Council to introduce Wagner's Point bill Residents oppose plan to condemn 98 homes

October 16, 1998|By Gerard Shields and Joe Mathews | Gerard Shields and Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore City Council will introduce a bill Monday that would allow the city to condemn 98 homes in Wagner's Point, the cancer-ridden neighborhood rocked this week by a chemical plant explosion.

The city has been locked in negotiations with the South Baltimore neighborhood over purchasing the residences of 270 people. The city would use the properties to expand its Patapsco sewage treatment plant. The negotiations have stalled, large part because of disagreement over whether the city should formally condemn the homes.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday said Tuesday night's explosion injured five workers at the Condea Vista plant and sent three residents to the hospital, highlights the need to relocate the Wagner's Point residents quickly.

"They have an interest in wanting to leave the area, and we have an interest in acquiring it," Schmoke said.

But Wagner's Point residents have said they would bitterly oppose the condemnation bill. Rose Hindla, a neighborhood leader, said residents were prepared to protest outside City Hall Monday if a bill is introduced. Rena Steinzor, a lawyer for the residents, said neighborhood leaders are seeking a mediator in order to jump-start negotiations and forestall the bill.

The area's three council members also had opposed condemnation, but Councilman Melvin L. Stukes said yesterday

that Tuesday's accident, and his research, changed his mind. "I don't think eminent domain will hurt the residents as much as they think -- it just moves the process faster and means that they can't change their minds about leaving," he said. "If another accident happens and there are still people down there, I couldn't live with myself."

Residents fear the inflexibility of the eminent domain process, in which homeowners would either accept a city appraisal or go to court. Residents believe city appraisals, based on a "fair market value," will be unfairly depressed because of industrial development around the neighborhood.

"What the mayor is doing is outrageous," says Larry Sturgill, who lives in the 3800 block of Leo St. "Just look at the Vista accident. We need to get out because of the accident but in the meantime, you know an accident like that will hurt our appraisals. How many houses do you think got moved off their foundations, or have cracks in them, because of that accident?"

Sample appraisals performed this summer suggest homeowners might get about $35,000 a house. But residents want "comparable value," generally estimated at about $80,000, or enough money to buy a similarly sized home.

To bridge the potential gap between comparable and fair market value, residents wrote again yesterday to local chemical companies, which they blame for the community's high cancer rate, for contributions. They believe a city condemnation bill would give those companies reason to decline.

Schmoke said yesterday that the city condemnation and purchasing process does not preclude residents' option of seeking additional financial help elsewhere.

"We are continually trying to educate people about the process and that it will end in a fair result," Schmoke said. "If the community does not want us to move forward with eminent domain, we will end up not moving forward."

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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