Amid demolition and stalled development, Poppleton remains in limbo
At a meeting where the developer sat quietly, a West Baltimore resident who refuses to be displaced by his project is silenced
Above: Poppleton residents hold up “Save Our Block” signs at a meeting at Mother Mary Lange Catholic School. In front row in black-and-white jacket, La Cité executive vice president, Ian Arias. (Fern Shen)
For months Poppleton residents, fearing further displacement and demolition in their small West Baltimore neighborhood, were told they could express their views and ask questions at a community meeting.
Questions like: Would the historic Sarah Ann Street houses, inhabited by Black families for over 150 years, be torn down? Would homeowners Sonia and Curtis Eaddy be able to save their rowhouse from being taken by the city?
So when about 100 people faced a slew of city officials last Thursday and the topic of La Cité Development’s plans came up, Sonia Eaddy rose to speak.
But those in charge of the meeting refused to hand her the microphone.
“Hers is the house! The Eaddy house!” someone called out as members of the crowd grumbled.
“Yes, I’m aware. But both Ms. Eaddy and Ms. Carroll have already spoken,” said Scott C. Davis, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.
“We have several other things that we would like to talk about this evening.”
A rule that had not been stated at the outset of the meeting was then invoked: only one question per person. Since Eaddy had previously asked a question on another topic, she was told she could ask no more.
“Shame!” someone called out as the Carrollton Avenue resident glumly sat down.
It was an unintended off-script moment for a gathering framed by Mayor Brandon Scott as a chance to undo community mistrust over City Hall’s role in the 17-year-old Poppleton urban renewal saga.
Under a plan hatched during the former Mayor Martin O’Malley administration and carried out by successor Sheila Dixon, the city has been acquiring property – mostly occupied homes – to accommodate La Cité’s plans to redevelop 14 acres into upscale apartments, offices and retail.
The few residents left in Poppleton are fighting what they see as the erasure of a historic Black community.
Out of the 30 buildings originally planned by the developer, only the Center/West apartments have been completed, while wide swaths of the neighborhood have become a ghost town.
The few residents left are fighting to remain and prevent what they see as the erasure of a historic Black neighborhood.
Following a summer of bad press -“Save Our Block” rallies, a surprise demolition and a threatening letter from the developer – Scott promised “a reset.”
Poppleton is “a beautiful community,” but it is also the site of a “complex development process” and “a complex legal process,” said Deputy Mayor Ted Carter at Thursday’s meeting before introducing various cabinet members.
Among the VIPs in attendance at the Mother Mary Lange Catholic School gymnasium were Public Works Director Jason Mitchell and City Solicitor James Shea.
The number of officials lined up to speak was also extensive: Councilman John Bullock, eight police officers, and representatives from the departments of Transportation and Recreation and Parks and from the Housing Authority.
A key player in the room – La Cité co-founder and Executive Vice President Ian G. Arias – never came to the microphone.
Speaking to The Brew afterwards, Arias expressed frustration with residents who he viewed as ungrateful.
The audience watched presentations about police coverage of the area, the status of plans to demolish Poe Homes public housing project, and traffic issues.
Residents complained that city agencies have ignored their reports of speeding traffic and parking problems around the Center/West apartments.
“We sometimes have to walk two or three blocks from our own homes to where we can now park,” said Mildred Newman, 72, who lives on Schroeder Street across from the new apartments.
She and others said that La Cité tenants don’t want to pay the $150 per month parking fee and instead park on neighborhood streets.
Not Deemed Historic
The subject of the Eaddy house and Poppleton’s stalled redevelopment was touched upon, but only briefly.
“It’s a complicated issue – a lot of moving parts,” insisted Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy, before Deputy Commissioner Kate Edwards launched into the project’s long history.
Baltimore awarded rights to New York-based La Cité to develop the project over what was “initially a 10-year term.”
Edwards said that left officials bound by the 2006 Land Development and Disposition Agreement (LDDA) with La Cité, which required the city to acquire all the privately owned properties and sell them to the developer.
She reminded the crowd that in 2012 Baltimore tried to exit the development deal when no development occurred for six years, but the developer sued the city and prevailed.
Another guiding document, she said, was the 2007 recommendation by the Maryland Historic Trust that the Sarah Ann Street houses (and the Metro Metals building at 902 West Saratoga Street) be included in a local historic district.
The Eaddy properties at 319-321 North Carrollton “were never determined to be eligible for historic district designation,” Edwards said.
She said the city “is supportive” of the Sarah Ann houses and Metro Metals being included in a historic district.
As for the Eaddy properties, the city has asked in negotiations with the developer that they be removed from the LDDA.
Acres of Vacant Land
None of this was news to Eaddy and the other members of Organize Poppleton, who have been working to revive the idea of a local historic district (since the earlier recommendation for one had expired.)
They thought the Scott administration was in agreement that the district could include Eaddy’s properties as well as the Sarah Ann houses.
But a blow came when the map was quietly changed to exclude the Eaddy parcels. Another surprise was the tear down of three houses the group considered historic and was trying to save.
“I’ve been concerned for a long time about all the vacant property that’s been given to La Cité without a strategic plan,” said Ivan Leshinsky, co-founder of the Southwest Sports and Recreation Alliance.
Some of the areas left vacant by demolition, he argued at the meeting, are as big as three acres and could have been be turned long ago into badly-needed recreation spaces.
“Is there date in mind to make use of them?” Leshinsky asked.
“I would reiterate what Ivan had to say. We would love to know a timeline for negotiations,” said Nicole King, of Organize Poppleton, asking also why the historic district map changed.
On the map change, Edwards offered no explanation.
And on talks with the developer, she had no update: “those negotiations are ongoing.”
Asked the status of his company’s plan, Arias had only this to say:
“We’ve been working with the city for years. We’re focused on getting into construction sometime next year.”
Asked about Eaddy’s request for her property to be included in a historic district, he said, “I don’t control that.”
Regarding the city’s request that the Eaddy parcels be taken out of the LDDA, he confirmed that “there have been discussions,” but added, “Her property’s not historic. She may have done some rehab on it, but it’s not historic, from what I see.”
”It’s not their neighborhood. It’s our neighborhood” – Ian Arias, co-founder of La Cité.
Arias said the apartments provide “more than ample parking” and there is 30% vacancy in the garages. Asked about the monthly fees, he replied, “That’s what the market is for parking. Nothing’s for free in America.”
He had bitter comments on the community complaints he heard during the meeting, arguing that his company should be given more credit for sponsoring the Edgar Allan Poe festival, creating jobs, renting a portion of the units to low-income tenants through the Housing Authority and contributing “about a million a year in taxes.”
“It’s not their neighborhood, it’s our neighborhood,” he said.
“There’s a lot we’ve added and contributed, and it seems to me that people, rather than say thank you, it’s always people complaining.”