A Baltimore County church's plan to open a drug and alcohol treatment center for homeless men at the former Fort Holabird was dealt a setback yesterday when the U.S. Senate approved a bill giving opponents a greater say in the dismantled base's fate.
Joann Tepper, who has organized neighborhood opposition to the treatment center, was "ecstatic" about the legislation. She said it increases area residents' chances of blocking the plan submitted by Nehemiah House Inc., a nonprofit corporation controlled by Towson's Rock Church.
"It's an accomplishment for the community. There's no doubt about it," said Ms. Tepper, who lives in the neighborhood bordering Fort Holabird.
Nehemiah House, which operates a homeless shelter in Rosedale, has submitted plans to establish a 40-bed treatment center in buildings that had been warehouses for Army criminal records. Since May, when those plans became known to residents of the St. Helena neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore and nearby areas of Dundalk, opponents have met regularly to devise ways to defeat the proposal.
Residents quickly gained an ally in state Sen. Perry Sfikas, and members of Maryland's congressional delegation vowed to fight to give the community a voice in the future of the former Army base, much of which is now an industrial park.
The measure approved yesterday effectively would void Nehemiah House's original application and require the organization to re-apply under rules giving neighbors more of a voice. That provision was included in an amendment, introduced by U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, to the 1996 Defense Authorization Bill.
The amendment also would require applications for leasing the property to be submitted to an oversight body that would be named by the mayor of Baltimore. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said last month that he opposes the use of the Fort Holabird site as a drug and alcohol treatment center for homeless men.
The bill now goes to a conference committee of both houses of Congress.