Residents rally against Little Italy development plan


About 70 Little Italy residents rallied last night in front of St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church against a proposal to convert a vacant warehouse into apartments that would include subsidized units.

The residents oppose developer Patrick Turner's plan to renovate the old Bagby Furniture Co. warehouse, at the corner of Exeter and Fleet streets in Little Italy, into 57 units. Ten of those units would be set aside for low- to moderate-income residents to comply with the requirements of loans Mr. Turner is receiving from the city and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Look around you, friends and neighbors. This is one of the last true neighborhoods in Baltimore City," said Richard Ingrao, former president of the Little Italy Community Organization and a leader in the fight against the proposed development. "We need families, permanent homeowners, not transients who will leave in a couple of years," he said.

Roy F. Eppard, president of the Little Italy Community Organization, said residents oppose the proposed development not because it includes subsidized apartments, but because the area does not need more housing.

"Little Italy is under development attack that could easily happen to any other neighborhood in the city," he said.

Mr. Eppard noted that a large chunk of Little Italy was used to build the Flag House Court public housing project in the 1950s. "I want to go on record as saying Little Italy has done very well in providing folks of all incomes a place to live," he said.

But Mr. Turner disagreed. "They were in full support of this project before," he said in a telephone interview after the rally. "The only time they opposed this was when the 10 [subsidized] units came into play."

William Boucher III, a consultant to Mr. Turner's 1000 Fleet Co., said the 10 units will be rented to people who are employed and not on public assistance, with yearly incomes between $17,600 and $28,000. He noted that the average income in Little Italy is $18,000.

The other 47 units will rent for between $640 to $1,325 per month, he said.

"These people have a lot of concerns, based on some real concerns and some false information," Mr. Boucher said. "This matter is going to be resolved in the courts, not on the streets," he said, referring to the lawsuits that have been filed by both sides in the dispute.

One of those suits, filed by the community organization against the mayor and City Council, seeks to rescind Mr. Turner's building permit. This morning, Circuit Judge Richard T. Rombro was to hear a motion to dismiss the suit.

Mr. Turner also has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the Little Italy Community Organization, Mr. Ingrao and John Guerriero, a businessman and Little Italy resident. The suit alleges they conspired to prevent him from acquiring financing to buy the Bagby building by filing their lawsuit.

Mr. Turner's suit alleges that the defendants attempted to depress the value of the Bagby building by filing the suit, and that Mr. Guerriero attempted to buy the building at a price far below its fair market value.

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