Inspection teams work to clear neighborhood blight


Baltimore County zoning inspector Leonard Wasilewski had only one question after looking through the filthy one-room Essex apartment.

"What do I write?" he wailed to housing inspector Robert Moorefield, a veteran of such sights, as the men roamed the county's east side to learn each other's jobs -- part of a new program to fight suburban decay.

The trashed efficiency, which had an eviction notice taped to the door, was a sharp contrast to the well-kept garden apartments in the Deep Creek community. Inside, a filthy refrigerator sat at a crazy angle. Trash and food containers were strewn about, and the dingy walls were decorated with dried food and coffee.

A far cry from Mr. Wasilewski's usual rounds, inspecting unauthorized junk and unlicensed vehicles outdoors.

But now he and Mr. Moorefield are part of the county's new blight-fighting team, which includes former zoning, housing and building inspectors, as well as a four-inspector team that can blitz neighborhoods with lots of problems.

After years of sending zoning, building and rental housing inspectors separately to check problems -- sometimes on the same property -- the county is cross-training the 17 inspectors from those areas. Officials -- and community leaders -- hope the program will make it easier to keep the county clean and safe.

It's all part of a general effort to reorganize county government to face the tough, new urban problems that are growing in the older suburbs. In some World War II-era apartment complexes such as Riverdale Village on Eastern Avenue, the decay that has come with the loss of thousands of industrial jobs and with tenants drawn by low rents is eroding the entire community's stability.

In a county of more than 600 square miles holding more than 700,000 people, 17 inspectors aren't a lot, though plumbing, electrical and building inspectors working on new construction still operate separately, as do fire and health inspectors.

"This [combined effort] will make code enforcement more efficient," Arnold Jablon, county director of Permits and Development Management, said, adding that he expects nearly 7,000 complaints per year.

Kay Sanders, president of the new North Point Village Civic Association in Dundalk, has seen the decay creep into her neighborhood's densely packed rows of brick townhouses, which usually are meticulously kept.

"It's sad. Renters and other slobs have more rights than we [homeowners] do," she said, describing a nearby rental house that she said "smells like the elephant house in the zoo." Mrs. Sanders, a second-generation resident whose 25-year-old son lives two blocks away, has been working with Mr. Wasilewski to eliminate some neighborhood eye sores. The new team approach, she said, is "fine, as long as there's enough manpower. It would save time."

On Thursday, Mr. Wasilewski and Mr. Moorefield prowled the sometimes rutted alleys in North Point Village, going over the list of 19 abandoned vehicles she had provided.

"We have a lot of problems here," she said, praising the county for working with her to help resolve them. The offending vehicles were already gone from many homes the two inspectors visited, and even in the worst cases, some cleanup efforts had been made.

Only one person, a lean, angry man wearing a baseball cap and a ponytail, was uncooperative, telling the inspector he better not come into the yard ever again. For Mr. Wasilewski, 44, a six-year veteran with tales of violators who have threatened him and tried to block his car, it was a mild unpleasantness.

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