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Waverly is two neighborhoods of people coming together

Long ago, Waverly was a peaceful country neighborhood two miles from the city, the perfect haven for city dwellers hoping to escape the summer haze.

Now a mix of rowhouses, farmhouses and old Victorians, Waverly has been swallowed into Baltimore.

History abounds in the community, but residents have an eye for the future. A senior housing center, a community playground and a YMCA are taking over the old Memorial Stadium site, and a Giant Food store opened on 33rd Street last month.

"It's a neighborhood that's been depressed for years, but there's some great housing stock," said Brian Hannon, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Roland Park. "There's a lot of positive things going on. In my opinion, it's one of the next neighborhoods to turn around, like Hampden and Ednor Gardens."

Greater Waverly, composed of two neighborhoods, is divided by the commercial strip of 33rd Street. The areas are known by the organizations that represent them, the Better Waverly Community Organization to the south and the Waverly Improvement Association to the north.

"For the most part, it's good, solid working people that are trying to make their neighborhood better," said Carrie Brennen, secretary of the Waverly Improvement Association.

"The highlight for me is the family atmosphere," said Amber Wagner, a teacher who has lived in Waverly for six months and can often be found playing with the neighborhood kids. "It's friendly. People are always outside on their steps. It makes it nice to be outside and hang out."

Most visitors miss the best aspects of Waverly, residents said, because many of the neighborhood's gardens and its distinct architecture are invisible from the commercial strip on 33rd Street.

Waverly forms a corridor between the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood and Eastern campuses, and is flanked by the old Memorial Stadium site. Nearby, two forested watersheds -- Herring Run and the Jones Falls -- offer relief from city life.

"Those are really wonderful, hidden gems, that few people really know about," said Joe Stewart, an organizer with the Belle Terre In Waverly community organization. "You can go a mile or two miles from the concrete part of the city and be in the woods."

Residents' involvement in the approximately 30-block neighborhood runs high. Waverly is battling blight, fighting against run-down rented homes, crime, litter and the lack of activities for youths.

The area is courting would-be Baltimoreans from Washington, hoping that lower housing prices and a strong sense of community will bring commuters to Waverly, Brennen said.

"One of the sad things is all the boarded-up houses," said Wagner, the teacher.

Wallace Robertson, a board member on the housing and safety committee of the Waverly Improvement Association, sees hope.

"Right now, Waverly is going through a housing boom because of the Giant and the YMCA," said Robertson, who estimated homeownership at about 65 percent. "I have seen, personally, a lot of homes for sale that are normally for rent. The housing market is getting ready to make that switch."

The average sales price for homes in the neighborhood over the past year was more than $53,000, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

Leaders hope community activism will help with crime and litter in Waverly.

"We're trying to create more unity," said Corinna Leeper, a liaison between the neighborhood and the police. "When you have more unity, it helps with the crime and safety elements. It all works together."

A grant to install dusk-to-dawn sensors on porch lights has helped with neighborhood safety, and a push to enlist residents as crime watchers for the city has been successful on some blocks.

Residents participate in the Mayor's Clean Sweep twice a year, and a beautification grant has enabled neighbors to hang flags and wind chimes and plant flowers along their streets, Leeper said.

A 17,000-square-foot playground is planned for part of the Memorial Stadium site and, next April, 2,000 volunteers are to gather to build the structure.

In Better Waverly, some residents are still upset about the 20 properties lost with the Giant Food development.

"The process was difficult for us, but in the long run, people have a decent grocery store, which is something we haven't had in a long time," said Debra Evans, president of the Better Waverly Community Organization.

Still, said resident Paula Owens, residents want to preserve their neighborhood by halting further expansion of the commercial strip into the residential part of the community.

From people buying funky old Victorians to those moving into homes rehabilitated by Chesapeake Habitat for Humanity, the area's population is diverse, Evans said.

"I like the very mixed neighborhood; it's just the way the world is," said Amy Peterschmidt, who has lived in Waverly for a little more than a month and has attended a neighborhood potluck.

"People are very friendly and helpful; there's a real growing sense of community," she said as she perused the wares at the Waverly farmers' market early on a Saturday morning.

Community activists hope new development will raise the standard of living for residents and boost property values, but Evans thinks it might do more.

The YMCA could bring residents together in an informal setting, and the grocery store, close to the dividing line between the areas represented by the Better Waverly Community Organization and Waverly Improvement Association, could become an anchor for Greater Waverly, she said.

"Now, I see residents of both neighborhoods talking and sharing," she said. "And who knows? One day it might all just be called Waverly."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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