Georgia Ave. threatened by light rail Residents of 14 homes could be displaced for track extension; 'Where will I go?'; Some have families who lived on street for generations


A single line in a 29-page report filled with technical and bureaucratic jargon has put a pall over a Glen Burnie neighborhood that former first lady Pat Nixon once described as "a true bit of Americana."

The fringe of 100-year-old oak trees on Georgia Avenue, the row of neat homes with front porches, trimmed lawns and white picket fences that inspired her comment are still there. But maybe not for long.

The Mass Transit Administration has found that Georgia Avenue offers the fastest and least expensive way to extend the light rail in Glen Burnie. All it would require is demolishing 14 homes and splitting the century-old community in half.

Or, as consulting engineers hired by the MTA said in a report last year, "This alignment would necessitate the acquisition of 14 residences."

"They are going to destroy a 90-year-old neighborhood where people have lived for generations," said Suzanne Patrick as she walked on Georgia Avenue past the 82-year-old house in which she grew up. "If there are boundaries in life for things that are good and decent and right and proper, this is one of them."

The neighbors asked Gov. Parris N. Glendening to visit in February. They hoped that when he saw the endangered homes, he would decide against the light rail extension or pick another route, even if it would add millions of dollars to the cost.

Last summer, Glendening rejected creating a path for the tracks that would have obliterated part of the B & A bike trail. He offered no such solace to Georgia Avenue, however. He said he would decide after his re-election bid in November.

Residents are stunned because, they say, Georgia Avenue is not just any neighborhood. "There are few neighborhoods in this county like [Georgia Avenue]," said Donna Hall as she tended bar one recent afternoon in Glen Burnie. "They know everybody over there, it seems, and everybody watches out for each other. They've all been there forever."

Local lore has it that a century ago, a handful of couples ventured out of the city to build homes and clear dirt roads in a place surrounded by farmland. It was known as Chinquapin Hollow for the hundreds of shrubby, nut-producing trees in the area.

Those who live there cannot remember the last time they saw a chinquapin. After the city settlers moved in, they dug dozens of holes and planted oak trees.

Close-knit community

Lately, the sons, daughters and grandchildren of those tree planters stand under the towering trees, some of the tallest in Anne Arundel County, near their fences and hedges and worry about how they can save their neighborhood.

More than 120 people live in the Georgia Avenue community, or northwest Glen Burnie. Everybody's mother, it seems, lives on the street, next to the father's brother who lives in the house the first-grade school teacher rents, across from the grandparents' homes where the family barbecues are held.

In 1958, the community survived the opening of Harundale Mall, which threatened to drive business out of the nearby town center. During the 1970s, it staved off the strip bars and night clubs that tried to move in.

Possible economic boom

But the neighbors face a bigger threat -- the state -- and an argument that light rail would bring an economic boom to the area by providing transportation for workers and shoppers riding into the town center.

While hundreds of people six and seven blocks from the #F proposed route have decorated their lawns with "Save Our Neighborhood" signs, the 14 families living on the proposed site of the train tracks are devastated.

On a recent afternoon, 77-year-old John Bryant stood among his tomato plants. He has put in five rows every year.

"I have taken care of myself all my life," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "I don't have anywhere to go. Where will I go?"

Bryant bought his house with his wife after spending "three years, eight months, 29 days and 15 minutes too long" in the Army during World War II. A friend with a pickup truck offered to give him 20 tons of topsoil in 1948. Bryant hasn't skipped a planting season since and says he would miss his garden most.

'Nothing changes'

Bonnie Taylor would miss her sturdy home with whitewashed walls and expansive front porch, the one in which she grew up and her parents lived before they died.

"They don't make houses like this anymore," Taylor said on her front porch. "They don't make neighborhoods like this either. Nothing really changes around here, except when people die."

John Bohle, who lives in the house his father owns, would miss his back yard.

"If you put this house anywhere else, it would just be a house," Bohle said, "but here it's a home. I wanted to raise kids here."

Wanda Gadow, who lives with her mother in a corner house, said she can't imagine life without the neighborhood cookouts, eating hamburgers with her relatives who live on the street.

A founding family

Eighty-year-old Audrey Dietz sits on her front porch, sipping iced tea. Her father, one of the men from the Georgia Avenue folklore, built her house 82 years ago. They probably were about the fifth family to move to the street because the Heids were already there, she says as she taps her finger on the edge of her chair, and the Boettchers were, too. She has never lived anywhere else. She raised her family there, and the children played in the front yard on the lawn she mowed herself until two years ago, when she decided to hire a high school boy who lives on the street.

To many in the neighborhood, Audrey Dietz sums up the feeling of Georgia Avenue. The children know her for her cookies, and the neighbors know her for how much she likes a good laugh.

"I could never say what I would miss most," she says. "How could I say? I would miss everything. Just everything.

"If they put the train down the middle of the street, [neighbors] won't be able to cross the street to come visit," she said, her voice lowering. "But then, I guess I won't be here anyway."

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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