Public housing plans lauded by Glendening at ceremony

New Bloomsbury Square amenities, location to be a national model, he says

Annapolis

May 15, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The New Bloomsbury Square housing complex that is planned for a prime waterfront location in historic Annapolis is a national model for public housing, Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday as ground was ceremonially broken on the project.

The planned neighborhood of 52 brick townhouses and apartments with narrow, tree-lined streets and views of College Creek will be "a community that brings a sense of dignity and a sense of place to families who sometimes are forgotten in this nation," Glendening told the crowd of public housing residents, state and local officials and others who gathered at state parking lot D, where construction crews are expected to begin work on the development Monday.

"As we do this," the governor said, "we should remember that the eyes of the nation are watching us."

The $7.6 million neighborhood is being built by the state to replace the 61-year-old Bloomsbury Square community, one of the oldest public housing projects in the nation. That complex will be demolished to make way for the $30 million expansion of the Lowe House Office Building.

The plan to relocate the public housing residents from their current homes - deteriorating rowhouses that lie feet from the state offices at some points - has drawn criticism from observers including Comptroller William Donald Schaefer.

At a state Board of Public Works meeting last week, where the plans were reviewed, Schaefer blasted the plan to build public housing on what he called "one of the most valuable pieces of land in Annapolis."

"This is really a tragedy," Schaefer said, noting that he voted in support of the project only out of respect for Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, and House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.

At yesterday's groundbreaking ceremony, Glendening did not mention Schaefer's name, but he said he has heard "people make reference that this is too much of an investment" for poor people.

"I believe every citizen in this state and this country is entitled to homes with dignity and a life with dignity," Glendening told the crowd.

After the ceremony, the governor said he disagreed with Schaefer's sentiments and said he hopes New Bloomsbury Square sets an example for the federal government, other states and local housing authorities for how good public housing can be.

"Across the nation we ought to be stepping up the quality of public housing," Glendening said. "Public housing should not be a place to warehouse people. It should be a place for people to get their lives together and move ahead."

For decades, the state has tried to take over Bloomsbury Square, but each attempt was met with resistance from residents who fought proposals to relocate them to other areas of the city, saying the Bloomsbury neighborhood provides the cleanest and safest public housing in Annapolis because of its downtown location and proximity to state offices. It took last year's offer of lot D, adjacent to some of the old Bloomsbury units, as the new project site and the promise that residents would have a strong role in design negotiations to finally forge a deal for the land.

Over the last several months, a team that included residents and state and city officials worked with developer A&R Development Corp. of Baltimore to design a neighborhood that met environmental and historic district guidelines, as well as the needs of the residents, many of whom are disabled or elderly. What emerged will likely be the nicest public housing in Annapolis, with central air conditioning, washers and dryers, and hardwood floors. Residents in the new units will pay the same rent, which is based on income, as they do in the existing Bloomsbury development.

At the ceremony, speakers lauded the efforts of the agencies that worked on the plan for Bloomsbury.

"We created a new neighborhood and an example for the nation," Alice Johnson, head of Bloomsbury's residents council, said of the team effort behind the plan. "We will be watched, all of us."

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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