Community undertakes plan to revitalize Druid Hill area

Focus is on renovation, beautification projects

May 07, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Community leaders in the Druid Hill Park area want to bring major improvements to their area and are hoping an ambitious five-year plan to be released today will guide the way.

The Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council's master plan focuses on the need to renovate existing buildings, rid the neighborhood of nuisances and reclaim the community's heritage.

"What we're saying in this plan is that first your streets have to be clean, safe," said GMCC President Earl Arnett, who has lived in the community on Leighton Avenue since 1967. "If you start with housing and economic development and your streets are dirty and unsafe and unattractive, then you end up with what we see scattered throughout the city - a block or two of new housing developments surrounded by the same old urban deterioration."

The plan lists several beautification projects, including murals to cover up graffiti, landscaping and some public art along Gwynns Falls Parkway - at an approximate cost of $340,000. Community leaders also want to expand the neighborhood youth patrol, which employs teen-agers to clean streets, distribute fliers and monitor alleys.

Another key component is the call to diversify the once predominantly Jewish community. To promote that interest, the plan is being presented at Shaarei Tfiloh Synagogue, once the city's largest Orthodox synagogue, Arnett said.

"One of the reasons we're having it there is ... we want to make a statement about diversity," Arnett said. "We want to acknowledge the Jewish past. We want to celebrate the African-American present. And we want to prepare the way for a more diverse future."

Mondawmin has several notable landmarks within its boundaries, including the Baltimore Zoo, the Baltimore Conservatory at Druid Hill Park, Coppin State College, Mondawmin Mall and Bon Secours Baltimore Health System.

The community was predominantly Jewish from the 1920s through the 1940s, but as those residents moved to the suburbs, African-Americans moved in. Today, the area of just under 9,500 is predominantly black, with a median income of $25,214, according to information in the master plan.

David Way, 45, a longshoreman who has lived on Normount Avenue for 18 years, didn't participate in the planning process but said there's strength in diversity.

"I'd like to see other people come back, because ... you improve your knowledge when you meet people of other races," Way said.

There's more to the Mondawmin plan than landscaping and a call for people of different ethnic backgrounds to move into the neighborhood.

Officials have applied for a $200,000 grant from the Maryland Transit Administration's Smart Growth Transit Program to build Liberty Park at Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road.

"The park will commemorate the Jewish and African-American residents of this area, and perhaps of Baltimore City at large, who have contributed to the ideas of freedom and tolerance," Arnett said. "The park will also have a memorial wall."

A need for more businesses and jobs is also noted in the plan, as well as increased police patrols to cut down on open-air drug sales.

Other concerns include trash and pests, a need for job training and for a more attractive Metro station.

Pearl Moulton, an 18-year area resident, said she's excited about the plan's call for enforcement of housing code violations. She said some landlords have converted single-family dwellings into apartments.

"That's a problem because they have never been zoned for apartments," Moulton said. "The square-footage can't accommodate it. The other problem is the absentee landlords and the empty houses."

Barbara Anderson-Dandy, who taught in Baltimore public schools for 30 years and is president of the New Auchentoroly Terrace Association, said renovation of some homes has already begun. She said she is confident Mondawmin will continue its upward trend.

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