Proposal to condemn houses at Wagner's Point moves ahead

Residents, city at odds over appraisal question

February 18, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's plans to condemn 90 homes in the city's Wagner's Point area moved one step closer to happening yesterday with the initial backing of the city Board of Estimates.

The five-member panel, which includes Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and approves all city spending, voted 4-0 to support a City Council bill that would authorize taking the homes by negotiated settlement or eminent domain. Board chairman Lawrence A. Bell III, president of the City Council, abstained.

Since last spring, Wagner's Point residents, worried about pollution and a series of cancer cases in the South Baltimore neighborhood, have asked the government and the petrochemical plants on their Fairfield peninsula to jointly negotiate and finance a relocation of their homes.

As part of the process, the city has agreed to give residents an appraised "fair market" value for their homes. But homeowners believe the industrial development that prompted their request will depress appraisals. They want "comparable" values for their homes -- enough to buy similarly sized houses in cleaner areas.

In recent weeks, the debate has reached a stalemate. Schmoke has declined to join negotiations with industry, state and federal officials. He has chosen to use the condemnation ordinance and to begin appraising properties, without -- so far -- showing the results of those appraisals to residents.

Confused and worried about what the appraisals might say, residents have taken the position of opposing the eminent domain bill -- and the neighborhood relocation they desperately want. Officials with state government and industry say the mayor's refusal to negotiate has left them unsure as to how much money they should commit to relocation.

Residents were caught by surprise by yesterday's vote. Rose Hindla, the neighborhood president, criticized the board for supporting condemnation before the appraisals are public and a relocation agreement is in place.

The City Council's Taxation and Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the plan at 5 p.m. Feb. 25 in council chambers. Residents are planning a demonstration before the hearing.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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