Residents battle trash, bureaucrats

City agencies disagree about who should clean Reservoir Hill alleys

July 27, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Glenda Gentner lives on the right street in the wrong neighborhood.

She operates Gentner Bed and Breakfast from a rowhouse in the 2000 block of Park Ave., which has all the flair of a Manhattan penthouse.

But beyond her courtyard garden of potted plants and goldfish ponds are several Reservoir Hill alleys that have become lined with minidumps. Heaped with up to 6 feet of trash -- the result of illegal dumping and overflow from residential back yards -- these minidumps have become feeding grounds for rats, and fodder in an escalating blame game.

Residents say they have pleaded for a neighborhood cleanup, while city officials, who say they can't keep up with the illegal dumping, bicker over which agency is responsible for cleaning vacant lots and the yards of abandoned houses.

Last week, community frustration escalated to tongue-lashings directed at city agencies responsible for sanitation. Reservoir Hill residents say the city's inaction demonstrates that the city's sanitation policies have failed.

"I've been calling [the housing authority] for two months to come here," said Mary M. Hughes of the 700 block of Newington Ave., complaining about the condition of the neighboring yard.

While at odds over who will clean up, Reservoir Hill residents and city officials agree that illegal dumpers are responsible for the growing problem.

Community leaders in this central Baltimore neighborhood concede that they have lost the trash battle to illegal dumpers and a few area residents who throw garbage from third-floor windows into backyard pits of diapers, newspapers, lawn waste and even dead dogs and cats.

The problem is not limited to Reservoir Hill.

Mitch Klein, chief organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), said although other neighborhoods have worse sanitation problems, Reservoir Hill is an example of how citywide sanitation policies don't work.

In May, after being confronted by ACORN members, public works Director George G. Balog said his department would clean every city neighborhood at least once during the summer.

Last year, the city created the Environmental Control Board to set sanitation policies, and established a trash court to hear violators' cases.

Public Works spokesman Kurt Kocher said those efforts ensure that Reservoir Hill and other neighborhoods are cleaned of excess trash every month. Reservoir Hill's monthly cleanup is scheduled for today, Kocher said.

"We clean there on a regular basis," Kocher said, "just like we do every neighborhood in the city."

Kocher said the trash in vacant lots and back yards of abandoned houses is the Housing Department's responsibility.

Housing officials say they are not responsible for cleaning trash from back yards and can only issue fines to property owners who do not maintain their lots.

Keith Mahone, a Reservoir Hill Improvement Council community organizer, is urging city leaders to revamp sanitation laws or start enforcing policy.

"There are some cities where you cannot even drop a piece of paper on the ground before you are hauled in and locked up," Mahone said. "In some yards, I see 10 television sets and 30 tires that I know did not get there from the neighbor."

City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, whose 4th District includes Reservoir Hill, said she plans to pursue more aggressive enforcement of sanitation policies.

While politicians and bureaucrats squabble, Reservoir Hill residents are weary from the daily battles with rats and trash.

Some residents have no escape from the blight, but Gentner has considered moving her bed and breakfast business to the Texas hill country, where she owns 400 acres.

"Believe me, that looms over my head every day," she said. "But the city has personality. You don't get that in a sterile suburb."

Pub Date: 7/27/99

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