Wagner's Point bill introduced Schmoke's proposal targets 90 houses and two businesses

Residents protest plan

Council resolution urges effort toward negotiated settlement

October 20, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

By noon yesterday, Debbie Hindla knew that a bill allowing the city to condemn her neighborhood would be introduced in the City Council. At 2 p.m., she learned that the same bill also would condemn the business that employs her children's father. At 4, Hindla led a protest in front of City Hall. Her face led the local TV news at 5.

At 6 p.m., as City Council Bill 828 was formally introduced, Hindla sat in the council chamber's front row, wiping tears from her eyes. "I feel sick," she said before taking her seat. "Not only will we be thrown from our homes, but some of us will lose our jobs, too."

As promised, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke introduced a bill yesterday that would authorize the city to take the 90 homes of Wagner's Point, either by negotiated settlement or by eminent domain. Schmoke has said the Department of Public Works needs the land to expand a nearby sewage treatment plant from which foul smells often waft through the neighborhood.

The bill takes one step toward a cherished neighborhood goal -- having the homes bought out -- but residents bitterly attacked the mayor yesterday. Since last spring, Wagner's Point residents, worried by pollution and a series of suspicious cancer cases, have asked the government and the petrochemical plants of their Fairfield peninsula to finance a purchase and relocation of their homes. Those negotiations have stalled.

Residents want to negotiate a buyout of their homes, but Schmoke has insisted on condemnation. Both sides agree that residents would receive an appraised fair market value from the city for their homes. But residents believe industrial development depresses such appraisals and are seeking additional money from the state and federal governments, as well as industry, so they can buy similarly sized homes in cleaner areas.

First District Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest has been trying to get residents and industry to meet this week. Residents argue that the eminent domain bill could undermine efforts to get industry to contribute.

But in an interview last week, Schmoke discounted that objection and said his motives were misunderstood. He wants to help residents move out, but believes eminent domain is the fastest way to do that.

Yesterday, the complex dispute erupted at City Hall. Out front, about 15 people from Wagner's Point protested, carrying handmade signs politely asking Marylanders to call Schmoke and have him delay eminent domain.

Debbie Hindla, 31, led a prayer, thanking God for protecting them during last week's explosion at CONDEA Vista and asking for divine help to change Schmoke's mind about introducing the bill.

As the mayor's bill was being offered, 6th District Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, joined by the rest of the City Council, introduced a resolution urging Schmoke to seek a negotiated settlement with residents first. "We are urging Mayor Schmoke simply to come together and negotiate a settlement quickly, before going through the eminent domain process," said City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III.

The mayor's bill and the council resolution were forwarded to the council's taxation and finance committee. Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, the committee chair, said he would take his time with the bill. "We're going to deal with it very deliberately," O'Malley said.

Residents and business owners were surprised by the bill's details. It includes only Leo Street and Fourth Avenue -- the core of Wagner's Point -- and leaves out two peninsula sections that were part of the residents' buyout proposal.

In Wagner's Point, two family-owned businesses were unhappy to learn yesterday that they were included within the condemnation boundaries. Officials for Bruce Murdock Inc., an industrial repair firm, and Central Maintenance Corp., a general contractor, said a buyout and relocation were unexpected, and would take them from the nearby petrochemical businesses they serve.

"I think eminent domain, in our case, is at least premature," said Tim Murdock, president of Bruce Murdock Inc.

Dan Calwell IV, 53, owner of Central Maintenance Corp., complained that he learned he might be condemned yesterday afternoon.

He says he will hire an attorney to fight the bill. If that fight does not succeed, he might have to lay off his 50-person work force, about 10 of whom live in Wagner's Point. "We've been here since 1971," he said, "and all of a sudden the mayor is willing to run me out of town."

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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