Project called key to revival

Balto. County strikes deal to buy blighted Dundalk apartments

March 27, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore County officials are to announce today that they've reached an agreement to buy a blighted apartment complex in Dundalk's Yorkway corridor, striking a long-sought deal described as key to the community's revitalization.

"This is an area that once was an asset," said Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. "It clearly has fallen into neglect. Rather than an asset, it's become a real challenge for the community."

The local high school band is scheduled to march down the street today for the announcement that the county is set to buy the York Park Apartments, with the intention of knocking them to the ground. The idea, officials said, is to rid the community of a hot spot for crime while making way for new development.

"This is, `Eureka!'" said Carolyn Jones, president of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, who said residents have long waited for the day when the area would be redeveloped.

"Finally," she said, "they're going to take care of it."

County Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, said he has been working on bringing new life to the Yorkway corridor since he was elected in 1998. He called the agreement a "very important piece of the puzzle," adding, "The Dundalk Village Shopping Center and Yorkway are the heartbeat of Dundalk's revitalization."

The $7.5 million deal - which must be approved by the County Council - includes 20 apartment buildings containing 79 units that make up the York Park Apartments, located on 2.8 acres, according to county officials. The county is negotiating to buy the remaining 36 buildings in the 8-acre Yorkway area that have 19 owners, county officials said.

As part of the York Park Apartments deal, the state will forgive a $1.9 million loan made to the owner of the complex, county officials said. The county will repay a $2.47 million federal Housing and Urban Development loan on behalf of the owner and forgive a $672,000 loan. The cash portion of the settlement includes nearly $2.3 million for the property and up to $158,000 in expenses, officials said.

It was particularly important that the deal go through now, because the complex owners were preparing to renew a 15-year contract with HUD, said Olszewski.

Landex Corp. is a general partner of York Park Associates LP, which owns the York Park complex, according to a spokesman for Smith. Attempts to obtain comment from a Landex Corp. official were unsuccessful.

More details about the deal are expected to be discussed at a news conference this morning at Veterans Park.

Redeveloping the Yorkway area has been a priority for Smith and former county executive and current Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. It was also part of a plan created by Dundalk's Urban Development Assistance Team, which called for replacing the rental properties with new housing.

Smith did not want to seize properties through eminent domain because Baltimore County voters in 2000 rejected Senate Bill 509, which would have authorized the county to take ownership of certain properties in the Essex and Dundalk areas, including Yorkway, for redevelopment.

Other landlords in the Yorkway area have expressed interest in the county's offers to buy their buildings, Olszewski said.

"There may be a few holdouts until the very end," said Olszewski. "But I'm hopeful that we'll have deals with other landowners, too, and that they'll be able to get their value out of it and it will be a win-win for everyone."

The county will help tenants relocate, and in some cases help enroll them in government-assisted homeownership programs.

The Yorkway community was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, architect of New York's Central Park. Houses to the west were designed by the same architect who designed houses in Baltimore's Roland Park.

But today the apartment buildings are mostly federally subsidized, and crime has long been a problem.

Baltimore County police Capt. Don Roby, a 25-year veteran, said, "When I first came out of the academy, they always used to talk about Yorkway. Twenty-something years later, they're still talking about Yorkway."

Last year the Police Department received more than 3,800 calls for service in the Yorkway area, more than any other area in the North Point precinct. Roby said the Yorkway area reported 14 robberies, 25 burglaries, 18 auto thefts and 72 drug arrests last year.

"It's just plagued the Police Department and the community for a long time," he said.

Community leaders envision using a planning process, known as a charrette, which sets aside traditional zoning and development procedures in exchange for community input.

Smith said that once the buildings are torn down, he envisions residents being able to ride their bikes around the area.

The Yorkway corridor deal is the latest in a string of improvements planned for the area, including a $2.3 million project under way to spruce up sidewalks and landscaping along Dundalk Avenue, $7 million in renovations planned for the Cummins Apartment complex by an Annapolis-based developer and the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., and an $11 million renovation of a former YMCA building on Dunmanway.

The County Council is expected to discuss the Yorkway deal at its work session tomorrow and vote on it at its April 3 meeting.

If approved, settlement on the property would be within 90 days, officials said.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Nick Shields contributed to this article.

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