Calvert School to pay tenants

Apartment dwellers would leave, pave way for expansion

May 08, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Representatives of a venerable North Baltimore private school and a posh garden apartment complex agreed yesterday to end a conflict that escalated from polite picketing to politicking before the City Council and the State House.

Residents of 4300 N. Charles St. would receive $6,000 to $8,000 in compensation for moving out by Aug. 31.

Calvert School would proceed with plans to demolish the apartments, which it acquired eight months ago, and build a middle school and two playing fields.

Although the deal won't be final until residents sign it, their representatives expressed confidence that that would occur in the next 10 days to two weeks.

The row divided an affluent community that has sent many children to the elite private school but was torn over what some saw as an unseemly expansion plan. Residents, including retirees who thought they would live happily surrounded by their antiques, dogs and genteel neighborhood, initially rallied by picketing the school.

With backgrounds in business, various professions, arts and academia, they then put their time, money and influence to work. They hired an attorney and took their cause to council members and state legislators, who introduced bills that could have jeopardized Calvert's plans.

Dozens of nearby home owners protested Calvert's plans for building on 6 acres in Tuscany-Canterbury, on the border with Guilford.

But yesterday, conceding that the school has prevailed, a negotiating committee of five residents met with their lawyer to approve the fine points of a compensation package that would give 58 equal payments to residents of the 58 units occupied on March 1.

"Elected officials made it clear they wanted us to be fair to tenants," said the school's lawyer, Michael H. Davis, referring to Mayor Martin O'Malley's advice on how to resolve the tempest.

Some said the end of the struggle to save their homes was bitter at best.

"It's a tragedy. Look around you," Allan J. Mead said, sweeping his hand toward bright forsythia bathed in spring light, part of a landscape designed to be easy on the eyes and aging legs. "It's unbelievable to take all this away."

Davis spelled out the terms of the eight-page settlement agreement yesterday.

"Calvert has signed the agreement and now they have to get the tenants' signatures. The bottom line is that it's effective only if they run down the signatures," Davis said. "A lot are agreeing to leave earlier than the end of their lease and not oppose expansion. They can't oppose us, period. The drop-dead date is Aug. 31."

The attorney for the residents, John C. Murphy, and Davis said the deal hinges on the city planning commission's approving the expansion design. Calvert plans to present the latest drawings to the commission June 7. Half of the money would be paid to residents upon approval, they said, and the other half would be paid when the last person left by Aug. 31.

Jack S. Kerns Jr., a resident and a lead negotiator, said that because the settlement agreement specifies that the tenants not oppose the school, "none of us will go to the planning commission."

Murphy said, "This has been a real hard thing. There's no sugar-coating this [forced displacement]. They're disappointed the mayor and City Council didn't pass legislation. But they're pleased they were able to negotiate compensation."

Kerns said a meeting of residents will be held this week to examine and discuss the agreement Calvert has signed.

Murphy said a potential holdout is Catherine "Kitty" Knott, an elderly woman who just came home from the hospital.

"I don't plan to get out by the end of August. I don't have a place to go, and I don't see any reason to rush," she said yesterday, adding that her lease is up in November.

Knott's home faces North Charles Street, and hers would be the last building to be taken down in a demolition.

Calvert representatives said yesterday that they would make an exception for Knott.

Davis said one more front on neighborhood relations remains in May, under a fast-paced timetable. Guilford has signed a covenant that accepts the expansion; the Tuscany-Canterbury Neighborhood Association has not.

"We have to get back to table with Tuscany-Canterbury," he said.

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