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Pioneer City looks for better times


Residents in Pioneer City know a new name won't fix their problems.

But christening the subsidized town home development "Orchards at Severn" is a good place to begin.

"It gives us an opportunity to start off with a clean slate. Orchards at Severn even sounds better," said Edith Perry, president of the Orchards at Severn Parents Association.

The Jan. 1 name change came about as a way to make the 22-year-old community fit in with the new west county neighborhoods, such as Piney Orchard or Seven Oaks, says Martha Pohler, Tri-City's vice president. "With all the other fine communities going in, we want to sound and look and feel like the rest of them," said Ms. Pohler, who manages the property for owners Carl and Edward Julio.

But the community, once one of the most crime-ridden areas in the county, needs more than a new name. Throughout the 1980s, county police called the place an open-air drug market.

Three years ago, State Police Superintendent Larry W. Tolliver was shot at during a drug raid in Pioneer City.

That same year a man pleaded guilty to the 1989 murder of a 15-year-old girl who had been killed in her Pioneer City home.

"It used to be like a mini-Washington, D.C. You couldn't drive through without being offered drugs," said Sgt. Jerard A. Flemings, a narcotics officer who worked in the area.

Fed up with living and working in fear and crime, residents joined with police to turn around Pioneer City and its surrounding neighborhoods of Arwell Court and Warfield homes.

An abandoned crack house became a community police


Residents organized neighborhood watches and established basketball leagues for children.

Management personnel tell police about suspicious people, hold peace rallies and keep children off the streets by sponsoring field trips and movies.

"Residents have a right to live in a peaceful area," said Glenda Butler, who became manager of Warfield town homes in 1992.

About 5,000 people live in the area's 1,000 federally subsidized homes. Monthly rent is based on income; a three-bedroom town home can be rented for $600 a month.

Homes can be bought for as little as $30,000.

Tenant tenacity and community policing seem to be working in the Pioneer City area. The brown-shingled, brick-front homes are kept clean. Lawns are trimmed. Some residents have put white picket fences around their yards.

"It's a big difference," said Fred Holmes, 36, who moved to the 8300 block of Flintlock Court seven years ago. "It's nowhere near as bad as it was. When I first moved here, you couldn't walk down the street."

Some residents can remember further back, to a day when doors could be left unlocked.

Built in the early 1970s as affordable housing, the Pioneer City area used to be a place where flowers bloomed in the yards and neighbors held annual cookouts.

"This used to be a really nice place," recalled Cecilia Cager who moved to the 8500 block of Pioneer Drive in 1972. "You were really proud to live here."

County officials say absentee landlords, cramped housing conditions, a lack of public transportation and, most of all, crime and drugs led to the area's deterioration.

"As crack cocaine became an epidemic of the '80s, communities like Pioneer City were devastated by it," said Carl Snowden, an Annapolis city alderman and civil rights activist.

"The only thing that can be done is that people of that community be empowered," he said.

L Residents are conscious that cosmetic changes aren't enough.

"You can change all the names you want," said Ms. Cager, 52. "But if you can't change the people, that's not going to make a difference."

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