After 25 years of nursing, among other occupations over her lifetime, Lorraine Ledbetter sought the solace of retirement in the 300 block of N. Fremont Avenue in West Baltimore when she purchased her home in 1999.
Variations on that retirement narrative played out for several individuals in addition to Ledbetter in that Poppleton neighborhood that year. But, for those retirees — all in their 70’s now — their plans for peaceful repose after decades of hard work are in danger of being shattered by expansion of Maryland’s mass transit system known simply as the Red Line.
“To go to sleep and wonder whether or not you’re going to fall or that (train) is going to rumble through there…that takes a lot away from you,” said Ledbetter, who is president of the Lexington Tenant Council, as she stood outside her home on Fremont with a group of her neighbors recently.
The threat of that oncoming “rumble” is the bane of the residents of that block nestled between the shadow of the glittering University of Maryland BioPark and the swath of Route 40 in West Baltimore known as the infamous, “highway to nowhere.” The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) plans to run a tunnel beneath the 300 block to accommodate subway trains that would run north and south.
“The Baltimore Red Line (is) a rail line connecting the areas of Woodlawn (Baltimore County), Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, downtown Baltimore, Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center campus in eastern Baltimore City,” according to the MTA.
Allegedly, the original plan for the Red Line route was to run down Mulberry Street alongside Route 40 and make a right turn on Martin Luther King Boulevard, but at some point in the planning process, the MTA decided to re-route the Red Line to make that right turn on N. Fremont instead of MLK. The residents of the 300 block argue they were systematically excluded from the planning process, connected to the implementation of the Red Line (a violation of state law) and specifically they were never informed of the route change until after the fact. Subsequently, they believe they are being treated unfairly on many levels.
“I feel as though they violated our rights, they didn’t consider us,” said Theresa Smith, who is president of the N. Fremont homeowners association. She and her husband Vernon Smith, a retired Greyhound bus driver also moved to their home on Fremont in 1999.
“There are other routes they could have used; they can use Martin Luther King Boulevard and not disturb any homes, which was the original route before they changed it and didn’t notify us until last summer,” added Theresa Smith, who retired from the University of Maryland Pediatric Center.
According to Baltimore City Department of Transportation spokesperson Adrienne Barnes, no communities impacted directly by implementation of the Red Line were excluded from the planning process.
“The Baltimore City Department of Transportation along with MTA have met with all the communities that will be affected by the Red Line including the Poppleton community,” Barnes stated.
“Every effort has been made to provide residents with accurate and current information. We continue to support the efforts of MTA’s assessments and determinations as it relates to design and construction that would have minimal impact to residential property,” Barnes concluded.
N. Fremont residents concede Barnes’ statement may be factually accurate, but it is dubious at best.
“She (Barnes) answered the question truthfully, but it’s after the fact,” said Jonathan Carroll, a videographer who lives in the 300 block. He is one of the few residents who is not retired.
“At the core of what we are doing is standing up for our rights. We want Mr. Henry Kay at the MTA to take accountability for violating our rights,” Carroll said.
Henry Kay is the executive director of Transit Development and Delivery for the MTA. The AFRO reached out to him and several others within the MTA, but was contacted by Barnes who provided the statement above.
The `violation of rights,’ to which Carroll refers is contained in House Bill 234 that was enacted as law May 2, 2013 specifically in reference to implementation of the Red Line in Baltimore. The law reads as follows:
“Shall consider the redevelopment of the commercial areas surrounding the Baltimore Corridor Transit Study — Red Line area, in consultation with…The property owners and business owners of the area comprising the Baltimore Corridor Transit Study…”
“When we had our first and only meeting February 22, 2014, which is seven months after they finalized their design in July of 2013, we asked could the route be changed…and we were told no, because the designs were finalized in July of 2013, all designs,” Carroll explained.
“Then in June of 2014 Mr. Henry Kay announced that they had changed the route to accommodate Mr. John Paterakis,” Carroll added.
Paterakis, the billionaire owner of H&S Bakery opposed the Red Line station originally planned for Central and Fleet, because it would have interfered with his plans to convert a warehouse he owns into commercial and residential space.
In June, Kay confirmed the Red Line would be rerouted at Paterakis’ request, which will significantly add to the cost of the project and delay it by up to 10 months, according to a report by Baltimore Brew.
“So, they clearly discriminated against us on an economic basis,” Carroll said.
According to the residents of the 300 block of N. Fremont, their treatment by the MTA and the city is rooted in issues of class and race.
“I think people who have properties in Baltimore City if they are… Black they need to stand up for themselves. They need to be aware of what’s going on in their neighborhoods and their environment,” Theresa Smith said.
Her neighbor Lorraine Ledbetter put it more succinctly.
“Jim Crow ain’t never going to die in this city.”