City/county Digest

CITY/COUNTY DIGEST

April 07, 2006

City aims to boost sales of vacant homes

Baltimore officials will step up their effort to sell several thousand vacant properties acquired as part an ambitious city program intended to reduce the number of abandoned homes, Mayor Martin O'Malley told a meeting of mayors yesterday.

Speaking to a U.S. Conference of Mayors committee near the Inner Harbor, O'Malley said the city is using its Internet site to entice developers to purchase vacant properties, and officials said the city is considering plans to streamline its sales process.

The O'Malley administration says it has bought about 6,000 vacant properties under its Project 5000 program, announced in 2002 as a way to spur development. Of those, 1,000 have been sold and 2,000 are expected to be sold as part of developments that have begun.

"The disposition thing is what we wrestle with now," O'Malley said.

The mayor said the administration has focused on selling properties in neighborhoods where progress has been made, such as around the East Baltimore biotech park project north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex.

O'Malley said the city has been able to make progress on the issue only because political will has grown. He advised the mayors to set lofty redevelopment goals and not to be fearful of critics who raise questions if those goals are not met.

"We were a city that had been in decline for so many years and got sick and tired of being sick and tired," he said.

John Fritze

Baltimore: Federal court

Jury deliberations to continue today

Jurors will continue deliberations for a fourth day when they return today to U.S. District Court in Baltimore to decide the fate of two police officers accused of selling drugs on the city's west side.

Officers William A. King and Antonio L. Murray are charged with conspiring to rob and extort cocaine, heroin and marijuana - and drug-related proceeds - from suspects in late 2004 and early last year.

Defense lawyers countered that the officers were scapegoats for a department that lacks the resources and means to combat drug dealing and violence, and that their clients bent the rules out of necessity rather than for personal gain.

Yesterday, the jury again listened to conversations of the officers that were secretly recorded by the FBI in the first half of last year. They also asked the judge about their verdict form before leaving the courthouse about 4:30 p.m. without reaching a decision.

Matthew Dolan

Donation

Boychoir receives gift of $1 million

The Maryland State Boychoir announced yesterday that it has received a $1 million donation from a Swiss couple whose grandchildren are members. The donation from Emile and Marie-Jose Schneiter will go to renovate the Cathedral Church of St. Matthew in Mayfield, which will become the choir's home and will be used by other arts groups, said a news release from the choir. "This generous gift, which was made in memory of Francois-Andre Schneiter by his parents, was inspired by their belief in their grandsons' growth and development as individuals through singing," artistic director Frank Cimino said in a statement. The choir, in its 19th year, has members ages 7 to 19 and performs more than 60 times a year.

Reading device

Group to unveil aid to visually impaired

The National Federation of the Blind was scheduled today to unveil a new, hand-held reading device that will read printed pages to the visually impaired. The Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, about the size of a personal digital organizer, is a combination digital camera and voice-activated reading unit, which can read a printed page. Ray Kurzweil, an inventor and developer who pioneered computer-to-voice technology, is to demonstrate the reader at 5:30 p.m. at the group's annual celebration at its headquarters at 1800 Johnson St. in South Baltimore.

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