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Deadline set for improving Kingsley Park

The corporate landlord of the dilapidated Kingsley Park apartments has been given a deadline to formulate a redevelopment plan for the World War II-era complex in the heart of Baltimore County's east-side revitalization zone.

In an Aug. 26 letter to Landex Corp. President Judith S. Siegel, Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he was "very encouraged" that she agreed to formally resubmit a redevelopment plan - one that she had threatened to drop.

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If Siegel fails to meet the deadline for the 312-apartment complex, Smith "will use all the resources in his power to improve the quality of life for the residents of Kingsley Park," said spokesman Damian O'Doherty. Those resources include, he said, aggressive code violation inspections, legal action and other steps to "put this issue finally to rest."

Now Siegel will have until Nov. 30 to submit a plan with mixed income housing to the county. She will have at least an additional six to nine months for federal housing officials to approve the plan and to refinance the project.

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"We were very happy with the reduction of density, the attraction of mixed income families and the provision for some rent-to-ownership offered by your plan," Smith wrote in the letter obtained by The Sun.

The most recent plan offered by Landex "will be an enhancement to the entire community and be in the best interest of the residents," Smith wrote. He also notified U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski that the county and Siegel made progress "collectively."

Neither she nor her attorney, Leslie M. Pittler, responded to several requests for telephone interviews Friday.

Smith's flowery wording and ultimatum are the latest exchanges in an otherwise acrimonious relationship between Smith and Siegel, who also battled with Smith's predecessor, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, over her management of Kingsley Park, a string of run-down apartments financed through a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Revitalization hopes

Kingsley Park sits in the epicenter of what officials call the renaissance of a huge swath of the county's east side encompassing Essex, Middle River and Dundalk, the most ambitious community revitalization in Baltimore County history.

Over the past eight years, more than $800 million in state and county funds have been spent to reinvigorate what came to be a rust belt on the county's waterfront. Part of that change, officials said, was to disperse the high concentration of low-income housing, such as the aging apartment complexes originally constructed for World War II workers.

Two complexes, Riverdale and Villages of Tall Trees, became havens for crime and violence. They were torn down to construct a new housing development, WaterView, and a large public park.

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Another development, Hopewell Pointe, is being built a few yards from Kingsley Park's squatting rows of faded brick structures. Farther down the peninsula, developer Leonard P. Berger plans an upscale development in Holly Neck with some Chesapeake Bay-front mansions starting at $1 million

Middle River and Essex improvements include a $68 million, 3.8-mile extension of White Marsh Boulevard to Eastern Boulevard, where more housing and light commercial development will occur after 2006.

Unpopular move

Earlier this month, Siegel backed out of an agreement with the county to formulate a blueprint for modernizing Kingsley Park, a complex rife with drug-related crime and where many of the hundreds of residents complain of substandard living conditions.

Siegel, while attempting to refinance her HUD loan that expires today, told the county government that she would reduce housing density but wanted to extend her apartment rentals until an undetermined time when she had a solid redevelopment plan.

That move would have delayed the refurbishing of Kingsley Park, leaving tenants uncertain of their futures and jeopardizing the revitalization of Middle River and Essex.

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By modest estimates, Landex makes about $2.3 million annually under the HUD contract.

When she was informed by the county that a long-term extension was not acceptable, Siegel threatened to seek a new, less complicated 30-year mortgage loan through HUD. County government sources who must still work with Siegel said Smith was furious at her move.

In a letter to county Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder and John Olszewski - who represent the county's east side and have communicated with Siegel - Smith wrote "an additional extension, under the guise of redevelopment plans or otherwise, is unacceptable."

After a stormy meeting in Towson last week involving Smith, Siegel, county and HUD officials, and subsequent negotiations, Smith sent his letter to Siegel.

By week's end, the redevelopment of Kingsley Park appeared back on course. County officials said Friday that they have plans to help the residents relocate if that happens.

Questionable standards

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And county rental inspection officials said they will continue to examine the units at Kingsley Park guided by "minimum" mandatory federal guidelines. Inspections are made before a tenant moves into a subsidized apartment and after a resident complains to the county.

Residents of Kingsley Park have complained for years of poor maintenance and questionable inspection practices. Among the passing grades for apartment complexes such as theirs, according to HUD regulations used by a county inspector, holes in a wall are acceptable if they are 8 inches by 11 inches or smaller.


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