Urban pioneers on North Avenue


THE PEOPLE who are among the first to buy the $116,000 to $132,000 townhouses in the Spicer's Run development, at North Avenue and Eutaw Place in Bolton Hill, say they don't feel like urban pioneers.

But these homeowners, much like the folks who bought the dollar houses in Baltimore a generation ago, are invariably optimistic. They are taking a chance on an area that has been troubled in recent years. So they are, indeed, pioneering.

But there are reasons for optimism. Crime is down in the area, with the demolition of the long-troubled Eutaw Gardens housing complex, which had been on the site now occupied by Spicer's Run.

These mostly young homeowners are betting that crime rates will continue to fall and that returns on their investments will rise as Eutaw Place again becomes a fashionable address.

Their reasons for buying houses in the city are instructive for city leaders interested in seeing other faded sections of Baltimore revived.

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Keith Holliday

Federal Express courier

Single, 34

I love this community and I love Baltimore. I moved downtown seven years ago and I like the fact that everything is so convenient. If I want to go to the store, it's right there.

I feel a need to stay in the city -- people come here to do things and there are so many attractions. If I have guests who come from out of town, there's so much to do close by -- I wanted to be a part of that.

Safety concerns: There's crime everywhere -- in the suburbs, too.

Reaction from others: My father was leery of my moving into the area -- but once he saw the homes he changed his mind.

Bernard Holnaider


Single, 32

I work downtown so I like to live downtown. I come from Pittsburgh and lived in the inner city there. I'm young and single and you get more of a sense of community in the city. Plus I like taking advantage of the time I save by not commuting a long distance.

One thing I don't like about the city is that taxes are too high and there are times when I don't feel safe. One advantage Baltimore has is that it's still inexpensive to live in the city compared to other large cities.

Safety concerns: North Avenue has a horrible reputation. Previously, I lived on Park Avenue in Bolton Hill, where I've never encountered real crime beyond my flower pots being stolen off my porch. Generally, I find that if you let your neighbors know when you're away, they'll keep an eye out for you.

Reaction from others: When I told people I was moving here, they told me I was crazy. They like the place but hate the neighborhood. It doesn't help that there's a heroin detox center sign right outside my window -- quite a view.

Michael James

Systems analyst

Single, 35

I have always lived in Baltimore, but recently I was looking to move out. I seriously looked at Columbia and other communities because I work in New Carrollton and I wanted a shorter commute. But after looking at all these places I began to wonder what would I do in the suburbs . . . there's nothing in the county for me. . . . You have to drive to everything in the suburbs because everything is so far away.

Safety concerns: I see the Bolton Hill area as a separate place from North Avenue. There's an imaginary line between the two, but I will say I refused to buy the unit closest to North Avenue. I think they will have trouble selling it because of the proximity to the prostitution, liquor store and the bus stop. I did buy one a block down -- just a block, but it made a difference.

Reaction from others: Though my family advised me to buy in the suburbs, they weren't critical of the area specifically.

Meta Gilhool


Married, 32

We decided to live here because we like the convenience of the location of Bolton Hill. We are pleased with the quality of the houses that they're building here. I've never seen a development like this in the city.

We're both from Buffalo, N.Y., and I had always lived in the city. I do have a strong feeling about urban sprawl and the abandonment of historical neighborhoods. It's unfortunate that communities like Bolton Hill are split between parts that are intact and well-maintained by single homeowners and those parts that become rough.

Safety concerns: One thing we like about this development is that the security system is being provided within the unit so we feel pretty safe. Plus the community is building a long fence. Everyone knows everyone within the development so if anyone strange comes around, it's apparent.

Reaction from others: We have had a number of friends show an interest [in living here]. There were several people who asked, "Why in the world would you consider buying on North and Eutaw?" I'm happy to say our families were supportive. It's difficult to see the future of the community, but I feel good about it.

Alfonso Joyner


Single, 36

I live here to be close to my job, and I enjoy midtown living. I like living in the new house with all the modern amenities, while keeping with the tradition of the neighborhood on the outside of the house.

Safety concerns: I have never had any security concerns. Home invasions can happen in the county as well as here -- crime is all over the place. You can't live your life being afraid. The neighborhood association patrols gives me a sense of security, too.

Reaction from others: A couple of firefighters said, 'I can't believe you're living here! We've seen stabbings and shootings near here!' But I have friends who have supported me.

Kelly Long, 38 and Robert Bryan, 34

Business owners

We like it because it's new. With the older homes, you have to fix them up.

We discussed moving out of Baltimore because we were both aggravated by the filth, and people breaking into cars, but the garage on this place helped us forget that.

Safety concerns: At first we were concerned, but we talked it through. One thing we're hoping to do is get rid of prostitution; we want to clean up the neighborhood. It's no wonder people don't want to live in the city when you encounter crime and people begging for money all the time.

Reaction from others: People were like "do you really want to be that close to North Avenue?" After people see the house and see how happy we are, they think differently. Rob has pushed to get the park across the street cleaned up, and we do our part by picking up garbage around the park.

Marcia Morris

Benefits specialist with the federal government

Single, 48

One of the main reasons I live here is because it's convenient. I work in Washington, and it's accessible to the MARC commuter train. I like the city and the convenience. . . . The store is about a minute away and I don't have to go on a main road.

Also, the city offered a tax break here, and Spicer's Run offers a lot of incentives.

Safety concerns: I do have some security concerns -- I'm cautious, I watch my back.

Reactions from others: I have a couple of friends who have all moved to the county. When they see my house, they can't believe how nice it is. They don't expect luxury in the heart of the city.

Michele Speaks

Professional fund-raiser

Single, 39

I wanted to live in the city because I work here; my daughter goes to Bryn Mawr and it's near my church -- it's just convenient. . . . I wasn't going to abandon the city to live in the county.

Safety concerns: I believe if something's going to happen, it will happen anywhere. I don't have any security concerns.

Reaction from others: Everyone I know has been supportive. Most people who see this place see it's a good product.

Interviews were conducted by researcher Andrea Wilson.

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