Retired Howard rabbi becomes 1st homebuyer in city program Sale value guaranteed in Patterson Park area

December 29, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

At Rabbi Martin Siegel's farewell dinner in Columbia two years ago, friends called the longtime community activist's retirement a seventh-inning stretch. No, the outspoken clergyman and baseball fanatic replied, it was just the middle of a doubleheader.

Game 2 is about to begin, in a new location -- East Baltimore.

Siegel -- a national figure and once one of Howard County's leading clergy -- has moved to the 400 block of S. Robinson St. in Patterson Park, taking advantage of the Abell Foundation's home-value guarantee program, which was announced in October. Siegel will be honored today in a community ribbon-cutting service as the program's first homebuyer.

"I've always been interested in the urban style of life," said Siegel, 65, who has owned a home in Columbia's Harper's Choice village for 27 years. "And I've wanted to move into the city for a long time, so when this came up, that made it possible."

Existing homeowners and those who buy a home in the area -- bounded by Patterson Park Avenue, Fayette Street, Pulaski Highway, Haven Street and Eastern Avenue -- are eligible to enroll in the program, which ensures their property values will not decrease. If they do, the foundation will reimburse the difference, as long as selling prices are reasonable.

Homeowners must agree to live in the houses for at least five years, pay an annual fee of about $150 each and contract for an appraisal. The goal is to have 100 people enrolled next year, said Ed Rutkowski, executive director of Patterson Park Community Development Corp., which is running the program.

In a survey of 100 homeowners, about 25 showed strong interest in the program, Rutkowski said. About 5,000 homes are in the eligibility area.

Siegel's decision to move to Patterson Park "confirms the fact that it's a good idea," Rutkowski said.

"He's such a high-profile person," the director said. "If people see he's doing it, then they may take a look."

Rutkowski also sees Siegel fitting into the corporation's long-term vision for the area.

In the next five years, Rutkowski said, the community could consist of young professionals who find Canton too expensive, Latinos and families with school-age children, and empty-nesters such as Siegel, who has two adult children.

The foundation, a private organization established in 1953 to improve the quality of life in Maryland through grants, also provides Patterson Park-area homebuyers free tuition for their children to attend private schools.

'Incredibly diverse'

"This neighborhood is going to be incredibly diverse," Rutkowski said.

Siegel grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Long Island. After receiving a degree from Cornell University, he moved to Columbia in 1971 and quickly became active in community affairs.

He led the Columbia Jewish Congregation and helped found several organizations, including the Howard County Food Bank and National Religious Alliance Against Substance Abuse.

Five years ago, he created Columbia's Institute for Behavioral Health and Spirituality, a healing center.

Siegel said he hopes to establish a similar center in the city.

With so many ties to Columbia -- he's still a member of the Columbia Jewish Congregation -- Siegel said he will keep connected with the Howard County community, and he and his wife, Judith, will maintain their home there.

"We'll be in both places, but Patterson Park will be our principal residence," Siegel said.

The Siegels moved into their two-story end rowhouse last week. The price for the three-bedroom, completely renovated house was $40,000 to $50,000, Siegel said.

Activity and adventure

Siegel said he's looking forward to walking and bicycling through the park and meeting other residents.

His new neighborhood offers more activity and adventure, he said.

"Suburban life is quite predictable," Siegel said. "Urban life has a type of fabric that I find attractive."

Although the home-value guarantee was a primary incentive to buy the rowhouse, Siegel said he plans to keep it for the rest of his life.

He's active in a few city groups and hopes to mirror his community efforts in Columbia.

"I was involved in a lot of things in Baltimore, but I was always an outsider," Siegel said. "Now, I live here."

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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