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Troubled Reservoir Hill apartment complex to be razed

August 03, 2014|By Yvonne Wenger and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

He said city and federal officials have a responsibility to ensure that the residents have new housing.

"At this point, our primary concern is that the residents are offered a relocation strategy that is very competitive, and that they end up in a better housing situation," Gwynallen said. "This happened because the housing situation they were in ended up substandard."

Currently, 186 of the 202 units are occupied, according to city officials.

The majority of the residents are expected to receive vouchers that will allow them to move anywhere in the country. If they stay in Baltimore, they will receive relocation benefits from the city and federal government. Details about those benefits weren't immediately available.

The agreement was finalized between the city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Tricap Management on July 14. It calls for services to the residents to continue uninterrupted during the relocation period.

City officials said they will work with the company to identify a team to undertake the redevelopment.

The effort to clear the Madison Park North site is part of a broader city strategy to encourage reinvestment, stronger code enforcement, more rehabilitation and more targeted incentives for homebuyers and developers, according to Tania Baker, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Housing.

"Throughout the city, vacant and blighted properties are being demolished, rehabilitated or redeveloped, to create opportunities for future mixed income development, making way for safer communities, new housing and green space opportunities for families who want to live and work in Baltimore," Baker wrote in an email.

The city first moved four years ago to eliminate the Madison Park North complex when Commissioner Paul Graziano sought to revoke its multifamily dwelling license. Around that time, police officers had come before housing officials at a hearing to testify about rampant crime and drug dealing there.

Tricap Management tried to fight the action in court but recently dropped the case before a decision was issued by the state's high court, the Court of Appeals.

Tricap has said that it made security improvements. And in court, the company argued that the city "did not present substantial evidence that crime [there] is any worse than the surrounding neighborhood or other similarly situated complexes." The company also argued that the city's requirements were difficult to comprehend and follow, and that it had not been given due process.

Mary McNamara Koch, an attorney representing the resident plaintiffs in the Baltimore Circuit Court case, said the lawsuit is continuing. Residents, including 32 adults and their children, also are suing two private security firms, accusing guards of retaliating when they raised concerns about problems at the complex.

"We're very happy that our clients are going to have an opportunity to have hopefully much better living conditions than they have been exposed to at Madison Park North," she said.

Mike Molla, vice president of operations for Maryland Institute College of Art, said clearing the site and relocating the residents presents an opportunity for redevelopment in a key section of the city. Many of MICA's students and faculty live in Reservoir Hill, drawn to the affordable houses with large floor plans.

"It's a gateway between a number of anchor institutions," he said of Madison Park North site. "It's quite exciting to think about what it can become.

"This a large property that represents a symbol of change."

Madison Park North is not the first community to be replaced.

At the site of the violence-plagued Park Heights complex known as "The Ranch," new apartments for the elderly opened nearly six years after the old structures were torn down. The 60-unit Renaissance Gardens opened to low-income seniors in January.

The city began construction on the former site of the Uplands apartments in Southwest Baltimore in 2010. It took six years to break ground on the 63-acre community after the rundown, low-income complex was razed. A grand opening of the community, which offers a combination of affordable homes and market-rate and subsidized rental units, was held last summer.

In Reservoir Hill, news that the Madison Park North Apartments would soon be gone gave new hope to Carl Young, secretary of the Historic Mount Royal Terrace Association, another neighborhood advocacy group.

The area has much to offer, with close-knit neighbors and proximity to "Druid Hill Park, downtown, cultural centers and beautiful architecture," Young said. But the well-documented crime and violence at the complex has held the community back and terrorized those who live there and in the surrounding neighborhood, he said.

"That's what scares people, that's what keeps people locked in their houses at night," Young said. "What people are talking about is a sense of relief. We've been anticipating this for well over a decade."

Baltimore Sun reporters Ian Duncan and Carrie Wells contributed to this article.



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