As bulldozers raze a troubled, low-income Randallstown apartment complex, Baltimore County community leaders and officials are hailing the move as the first step in an extensive plan to revitalize Liberty Road's residential and commercial zones.
Demolition of Savoy East, a 66-unit development about 1 mile north of Interstate 695 on Liberty Road, kicks off an aggressive effort to trim low-income rental units in the northwest, where officials say their high concentration has led to crime and crowded schools.
Community activists are shaping a plan to convert the 4.5-acre Savoy property into a park, recreation center, athletic field or garden by next year.
"I'm optimistic," said Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council and president of the Stevenswood Improvement Association, a neighborhood that abuts Savoy East. "What the residents want is an area that will contribute to the community -- an asset rather than a liability."
County politicians hoped for such an outcome last year as Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger moved to purchase the partially occupied Savoy for $650,000 from Regal Savings Bank after the complex plunged into bankruptcy.
Demolition of the five buildings, which began this week and is expected to be finished by month's end, wraps up a woeful history for the complex that included assaults, robberies and arson during the past five years.
Liberty Road is one of four priority areas in the county's five-year Consolidated Plan. Last spring, county officials outlined an ambitious, 56-page Liberty Road Action Plan that called for an unspecified number of rental units to be eliminated along the corridor, some of them federally subsidized.
Officials say the rental complexes, including Savoy, have been the site of drug dealing and other criminal activities.
"There's a problem with an excessive number of low-income rental units in the northwest corridor -- where one-third of all rental units in the county are located," said County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat who represents Randallstown.
He said the glut of low- to moderate-income rental units on Liberty Road has skewed the rental market in that area. "That's why it's in the county's interest to reduce the number of units to re- store the competitive balance," he said.
Kamenetz said he hopes a public recreational facility at the Savoy site will help renew interest in the area, just south of the intersection of Liberty and Old Court roads.
Campbell and other residents have complained that the corridor has been forsaken by politicians as wealthier communities such as Hunt Valley and White Marsh received more public funding. But that appears to be changing.
Last year, officials put forth $6 million in revitalization initiatives for a one-mile stretch of Liberty Road as a result of a 10-month study by nearly 200 community and business leaders in the area, which has 25,000 residents and 500 businesses. A county-sponsored project to improve public sidewalks is to begin later this year.
This week, Ruppersberger announced plans to lobby state legislators to fund police athletic and recreation centers at Winfield and Scotts Branch elementary schools, less than a mile from one another in Randallstown neighborhoods in dire need of after-school programs.
A community park at the reconstructed Savoy will serve as an anchor, said Barry Schleifer, executive director of Liberty Randallstown Coalition Inc., a nonprofit group that receives community development block grants and county funds.
"It's a really good opportunity to do something constructive for the community," he said. "The way things are progressing, it'll be a real asset."
Pub Date: 1/06/99