor of the Pennsylvania AME Zion Church.

Enterprise president Chickie Grayson, however, told the group that they will have to take their concerns to the city Department of Housing and Community Development. Department officials, including Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, weren't invited to the meeting.

The city's development plan for the region includes urban renewal districts in the adjacent Upton and Harlem Park areas that may include the church projects, Grayson said. "We don't have the authority to do that," he told the group.

Church members also expressed concern that the redevelopment project will result in about 75 rental properties, not enough to house the 400 families living with public assistance in Murphy Homes.

"Whether you include us or not in the outreach, we will continue to feed the poor and put clothes on their back," said Vernon J. Marrow, a member of Payne Memorial AME church.

Leaders from the churches plan to meet with city housing officials. Another meeting with Enterprise is expected next month.

The Murphy Homes redevelopment is part of a $293 million plan financed by the city, state and federal governments to replace high-rises at Lafayette, Lexington Terrace, Murphy Homes and Flag House Courts with modern rowhouses, businesses, health clinics and day care centers.

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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