Plan for low-income housing development dealt blow by court

450 units were planned at Hollander Ridge site

July 14, 2000|By Kurt Streeter | Kurt Streeter,SUN STAFF

Plans to build a low-income elderly housing development at the site of the recently demolished Hollander Ridge public housing project have been dealt a severe blow by a federal appeals court.

In a decision that could mean an end to the proposed development, a three-judge appeals panel unanimously reversed Wednesday an earlier federal court ruling that had given the go-ahead for construction of a 450-unit public housing complex for the elderly in Hollander Ridge.

The ruling also affected plans for a senior housing development in Cherry Hill.

The panel ruled that the federal judge overstepped his authority last year by modifying an earlier court order, which cleared the way for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City to pursue its plans to build senior housing on the two sites.

The largest of the two projects was planned for the 20-acre Hollander Ridge site, at the city's eastern border with Baltimore County. The city finished demolition of Hollander Ridge with the implosion of a 20-story tower there Saturday.

City Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne, who at recent public appearances has promoted the proposed elderly housing campus, said she was disappointed. "Hollander Ridge plans have been under way since 1997," she said.

"Construction was about to begin, as soon as the site was cleared of demolition debris."

City housing officials said the agency is looking at its options, including the possibility of appeal.

The 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., -- which also ruled that federal funds could not be used for a public housing project in Cherry Hill - focused on a 1996 court-ordered consent decree, which radically altered how public housing was treated in Baltimore.

The appeals court found that the modification of that order last year violated the intent of a 1996 consent decree designed to end the practice of building such housing in poor, minority areas of the city.

The decree grew out of an American Civil Liberties Union legal challenge charging that the city's housing projects were intentionally racially segregated. It pushed the city to rebuild much of its dilapidated housing projects and develop low income housing in healthy communities rather than in the distressed inner city.

Under that order, public housing can only be built in distressed, already segregated communities if the ACLU gives its blessing or the court gives approval to modify the decree.

The ACLU and a private housing consultant hired by HUD deemed Hollander Ridge unfit for redevelopment.

In 1997, the city housing authority decided the location would work as a development for the elderly. The agency asked the court to modify the consent decree, allowing it to apply for a $21 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), even though the ACLU refused to check off on the plan.

In January 1999, U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis granted the city's request to change the consent decree, allowing the elderly housing plans to take shape. But the appeals court found Garbis had abused his "discretion by granting the motion to modify the consent decree."

"What you had was an attempt by the city to avoid complying with the decree at all costs," said ACLU attorney Barbara Samuels . "They were going to take the money and use in on this site that was already known as a failed site, a site that wouldn't work."

The appeals court's decision all but ends the city's plans to build a development funded almost exclusively by public funds, Samuels said.

The court order does not prevent private developers from filling the financing void and pursuing a development at Hollander Ridge.

The only recourse left for the city would be to try to take the issue to the Supreme Court or request review by a special appeals panel, Samuels said.

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