After months of letter writing, rallies, petitions, videos and historical research, Poppleton residents trying to save their West Baltimore neighborhood from further displacement by a developer were finding reason for hope.
Working with the Scott administration, they had mapped out a historic district to protect rowhouses that have been the home to Black residents going back to the 1870s.
In December, Deputy Mayor Ted Carter had visited, promising “a win-win” solution to community members including Sonia Eaddy, who has been fighting to keep the city from seizing her house for more than a decade.
And in January, Mayor Brandon Scott pledged “a reset in regards to the redevelopment of Poppleton.”
In a letter to Poppleton Now, a community association, Scott wrote, “I am committed to doing everything I can to advance the redevelopment of Poppleton, and to do so in a truly collaborative, community-led and transparent process.”
But within weeks, according to residents, the winds shifted.
They discovered that the boundaries of the historic district map had been redrawn to exclude Sonia and Curtis Eaddy’s home at 319 North Carrollton Avenue.
“It was a complete surprise,” said Organize Poppleton’s Nicole King, who has been leading the research efforts. “We had already received the map, with that house in it, back from the city, and it seemed like it was good with them.”
Now the group fears the city has no intention of sparing the Eaddy house and letting the third-generation Poppleton resident remain there.
They also worry that demolition will be the fate of the historic Sarah Ann Street alley houses nearby, inhabited by Black families for decades but now owned by the city.
A politically-connected developer – that has showered thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to city politicians over the last 17 years – is “currently in negotiations” with the housing department, city officials acknowledge.
Residents wonder if their interests will be ignored in favor of those of La Cité Development, the group of New York investors given rights to 14 acres of Poppleton in 2005.
“The community is getting mixed signals and just would really like the city to explain what’s going on,” King said.
Acquisition and Demolition
Officials with Scott’s office and the Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) have not returned The Brew’s request for comment.
Residents say they also can’t get answers and hope to learn more at a community meeting set to be led by Carter on Thursday.
“You’ll be able to hear about the various projects that are happening in the Poppleton Neighborhood,” a flier released by Scott’s office says. “You will also be able to share your concerns with the leaders of several agencies.”
Many residents say there’s little trust left in Poppleton for such exercises.
The city has been steadily acquiring property in the area to accommodate La Cité’s ambitious – and long-stalled – plans. The project was promoted by former mayors Sheila Dixon and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake as uplifting the neighborhood.
But aside from the construction of two apartment buildings on the southeast corner of the site, the project has only resulted in blocks of vacant structures and empty lots in what was once an intact community.
For organizers, getting the Eaddy house and Sarah Ann Street buildings included in a historic district was a critical step in their effort to support legacy residents staying in their homes.
But the preservation efforts have been no match for eminent domain actions and bulldozers.
Last summer, King and Eaddy were shocked to discover crews knocking down the 175-year-old “Boss Kelly House,” the former abode of a famous political kingpin, John S. “Frank” Kelly.
Residents had been working on an emergency CHAP landmark application for that area’s historic structures. Just two days earlier, residents and allies had held a Save Our Block Rally to support Eaddy and Sarah Ann Street.
“I feel like they’re targeting me. It’s a deliberate attack on me,” Eaddy said at the time. “The city knew we were fighting to have these houses preserved.”
In the months that followed, some residents have remained, but most of the Sarah Ann Street houses have been vacated, their windows now boarded with plywood.
Despite Scott’s upbeat January letter, residents remain wary, especially after the actions taken last summer by Daniel Bythewood Jr., La Cité’s president, in response to community organizing.
His company sent a letter warning the Southwest Partnership (SWP) against making “further libelous or slanderous statements” about the La Cité project. Residents said it was meant to intimidate them and SWP, an umbrella group of seven area neighborhoods.
Bythewood, meanwhile, has not responded to requests from The Brew for comment on the project and on his relationship with city officials after many years of generous campaign giving.
Records on file with the Maryland State Board of Elections show a steady flow of checks and credit card payments by Bythewood, other family members, the company and its officials going back to 2005 – and picking up again in 2015 when the city’s Board of Finance approved $58.6 million in tax increment (TIF) financing for the project.
Recipients include a number of former city councilmen (among them Carl Stokes, who then chaired the Council’s economic development committee) and five past mayors – Martin O’Malley, Sheila Dixon, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Catherine Pugh and Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
Some of the more recent contributions from Bythewood, listing his company’s midtown Manhattan address, include $3,000 in 2020 to Brandon Scott following his victory in the Democratic mayoral primary and $1,000 to Councilman Eric Costello in 2021.
Altogether, The Brew documented $25,500 in political donations that came from persons and companies associated with La Cité.
CHAP Map, Two Versions
The originally proposed CHAP historic district map for Poppleton (above) and the subsequent version (below) now showing the Eaddy family property on Carrollton Avenue not included. (@organizepopple1)