Recreation center, housing among ideas for replacing razed apartments in Essex Riverdale was condemned, residents were relocated


Two months after demolition began at the abandoned Riverdale Village apartments in Essex, county officials and community groups are discussing options for developing the longtime eyesore.

An indoor recreation center, single-family residences and housing for the elderly are among the possibilities that have emerged from nearly a year of study by architects, developers and community representatives.

Officials caution that the county faces hurdles in its push to overhaul Riverdale, including acquisition of the half of the property it does not own.

"We want to develop the whole site at once and not in pieces," said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat. "Hopefully, we will have the land within the next six months to a year and we will be able to start developing it within the next 18 to 20 months."

Riverdale, a run-down, 35-acre World War II-era complex, was closed in June last year after it was condemned by the county. All residents were relocated.

Richard M. Schlesinger, the former absentee landlord, technically owns half of the property, though it was sold at tax sale last year.

County officials are negotiating with Capital Assets Inc., the Florida company that paid the taxes on the property.

Ex-landlord investigated

Schlesinger, who has residences in New York and Palm Beach, Fla., is being investigated for possible criminal offenses by the U.S. attorney for Maryland, who also has filed a $1 million civil suit against him on behalf of other government agencies.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development owns the front part of the property along Eastern Boulevard and will convey it to the county after demolition of the 24 brick buildings on that portion.

Gardina is confident that the county will acquire the other half of the property.

Groups asked by the county to develop ideas for Riverdale have envisioned commercial, residential and recreational uses.

One design would include a large indoor recreational and multipurpose center on Eastern Boulevard, with playing fields and commercial property on the sides and housing in the back.

Another plan calls for single-family homes and housing for the elderly. Another calls for more traditional single-family housing that would blend with the community.

Rental apartments avoided

In keeping with the county's goal of reducing the number of older apartments in Essex-Middle River, the group avoided proposals involving rental apartments.

Andrea Van Arsdale, physical development coordinator for the county Economic Development Commission, said the target group for Riverdale would be middle-class residents who would stay and contribute to the community.

"Whatever we do here needs to be a big success," said Van Arsdale. "The area needs to be very distinctive and something that gives a sense of place where people want to live."

Gardina cautioned that although some of the proposals might become reality, the county might go in a different direction.

"I have talked to a lot of developers and community leaders about what to do with the land, but I also want to know what the community would like to see there, and these designs just show them some options of what can be done," Gardina said.

At a recent public meeting at Chesapeake High School about Riverdale's future, many agreed the property needs to be redeveloped, but they also had concerns.

"I just hope if they decide to put housing in there, it will only be single-family homes to help keep the community's density down," said Carl Maynard, a representative of Back River Neck Community Association.

Some also were concerned that if housing is built, older houses would be affected.

"There are already a lot of unsold houses in the area, and if they decide to build new houses, why would young people want to live in the older area?" asked Joseph DiCara, an Essex native.

Pub Date: 6/23/98

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