Residents decry proposal to convert Northway

Council committee asked to block bill to create senior housing at site

November 12, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Residents of the Northway implored a City Council committee last night to block a bill that would allow a Virginia developer to convert the grand North Baltimore apartment building into a residence exclusively for elderly people.

The land-use committee hearing on the fate of the Northway, which was built in 1932 in the 3700 block of Charles St., lasted about three hours in a crowded council chamber.

Morningside Development recently bought the property and proposes to convert the 11-story building into nearly 150 units -- most equipped for assisted living -- for the elderly. Residents could be evicted by Jan. 1.

The sale is contingent on passage of a council bill introduced by 2nd District Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young that would grant Morningside a conditional use to allow the conversion project.

The measure, which has been approved by the city's zoning and planning agencies, could reach the council floor for a vote early next month.

Young said he would like to see the Northway spruced up.

"I was very excited about rehabilitation," he said. But, Young added, he thinks the principal developer, Nevill Turner, should wait until May to begin the conversion to give the 150 tenants who would be displaced time to move.

Turner's deal involves investing $16 million in a building known for urban charm and renting units to affluent elderly people at rates from $1,400 a month for a studio to $3,000 for a one-bedroom assisted-living unit.

"A beautiful building has been allowed to fall into terrible disrepair," Turner told the committee.

Indignation and distress were some emotions expressed by residents during the hearing chaired by Councilwoman Lois Garey, who said she would "stay all night" if necessary to listen to them.

Residents said news of the sale was a surprise. Most have month-to-month leases, they said.

Witnesses and residents included a female senior at Johns Hopkins University and a 71-year-old musicologist. Both bemoaned the prospect of leaving a home they love.

"From a human point of view, it's disastrous," said Piero Weiss, a 13-year resident who escaped from Nazi Germany. He had been uprooted once before in his life, he said, adding, "and that was Hitler."

Some said the neighborhood is ideal because of its mix of students, single people, professionals and elderly and its amenities -- nearby museums, shops and university activities and access to public transportation.

A next-door neighbor supported the project.

"We would like to see $16 million put into the building. We feel it's an architectural gem," said JoAnn Orlinsky, president of the St. James resident association. "We've received assurances that they will not change the facade."

Mary Liz Kleis, a college student majoring in public health, asked Timothy D. A. Chriss, the lawyer representing Turner, if she and her dog could stay in the Northway until she graduates in the spring.

"I really can't answer that," Chriss replied.

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