Newsletter serves as call to arms for `complacent' Otterbein residents

Community involvement was scant in stable area with little crime

May 30, 2000|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Residents in Otterbein are apathetic and are endangering their quality of life, according to this month's edition of the Mullion, the newsletter for and about the affluent southern Baltimore enclave.

It also states that the association "is in jeopardy" and that the publishers of the Mullion want to kill the newsletter.

The article was written by Ron Bass, vice president for Otterbein Community Association. Bass wanted to stir up his neighbors, to goad them into becoming more involved.

Apparently, it worked.

A handful of residents in this tree-lined community filled with handsome homes near Camden Yards responded by volunteering to hold offices in the association.

About 20 people attended the association's May meeting, many of them worried that the association would crumble. Typically, about eight people attend.

"After seeing the article, I wanted to get involved," said Ed Siegel, who has rented in Otterbein for a year. "One group of people has been doing most of the work."

Bass said he wrote the article because he got no response when he announced that five of six board members would step down in July.

"I must have hit a chord," he said. "When I wrote the article, I knew there might have been a great wall of silence.

Bass says his neighbors' eagerness to become involved is proof that the article was a call to arms. But there might be some truth to his assertion of apathy in Otterbein.

Neighborhood history and urban battles -- which typically are what mobilize community associations -- are absent for residents of southern Baltimore's newest neighborhood, created in 1975 after being saved from demolition by a city homesteading program during the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

A quarter-century later, the neighborhood's 600 homes sell for $175,000 to $400,000.

"There is tremendous demand," said George Robbins, Otterbein resident and a real estate agent at O'Connor, Piper and Flynn. "It's unbelievable how these puppies are going up."

Affluence does not necessarily breed a cohesive community.

"Many neighborhood associations that do not have incredible issues to deal with tend to get complacent. There's no major issue to bring everyone out," said former association president Mary Gorman. "Our crime rate in Otterbein is very low. It is well-maintained, convenient and safe."

Many of the rowhouses in Otterbein date from the early 1800s. It is set in the middle of the city, just east of Oriole Park, which has caused some parking headaches.

"We're a tight-knit neighborhood," Gorman said. "It's not uncommon for people to stand on the stoop and chat at night or walk their dogs together."

Otterbein is near Locust Point and South Baltimore, neighborhoods known for strong, vocal activists and "grandmother houses" passed down for generations.

Adjacent is Federal Hill, which recently has attracted a new generation of young residents while retaining a solid core of activists who fight for such issues as parking and bus routes.

Otterbein, Gorman said, hasn't been around long enough to have developed that kind of unity.

"It doesn't have that kind of history, it's not that kind of neighborhood," she said. "You can go to Howard County and see the same thing -- people move in and move out."

Otterbein residents recently voted in favor of a city bus route change that would eliminate bus traffic on Hanover and Hughes streets. But when homeowners in Federal Hill and South Baltimore learned that the Mass Transit Administration was thinking of altering the route and increasing traffic near their homes, they flexed their political muscle and the proposal was dropped.

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