Housing relocation people can tolerate

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March 18, 2001|By Norris P. West

WITHOUT question, it was good news.

State legislative negotiators last week struck a deal to move Annapolis' Bloomsbury Square public housing residents to comfortable, new, waterfront townhouses.

Residents may have long feared that state officials were trying to push them aside because they don't quite fit in with Annapolis officialdom. But nobody's talking about giving them the boot this time. Local and state officials are handing them gold keys.

In September 2002, Bloomsbury residents will begin moving into new homes a short walk from where they now live, off Rowe Boulevard. They will have a bit more living space and remain in the heart of Annapolis, off Rowe Boulevard.

The move will let the state expand the Lowe House Office Building, which contains state delegates' offices and hearing rooms. House members need the room and, no doubt, a boost to their egos now that their Senate counterparts have a big new annex across Rowe Boulevard.

The deal has pleased state House and Senate negotiators, who announced the terms last week. Bloomsbury Square residents like the agreement, too.

The new homes would be "the second-best public housing in Maryland," said native Annapolitan Carl O. Snowden. Second only to the governor's mansion.

Indeed, the Bloomsbury Square-Lowe deal is a win-win.

The agreement also could be viewed as a reward for the housing development's residents. They've maintained the complex in excellent shape, proving that public housing can succeed.

The complex has few of the problems that people normally associate with "the projects." Citizens stroll through the small community -- day and night -- without fear. You won't find drug dealers on the corners. You won't hear late-night gunfire.

"It's nice and quiet here," said Wendy Kyler, a lifelong Annapolitan who moved there a month ago with her 8-year-old grandson.

Standing in front of the two-story building, Ms. Kyler talked about the friendly neighbors, including some she goes to church with.

Bloomsbury Square is a red-brick complex of 51 units. Its residents are within mingling distance of Annapolis legislators and St. John's College students.

Window air conditioners bulge out of some units -- something that won't be necessary when residents move into the air-conditioned townhouses, if all goes well.

Mr. Snowden, a special assistant to County Executive Janet S. Owens, touted Bloomsbury Square to me nearly two years ago. He was proud that the development defied stereotypes -- of public housing and of low-income African-American families.

To him, it was an example of what public housing authorities could do nationwide: integrate public housing with important office space. And keep public housing complexes small.

It was also apparent that Bloomsbury is geriatric-driven. I've spent a lot of time around the complex over the last two years, mainly looking for parking spaces near downtown Annapolis. Many residents I've seen or met there qualify for AARP membership.

They have kept this place a pleasant community.

Things will get even better with a townhouse community. P. Holden Croslan, executive director of the Annapolis housing authority, said the new homes will be modeled on Baltimore's attractive Pleasant View Gardens.

Ms. Croslan said she told residents she would take them to Pleasant View Gardens, which was built after Baltimore demolished the decrepit Lafayette Square public housing complex.

Pleasant View isn't a bad model at all. It's a garden-style, townhouse complex that's an oasis in East Baltimore.

"When we were talking about where residents would go, we wanted to do this in a way that would be acceptable to residents," said Ms. Croslan.

Pleasant View impressed her.

"I was saying to myself, `I could go and live there and not have any problems,'" Ms. Croslan said.

She has gotten positive feedback from residents.

"Some of the residents who called said they had started packing," she said.

Annapolis needs something similar to Pleasant View Gardens, but not identical. The new Bloomsbury Square should look and feel like the historic city. Architects should shoot for brick colonials.

Phase I will be completed in 18 months. That's when 21 of the 51 units will be ready to occupy and construction on the Lowe expansion can begin.

Ms. Croslan said the new units will be built on a state parking lot that's adjacent to Bloomsbury Square's current location. The complex, like Pleasant View, will have green space and parking.

If this deal has a sour note, it's parking. Downtown Annapolis doesn't have enough of it, and the Lowe expansion will consume spaces while generating a demand for more. Mayor Dean L. Johnson will have to find a way to provide more downtown parking for state workers. A garage close to the State House seems the logical answer. More on that later.

For now, let's celebrate a deal that looks out for public housing residents for a change. With their good custodianship, Bloomsbury Square residents have earned the golden treatment.

Norris P. West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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