College Park is now implementing the final phase of the Lakeland urban renewal project which it started 15 years ago to improve housing in a dilapidated black neighborhood across from the University of Maryland.
"We started off with a lot of '60's idealism, then lost some of that enthusiasm when money got tight in the 1970's," said College Park Mayor Alvin J. Kushner. "It's somewhat remarkable that we've accomplished such an extensive project for a city our size."
Lakeland's flood-ridden 80-year-old homes have given way to two mid-rise apartment buildings and 56 town houses on well-paved streets. The final phase of the project will include 30 more town houses and seven detached homes to be built by the spring of 1986. Lakeland will then account for some 10 percent of the city's housing total.
But, some residents say more may have been lost in the $17.5 million urban renewal project than gained.
"This was a very close-knit . . . type of community in the 1950's," said James E. Adams, who moved to Lakeland in 1950 at age 20 and lives there today. "The houses are newer now -- nicer. But the flavor is gone."
The history of the project is an overview of the best and worst in urban renewal.
It started in 1967, when College Park applied for Housing and Urban Development Department grants to rebuild flood-damaged homes in the old Lakeland community, which straddled the swampy ground between Indian Creek and Paint Branch.
The idea was for the city to buy two-thirds of the homes with HUD grants, relocate the residents, and have new homes built by developers, who would then sell them back to the original inhabitants for a small profit, said Jack Callahan, city director of urban renewal and community development.
But, he said, the project was held up in the courts for years as environmentalists argued that plans to enlarge the troublesome streams were ecologically unsound. And by the time the city was actually prepared to buy and demolish the homes in the mid-1970's, the economics had changed.
The developer chosen by the City Council for the project, Leon N. Weiner of Delaware, proposed building two apartment houses -- one to be for the elderly -- and attached town houses in place of the single-family homes that were destroyed.
"By that time, the only way for the developers to profit out of it -- to make it work -- was to build apartments instead of houses," said Kushner, who had joined the council in 1969. "The people wanted more single-family homes."
Lakeland residents put up a howl of protest, but, in the end, the apartment buildings and town houses were built and only 25 families and individuals out of the 104 families and individuals who were displaced moved back, said Callahan. The rest took the money paid to them for their Lakeland properties plus a $15,000 bonus and bought new houses elsewhere.
Callahan said the final phase of the project will be built by Nutri Inc., a Pikesville-based developer, because Weiner, who could not be reached for comment, was not interested in building the seven single-family homes required by the City Council.
In all, the city has spent $8.5 million in HUD grants and the developers have spent another $9 million on Lakeland.
City officials and Lakeland residents both call it a qualified success. The slum area has disappeared and 450 new units of affordable housing have been made available in a city crunched for affordable housing by students from the University of Maryland, who snatch up most of the cheap apartments and rental houses.
But with the demolition of the slum-like homes of Lakeland went a neighborhood that many residents say they miss.
"We talk about it all the time, how it used to be," said Adams, who lives in a detached house not torn down by the renewal efforts. "The project was worth it to a certain extent. But on the other hand, no -- it disrupted a real nice community spirit."