Troubled Reservoir Hill apartment complex to be razed

  • Madison Park North Apartments are slated to be torn down in the next year.
Madison Park North Apartments are slated to be torn down in the… (Justin Fenton/Baltimore…)
August 03, 2014|By Yvonne Wenger and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A troubled Reservoir Hill property that came to be known as "Murder Mall" will be demolished under an agreement that's left some residents relieved but others worried about where they'll go.

Baltimore Housing officials have been trying for at least four years to oust the company that owns Madison Park North Apartments and move the residents out, but the owner brought several challenges in court. The two sides finally reached a settlement last month.

Residents say they've been told they have four months to find places to live, and city officials said the 202-unit complex would be razed 10 months after the last tenant leaves.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this is the latest step in a continuing effort to improve the quality of life in the Reservoir Hill community, as well as elsewhere in Baltimore.

"We have to be unrelenting in our efforts to provide quality, affordable and safe housing options for all Baltimore City residents," the mayor said in a statement. "My focus over the next several months will be the successful relocation of all Madison Park North residents, total clearance of the site and the development of an exciting new mixed-use community."

Tricap Management controls Madison Park North Apartments Ltd., which owns the complex. Al Barry, principal of AB Associates, a land-use planning firm in Baltimore whose clients include Tricap — said the property owner will demolish the property and is eager to work toward redevelopment.

"The owner has been cooperating for the past nine months to reach an aggrement with [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] and the city for the tenants to be relocated, and the owner is looking forward to, once that is under way, to begin a redevelopment process for the property, which is clearly what the neighborhood has been looking for," Barry said.

The subsidized complex — dubbed by residents and even city officials as "Murder Mall" — has been the site of drug sales, stabbings and shootings in the years since its construction in the early 1970s. The marquee at the entrance to the complex hails a "unique residential and business community," and storefronts are on the ground level of several apartment buildings. But these days, most are shuttered.

While some nearby Baltimore neighborhoods such as Bolton Hill have seen a rebirth, Reservoir Hill continues to struggle. And to Councilman Nick Mosby, who lives across the street from the complex, the demolition of the 44 buildings on the sprawling 8-acre complex is a relief.

"It's critically important for people to feel safe when they rest their head at night," Mosby said. "Because of terrible mismanagement over decades, the folks of Madison Park North have not had the opportunity to experience that on a nightly basis."

Many residents felt stuck in the complex because their housing vouchers couldn't be transferred, unlike some voucher programs, he said.

"It's an opportunity to springboard them into better housing," Mosby said. "The motivation behind this is really providing folks with quality and affordable housing, which is a human right in 2014."

Residents — some of whom banded together and filed a lawsuit in April — say they've had to live with violence, faulty electrical wiring, and infestations of rodents and bugs. They learned about the agreement to tear down the complex at a recent meeting at a nearby recreational center.

Many said they were looking forward to a move, even if they were a bit uneasy about what might come next. Darron Hill, 24, has spent much of his life living at the complex with his mother. Sitting on an air-conditioning unit outside their apartment, he said he had mixed feelings about the demolition.

"It's a lot of housing being taken away. It's where a lot of us grew up," he said. "It's hard to adapt to another area."

But he saw positives. "The good thing is, people get to expand their horizons."

Rosalyn Gillian, 53, has lived at the complex since it opened, and raised her three children here. She remembers when fences were built around the property 21 years ago to prevent drug deals on the property. Instead, she and her neighbors felt like caged animals.

"I'm glad it's closing," Gillian said. "It's about time, because of the killing and drugs and all."

Dominic Bromell, 29, said he didn't know where his family might end up.

"I'm happy, very happy," he said, holding his 2-month-old son, Zion, in his arms as he spoke. "There's a lot of drug dealing going on around here. I've got a newborn son, and I don't want him growing up around that. He'll have a better chance of being somebody.

"We're going to find the best neighborhood we can and take advantage of it," he said.

Richard Gwynallen, associate director of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, said the group will be monitoring the situation to see that the residents find new homes. The group has worked for years with the residents to try and negotiate better living conditions on the property, he said.

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