Close to accord, city razes 1 unit

Uplands lawsuit won't delay plans for new project, housing officials say

October 27, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN REPORTER

Mayor Martin O'Malley yesterday helped topple the roof of the lone building approved to come down in a vacant Southwest Baltimore apartment complex, a large redevelopment project that has been held up for two years by a legal dispute.

Attorneys from the Legal Aid Bureau waged a successful fight this week to ensure the demolished unit at Swann Avenue and Old Frederick Road in the Uplands Apartments is the only one razed until a final agreement is reached in a long-running federal court suit on behalf of former tenants seeking assurances that the new project will include low-income housing.

But city housing officials and attorneys for Legal Aid have agreed in principle on a deal that would allow enough low-income housing to be built for many residents relocated from Uplands Apartments to return if they so choose. Legal Aid, which represents the former residents in the suit against the city and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, went to a judge Wednesday to halt demolition of the 979-unit complex, arguing the deal needs to be finalized in court.

Lawyers for HUD, Legal Aid and the city participated in a conference call with Chief Magistrate Judge Paul Grimm on Wednesday. Grimm said privacy laws prevent him from discussing what was said during the meeting, but he was under the impression all sides consented to a resolution.

A spokesman for Legal Aid said the city, after yesterday's ceremony, agreed to not demolish any more of the buildings until the case is settled.

"There is a process here," said Joseph Surkiewicz, the spokesman for Legal Aid. "We're waiting for some final actions."

Asked why Legal Aid is against the immediate demolition of buildings that have been boarded up and abandoned for two years, Surkiewicz said, "The court has got to act."

Housing officials said the delay will not deter the project, called the largest new residential development in the city in decades. The project is slated to be on the site of the cleared apartment and on nearby land owned and occupied by New Psalmist Baptist Church, which is relocating to the Seton Business Park in Northwest Baltimore.

"This most recent action is not going to slow us down," spokesman David Tillman said. "There's a lot of work we have to do to prepare for demolition if we have to wait this thing out."

Tillman pointed to lead abatement and other predemolition work as the focus now for the 130-acre parcel. Housing officials would not go into detail about how long they are willing to wait before demanding a resolution to the demolition issue.

HUD has yet to sign off on the agreement reached by the city and Legal Aid and could take up to two months.

The city wants to raze the building to make way for a $300 million project that will create 1,146 units of mixed-income housing. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, City Council President Sheila Dixon and a host of local and state elected officials attended the 45-minute ceremony yesterday.

Sandra Lee, who attended the ceremony, said she lived in Uplands for nine years before moving in March 2004. She was one of the last to leave and has plans to move back.

"I really liked the complex. But [the previous owners] didn't take care of the property. If they took care of the property, I would still be living here," she said.

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