Blighted complex gets makeover East side development once rife with drugs and criminal activity

November 18, 1998|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Tidewater Village, once a decaying apartment complex and haven for criminal activity on Baltimore County's east side, is undergoing a multimillion-dollar makeover, and officials are claiming it as a partial victory in halting blighted symbols of uncontrolled growth.

A low-income development in Chase, Tidewater was grouped with Riverdale Village and Chesapeake Village, both in Middle River, as complexes where open-air drug markets flourished and where, in some cases, residents lived in squalor.

But Riverdale, once owned by a landlord under federal investigation, is nearly demolished and county officials plan to develop the 67 acres there. Chesapeake Village, too, is expected to be razed and used for waterfront family housing.

At Tidewater, federal and county officials are working with area property management companies to relocate the remaining 29 families displaced from a section owned by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be turned over to the county.

Francis X. Knott, chairman of Partners Management Co. in Towson, said he is spending $4.5 million of his company's funds to refurbish the complex -- from landscaping and fencing to expanding 50 units into three-bedroom apartments.

He said the rehabilitation program will be complete by the end of February. Nearly 435 units in the back of the property will be razed and eventually sold to the county for $1 by HUD, holder of the mortgage on that piece of Tidewater. That section will be converted to parkland.

Tidewater once had more than 900 rental units. About 525 rental units will be available after the makeover, officials said.

"We've spent money to hopefully see the area come back to life," said Knott, who also owns apartment complexes on the county's southwestern side. "Economic development will help everyone involved, from the people who live in the county's eastern area to business that is attracted here."

Relocation meeting

Residents being relocated will meet with officials at 6: 30 p.m. tonight at Chase Elementary School, 11701 Eastern Ave.

"We are taking every step to help these folks relocate in the county or elsewhere across the country, if they like," said Mary Harvey, eastern coordinator for the county Office of Community Conservation.

Harvey said Tidewater residents will have moving expenses paid by HUD. If eligible, they will receive assistance in obtaining Section 8 vouchers to help them rent new homes.

For 70-year-old Hilda Cornish, it will mean moving to another apartment after living in Tidewater since 1981. "The biggest part miss will be the $290 monthly rent," she said, "but it won't be that terrible a thing, they're treating me pretty good."

But Johnnie and Tabatha McGinnis, working parents of two young children, face a different challenge.

"We liked the area because we were careful where we took our children," said Tabatha McGinnis. "We like the rent, too, and this means a little hardship around Christmas time. But it looks like we'll be able to relocate at a complex my husband and I are comfortable with."

Up to 10,000 apartments are in Essex along Back River Neck Road, Harvey said, and some of those units might be available to Tidewater families. Officials do not know the vacancy rate.

Dating to World War II, developers created a land boom in Essex and Middle River by building apartment complexes and small homes for workers in the aircraft and steel plants. But hard times fell on the east side's blue-collar industries in the 1960s, and tens of thousands of jobs were lost.

Some families moved elsewhere, selling their properties in many cases to real estate speculators. Real estate speculators also bought homes of elderly residents and rented them to people who had little or no stake in the communities.

"We've taken a major step with Tidewater," said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat from Perry Hall whose district includes the east side.

Four years ago, Gardina and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger initiated plans to reduce population density in the county's eastern section. Leaders hope that effort, along with im- proving schools and infrastructure, will fit into their economic development plans.

In addition, county officials are working with Gov. Parris N. Glendening to extend Route 43 from Interstate 95 to Eastern Boulevard, expanding the prospects of luring corporations and small businesses to the east side.

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Safer neighborhoods

Capt. Jim Johnson, commander of the Essex police precinct, said the closings of Riverdale and Chesapeake and the rehabilitation of Tidewater have meant significant decreases in major crime.

Robberies and car thefts are down 30 percent, he said, and drug dealing and prostitution also are down.

Johnson said property managers along Back River Neck Road are more cautious before accepting tenants. Each prospective renter is screened for possible criminal background and credit history. Most complexes have private security forces.

"At Riverdale," Johnson said, "the management tolerated a culture of criminality. Now, that kind of behavior isn't tolerated."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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