Rebirth, with some regret

Neighbors are split on plans for Poppleton, which call for razing homes to spark development

November 04, 2005|By SUMATHI REDDY | SUMATHI REDDY,SUN REPORTER

James Ginyard gazed down at the corner where spray-painted rest-in-peace graffiti marks the lives of guys named Bangum and Boo, Nose and Green.

"I don't like this neighborhood," the 68-year-old said, standing outside the rowhouse he rents in the 300 block of N. Carrollton Ave. "If I got to go, I got to go."

He will go, under the terms of a huge city redevelopment plan that calls for his displacement, along with hundreds of others, when buildings on 14 acres in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Poppleton are razed and replaced with a dense landscape of housing.

Next door to Ginyard, in an immaculately restored three-story rowhouse her family has owned for decades, Sonia Eaddy holds up a "Save the Block" petition. She won't go, not without a fight.

"I think the city is wrong," said 41-year-old Eaddy, who grew up on the block and returned two years ago. "The city is robbing people. My question is, where could you afford to move at anything below $100,000, except for another blighted community?"

Here, the residents are clearly divided over the city's redevelopment plan sparked by the University of Maryland's $300 million investment in a biopark campus consisting of seven buildings of biotech office and laboratory space. But the 300 block of N. Carrollton Ave. is the rare populated block in Poppleton. Drive through the neighborhood and the emptiness - block after block of boarded-up houses between empty lots - is startling.

Slightly more than 500 properties remain on the horseshoe-shaped parcel bordered by Amity Street to the east, Mulberry Street to the north, Fairmount Avenue to the south, and Carrollton Avenue to the west.

A majority of the properties are already city-owned or in the process of being acquired. About 114 properties are occupied, 34 of them by owners.

The city, in partnership with community organizations, selected the New York-based La CitM-i Development to lead the project.

Though in its infancy, the Poppleton redevelopment plan is nothing if not dramatic.

Think apartment buildings, some as high as nine stories. Think sections of homes with kitschy names like "Susan Taylor Homes" or "Christie Brinkley Homes" (if her husband, developer Peter Cook, is used, says La CitM-i's proposal). Think coffee shops, ice cream parlors, art galleries, a few trendy restaurants and bars.

A place for residents?

City and La CitM-i officials stress that plans are fluid and nowhere near finalized. Still, some residents wonder if there will be a place for them when all is said and done.

But to others in the neighborhood, a complete overhaul is needed to inject life in a moribund area, even if it means destruction and displacement.

Sitting in his popular barbershop, Lenny Clay said bring it on. Clay doesn't live in Poppleton, but he stands to lose his business, where he's held shop since 1959.

"They gonna tear mine down," said the 70-year-old barber, who serves on the executive board of the Village Center of Poppleton Inc., which has a 1 percent interest in the plan. "I want them to tear it down. The only thing they're doing here is tearing down trash."

La CitM-i's plan, estimated to cost more than $100 million, would occur in three phases beginning next year. About 20 percent of the housing - largely owner-occupied apartments and houses - would be set aside as affordable housing with displaced residents given the first option to move back.

The city is still acquiring properties, a process that began a few years ago and will take another two or three years to complete, said Alastair Smith, a real estate officer with the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development.

The city will use its eminent domain powers and send out notification letters to residents by the year's end, Smith said. Officials have identified $2.5 million for some acquisitions but don't yet have the full $11 million needed.

Once complete, the land will be turned over to the developer. The University of Maryland's biopark is already under construction, and city and La CitM-i officials believe it will create a market for nearby housing and a demand for a walkable community. A transformation is the ultimate goal.

Big changes

"We've been pushing [La CitM-i] to be creative in trying to come up with something that will really transform this neighborhood into a very desirable place to live," Smith said.

But residents like Eaddy believe that the same natural market forces transforming other areas of the city can and will trickle into Poppleton without wholesale demolition and transformation.

On a recent morning, a Timonium real estate agent eyeballed a three-story rowhouse.

"The question is, when is the market going to turn here?" said Richard Halpern, a Re/Max Acclaimed broker, glancing up at the home, on the market for $95,000. "It could go either way."

Some are concerned that among the structures to be torn down will be unique, historic buildings, even if they appear to be in disrepair.

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