Decrepit rowhouse poses a safety threat

April 15, 2008|By Liz F. Kay

THE PROBLEM -- The cornice near the roof of an abandoned rowhouse was loose and threatening to fall off.

THE BACKSTORY -- Nora Giles says she couldn't walk on her own street.

For three decades, she has lived on Rankin Place in the Poppleton community of West Baltimore. A rowhouse on the end of the three-house group, 1228 Rankin, has sat empty for about 15 years, said Giles and her brother, James Smith.

The previous owner took care of it, Giles said. But after he died, people began dumping trash in the backyard and drug dealers used it to hide their stash. Bricks fell from the roofline. And for the past year, the decorative molding at the top of the two-story brick home looked like it was about to fall onto unsuspecting pedestrians below.

Giles, 74, said she avoided the sidewalk in front of the building.

"I walk all the way across the street," she said. "I was afraid it was going to fall."

Giles called 311, the City Hall nonemergency help line, but nothing was done. "They told her it didn't look bad enough," her brother said. "They're putting it off until it pulls the facade of the house off or it falls on somebody."

So Smith turned to Watchdog.

The online state tax database lists the mayor and City Council of Baltimore as the owners of the two-story property.

Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, said the property is to be redeveloped.

The multiphase project, which includes 1228 Rankin Place, will consist of about 1,650 units for sale and for lease at affordable and market rates, she said last week. Construction is expected to begin next year, once the city completes the acquisition of buildings in that area.

"I know that our folks will be out there very shortly ... to further assess what needs to be done for rehabilitation," she said. "The condition it's in will not be for much longer."

In an e-mail yesterday, Porter reported that the cornice had been removed Friday. The walls of the house were also braced and the danger zones barricaded. Department workers will spend the next few days cleaning out the property.

"I feel a little safer now," said Giles, who saw the workmen Friday.

However, she noted that there seemed to be very little roof left on the building - sky is visible through the boards covering the window openings, she said.

"It might stand for another year, but I doubt it," Giles said.

WHO CAN FIX THIS -- Eric Booker, director of housing code enforcement, Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development, 410-396-4170.

City residents can also call 311 to report problems.

Drivers heading to a ballgame, the Inner Harbor or Interstate 395 should keep an eye out when turning left from Lombard Street in the heart of downtown Baltimore. Traffic patterns will be changing there for at least the next two months.

In November, Watchdog reported that Baltimore's Department of Transportation had shifted the signs marking where westbound drivers can make left turns from Lombard Street onto Light Street. The two left lanes are left-turn-only, but the third lane from the left, where drivers could once turn left or continue straight, has been only for drivers going straight.

But for the next six to eight weeks, the traffic patterns will change again because of repair work to a steam manhole in one of those lanes, said Rosita Sabrosso-Rennick, a Transportation Department spokeswoman. And private construction planned on the southeast corner might soon affect traffic in the left-turn lanes, she said.

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