Broadway Homes residents pull out of land swap

City wants to continue plan despite opposition

March 24, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

A city plan to move residents of an East Baltimore housing project to new rowhouses at the Church Home Hospital site has hit a snag, with Broadway Homes' residents saying they no longer back a proposed land swap with John Hopkins Hospital.

"It can't work, it won't work," shouted Broadway Homes tenant council president Harry Karras into a microphone at the Pleasant View Gardens community center, where about 75 people attended a meeting Wednesday night.

Karras said his residents do not want to live with the threat of harassment by Washington Hill residents, who did not welcome their presence. "We have withdrawn from the swap. You can't make us move where we don't want to go," he said.

Karras said Broadway Homes' tenants would be interested in a "counterproposal," but was not clear on what the proposal would include. Despite the opposition, city officials said they plan to pursue the exchange.

Washington Hill residents offered little vocal resistance to Karras' claim that his residents would be harassed if they moved. Many hailed his new opposition to the "land swap," and argued there was now unity among the respective neighborhoods.

A month ago, Karras and the residents he represents were marching in lock-step with Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Housing Authority of Baltimore, a triumvirate that raised the ire of many in Washington Hill.

Hopkins and the city had entered into an agreement in principle that would have exchanged city-owned Broadway Homes -- 429 low-income units at Broadway Avenue and Orleans Street slated for demolition and redevelopment -- with a similarly sized property across the intersection of Broadway and Fayette Street, the now defunct Church Home Hospital.

Broadway Homes residents were excited about moving to a hillside with one of the city's best views and a long history. They were considered formal partners in the land swap proposals made to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But when told of the proposed land swap in January, residents of Washington Hill, a tight-knit community of many longtime homeowners that surrounds the Church Home location, were livid. They argued that property values would go down and that they had not been consulted until the deal was nearly done.

The housing authority, headed by Patricia Payne, extended the planning process, offering to hold a series of community meetings to discuss the swap.

Wednesday, after Karras backed out of the deal, Payne and a panel that included Hopkins' vice president Sally MacConnell virtually ignored that for now the community seems to oppose the swap.

"We are going to go forward and explore the Church Home site," Payne told the audience numerous times, as many heckled the prospect. "Those who wish to participate are urged to do so."

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