Demolition of building disputed by food bank

Lawyer suggests city meant to raze structure one block away

October 16, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

It was there last week.

In fact, the South and Southeast Development Center's neighborhood food distribution center had operated at 13 S. Eden St. since 1983.

But by Friday, Oct. 8, it was gone.

Irona Pope, the center's coordinator, knows the building was there when she went to her regular job Thursday morning at City Springs Elementary School, just around the corner.

But late that night, she got a telephone call from one of the center's clients. "She said, `Your building's been knocked down.' I thought it must have been a car accident," Pope said.

It wasn't. When she drove by on Friday morning, Pope found the place had been demolished by a wrecking crew hired by Baltimore's Department of Housing and Community Development.

Pope insists her organization has owned the building free and clear since it was donated by its previous owner in 1983. "That building was in use," she said. "The taxes were paid, the water bills were paid."

John Milton Wesley, a spokesman for the housing department, said yesterday that a preliminary check of the city's records shows that 13 S. Eden St. is owned by the city and was slated to come down last week, along with abandoned buildings at 11, 9 and 7 S. Eden St.

But an attorney for the food center said yesterday she suspects that the city meant to tear down a building a block away, at 13 N. Eden St., which is owned by the city.

"I'm looking into it," Wesley said, promising a more thorough record check Monday.

Pope said the food center was not fenced off or boarded up like the neighboring buildings that were razed. And at the time it came down, it was full of furniture, appliances and business records.

Acting on behalf of the food center, Brenda Bratton Blom, an attorney with the University of Maryland Clinical Law Office, yesterday filed a request for a city administrative hearing -- first to sort out the facts, and then to recommend a remedy to city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

"We're looking for a new building on the site that they own," said Blom. "They've been in that location a long time working to serve this community, and that's where they would like to be."

Blom said she was told the hearing could be held within two weeks.

Pope said the non-profit community organization has been slowly rehabilitating the food center at 13 S. Eden St. since it was donated in 1983. The work began with a $70,000 Community Development Block Grant from the city.

She said work on a new apartment on the building's second floor was nearly complete. The food center had hoped to rent it out as a way to meet the building's operating expenses.

The center has been in continuous use, she said, organized and run by volunteers recruited from the low-income neighborhood. "This is something we can call our own. We are very pleased we're representing ourselves," she said.

The center collected food gathered by churches, food cooperatives and the Maryland Food Committee, and distributed it twice a week, serving as many as 50 neighborhood families at the center each month. There was no cooking at the center, and no meals were served.

The Maryland Cooperative Extension Service also was involved, providing residents with information on how to prepare healthful meals with fresh foods.

The demolition has destroyed everything, Pope said.

"All you could see was part of the freezer, and fridge things, because of the way they knocked it down," she said. Water heaters, a range and other appliances also were lost.

Someone on the demolition crew apparently had misgivings about the demolition. Pope said one of the men told her, "I didn't think that building was supposed to be knocked down."

Henson could not be reached last night for comment. At a City Council hearing this week, on a resolution to curb the demolition of vacant city homes, he promised to keep the public better informed about imminent demolitions.

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