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Rebuilding to begin in historic E. Towson


Baltimore County has launched an effort to inject new life into East Towson by building and rehabilitating 20 homes in the historic African-American community.

Standing in front of 321 Lennox Ave., the first house scheduled for renovation, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger told residents yesterday that the community had suffered enough neglect.

"We are going to make [East Towson] a model for redevelopment in Baltimore County," he promised. The county offices of community conservation and planning will work with private organizations to upgrade and build the homes, he said.

Using $1.3 million in local and federal grants, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a Baltimore-based nonprofit agency, will be the principal developer. Houses will cost between $110,000 and $120,000.

Adelaide Bentley, president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association and director of the East Towson Carver Community Center, said she was "overwhelmed" by the project.

Bentley grew up in the community, and her family has lived there for five generations. She said she is happy that young families will be able to return to the neighborhood, which includes about 90 homes and is surrounded by commercial development.

"I never thought I would see this happen," she said yesterday. "I will do a jig when I see the results."

St. Ambrose expects to begin building and renovating next month. The agency hopes to have seven houses ready for sale by summer. Ruppersberger said several families have applied to buy houses.

The East Towson community was settled in the mid-1800s when Capt. Charles Ridgely, owner of the Hampton Mansion north of Goucher College, freed his slaves.

The revitalization area is bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue on the north, Virginia Avenue on the west; Towsontown Boulevard on the south and Black & Decker Corp. headquarters on the east.

PJ Widerman, the East Towson project manager in the Office of Community Conservation, said the revitalization plans became concrete about 18 months ago after the Jacob House was dismantled. The house, a historic log cabin built by a founding member of the community in 1840, was cataloged and stored, and will be returned to the community. Residents consider the cabin a symbol of their neighborhood.

The revitalization project, designed to bring stability to East Towson, was developed by an advisory group of residents, business leaders, local and state historical societies, county workers, nonprofit organizations and religious groups, Widerman said.

She said the project will be completed over the next few years, with plans for more renovations, a park and landscaping around the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. substation on Railroad Avenue.

Nine of the houses will be new modular structures; the remaining 11 will be rehabilitated, she said.

Ruppersberger said the redevelopment in East Towson is central to the future of the county.

"We've pledged to keep two-thirds of our land rural," he said. "To do that ... we have to continue to develop our targeted growth areas, Owings Mills and White Marsh. And we have to redevelop our old communities the right way."

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