Feedback

The mess on Durham Street

Unfinished demolition by Pless Jones’ powerful contracting company frustrates residents.

1 residents upset at p&j

Residents gather Saturday to talk about the slow pace of demolition on Durham Street.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

((See UPDATE))

Deloris Hanson has lived most of her life on the 1600 block of N. Durham Street in East Baltimore, but has never seen such a mess as the rubble-filled crater made by City Hall’s favorite demolition company, P&J Contracting Co.

“I don’t like it. When I come home from work, I have to see this,” Hanson said, pointing to the large hole opposite her house that she said was formed six weeks ago when P&J demolished some vacant rowhouses.

Dropping down about nine feet, the hole is unsecured and filled with cinder blocks, spare tires, bricks, plaster and broken rubble. When, she wonders, is P&J going to clean up its mess?

“The kids want to play in there. It’s a safety hazard,” Hanson said, one of several residents giving a reporter a tour of the neighborhood’s unsightly new landscape.

"It's is a safety hazard," says Deloris Hanson of the large hole made from the exposed basements of the demolished rowhouses. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

The crater across the street from Deloris Hanson's house. "It's is a safety hazard," she says of the large hole caused from demolition work by P&J Contracting Co. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Near the hole is a shattered city sidewalk and bent light pole. The sidewalk took a battering Friday afternoon after a P&J crew jockeyed a truck up and over the curb to drop off some cinder blocks. When the crew started working, the light pole was straight. A day later, the pole was leaning over.

Last week, The Brew reported how Pless B. Jones, the politically potent owner of P&J, hired his son Rodney’s company, RBJ Contracting, to meet the city’s minority quota on a downtown building contract.

The same father-son team is involved in the Durham Street demolition.

Donald King walks along the debris-filled sidewalk on Durham Street. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Donald King walks along the sidewalk on Durham Street. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

According to residents, it’s been six weeks since a RBJ excavator tore down 11 vacant rowhouses, then pretty much abandoned the project. The company’s excavator is still on the site, its side cab doors swung wide open last week.

“This mess has gone on too long,” said Ornat Erby, who lives around the corner on Biddle Street. “If you knock it down, you should have your trucks rolling to take it away.”

Because the old buildings had lead paint, it’s especially urgent to remove the old plaster and wood and get it away from children and families who live near the congested alley street, neighbors said.

But community leaders believe that P&J is not going to help them any time soon. “This contractor has an attitude of mind-your-own-business,” Erby said. “He doesn’t have to answer to anyone.”

The Jones have not responded to several Brew requests to discuss their city contracts and business operations.

Piles of brick and the jagged side wall of a rowhouse mark the north end of the demolition site. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Piles of brick and the side wall of a rowhouse mark the north end of the demolition site. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

The senior Jones’ company has a strong grip on demolition in the city. P&J Contracting has won $12.5 million in contracts to tear down more than 500 rowhouses for the bio-park-themed development north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. The project is run by East Baltimore Development Inc., a non-profit organization set up by the city.

Jones has snared dozens more contracts from the the city’s economic arm, the Baltimore Development Corp., and the Baltimore Housing Department, including more than $6 million to demolish city-owned vacant housing such as the properties on Durham Street.

“We’re the Dumping Ground”

Residents who gathered to talk about the demolition said work proceeded quickly in mid-August, then slowed to a crawl. “They blamed the rain for not cleaning up,” said one resident, who said she talked to Rodney Jones and several employees.

"This mess has gone on too long," said Ornat Erby, president of the Biddle-Broadway-North Ave.-Chester Support Council. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

"This mess has gone on too long," said Ornat Erby, president of the Biddle-Broadway-North Ave.-Chester Support Council. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

What alarmed block residents was when trucks started dumping fresh debris into the roughly 80-by-50-foot lot.

“We found out this stuff was back-fill from other projects,” said Pat Jackson, who lives at 1627 Durham. “We’re their dumping ground.”

City housing inspectors have made regular appearances on the block, said another resident, Jean Kelly. “They come around in their little white cars, but they just keep going.”

Erby, who is president of the Biddle-Broadway-North Ave.-Chester Support Council, said this is the pattern throughout the neighborhood – “the city inspectors won’t talk to the people, they just talk to the contractors.”

