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Feathers fly in a South Baltimore dispute

Where old meets new in South Baltimore, a dispute about feeding birds

You can stand in the 1800 block of Marshall St. in South Baltimore, look north and see the two Baltimores we love. On the left there's a new and cool industrial-chic apartment building called 2 East Wells. On the right there are well-kept rowhouses and a line of old alley garages with wooden doors and hanging flower pots.

Marshall Street at Wells Street, on the southern edge of South Baltimore, is a place where, you might say, two cities meet: Millennials on one side, long-timers on the other. You can stand right there, in Marshall Street, and see the two things Baltimore needs: fresh new blood and sturdy old bones; urban renewal alongside a traditional neighborhood. In balance, it's all good.

There are bound to be conflicts, though, and so we have one today, and it involves pigeons. An unfortunate dispute has developed between the owner of 2 East Wells and a couple of local fellows who enjoy pigeons and seeing them fed.

It wasn't until after 2 East Wells opened, in 2015, that anyone complained. The apartment building boasts "spectacular rooftop decks as well as apartment terraces." The place has a rooftop fitness center, too. None of that sounds compatible with pigeons.

So now the Owings Mills company that owns 2 East Wells blames the men for encouraging hundreds of pigeons to gather near the apartment building. With pigeons come pigeon droppings, and the aerial bombardments have made it difficult for the concern to rent some of its apartments. So says the complaint filed by Wells CRP Building LLC against Charles "Rudy" Schreiner and Carl Smith.

"The sheer volume of pigeons attracted by Mr. Smith's feeding activities creates substantial health risks and visual blight insofar as the pigeons leave and continue to leave copious amounts of droppings on the balconies," the complaint alleges, adding that "prospective tenants have refused to lease the plaintiff's apartments facing Marshall Street because of the copious pigeon dropping issue."

The company says it has had to pay for the cleaning and painting of 24 balconies. (I also noticed plastic owl decoys, the kind intended to ward off pigeons, on five of the balconies yesterday.) Wells has asked the Baltimore Circuit Court to enjoin Schreiner and Smith from feeding the birds and for $75,000 in damages to the building.

Schreiner, a 59-year-old retired longshoreman, has owned the row of garages along Marshall Street for 25 years, and Smith, 63, a semi-retired contractor, has rented one of them for 15. Smith often parks his pickup truck in a vacant lot next to the garage and works inside. He's been feeding pigeons for years.

"Sometimes," says Smith, "the pigeons come to me and they'll have wire on their feet, or fishing line, and I'll remove it for them." One of the pigeons had a mangled toe, requiring amputation; Smith conducted the minor surgery and treated the toe with Neosporin. As far as he knows, the bird survived.

"Carl is the pigeon whisperer," says Jim Pumphrey, who lives nearby, on Light Street.

Pigeons, wild and domesticated, are part of city life, and in South Baltimore there is a long history of residents keeping pigeons, training them and racing them over long distances. The South Baltimore Pigeon Fanciers Social Club has been around for at least 50 years.

"These pigeons here now are descendants of the pigeons that people used to keep in coops up and down Marshall Street," says Pumphrey, a 59-year-old longshoreman who has lived in South Baltimore all his life.

A cease-and-desist letter from Kimberly Manuelides, an attorney representing the owner of 2 East Wells, arrived at Smith's apartment in South Baltimore last June. It blamed him for a nuisance by feeding and attracting pigeons to Marshall Street. The letter warned him of legal action if he did not stop.

Now legal action has come against both Schreiner and Smith, and they have retained Baltimore attorneys Barry Glazer and Jonathan Saltzman. They've challenged the claims against their clients, saying the owner of 2 East Wells had other remedies, such as registering a complaint with health authorities, before filing suit. They seek $75,000 from Wells LLC in a counter-suit that claims Schreiner and Smith have been subjected to an "improper, frivolous and baseless" legal action. They called the lawsuit "malicious," too.

Too bad, all of it: litigation from the push-and-shove of the new Baltimore meeting the old one.

Smith still feeds the pigeons, but he does so now behind Schreiner's garage, when no one's looking. "I can't help myself," he says. And he's not the only pigeon feeder in the neighborhood, he says. Four or five neighbors also put out food for the birds.

Which raises, I should think, a significant challenge for plaintiff: Tracing excrement from the pigeons Carl Smith feeds to the balconies on 2 East Wells. As Smith says, "I have no control over where the pigeons poop."

drodricks@baltsun.com

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