Locust Point transformed

Development: A wave of upscale residential building has residents wondering whether the old blue-collar neighborhood can survive.

May 05, 2004|By Antero Pietila | Antero Pietila,SUN STAFF

Locust Point old-timers came by the hundreds yesterday to a traditional spring dinner to feast on fried chicken, reminisce about the past and wonder whether their tight-knit peninsula can survive the tidal wave of upscale residential development.

"They are just smothering us," Joan Bolton, 70, said of developers who are transforming the old neighborhood of longshoremen and blue-collar workers near Fort McHenry into a pocket of gentrification, with houses selling for more than $400,000.

"It's a different world," the lifelong Locust Point resident said, sighing, as she recalled that most of the modest neighborhood relied on party-line telephones until World War II and didn't get indoor toilets until the 1950s.

Yesterday's chicken dinner at Christ United Church of Christ was one of several rotating eat-togethers that Locust Point's three churches sponsor throughout the year. Other chat-and-chews are held at Episcopal Church of the Redemption and Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, giving residents plenty of food for thought is the flurry of development proposals on the peninsula, which has only one access road, Fort Avenue.

On Monday, longtime developer Elinor Bacon disclosed to the Locust Point Civic Association plans to construct 18 condominium units on a small parcel in the 1300 block of Haubert St. that houses Best Electrical Services Inc.

"I really would rather not talk about it before I meet with the community," said Bacon, who acknowledged that she has a contract on the property.

Once a Baltimore housing official, Bacon later was a private developer and high-ranking administrator in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bacon's proposal emerged weeks after the local civic association gave its blessing to plans by John William Ruppert III to build 71 townhouses near Christ United church on a parking lot that was a victory garden during World War II, with areas for chickens and goats.

The city Planning Commission is to consider this month a City Council rezoning bill that would allow another development group to turn the site of a prominent landmark, an abandoned grain elevator, into a community of townhouses, offices and a hotel or condominiums.

At yesterday's chicken dinner, talk turned to a former Procter & Gamble Co. warehouse at Beason Street.

On Monday, state Sen. George W. Della Jr. said he had heard that the 11-acre warehouse parcel was another redevelopment target.

Gary S. Timme of Overflo Warehouse LLC, which owns the land, said this week, "I have nothing to say. I decline to give any information."

City planners are trying to cope with the growing redevelopment.

Tonight, they are scheduled to unveil a revised plan that would set guidelines for residential construction in Locust Point.

The original plan, which was released a month ago, said the peninsula of about 2,200 residents could accommodate 565 additional housing units. It was unclear whether the updated plan would change that number.

City planner Jerome Chou said it was being worked on yesterday.

At the chicken dinner, held at a church built for a German-speaking immigrant congregation, old-timers expressed amazement at the changes in their community.

"I think it's changing a village-type neighborhood into sprawl," said Karl Ballwanz, 82, a retired can company worker. "There's not enough room for all this."

Many senior citizens who are on fixed incomes said rising property taxes are the chief worry.

As development drives up the values of surrounding properties, assessments and property taxes increase as well.

Hope Marston, 77, who lives in a house her mother bought for $1,350 after World War II, said, "Now the taxes are almost that much."

When it was pointed out to her that the value of her house has undoubtedly also multiplied, she responded, "Let's say I could get $100,000 for it. Where the hell am I going to go for $100,000?"

"We never asked to be discovered," she said. "Undiscover us and let us alone."

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