Donald King, whose Rutland Street house backs up on the demolition site, said he’s totally frustrated with the lack of progress. “It’s like a hole in your head, calling the city. You get a bunch of voicemails. You never get called back.”

The Brew’s phone calls and e-mails to Tania Baker, assistant director of the housing department, resulted in a response today: “We are researching your query [about the Durham Street demolition] and will get back to you once we have some information.”

A P&J truck delivered cinder blocks to the demolition site on Friday. Note the vertical lightpole next to the truck. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

A P&J truck delivers cinder blocks to the site Friday. Note the lightpole next to the truck. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

This is how the lightpole looked on Saturday morning. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Here's how the lightpole looked on Saturday morning. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • Anonymous

    Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract?  It’s good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex.  But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either–whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing.  Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it’s almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: http://www.pacificlegal.org/page.aspx?pid=1342 ).  Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose (as the city of Baltimore has in the past).

  • Anonymous

    Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract?  It’s good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex.  But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either–whether it’s labeled a “set-aside,” a “quota,” or a “goal,” since they all end up amounting to the same thing.  Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it’s almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: http://www.pacificlegal.org/page.aspx?pid=1342 ).  Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose (as the city of Baltimore has in the past).

  • http://twitter.com/bosconet p johnson

    Maybe they should call the EPA about illegal disposal of lead based building materials.

  • http://twitter.com/bosconet p johnson

    Maybe they should call the EPA about illegal disposal of lead based building materials.

  • Odette

    Thank you for writing this story.  This area of Baltimore has been completely ignored.  When I canvassed there during the campaign (I ran for 12th District City Council), neighbors were complaining they had not heard the status of the demo.  Now that it has come, there is no response regarding progress.  This is just one of a series of issues ignored in this area.  Please keep up the good work, and I will continue to do what I can as well.  Thanks.

    Odette Ramos

  • Ktrueheart

    Typical lack of Accountability in BMore City operations … A hazardous situation that goes ignored is met with a complete lack of response … shamefully inept government at work!

  • Moving Out

    This city is an EPIC FAIL from top to bottom. From the Mayor and City council to the lowesest dope fiend and damn near everyone in between.Streets totally messed up but they keep fixing the same streets  in the meantime i have to dodge craters bigger then the tires on my car. Police are corrupt and inept at best and at their worse they are incompotent. Attitudes of city workers state workers all workers from mall to corner store are rude lazy and stupid  and this time i do mean all been back in this city for abput 2 yrs now have only gotten any actual help from Sharon from DMV. downtown is now westside HUH  or is it city center 300,000 for a bs row house in Fells Point but the 1300 block of  Baltimore Street been boarded up since the 80 s.  And my people my community my brothers and sisters teardown their homes neigborhoods and each other all day everyday. I hate this MFing place with a passion,   Before anyone can waste their ink or breath telling me if i dont like it i can move well DUH  I plot my escape every EFFIN day this time next year or maybe sooner sunny rainy diverse Orlando FL will be where i reside. Home is Home home is where the heart is true to some degree but i dont have to live here

  • Bamboodude47

    The Demo Contractor is dumping on the site to avoid paying to dispose of the demo debris at a C and D landfill. You people should call the Maryland State Officials on this matter. Disposing of debris on site is illegal.

  • Edward Ericson

    Tipping fees for the demolition debris supposedly caused the cost of city emergency demolitions to increase after P&J took the contract from the city’s in-house team about six or seven years ago. If he’s dumping debris from one demo job into the pit created by another, that could be trouble.

    I wonder if there is a way to check how much a contractor has dumped legally–either by cubic yards or by tipping fees paid–and check that against the volume of debris that should have been created by the demolitions. The housing guy in charge of demos worked out a system to estimate that figure based on the dimensions of the row home set for demolition.

More of the Daily Drip »

Below the Fold

  • March 24, 2014

    • Last Thursday, I sent an email to the Mayor’s Office of Communications asking for some basic responsiveness: Please return our emailed queries and phone calls about stories. Please send us the same routine emails you send to other members of the media. Lately, more so than usual, they haven’t been. It’s a shame because, even [...]

Twitter

Facebook