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Baltimore family wins rare — though small — victory in fight to protect Poppleton home from demolition

The Eaddy family won a rare — though small — victory in their decadeslong fight to protect their West Baltimore home from demolition.

The city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation voted Tuesday to have its staff look into adding the Eaddys’ home in Poppleton to a proposed historic district, which could prove to be a crucial layer of protection against a looming development.

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It was the commission’s first in-person meeting since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, but just the latest battle in a long-simmering struggle between New York developer La Cité and current and former residents of the Poppleton neighborhood.

CHAP staff said the commission received 168 letters and emails in support of including the home of Curtis and Sonia Eaddy in a proposed historic district in Poppleton. Multiple community leaders, including the Eaddys, spoke at the meeting. Sonia Eaddy, president of the Poppleton Neighborhood Association, said she watched as her neighbors — renters and owners — were pushed out of perfectly good housing for the sake of La Cité's development.

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“Poppleton has lost so much,” Eaddy said. “Neighborhoods are nothing without people in houses, so I ask the board to please consider preserving what’s left.”

After multiple delays, La Cité recently finished the first phase of its Center/West Development, a mixed-use development with 262 rental units in five- and six-story buildings. La Cité plans to ultimately spend about $800 million to redevelop 33 acres, completely transforming Poppleton. The predominantly Black neighborhood, which is just west of Martin Luther King Boulevard, has long suffered from blight, and city leaders targeted it for redevelopment more than two decades ago.

The second phase of the development would displace the Eaddys, whose family has lived for decades in a three-story rowhome at the intersection of North Carrollton Avenue and Sarah Ann Street. The home dates back to at least 1900 and is on the same block as the Sarah Ann Street alley homes, a group of narrow, brightly painted residences occupied by Black families as far back as the 1870s. CHAP staff said the block is a rare example of early Black homeownership in Baltimore and of alley homes, a distinct style of small rowhomes on the East Coast.

No representatives of La Cité spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, and the firm did not respond to a request for comment.

Eric Holcomb, executive director of CHAP, initially said the commission’s hands were tied because the city already has a contract with La Cité.

But advocates pointed out that giving the building historical designation wouldn’t necessarily preclude its demolition. They said the move would simply add a layer of protection, requiring a review if and when the second phase of the long-planned development actually happens.

CHAP met Tuesday to decide whether the homes on Sarah Ann Street ought to receive a historical designation, but the Eaddys’ home was not included in the latest proposed map for the historic area. Residents and advocates implored the commission to include the Eaddys’ home.

Johns Hopkins of Baltimore Heritage said this issue might seem as if it’s about just one home, but it’s actually much bigger.

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“This issue is about what are these historical preservation laws for? Who are they for?” Hopkins asked the commission. “Are they for the people who live in Baltimore in our neighborhoods and who fight for our neighborhoods? Or are they for an abstract development concept that may or may not come to fruition?”

While state property records say the home at 319 North Carrollton was built in 1900, Nicole King, a professor and an advocate for the preservation of the area, said the Eaddy home actually dates back to 1871, when it was briefly owned by a former Confederate soldier. It has been owned by two Black families in the past 94 years, King said, noting that Sonia Eaddy’s father was a longtime arabber in the neighborhood.

“We must begin to center equity in our preservation and planning decisions in Baltimore City. We have not preserved and invested in Black history in the same way we have white history,” King said. “We cannot change the past, but we can preserve the Sarah Ann and Eaddy homes for future generations.”

Attorney John Murphy said 200 to 300 homes were condemned in Poppleton to make way for development, which he called an indescribable tragedy.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of houses that were condemned,” Murphy said. “They’re all gone. The last one standing, the last resident in the house is Curtis and Sonia Eaddy.”

That the Eaddys have persevered and maintained their home in the face of this displacement is reason enough to include their home in the historic district, Murphy said.

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“It used to be called ‘Negro removal.’ Now, it’s called ‘blight removal,’” he said. “At least we could say, ‘The Eaddys will not be moved.’”

CHAP Commissioner Laura Penza made a motion for staff to revisit the proposed historic district map, which was seconded by City Councilman John Bullock, whose district covers Poppleton. Every commissioner supported the motion except Kate Edwards, deputy commissioner at the Department of Housing and Community Development, who abstained.

It was a rare victory for Sonia Eaddy, who first received notice in 2000 that her home was slated for demolition. She has fought her displacement ever since. Eaddy was collecting signatures for a “Save the Block” petition in 2005 after La Cité won a bid from the city to develop the project.

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At that time, Eaddy’s home was one of more than 500 properties to be razed for the Center/West development, more than half of which were already city-owned or in the process of being acquired. About 114 properties were occupied, 34 of them by owners.

Activists have drawn parallels between the Center/West Development and the Franklin-Mulberry Expressway, which runs along the north side of Poppleton. The expressway, known as “The Highway to Nowhere,” is a 1.39-mile stretch of road that was originally intended as an extension of Interstate 70 to downtown Baltimore.

The project was halted in the 1970s, but not before destroying Black neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of families.

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The Center/West project is a private development, but it has had to work with the city to acquire and demolish properties. The project has also benefited from a tax increment financing bond, or TIF bond, which diverts property taxes from city coffers to instead pay down the debt on some infrastructure improvements. In 2017, the city issued $12 million of bonds to support the project.

When asked about Tuesday’s CHAP hearing, a spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott pointed to a January letter in which Scott said he has asked La Cité to remove the Eaddy home from their development plans.

As for Sonia Eaddy, she is enjoying this moment of hope following years of turbulence.

“I just would really like to have the city look at its practices of displacement in the Black neighborhoods and how it really affects people, your emotions, your life. It has a hold on you,” Eaddy said. “It takes a physical toll as well as mental. Today, I had a sigh of relief after I came out of that hearing room. It was like I could breathe.”


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