Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five

3 owners of houses get order to vacate Repair or demolition called for in city law; woman vows fight


The owners of three Charles Street buildings are under orders to vacate and repair or demolish them, but the owner of the only occupied building says she won't go.

"Nobody's putting me out of my house," said Mary E. Dorm, 69, owner and resident of 29-31 Charles St., a dilapidated house with a front porch filled with chairs, boxes, plastic bags, old television sets and other items.

Mrs. Dorm was ordered to vacate the house Sept. 19 in Westminster's first use of an uninhabitable-buildings ordinance adopted by the City Council in January.

She said she has lived in the house since 1947.

Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works, said city officials are reviewing possible actions.

The ordinance allows the city to go to court to enforce it.

"Not only do you consider the safety of the neighborhood, you consider the safety of the person living there," Mr. Beyard said.

The ordinance gives owners 45 days from the date of notice to repair or demolish the buildings.

Two owners said they plan to make repairs. The third said he will decide by the end of this month whether to repair or demolish his house.

One building, at 37-39 Charles St., formerly housed a historic African-American school and now is used for storage. The other building, at 26 Charles St., is a house vacated by the owners after a December 1993 fire.

The owners of all three properties said they were surprised by the city's Sept. 19 action posting the buildings.

"I woke up with someone nailing something to my door," Mrs. Dorm said. "I looked up and here it was a man from the city."

AMr. Beyard said the city staff followed the procedures set out in the ordinance.

"To suggest that there was a surprise there is really a bit much," he said.

Mr. Beyard said that although informal notice isn't required, it is a good idea that he will adopt for the future.

"It's touchy when you have a property that someone says is not up to standard," he said. "I can understand why people are

upset. But this is a step to try to improve the neighborhood."

Complaints from the buildings' neighbors in the past two to three years prompted the council to adopt the ordinance.

"When someone says, 'I shouldn't have to look at that burned-out building for a couple years,' how can I argue with that?" said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan.

Mayor Yowan said he received complaints from several Charles Street residents about the buildings.

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. said neighbors expressed fears that the buildings attracted rats and roaches.

Sharon Cornish, a Charles Street resident who owns the old Charles Street school, said she and her husband, Marvin, plan to repair it.

Grass around the building is mowed, but its porch is dilapidated and windows are broken.

A fallen rain gutter hangs at an angle.

James A. Frisby's family was forced out of the house at 26 Charles St. on Dec. 30, 1993, when fire broke out in the kitchen as Mr. Frisby's wife, Melernea, cooked dinner.

The house was boarded up, but the boards have been removed.

The siding is loose and the fire-damaged section has not been repaired or torn down.

City records contain reports of people going in and out of the rear of the vacant property.

Mr. Frisby said he is building a new house on the adjacent lot and may repair the fire-damaged house for one of his adult children.

He said contractors' delays have held up progress.

However, he said he plans to decide by the end of this month whether to repair.

"Why it's so slow-moving is just [difficulty in] getting people moving," he said.

Mr. Frisby said people have been seen going in and out because he has allowed friends to store items there.

He said a contractor removed the boards two or three months ago to make a repair cost estimate and did not replace them.

A city housing inspector, who checked only the exterior of the Dorm house, found that deteriorating front porch posts may not continue to support the roof.

Weeds have grown up around an unlicensed 1981 Buick in the driveway.

"I'm going to fix it up," Mrs. Dorm said. "I had it planned for this fall."

She said the items on the front porch are "things I had to get rid of."

"I had to get them out of the yard because it was snowing [last winter]," she said.

Mrs. Dorm said she hasn't gotten rid of the items because the television sets are too heavy for her to carry and she has not had an opportunity to go through the items in the boxes.

She said she would not be willing to part with the Buick, which she said was the first car she bought on her own.

Mrs. Dorm was Westminster's first black crossing guard and later a meter monitor.

She worked for city government from 1976 to 1984 and now works as a practical nurse.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad