Fire destroys vacant community center


A two-alarm fire destroyed yesterday evening the vacant Uplands Apartments community center - part of a complex that is slated for demolition for Baltimore's largest new residential development effort in decades.

The blaze, which was reported to the city Fire Department just after 5 p.m., engulfed the community center building - a brick structure with white Colonial-style columns that sits near Edmondson and Swann avenues.

No one was injured in the blaze, which is under investigation.

Vacant for a year

Angela Bethea-Spearman, president of the Uplands Community Association, said homeowners in the neighborhood are upset that the apartments, which have been vacant for a year, have not been torn down.

A few people, bundled in winter coats and hats, gathered around firetrucks to watch the spectacle.

"There have been two recent fires around here - in fact, one was just about a month ago," said Bethea-Spearman, who said she was in her kitchen reheating leftover Christmas turkey when she saw smoke coming from across Old Frederick Road. "Who knows what is going on. But I believe someone is trying to send a message that it should be torn down."

Cause of fire unknown

Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright said it was too soon to determine the cause of last night's blaze.

"It could have started anywhere in the building," he said. "But we won't know until investigators are able to get inside and make a determination."

The nearly 100-acre renewal project planned at Uplands Apartments has been the subject of legal challenges. Owners of nearby businesses that would be acquired as part of the plan filed a lawsuit in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Former tenants who contend that the proposed housing will be too expensive to allow them to return filed a separate lawsuit in federal court.

The city purchased the apartment complex from the federal government for a nominal amount, with plans for a mixed-income development of about 700 detached homes, condominiums and apartments.

Another 400 housing units are planned on an adjacent parcel.

Reggie Scriber, the city housing department's ombudsman, said last night that the vacant apartment complex would be demolished as soon as legal issues were settled.

"I think this is unfortunately the result of vagrants going into the buildings trying to stay warm, which isn't very uncommon in the city," he said. "We will be working on a plan to stop that from happening."

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