Community groups fight probation office renovation

Lawsuit filed to stop state officials' plans

October 26, 2004|By Jill Rosen | Jill Rosen,SUN STAFF

A planned renovation of Baltimore's main probation and parole office is facing a legal challenge by a coalition of community groups and people who live nearby who want to stop the $15 million project and ultimately have the facility moved.

Nine community groups and seven residents filed an injunction against the state yesterday in Circuit Court to halt the renovation of the office at 2100 Guilford Ave. The lawsuit also seeks $5 million in damages.

"We really don't want the state to renovate the facility - it's totally inappropriate where it's located," said Jennifer Martin, a plaintiff who lives three blocks from the probation office. "It's right in the middle of a neighborhood."

State officials declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday because they had not yet seen it.

Neighborhood residents say the probation office, which handles about 31,000 visits a month from people on parole and probation, brings crime to the area and lowers property values. They are particularly upset that it is located across the street from the Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School.

"When you get to that block there are more vacant [houses], more litter, more questionable people hanging around," Martin said.

The question of what to do about the aging probation office, which has been at the Guilford Avenue location for at least three decades, has vexed city and state officials for the better part of this year. When the community balked at the proposed renovations last winter, the state promised to meet with residents and consider moving the facility to another location.

City housing officials, who said they do not support the facility staying in the residential Barclay area, have suggested other sites, but the state vetoed most of them.

State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services officials said the work was necessary because the building is rundown. Although state officials have said their intention is only to update the building, the community sees the work as an expansion in disguise.

"They don't want us there at all, and they feel if we renovate, we'll stay forever," said Elizabeth Bartholomew, a spokeswoman for the correctional services department.

Bartholomew said the renovation would give the building a new roof, new wiring and a better layout, among other things.

The parole and probation office has seen an increase in client visits from 19,000 a month in 1999 to more than 30,000 a month, according to the lawsuit. The renovation would also increase office space and staff would be added, according to the suit.

State officials have maintained that the work would result in no increase in client visits.

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