Historic black enclave to be preserved


To help preserve a historic black community in Baltimore County's Overlea area, the county government has agreed to buy 17 narrow, vacant lots to prevent them from being developed alongside cottages dating from 1910.

The County Council unanimously approved the purchase last night.

Residents of Cherry Heights, just east of Belair Road and the city-county line, appealed to the county government for help last spring, when they received notice that Kayhouse Realty, a local firm, had bought 40 vacant building lots from the third generation heirs of the original 1910 developer, Daniel Murray.

The heirs now live in Mexico, and sold the lots in April for $175,000 -- an average price of less than $5,000 each, according to the deed and Julia Chestnut, chairman of the neighborhood community association. The county has agreed to pay $260,000 for 17 lots, an average of about $15,000 each. A Kayhouse spokesman said the firm has incurred large expenses for past legal fees and taxes on the properties and will not make a large profit.

Cherry Heights is one of 37 historic black enclaves in the county, and was unusual in that its 156 lots were developed by a black, for blacks. Murray, who died in 1925, advertised in the newspapers of 1910 for black purchasers, according to county attorney Arnold Jablon.

Chestnut said generations of Cherry Heights residents were assured the vacant lots would never be sold, and they planted gardens and built sheds on them.

If all the lots were developed, county planners said, it would have doubled the number of homes within a two-to-three-square-block radius, producing congestion, and destroying the character of the community.

The narrow lots to be bought by the county would accommodate new homes no wider than 20 feet, since county zoning requires 10 foot setbacks on each side. Summer-long negotiations with Kayhouse and David B. Cook, who owns two lots, finally produced an agreement recently, Jablon said.

He said that county planners found that building new homes on most of the narrow lots would violate the county's new 10-year master plan, which calls for preserving historic black enclaves. With the potentially long development delay that such a finding could entail, Jablon negotiated a deal with Kayhouse and Cook to buy 17 lots that border existing homes.

Kayhouse has agreed, Jablon said, to combine the remaining lots in pairs to create 11 building lots. Thus, Jablon said, fewer new homes could be built, and those would go up on 80-foot-wide lots rather than 40-foot-wide ones. Such homes would likely be more compatible with those already in the neighborhood.

The money to buy the 17 lots is to come from unused funds placed in a county Economic Development Commission account set aside to benefit the Belair Road corridor. Settlement is set for Sept. 27. The lots are on Cherry Street and Fullerton, Linden, and Beech avenues.

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