Baltimore mayor says buyout of Fairfield homes off the table

City can't afford to move residents of area near chemical plants, he says

July 02, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he would prefer to move all residents out of the tiny southern Baltimore section of Fairfield but that the city does not have the money for another public relocation.

Schmoke's comments, which disappointed Fairfield residents, came a week after city lawyers stopped a quiet housing department effort to buy up the property, 14 homes in two small pockets of Fairfield. Residents there have asked to be relocated along with their neighbors in Wagner's Point, an area of 270 people the city is buying out.

20-year-old offer

Housing officials said they were honoring a 20-year-old offer to help residents in Fairfield, an old, predominantly African-American section bordered by chemical plants and tank farms. But Schmoke made clear during yesterday's weekly news conference that the offer has long been off the table.

"My preference would be for Fairfield to be an industrial area," said Schmoke. "But we don't have the resources at this time to do for Fairfield what we're doing in Wagner's Point."

The mayor said that a half-dozen letters the housing department sent to Fairfield residents -- expressing interest in acquiring the homes and providing information on appraisals and relocation -- were a mistake.

Schmoke said he had talked with 6th District City Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, and would be happy to meet with residents to discuss the matter.

During a community gathering Tuesday, Fairfield and Wagner's Point residents voted unanimously to push the city to renew the buyout.

An alternative

They said they were not without an alternative: Two chemical plants have offered to buy their homes and relocate them.

But any money from detergent maker Condea Vista or herbicide producer FMC Corp. is contingent on residents' signing waivers to release the companies from liability. Some residents believe their respiratory ailments and cancers are related to the proximity of the plants.

`Pretty disappointing'

"The mayor's statement is pretty disappointing," says Terry Harris, an environmentalist who has been working with Fairfield and Wagner's Point residents. "I mean, the city is buying out hundreds of people on the west side who don't want to go. In Fairfield, this is less than 14 people. It's not that much money."

Schmoke said Fairfield's residents were given the option of moving when a local public housing project was shut down 10 years ago, but most balked.

This week, however, all but one of 10 residents interviewed by The Sun said they wanted to move. Some residents suggested that the city wanted to avoid a buyout so that the chemical companies could purchase the property and resell it to the government at a reduced cost.

Schmoke denial

Schmoke denied any connection between the city's decision and the chemical companies' offer. He said the city will not acquire any property Condea Vista and FMC buy.

"We wanted to move everybody out," Schmoke said, adding, "Is there any way of going back to where we were 10 years ago" and offering another buyout? "I don't have one, but I'm willing to meet and discuss it."

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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