All hail Dundalk renewal

Yorkway Apartments feel the wrecker's claw

January 23, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

For the beginning of the Yorkway Apartments demolition, Catherine Kates took a day off from work and got out her American flag.

She has lived in a rowhouse near the complex for more than a decade, and several years ago had a backyard birthday party for her granddaughter. But she hasn't felt safe enough to sit on the porch or open her windows since.

"I feel like I've been a prisoner," she said. "I had lost all hope."

As the construction crane idled yesterday, the 55-year-old told a small crowd waiting for the first bricks to crumble, "As far as I'm concerned, today is Dundalk's Independence Day."

The demolition of two buildings - with more to follow - was a visible next step in the process of rebuilding the area, neighborhood activists said yesterday. Many of them had been anxiously awaiting the razing since Baltimore County officials announced in March that they had a contract to buy a large portion of the aging complex that authorities say had become a center of neighborhood instability and a magnet for drug activity and other crime.

"This is something we've been wishing for for a long time," said Carolyn Jones, president of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, who was among those who stood in the frigid winds yesterday to witness the demolition. "This will definitely help with the revitalization."

The County Council has approved the $14.5 million purchase of 46 buildings in the 56-building complex and county officials are in negotiations with the remaining property owners.

The county intends to allow a private developer to rebuild on the 8-acre site, after a process known as a "charrette," which allows residents to approve what is built and the developer to bypass traditional zoning and development procedures.

Irene Spatafore, a 73-year-old Dundalk native whose daughter and granddaughter live in a house nearby, said the redevelopment is important.

"This has been a thorn for years," she said, adding that she wouldn't have missed the demolition "if there were 3 feet of snow on the ground."

At a short ceremony yesterday billed as an opportunity for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. and Councilman John Olszewski Sr. to take a "ceremonial first swipe" at two of the county-owned buildings, the pair took turns in an excavator with a claw on the end of its arm. But they took the work seriously, zealously tearing out several large chunks of the building.

Smith called the event part of Dundalk's "glory days."

About 105 families have been relocated to other low-income housing projects - about half of them in Dundalk and the other half in other parts of the county, officials said. They've been relocated "to much better living conditions," said Smith. "That's another aspect of this that we're celebrating."

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said the demolition "will allow kids to play out in front of their houses. ... Neighbors can actually be neighbors - have block parties, backyard barbecues. It's the old Dundalk spirit."

Olszewski and Smith also spoke about other projects in the works for Dundalk, including the planned redevelopment of the former Seagram's distillery, also using a charrette; the rehabilitation of Cummins Apartments and the expansion of a multimillion-dollar project to improve the look of Dundalk Avenue.

Kates said she was ready to sell her house last year - tired of cleaning her yard of drug paraphernalia and litter, hearing foul language at all hours and worrying about crime.

Now, she said, she is planning to buy her first set of outdoor furniture and a grill.

"I'll be able to open my windows and sit on the porch when the weather is nice," she said.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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