Residents must make way for east-side biotech park

Razing and restoration planned for project's 2nd phase

September 28, 2006|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun reporter

Hundreds more vacant properties will be acquired - some to be rehabilitated, many to be razed - and as many as 300 additional families are likely to lose their homes in the second and final stage of the huge East Baltimore redevelopment project centered on a biotech park.

A recommended plan calls for the acquisition and demolition of roughly two-thirds of the remaining 339 occupied residential and commercial properties - part of a sweeping proposal to create thousands of jobs and transform one of the most decayed areas of the city with new housing and research facilities.

For residents such as 89-year-old Cornelia Brown, the plan means the demolition of a home she bought about 60 years ago in the 900 block of N. Chester St.

"Wrecking a lot of people's lives, that's what they're doing," said Brown, a retired housekeeper.

"I guess I have to accept it," she said. "Ain't nothing I can do about it. If they're going to put you out, they're going to put you out."

For others such as 88-year-old William Chappell, lucky enough to live on blocks slated to be preserved rather than torn down, the plan means they will be able to remain in their homes.

"I'm more than happy," said Chappell, a retired electrician who bought his house in the 800 block of N. Collington St. some 30 years ago. "I spent my life paying for it. I want to live in it."

Nearly a year in the making, the plan comes as demolition of the first phase of the project nears completion and construction of the first of five planned life sciences buildings is under way.

Details of the second-phase plan are to be presented to the community tonight at a meeting in East Baltimore.

In the initial phase of the project, covering 30 acres north of the Johns Hopkins medical complex, virtually all the properties were designated to be demolished and nearly 400 families had to be relocated.

In the second phase, which covers more than 50 acres, more than 100 occupied properties will be spared from the wrecking crane, and an unspecified number of vacant rowhouses will be rehabilitated on blocks that are to be preserved.

"The time has come for us to move forward and to provide families with some sense of certainty," said Jack Shannon, president and chief executive officer of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit established by the city to oversee the east-side redevelopment. "They've been in limbo for the last five years."

The city unveiled its overall redevelopment plan in 2001 and got the authority to seize properties four years ago through amended urban renewal plans for the area. Residents of the project's first phase received notices 2 1/2 years ago that their homes would be acquired, but those who live in the second phase of the project are just now learning definitively what will happen to their properties.

Shannon said some modifications of the plan are likely, but added, "I don't anticipate that there would be major changes because we spent so much time in the planning stage. "

Yesterday, not all residents of the 900 block of N. Chester St. were as negative about the plan as Cornelia Brown was.

Denise Brown, who is no relation, began renting on the block in January and said she would like to move as soon as possible because of problems with her house and because of the drugs and violence that she says permeate the neighborhood.

"If I have to be relocated, I'd like to be relocated now," said Brown, who has two children ages 2 and 4 and is on public assistance.

A resident across the street, Angela Blair, who has rented a house on the block for the past six years, said the redevelopment "might have a great impact" on the area.

Blair, 49, who is raising her three grandchildren, added, "I think we should have a choice if we want to come back."

On another block earmarked for preservation, Julius Wade was surprised to learn that the house he is renting with an option to buy in the 800 block of N. Patterson Park Ave. - and the ones alongside it - would not be torn down.

"That's news to me," said Wade, 46, a nurse's aide who lives with his wife and three children. "We were planning to go out to the county. If it's going to be preserved, we're going to stay."

Shannon said he expects acquisition of properties and relocation of residents in the second stage of the project to begin early next year and to take up to two years.

By the time that is done in 2009, he said, he expects that the first life sciences building in the initial phase will be completed and a second one will be under construction, and that 300 new units of mixed-income housing will have been completed.

One key question in the second stage of the project involves money. The estimated cost for the acquisition and demolition of properties and the relocation of residents for the second phase is $60 million. That's $10 million more than costs for the first phase, with much of the increase attributed to the higher costs of buying properties.

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