Residents question city officials about housing acquisition

East-side biotech park would require demolition

April 25, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

About 100 anxious property owners packed an East Baltimore community meeting last night, peppering city officials with questions about how a proposed revitalization plan centered on a biotech park would affect their homes and businesses.

"This gives the homeowner a dilemma," said Bertha Floyd, 75, who has owned a home in the 1000 block of N. Eden St. for 51 years and recently had the property renovated. "I don't intend to do any more work until I know what you're going to do."

Floyd's home is one of 3,300 properties that the city is seeking the authority to acquire to make way for a biotech park north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex and hundreds of units of new and rehabilitated housing.

Last night's meeting at the Madison Square Recreation Center in the 1400 block of E. Biddle St. was the first of three scheduled before the introduction Monday of City Council legislation that would give the city the right to seize the properties. Late last week, the city began notifying owners whose properties are listed in the legislation.

Officials explained that the city might not need to acquire all of the properties listed for acquisition. They acknowledged that the project would involve considerable demolition, particularly in two blocks immediately north of Hopkins. But they said that on many blocks - including Floyd's - they wanted to condemn only substandard and abandoned properties, not those that are well-maintained and occupied.

That explanation brought a question from Cassandra Pierce, 42, another homeowner in the 1000 block of N. Eden.

"If you have old people on the block, are you offering any programs to help them bring their properties up?" she asked.

Officials said they probably would offer a loan program for homeowners who could not afford to bring properties up to code.

"I do believe the big picture looks good," said Calvin Keene, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church at Biddle and Caroline streets. "However, we need to address the individual situations. That's the only way there's going to be a total buy-in."

Michael P. Tserkis, who has owned Titan Garage in the 1500 block of E. Chase St. for more than 30 years, wanted to know what would happen to his business.

"Are you going to kick me out?" he asked. "If you do, I have another country to go to. That's Greece."

Some homeowners in the area were upset that blocks where their properties are situated are not included in the redevelopment plan.

"You're working all around us and not putting us in the loop," complained Ann Beasley, 58, who has owned a home in the 1600 block of E. Biddle St. since 1984.

Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano responded that the city has finite resources to work with but that blocks adjacent to the redevelopment area, such as Beasley's, should benefit from increased interest by private developers.

A second meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Christ United Methodist Church in the 2000 block of E. Chase St. in the Middle East neighborhood, which contains about two-thirds of the properties the city wants to acquire and where most of the demolition is scheduled. A final meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at Collington Square Elementary School, 1409 N. Collington Ave.

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