Complex's demolition to start despite suit

October 26, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore housing officials plan to begin demolition of an abandoned West Baltimore apartment complex today despite protests from Legal Aid Bureau lawyers who have filed a lawsuit on behalf of former tenants.

Yesterday, the mayor's office issued a news release on the demolition of the Uplands Apartment complex in Southwest Baltimore. Today's ceremony calls for a news conference for elected officials, including Mayor Martin O'Malley, the Democratic candidate in the gubernatorial race.

City housing officials said yesterday that they had the power to move forward with the demolition, but their position was disputed by a spokesman for Legal Aid. The spokesman said the city did not notify Legal Aid about the demolition, and once it found out about the city's plans, it asked a mediation judge to restrict the demolition to one building until the lawsuit is settled.

The city wants to raze the buildings to make way for a $300 million project that will create 1,146 housing units. In 2003, Legal Aid sued the city and the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of former tenants who want assurances that the new project will include low-income housing. Talks between the two sides have gone on for more than a year.

City housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said about a quarter of the new units will be low-income housing. He maintains that the city has the authority to proceed with Phase I of the project.

"Let me be clear. ... These 200-plus vacant buildings have been a pox on this community for far too long," Graziano said. "We want them down , the neighbors want them down, and there is nothing preventing us from doing just that."

Graziano said both sides want the same thing, enough low-income housing so that those who were relocated will have the chance to come back.

"I signed off on it [Tuesday]," Graziano said. "It hasn't been approved by the courts yet. We're all quite confident. We wouldn't have proceeded if we weren't."

Yesterday, the Legal Aid spokesman said the city had agreed to knock down just one building, then halt demolition until the court makes a ruling, though housing officials dispute such a pact existed.

"We're disappointed. We don't have a final settlement," said Joseph Surkiewicz, the spokesman for Legal Aid.

The Uplands Apartment complex is off Edmondson Avenue near the Baltimore County line. It was a privately managed low-income complex from the 1970s until June 2003, when HUD foreclosed on the property after the owner defaulted on a federally backed mortgage.

HUD sold it to the city for $40 later that year. The land was originally owned by Henry Barton Jacobs, a physician in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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