Council hears opinions on biotech park plan

Some oppose acquisition of east-side properties

August 28, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Several East Baltimore residents told a City Council hearing last night that they wanted to remain in their longtime homes rather than have the city acquire their properties as part of a sweeping revitalization plan that would create a biotech park and hundreds of units of new and renovated housing.

"I would like my name off that [acquisition] list," said Gloria M. Bolding, who has lived for 42 years in the 1400 block of N. Patterson Park Ave." I'll be 65 this year, and I don't see where I need to go anywhere and start over."

Bolding was among a standing-room crowd of about 200 that packed an auditorium at the Collington Square Recreation Center. The council is considering legislation that would allow the city to seize up to 3,300 properties for the biotech park north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex, and for housing in several nearby neighborhoods.

A key initiative of Mayor Martin O'Malleys administration, the revitalization effort anticipates drawing on research done at Hopkins to attract new and established biotech companies, creating thousands of jobs over the next decade and spurring renewal of an area that has been on the decline for decades.

In the first of a series of hearings scheduled in east-side neighborhoods, the council heard testimony on a bill that would allow the city to acquire more than 600 properties in the Broadway East community.

Hearings also are scheduled for next month on similar bills that would allow the city to take properties in the Gay Street, Johnston Square, Oliver and Middle East communities. About two-thirds of the properties that would be affected by the project are located in Middle East, a dilapidated area marred by boarded rowhouses and vacant lots that would be the site of the biotech park.

Because the plan for Broad way East calls mostly for the renovation rather than demolition of properties, city officials said they were putting together a fund that would provide grants for homeowners to upgrade the exterior of their houses and remain in them rather than be paid to relocate to another property.

Some at the hearing expressed anger at the overall revitalization plan.

Its very hard to stand here and not be angry about whats taking place, said Rosita T. Martin, whose parents own a home and another property in the 2100 block of E. Preston St. To the applause of many in the audience, she said the plan was surreptitious manipulation to drive blacks out of the neighbor hood.

Others said the community needed to get on with the process of renewal.

"This is not the time to talk about what was," said Ella Durant, president of the Collington Square Neighborhood Association. Lets talk about where we want to go.

City Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch, who represents the east side and conducted the hearing, said in opening remarks that the plan was vital to the revival of the eastside.

"We are embarking on some thing that will be fantastic for East Baltimore," Branch said.

Of the properties in Broadway East slated for acquisition, she said, about half were vacant and only about one in four were occupied by their owners.

That gives you an idea of the need for this development, she said.

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