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Mayor seeks to condemn rowhouses


The O'Malley administration is completing legislation that would give the city the right to acquire nearly 200 properties in East Baltimore for the future expansion of the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

The proposed legislation, scheduled to be introduced when the City Council returns from summer recess Monday, would amend the urban renewal plan for the Middle East area just north of the medical campus, which includes the hospital and schools of medicine, nursing and public health.

A public hearing on the plan is tentatively scheduled before the city's Planning Commission in early November.

In addition to giving the city condemnation powers over the properties, most of which are vacant and dilapidated rowhouses, the legislation would permit the construction of medical facilities on a rectangular area bounded by Broadway on the west, Chester Street on the east, Ashland Avenue on the north and Madison Street on the south, which is now designated for residences and neighborhood businesses.

The legislation also calls for the creation of a small public park just north of the planned Hopkins expansion area and the acquisition for rehabilitation of about two dozen abandoned properties on Eager and Washington streets.

"The community, the institutions and the city all benefit," said Zack Germroth, spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. "You're taking some of the worst housing in the city and turning it into something useful."

The legislation - which would also allow for the purchase of the last handful of properties needed for a separate expansion of the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Broadway and Madison - has the backing of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, a broad-based, neighborhood umbrella group on the east side.

Officials said the cost of acquiring the properties under the proposed legislation has not been determined. Any homeowners whose property was acquired for the expansion would be offered financial incentives to remain in the area in newly renovated houses, officials said.

The city and Johns Hopkins Hospital agreed this month to a land swap that allowed Hopkins to take over the site of the recently demolished Broadway Homes public housing project south of the hospital, which Hopkins wants to use for offices, laboratories and a parking complex. In exchange, the city gained the site of the former Church Hospital for the construction of 112 townhouses, many of which would be offered to low- and moderate-income homeowners.

The Broadway Homes project is separate from the planned expansion of the medical campus on the properties that would be acquired under the proposed legislation, said Richard A. Grossi, chief financial officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the hospital and school of medicine.

Grossi said Hopkins planned to use the property to be acquired by the city for expansion of programs of "basic science research" in a 100,000-square foot building between four and five stories high. He said the money for the building, projected to cost $50 million, still needs to be raised.

Hopkins has been buying properties in the area at tax sales and from owners who approached the institution, Grossi said, but it needs the proposed legislation before it moves forward.

"I'm concerned that without the purpose of the bill, I'd buy a block of scattered properties and not be able to do anything with it," Grossi said.

Hopkins has an agreement with the city to buy the properties it needs after the city acquires them, Grossi said.

The legislation lists 196 properties to be acquired, including 40 on Ashland Avenue and 32 on East Madison Street.

Of the 196 properties, 45 are owned by the city's public housing agency, according to Germroth.

If approved by the council, the legislation would be the sixth revision to the Middle East urban renewal plan since the plan was created in 1979, with the last revision coming in 1986.

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