Wagner's residents reduce demands Neighbors hoping to avoid takeover by eminent domain

October 01, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Attempting to break a stalemate in negotiations over a buyout of their homes, residents of tiny Wagner's Point have told city and state officials in writing that the neighborhood is willing to back off some of its demands.

The residents' position is detailed in a letter distributed late Monday to advisers to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and a handful of local elected officials.

The city and residents have met for three negotiation sessions; the most recent, on Sept. 17, ended with angry words and a walkout by residents. Schmoke administration officials, frustrated at the slow pace of the talks, had said they would introduce a bill in City Council to take the 98 homes around Wagner's Point by eminent domain -- a bill that residents had vowed to oppose.

Debbie Hindla, a leader of the residents' coalition, said the letter was designed to head off the eminent domain bill and forestall what had promised to be a bitter political fight.

"We want to keep negotiating," said Hindla. "Eminent domain is an unnecessary step at this point. We wanted to show how we could reach agreement by putting our position in writing."

The letter, written by attorneys for the residents, includes a four-page "Agreement in Principle" -- marked "For Settlement Purposes Only, Do Not Cite or Quote" -- that asks Schmoke and Glendening to sign on to guidelines for the resumption of negotiations. Under those guidelines, city officials would postpone eminent domain legislation and negotiate until March vTC 1. If no agreement on a buyout is reached by then, residents agreed not to oppose eminent domain action.

There has been little public reaction to the letter. A spokesman for Schmoke, who is traveling overseas, said the mayor would have no comment until he returns to Baltimore later this week.

Ray Feldmann, Glendening's press secretary, said the governor has not reviewed the letter. In negotiations, state officials have raised the possibility of offering discounted loans to Wagner's Point residents who want to purchase new homes, but have stopped short of supporting a buyout.

Whatever the ultimate reaction, the letter is another sign of how wildly the dynamics of the buyout negotiations have shifted. When residents first asked the government for help with a buyout this spring, Schmoke balked at the idea. But this summer, he switched course and announced the city might buy the homes to make room for the expansion of a sewage treatment plant.

By late summer, the city's position had hardened further: the city needs the land quickly and will take it by eminent domain if all residents do not agree to go.

To keep negotiations alive, residents would soften their stance on key financial details of their original buyout proposal, the letter indicates. It does not mention the residents' earlier requests for $115,000 for each homeowner -- a figure that city and state officials had called laughably high. Now, homeowners want enough money to pay off their mortgages and find "comparable housing" in "a neighborhood with no heavy industry and located in similar proximity to the Chesapeake Bay."

Residents also dropped their request for a city buyout package that would treat each homeowner, and each renter, the same. The letter instead proposes that the value of homes be determined on "a house-by-house basis by appraisers who are mutually acceptable to the City and the Coalition."

"We knew all along we were not going to get $115,000," said Betty Lefkowitz, a longtime resident who has been active in the relocation movement. "Our bottom line has always been about $80,000. If we get that, we'll leave happy."

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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