City delays funding decision after Little Italy residents oppose apartment plans


Little Italy residents, charging that a developer misled them about plans to include low-income units in a loft apartment building, persuaded the city yesterday to delay partial funding of the $5.9 million project.

"We already have Flag House Courts, Douglass Homes, Perkins Homes. Little Italy is surrounded by subsidized housing, we don't need any more," Bob Marsili, a member of the community's building committee, told the city Board of Estimates.

The developer, Patrick Turner, is in a limited partnership with Hopkins Bancorp Inc. to renovate the old Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse in the 500 block of Exeter St. Plans call for converting the building into 57 apartments and a 70-car parking garage.

Mr. Turner said yesterday that he had planned to rent apartments at market rates when he came to the Little Italy community seeking a zoning change last year. But, he added, rising interest rates caused him financing problems and he had to seek government aid.

The developer has a $1 million state loan, which includes a stipulation that at least five apartments be designated for low-income residents. He also is seeking a $150,000 city loan, which would require five more apartments be set aside for low-income residents.

Mr. Turner acknowledged to the board, which must approve the city loan, that he had not returned to the neighborhood association to discuss those 10 apartments.

But he said he had spoken to some Little Italy residents. "I even asked them for a list of elderly people we might consider for tenants."

"You gave them your word, then your word changed, but you never thought to go back to the community," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a board member.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who also serves on the board, said proceeding with the project under the circumstances could hurt the neighborhood. "We try to make sure when we approve these things that we are not only adding value, but having a good neighbor come in."

The board agreed to delay action on the loan request until Mr. Turner works out his differences with neighborhood residents.

Richard Ingrao, past president of the neighborhood association, said the dispute wasn't a racial issue. Little Italy residents, he said, should not be compared to those in Baltimore County who recently protested Moving to Opportunity, a federal program allowing some city public housing residents to move to better neighborhoods in the city and surrounding suburbs.

"I don't think a move to Little Italy is a move to opportunity. It's a nice, stable neighborhood, but it's also a neighborhood with problems," Mr. Ingrao said. "We're fighting for our survival. It might help to get a few yuppies in the community."

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