Mediator called in for neighbors' dispute in Waverly Apartment house, residents criticized


To a group of neighbors in Waverly, many of the tenants who live in a two-story apartment house on Parkwyrth Avenue are like thorns jabbing at the very heart of the community. The tenants, however, see it differently.

Soon, a city mediator will attempt to heal the wounds.

The apartment house, at 644 Parkwyrth Ave., contains five one-bedroom apartments that are inhabited by at least 24 people -- most of them children.

Many neighbors complain the children frequently are unsupervised and roam the block at all hours of the day and night. When the children are disciplined, the neighbors complain it occurs often in the front yard in loud and vulgar terms.

Neighbors say they have seen the children from No. 644 ripping up flower beds, shrubs and fences on Parkwyrth Avenue, starting small fires in alleyways, standing in front of moving cars in the street, and jumping on parked cars, said Dianne Wheaton, who lives next door at 638 Parkwyrth Ave.

And the house is an eyesore that is infested with rats and roaches and loaded with housing code violations, neighbors say.

The problems peaked this summer when neighbors filed complaints with police and housing officials and even circulated a petition with "street rules" for the neighborhood.

City Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, one of three councilmen who represent the neighborhood, recently asked the city's Human Relations Commission to target the block for mediation. Mr. Cunningham said he became aware of the frustration in the neighborhood after more than 25 neighbors held a town meeting to complain about No. 644 this month.

The mediator is expected to visit the neighborhood this week. In the meantime, the neighbors say they want respect and peace, while the tenants say they just want a place to live.

Two of the four parents interviewed recently denied their children are causing problems in the neighborhood.

"We don't bother these people around here," said Altoviese Hogan, a 21-year-old tenant who pays rent of $250 each month to live at No. 644 with her three young children. "It's like they are trying to run everybody out of here." Another tenant, Tanya Jenkins, 38, a mother of three, said of her neighbors' complaints: "Children are going to be children. What else are they supposed to do?"

Neighbors claim there has been little response to their complaints about No. 644 from city housing and social services officials. An angry letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke detailing the problems received a form letter response, Ms. Wheaton said.

The neighbors also say the owner of the house, William Connolly Jr. of Baltimore, has been slow to answer their calls. Mr. Connolly, owner of hundreds of city rental properties frequently cited for health and housing code violations, visited the house recently and promised to improve the units and screen tenants.

Efforts to reach Mr. Connolly, whose rental company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, were unsuccessful. Mr. Cunningham and Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd, concede that the problems continue to fester in the neighborhood.

"The atmosphere of fear, mistrust and animosity is already causing this once tranquil, well-maintained neighborhood to decline," Mr. Curran wrote last month to city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

City records show that since May 20, housing inspectors have found 74 code violations at No. 644 and a follow up inspection in mid-July revealed that only 20 percent of the violations had been corrected.

Police records show 28 emergency calls were made for the address between Jan. 1 and July 6 that include common assault, fire, child abuse, disorderly conduct and breaking and entering. Last year, there were 17 police emergency calls to the address.

One neighbor, Rosemary King, circulated a petition this summer that suggested six "street rules" for the neighborhood. Rules include: no ball playing in the street, no bicycle riding on lawns and no loud playing by children after 10 p.m.

The petition was signed by 17 neighbors and states, "Children need a safe, healthy environment that is supervised with guidelines and rules."

The rules have been ignored, Ms. Wheaton said. And Ms. King said she is getting fed up.

"Quite frankly, I don't have the time or energy to use underfunded, ineffective city services in an attempt to stop the decay of my street," she wrote in an Aug. 2 letter to Mr. Schmoke detailing the problems at No. 644. "As soon as my resources allow, I'll join the thousands of other taxpayers who flee the city annually."

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