Council subgroup hears of opposition to convert school into senior complex; Drop in property values in Howard Park feared


Several members of the Howard Park Community Activity Association opposed a proposal yesterday before the City Council's Land Use Committee to convert a historic elementary school into an 89-unit apartment complex for the elderly.

No action was taken on the proposal. Committee chairwoman Lois A. Garey said she wants to learn more about it before her committee makes a recommendation to the full council.

Plans call for the old Howard Park Elementary School to be converted into a 24-unit apartment complex and for a connecting building with 65 apartments to be built, said Joshua Murphy, project manager for The Oaks at Liberty, the apartment's proposed name.

Cost estimates for the development, which will comprise 80 one-bedroom apartments and nine two-bedroom units, are between $8 million and $9 million, said Mark H. Dambly, vice president of Pennrose Properties Inc., one of the partners. Monthly rents will range from $410 to $500.

Section 8 housing will be allowed, and officials hope to break ground early next year and complete construction by year's end, Murphy said.

Herbert Diggs, 65, said he knows Baltimore has a need for affordable housing for the elderly. But Diggs, who lives on nearby Gwynn Oak Avenue, said he's worried his property value will decrease if the apartments are constructed because younger couples won't want to purchase homes in an area heavily populated by the elderly.

He also said the complex would change his backyard view of houses along Liberty Heights and Howard Park avenues to a large, brick wall.

Diggs, Glord McGuire and David Yaffe were among about a half dozen neighborhood residents who spoke against the complex yesterday.

"The site itself is in the heart of our community," said McGuire, 59, who has lived on Gwynn Oak Avenue for 31 years and runs an assisted living center from his home. "It's a historic building, and it's ideal for what we need. There's a library already in there, and there's a gym the kids could actually play ball in."

Betty Jean Murphy, one of the partners in the proposed development, said the city needs more housing for the elderly. Part of the school is used as the Forest Park Senior Center four days a week. Some money from the apartments would go to support the center.

"We believe, based on the demographics, that it's a much-needed housing venture," she said. "There is no senior housing close to the community."

Joshua Murphy said he was surprised at yesterday's opposition to the apartment complex. Developers have collected more than 250 signatures from residents at the senior center favoring it, he said.

McGuire said he has as many as 700 signatures from people in the neighborhood opposed to the project.

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