Community scheduled for cleanup program

Ten agencies to clean Park Heights

vacant homes, woods targeted

August 10, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

For years, people driving down Towanda Avenue have gawked or giggled at the neighborhood around Samuel L. Briggs' Park Heights home.

Briggs, 53, is the last remaining resident on the east side of the 3700 block of Towanda, his neighbors having fled years ago.

The three-story rowhouses have decayed into crumbling drug-shooting galleries and boarded barracks for rats.

Starting today, the street will become the epicenter for a major city interagency effort to clear Park Heights of trash, drugs and vacant homes.

The 14 vacant homes on Briggs' block will be demolished this week, as will five homes in the 4500 block of Pimlico Road in Northwest Baltimore.

"I wished they would tear down my house, too," said Briggs, a resident there for 20 years. "The rats come sit with me at dinnertime."

Ten city agencies will participate in the Extraordinary Comprehensive Housekeeping Operation (ECHO) in Park Heights beginning this morning and running through Friday. Garbage and sewer suction trucks, demolition crews, health-care workers, tree-trimmers and housing inspectors will sweep through the neighborhood to offer assistance.

Mass efforts like this began in 1993 in public housing complexes. In recent years, the efforts have expanded to neighborhoods, said Housing Department spokesman Zack Germroth, whose agency is heading the effort.

The cleanup follows a police sweep two weeks ago that resulted in 35 Northwest Baltimore residents being arrested on drugs and weapons charges.

"It will be comprehensive. We will handle the area's social needs," Germroth said.

Park Heights' residents were happy about the attention.

"I'll be glad when they tear those houses down," said Sharmine R. Joyner, 50, of the 3600 block of Towanda Ave., as she swept the street in front of her home with a broom. "They ain't nothing but [a place] for the drug dealers to use."

Germroth said Park Heights' other major hot-bed for drug activity will be cleaned during the ECHO operation.

Workers will clean up the woods west of city-owned Towanda Park. Witnesses say the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble's killer disappeared into those woods after his slaying. Police say criminals find easy escape routes through a holed fence bordering the woods.

Two weeks ago, city workers cleared some of the brush next to the park. But seven acres of woods near the park owned by S & G Concrete Co. have not been cleaned.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier, frustrated by criminals using the woods, said he wants the area bulldozed.

That suggestion angered officials at S & G Concrete Co. "I'm surprised they want to tear them [the woods] down," said Steve W. Chapman, president of the company. "There are not enough woods in Baltimore, and when we got zoning to build our plant we had to get a deforestation permit."

Instead, Chapman has reached an agreement with city housing officials to repair a fence separating S & G's property from the park and help the city clean and cut back vegetation in the area as part of the cleanup.

S & G also will inspect the property weekly for trash and holes in the fence, Germroth said.

Some Park Heights' residents and civic leaders were dismayed yesterday that they had not been told about the project.

"I have not even heard rumblings of it," said Lillian V. Sydnor, of the Cold Spring Lane Improvement Association. "But now that I know, I will gather my troops, and we will be out there."

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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