Preston Paige of Capitol Heights smiled Thursday as he watched a yellow excavator smash into a Chapel Wood Apartments building that had been vacant for more than a decade.
“Finally,” Paige said Thursday as he stood behind a band of yellow tape. “It’s about time.”
In the next six weeks, all 26 buildings of the Chapel Wood Apartments, which closed in 2000, will come down under Prince George’s County’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative.
The initiative launched in April to target six areas — such as Coral Hills, which includes Chapel Wood — that county officials said struggle with crime and lack of code enforcement.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said the area no longer will be a haven for the criminal activity residents have linked to the former complex, such as drug traffic and prostitution. It will cost the county $550,000 to demolish the 26 buildings, said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Baker.
Baker said officials first will consult with residents of the single-family home communities of Bradbury Heights and Boulevard Heights, surrounding Chapel Wood, about what type of economic development they want to see in the complex’s place. County officials have not yet scheduled a meeting with residents because the demolition remains in progress.
“You have great homes right next door to the District of Columbia,” Baker said Thursday of the existing stable neighborhood. “This right here is the cutting edge of economic development.”
Romeo Spaulding, a resident of Vine Street since 1966, said he has watched the property decline over the years. Spaulding said that once the apartments closed down, the area became a place for illegal dumping of trash, drug use and drug sales.
The main thoroughfare through the complex, Nova Avenue, is fenced off to the public from Marlboro Pike to Boundary Avenue, but people climbed the fence to enter, Spaulding said.
“It became a drug haven,” Spaulding said. “We had drug traffic like you wouldn’t believe.”
Gwen Bowman, the Bradbury Heights Civic Association president, said she has worked for nearly a decade to have the complex razed. Bradbury Heights is a community within Coral Hills.
The complex is owned by the Woodviews at St. Paul Limited Partnership, which is connected to the St. Paul Community Development Corp., according to federal court records. The CDC came to the Bradbury Heights Civic Association in 2006 to propose a mix of condominiums and townhomes to replace the apartments — a project that saw no movement after a year, Bowman said. Woodviews filed for bankruptcy in 2009, according to federal court records.
Bowman said she has yet to hear from Carl Williams, the CDC president, in several years. Bobby Henry, an attorney representing Williams, did not respond to calls for comment but previously told The Gazette that Williams is interested in developing the property.
Bowman said she would like to see single-family homes on the property but overall is excited to finally see buildings come down.
“I’m happy for the people that live nearby,” Bowman said. “I’m just pleased with the community and very thankful to our county executive, Baker.”
The Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative includes teams of county officials representing agencies such as the county’s police and Department of Environmental Resources that do community outreach in Coral Hills and five other areas, including East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park and Langley Park.
Those areas were chosen because of a county police 2011 summer crime initiative that revealed that criminals predominately were coming from the six target areas, according to Baker’s office.
The program has no official end date, and its total cost has not been calculated but would be based on which county resources were reallocated to the target areas, Peterson said.