Goodbye to Wagner's Point

Departure: Legislation condemning the neighborhood goes into effect today. The city's delay in specifying compensation has caused problems for residents.

April 01, 1999|By JOE MATHEWS | JOE MATHEWS,Sun Staff

In the kitchen of his Leo Street rowhouse, Rich Rotosky keeps a picture of the two-story, three-bedroom home he and his son are buying in North Linthicum. His neighbors a block away, Debbie Hindla and Richard Vance, are eyeing a piece of Eastern Shore land where their children, sensitive to the nasty Wagner's Point air, could breathe free.

Across the street, Larry Sturgill is readying his rifle for another weekend visit to West Virginia, where he has a contract on a small, $75,000 farm near some of Appalachia's finest hunting.

"All us residents are in Wagner's Point a few more weeks until we get the money to relocate," says Sturgill, a hospital security employee who plans to spend a long retirement hunting deer, bear and bobcat. "But in my mind, I'm already gone."

Today marks the official beginning of the end of residential life in Wagner's Point, a tiny neighborhood in southern Baltimore ringed by chemical manufacturers and oil tank farms. Legislation condemning the neighborhood goes into effect today, and the city is expected to make offers to homeowners over the next several weeks. But the tiny neighborhood of 270 people, 90 homes and Jerry & Jethro's Tavern began moving on weeks ago.

Eager to escape foul smells and cancer fears, most residents are looking for places to live. About a third of the neighborhood's homeowners have found homes and signed 90-day contracts that are contingent on the Wagner's Point buyout becoming a reality.

With the exact terms of the takeover in flux, residents are generally limiting themselves to homes that cost about $80,000.

The prospective buyers fall into three categories. One group is examining fixer-uppers near Glen Burnie. Another, in search of more land and space, is scouring property listings in some of the region's remote small towns. And a handful are looking out of state. Adrienne and Dave Long, for instance, will spend the next two weeks hunting for jobs and houses in Florida.

Nearly everyone is abandoning Baltimore, where residents think the city government deliberately destroyed Wagner's Point by allowing the petrochemical industry to expand around it after World War II.

"It would be hard to trust the city again after all we've been through," says Rose Hindla, president of the neighborhood association, who has a contract on an Anne Arundel County house. "The last thing I want them ever to do with me is move me out."

The contingency contracts have been encouraged by neighborhood leaders, who wanted residents prepared for a quick condemnation, and by real estate agents, now as common a presence as the nearby Patapsco Waste Water Treatment plant, which will expand once residents move out.

"First, let me begin by Expressing my Regrets for your current situation as a Wagners Point Resident," real estate agent Kimberly Huskins of Re/Max wrote to residents recently.

Community associations from West Baltimore to Patterson Park have begged Wagner's Pointers to move to their neighborhoods. The mailings and fliers one Wagner's Point homeowner has received this year are piled 6 inches high.

"I can't step out my door without stepping on someone who wants me to buy a house from them," says Rotosky. "All these people make a confusing situation even worse."

At the center of much of the confusion is the city government. State and federal officials have outlined their contributions to the neighborhood's relocation, but the total package remains unclear because the Schmoke administration, despite promises to disclose the information, has refused to tell individual residents how much they will receive as compensation.

City officials have said that the amounts range from $35,000 to $62,000.

Schmoke has said he wants residents out quickly, but city officials seem to have been unprepared for the task.

City real estate officer Anthony J. Ambridge said last week that housing officials were slow in releasing appraisals to his office, which must review them before prices are disclosed. The 184 appraisals from Wagner's Point -- two for each property -- are more than his office has ever had to process at the same time. In addition, some of the appraisers have made unspecified errors, which he says will take at least two weeks to resolve.

"It troubles me that the city began appraising the property in December and we're only getting the appraisals now," says Ambridge. "I understand that people in Wagner's Point are very eager and willing to go. But we only have two people to do all this work. Reviewing the whole neighborhood will take a while."

Those delays are creating problems for residents. Without a specific figure from the city, homeowners such as Wayne Gray, who is house-hunting in Pennsylvania, say they have a hard time getting real estate agents to take them seriously.

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