Destroying building a mistake, city says; Work crew made decision on its own, official says


Despite clear orders from the city, a Housing Authority work crew apparently decided on its own to tear down a building at 13 S. Eden St. a week and a half ago, though they were sent to destroy a building a block away.

"That decision was a mistake," Housing Authority spokesman John Milton Wesley said of the botched demolition. "The building that should have gone down was 13 North Eden."

The error occurred Oct. 8, when a crew was dispatched with a written notification instructing it to bring down 13 N. Eden, an abandoned building near the Flag House projects on the east side.

But when workers arrived at 13 N. Eden, Wesley said, they found the building had working electricity, which made them believe they were at the wrong address. The building had power because it shared an "electrical trunk" with an adjacent building, Wesley said.

At that point, according to Wesley, the crew checked out 13 S. Eden, a dilapidated brick building with broken windows. When the workers found that 13 S. Eden did not have electricity, they decided that the printed orders they had received from the housing department were wrong, Wesley said.

"They found a building with no gas, no electricity and assumed it must have been 13 South Eden" they were meant to destroy, said Wesley, who noted that building demolition is "not an exact science," and called the mistake "a rarity" for the department.

Wesley said the department does not send inspectors to ensure workers bring down the right buildings, "although having someone familiar with that neighborhood" would clearly have helped.

He said posters from the housing department announcing the demolition project were not placed at 13 N. Eden because the city owns that building. Only privately owned buildings scheduled for destruction must display the warning fliers.

In tearing down the wrong building, the city laid waste to the humble headquarters of the South and Southeast Development Organization, a nonprofit group that provides social services to the Jonestown area, which includes the Flag House housing projects.

Wesley said the city would pay for relocating the organization.

"We'll put them in a better building," he said, adding that the city was trying to get a damage figure, because part of the building had been renovated recently and appliances were stored there.

But organization director Irona Pope said yesterday she would demand that the city reconstruct the building she had owned since 1983. "I don't want to go anywhere but there," she said. "We are poor people, and the city may think it can push us around, but they can't. I'm not going to let them do this to us."

Wesley said: "She must be made whole. She's due to be made whole."

Pope, who also works at City Springs Elementary School as parents' liaison and is known as "the Pope" of Jonestown for her charity work, acknowledged that her building was in disrepair and did not have electricity. She said she kept the power turned off to save money. "Does the city think I have a lot of cash to run this project? I get by on what I can."

She said the organization usually operated on weekends and during the day because its building had no lights. The group bought food on the same day it was passed out because there was no way to refrigerate it.

Pope said she would pursue legal action if necessary, and said the demolition would not stop her from providing educational services and food.

Dick Cook, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland who frequently works with Pope said he was not surprised by her determination.

"I have no doubt that despite the fact the building is not there, Irona Pope will be at the site this Saturday, handing out food to the poor in the rubble," Cook said. "That's what she is all about."

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