Community group upset by letter from housing chief seeking its help Leaders say residents do check run-down site

October 23, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III has ruffled the feathers of an East Baltimore neighborhood association while trying to enlist its support for city efforts to improve a run-down site in the area.

While searching for a developer for the defunct Strathdale Manor Apartments, Henson has exchanged letters with the community organization about responsibility for the condition of the property. The apartment complex has been vacant since April 1997.

The commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development wrote to Raymond Lowder, president of Frankford Improvement Association, suggesting that residents take an active role in maintaining the 18-acre site.

The city cannot be expected to do it all, Henson wrote Aug. 17. "No builder wants to build houses in a community where the neighbors apparently don't care whether or not vandals proliferate," he wrote.

A frustrated Lowder countered in a letter Sept. 30 that Henson's assumptions were insulting. Residents of the Frankford community, he said, have been actively monitoring the site, which has about 60 low-rise buildings.

"I don't know where he was coming from, especially when he had asked us to be partners," Lowder said. "He kissed us on one hand and kicked us with his foot."

Henson said the letter was meant to encourage residents. "I was trying to give the community a pep talk," he said.

Lois Garey, a City Council member for the area, said Henson's letter was unfair because the association has been a strong voice in the neighborhood.

The association's territory, which is bordered by Belair Road, Frankford Avenue, U.S. 40 and White Avenue, includes about 4,000 homes.

"They have worked very hard to make sure whatever goes into Strathdale Manor is compatible to the neighborhood," Garey said.

In February 1997, the association helped persuade Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to halt a $21 million renovation plan for fear the complex in the 6100 block of Frankford Ave. would become low-income housing.

"We weren't upset about people coming in who needed help," said Barbara Jackson, the association's vice president. "We were upset about people living there who didn't want to help the community."

Maj. Art Smith, commander of Baltimore Police Department's Northeastern District, said the association has been more than willing to work with his department. "That's a very solid community association," he said.

For almost 20 years, Strathdale Manor has been a blight in the mostly stable East Baltimore community. Residents have watched the complex change ownership, fall into financial failure and deteriorate because of drugs and vandalism.

The city acquired the complex, which was saddled with $2 million in unpaid taxes, water bills and other liens, for $100 at a foreclosure sale May 15, 1997.

City officials worked with the community to develop guidelines for Strathdale Manor's renovations. Plans call for either single-family or semidetached homes, said Catherine Fennell, development director for housing and community development.

Lowder said the neighborhood continues to monitor the complex. Members report trash dumpings and vandalism to city officials.

"I don't know what else [Henson] expects us to do," Lowder said.

Pub Date: 10/23/98

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