Supporters of a proposal to make the Park Heights neighborhood a Community Benefits District lost their bid yesterday, falling short of the 58 percent approval needed to approve the measure.
"The people who are still here are very bummed about it," Lori James-Monroe, the project director, said after the vote. "People are disappointed."
The final vote was 265 in favor to 245 against the measure.
Del. Salima Siler Marriott, who represents the area and supported the measure, said she was not surprised by the outcome.
"Basically, we were out-organized," the state legislator said. "We just did not generate the kind of passion that was necessary to get people out."
In large part, yesterday's vote turned on the issue of increasing taxes for property owners. It was estimates that the proposed surcharge on area properties - ranging from 12 cents to 16 cents per $100 of assessed value - could raise $500,000 to $700,000 a year.
Had the measure passed, homeowners and business owners would have had to pay an additional $55 to $72 each in taxes every year. The money would have been designated for community projects.
George Collins, president of the Parklane Neighborhood Improvement Association, was among those heading the drive to defeat the proposal. He spent much of yesterday handing out fliers and answering questions outside the voting station at St. Ambrose School.
"I am the first person to tell you that improvements are needed, but I don't trust the structure and the formation of the group that put the plan together," Collins said. "Why should we pay more for what we should be already getting?"
Supporters and opponents agreed that Park Heights desperately needs improvements and government attention to recover from years of neglect. Marriott and others saw the benefits district as a key to empowering residents.
Population in this Northwest Baltimore neighborhood has declined by 20 percent in some areas over the past decade. About 700 vacant houses stand in Park Heights, with perhaps an equal number of empty lots.
City officials are considering closing a library branch and two elementary schools in Park Heights. The shopping area near Belvedere and Park Heights avenues suffered setbacks when a McCrory's variety store closed and when the Super Pride grocery store went out of business last year.
The drive to name the area a benefits district began about two years ago when Marriott sought help from the University of Maryland School of Social Work. Even though the measure did not pass, James-Monroe said it was a positive experience for Park Heights.
"People came to recognize that there are people who want to make a change," she said. "Hopefully, this will get the community energized to make Park Heights a cleaner, safer place to live."