Senate OKs bill to give $750,000 for buyout Funds would help purchase Wagner's Point homes

October 09, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Reaching from the halls of Congress into one of South Baltimore's smallest neighborhoods, the U.S. Senate approved a spending bill yesterday that includes $750,000 for a buyout of Wagner's Point homeowners. President Clinton is expected to sign it.

In Washington, the money was a microscopic piece of constituent service slipped into a $93 billion bill by U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski. But 40 miles north, in the heavily industrial, cancer-afflicted neighborhood, residents applauded the bill's passage.

"We're very grateful for the federal government's action today," said Rose Hindla, the neighborhood coalition president. "This is great news."

Mona Miller, Mikulski's spokeswoman, said: "The senator saw a modest opportunity to be pro-active and support the residents down there."

City government has offered to pay residents an appraised, fair market value for their homes. But residents say that value -- tentatively estimated at about $35,000 -- is unfairly depressed by the neighborhood's industrial development. Residents want "comparable value" -- perhaps about $80,000 -- so they can buy )) homes of similar size and condition in an area without heavy industry.

While representing a fraction of the estimated $8 million cost of a buyout, the federal money is crucial because it would help fill the gap between the city's offer and the residents' requests. Community leaders also have asked oil and chemical companies with Wagner's Point plants to help make up the difference.

The $750,000 is in effect a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to the state of Maryland's Department of Housing and Community Development. Residents would apply to the state to receive the money. Several residents said they were glad that the bill seems to bypass city government.

City officials, frustrated with the slow pace of 3-month-old negotiations over a buyout, have indicated they might introduce a City Council bill next week to take Wagner's Point homes by eminent domain. On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates approved $45,000 to pay for the appraisals required by eminent domain action.

Residents believe the eminent domain process would undercut their effort to secure contributions from industry. Last week, lawyers for the residents sent a proposal to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke for further negotiations, and Hindla will meet today with Reginald Scriber, City Hall's representative in the negotiations.

A Schmoke spokesman, Alonzo Williams, said yesterday that Schmoke had not read the proposal and the eminent domain bill was "still being worked on."

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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