Razings bring hope where bullets flew

Residents watch city wreck vacant homes

May 23, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,Sun reporter

The few residents who were left living in the 2800 block of W. Lanvale St. last month coped with bullets flying in broad daylight, as Baltimore police exchanged gunfire with a gang member who had shot and wounded a fellow officer.

Yesterday, residents and others gathered for the latest spectacle on this West Baltimore block: the demolition of several vacant houses - a move by the city that many people said was long overdue, pointing to the danger posed by crime and rats.

Dozens watched and some clapped as a large excavator tore through a dilapidated brick duplex with its steel shovel. Housing officials told a small crowd that the demolition was part of a long-term plan to clear the most rundown properties and prepare land for development of affordable housing.

"We want to eliminate this blight," said city Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano. "We want to create new opportunities."

Several residents who lived on the block said they were glad the city was finally tearing down the houses, though for some it was a bittersweet moment. Lynette Pitt said her mother and father grew up and met on the block, and that five generations of her family have lived there.

"I remember when we had trees on this side of the street," said Pitt, who rents and has five children. "There's nothing wrong with change, as long as it's in a positive direction."

The city had torn down seven houses on the street, in the Mosher neighborhood just north of Edmondson Avenue, and yesterday six more were razed. In total, 19 houses in and around the 2800 block of Lanvale St. are expected to come down, at a cost of about $300,000.

Over the next few years, the city intends to spend about $60 million to rid the city of thousands of rundown properties, according to the Housing Department. The city is paying for the demolition from its Affordable Housing Fund, created in 2005 by city leaders as part of a deal to help win support for a city-owned hotel adjacent to the Baltimore Convention Center.

A similar demolition took place in January in the 2700 block of Tivoly Ave., one of the more blighted streets in Northeast Baltimore, where more than 40 dilapidated houses are to be cleared.

Community groups are expected to help draft plans for development in their neighborhoods. "The first step is demolition," said Rob English, lead organizer for BUILD, a nonprofit that helps organize communities. "The second step is making a plan to transform this neighborhood."

Bishop William Thomas of St. Matthews Gospel Tabernacle church on North Rosedale Street came to watch the demolition because one of the homes was the first property he'd owned with his wife, decades ago.

"I see hope," Thomas said, as the excavator tore into a vacant rowhouse. "I'm glad to see the community is stepping in and trying to bring it back up."

Several students from Alexander Hamilton Elementary School, a block west, were invited with their principal to watch the demolition. The school was one of two in the area that were locked down during the shootout April 15. Some students, who said they walk past boarded-up rowhouses on their way to school, said they were happy to see the city razing the buildings.

"They should build this community so it can be a safe community for children to play," said Tina Scott, 9. "And it won't be dangerous."

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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See a video at baltimoresun.com/demolition

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