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Not in My Neighborhood Association

Posted 4/20/2005

As president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, I want to take a moment to clarify MVBA’s position as it relates to tax assessments. The recent article (“Read Our Lips: More New Taxes,” The Nose, April 13) implied that MVBA has challenged the tax assessments of a number of properties in Mount Vernon. For the record, the MVBA is making no challenge to any residential or business tax assessments. The purpose of the MVBA is solely that of a neighborhood association. We aim to promote the common welfare of all the people in our community, and to support Mount Vernon’s growth and revitalization, consistent with the preservation of our neighborhood’s distinctive character and past.

MVBA supports all our neighbors in Mount Vernon—we like students, we like tenants, we like young professionals, we embrace diversity of all sorts, and we’re not opposed to businesses growing or building in Mount Vernon. We are for smart building, responsible landlords, contributing businesses, long-time residents, and those who choose to restore remarkable buildings.

I am disappointed that your writer wrongly implied that MVBA supports challenging tax assessments in Mount Vernon and that he ascribed views and positions to our organization that it does not hold.

Jason Curtis
President, Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association
Baltimore

It’s a damn shame the author chose to sensationalize and distort the goal of the 100 Under 100 Initiative. Subsidizing slumlords though low tax assessments comes out of all of our pockets through higher tax rates. Why should a building that sells for several hundred thousand dollars be taxed at a fraction of that? The sole intent of this movement is to clean up our neighborhood and compel absentee owners to either clean up their act or let someone else take over who will. Shame on you for making concerned, involved citizens the villains in this piece of twisted, distorted reporting. Next time report all the facts.

Victor Millard
Baltimore

The snarky and inaccurate article by Edward Ericson Jr., writing as the Nose, about grossly inequitable property assessments in Mount Vernon and our efforts to correct them merits a response. This community is filled with dilapidated, dirty, and rapidly deteriorating apartment buildings. Take a drive down St. Paul Street if you think this is not so. Many are lacking garbage cans, so tenants dump their trash in the street and in the alleys. They have no maintenance of any kind as evidenced by their dirty appearance, broken steps, and peeling paint. They are havens for rodents and filled with housing-code violations, as your writer himself noted.

Is this the kind of building any of your readers would want to live next to or in? Certainly not the author, who recently purchased a $128,000 condo (assessed for taxes at $66,000) in a luxury high rise on a block in Mount Vernon that is now appealing to professionals like him. Why? Because many run-down apartment buildings in that part of the community have been purchased by new owners who are making the investments necessary to provide good living conditions for themselves, their tenants, and the community as a whole. Or is the author just worried this may jeopardize his own tax windfall?

Right now, hundreds of apartment buildings are deteriorating while their absentee owners are reaping enormous profits from them and paying a pittance in property taxes. Without assessments that reflect the real market value of these properties, every taxpayer in this city is subsidizing the slumming of this community while keeping valuable tax dollars out of our city coffers.

The residents of this community include renters who want a better stock of rental housing, and this initiative will bring that about. Owners of undervalued and run-down buildings should fix them or sell them to someone who will. Your writer can ridicule the efforts of our residents as he enjoys his walk to work surrounded by better and safer housing, more shops and restaurants, cleaner streets and alleys, and a stronger tax base for Baltimore. We’re doing the hard work to make that happen for all of us, including City Paper reporters.

Finally, on numerous occasions, I emphasized to your reporter that this is not a Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association effort. He leads his article with: “some 33 members of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association . . . ”

R. Paul Warren
100 Under 100 Initiative
Baltimore

The author is the vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association.

Edward Ericson Jr. replies: I bought a condo because I can no longer afford a house, owing to the speculative real-estate frenzy that currently engulfs the city, the region, and much of the nation. I agree that some tax assessments in the neighborhood are grossly too low. R. Paul Warren’s 6,400-square-foot home with 16-foot ceilings and mahogany paneling is currently assessed at $81 per square foot. My 735-square-foot apartment with eight-foot ceilings and sheetrock walls is assessed at $88 per square foot. The article clearly states that the 100 Under 100 Initiative is “decidedly independent” of the MVBA.

And Hey, What About the Ravens?

In his zeal to recapture the wandering spirit of Edgar Allan Poe and return it to Richmond, Va., and the South, where it supposedly belongs, author James M. Hutchisson, the latest in a long string of Poe biographers, does Baltimore (and other cities) a disservice. “The biggest claim that Baltimore has on [Poe] is that he’s buried there,” Hutchisson said in an interview with City Paper (“Defending Edgar,” April 13), as if it were an accident.

Poe was born in Boston, spent his formative years in Richmond, and lived and worked in several East Coast cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Richmond. Richmond and Baltimore have Poe museums; Philadelphia, a National Historic Site; New York, a Poe cottage. Poe did great writing in all of them. (Not only Americans want to share in the glory: The French consider Poe one of their own, partly due to his profound influence on Charles Baudelaire and Les Fleurs du Mal.)

Poe lived in Baltimore from 1831 to 1835. It was here that he began to write fiction and gain national attention, and fell in love with his young cousin Virginia Clemm, whom he soon married. These are not insignificant events in his life. (The story of the Baltimore Saturday Evening Visitor’s $100 literary contest award to Poe for “MS Found in a Bottle” is told evocatively in John E. Semmes’ John H.B. Latrobe and His Times, 1803-1891; Latrobe was one of the judges.)

Perhaps the next Poe biographer should be an equally jingoistic Baltimorean.

James D. Dilts
Baltimore

The author is a longtime City Paper contributor.

Ultraviolence = Bad

In the March 30 issue of City Paper, I found a curious juxtaposition. The cover article “GSW*: The Cost of Street Violence in Baltimore is Written on the Body” was a profound statement against the mindless violence that plagues the poor in Baltimore. Proceeding to the film reviews, however, I found “Bloody Valentine,” which extols cinematic ultraviolence: “Brace yourself for a mesmerizingly cool, breathtakingly violent trip to Sin City.”

I am mystified that anyone would claim violence is “cool,” even on the screen. Violence must always be treated as a health risk, whether in the movie house, on the street corner, or in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is someone in the White House who supports ultraviolence, and as a result thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, have been killed in Iraq, and according to the Institute for Policy Studies, 11,344 U.S. soldiers have been wounded there, as of March 23, 2005.

The argument “all that fantastical ultraviolent stuff they throw up on the silver screen just ain’t real” does not fly. I can watch Sin City and not get caught up in acting out the violence. However, someone lacking maturity is a possible font for doing violence against animals or human beings.

The Department of War, for example, uses violent video games in training soldiers going off to war. One of the best books on Vietnam, also made into a film, is Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July. In it, he relates how he and his friends believed and were influenced by those gung-ho John Wayne war movies. In Kovic’s case, he came back from Vietnam in a wheelchair and then became an ardent peace activist.

We live in what is probably the most violent country in the world. We must do all we can to promote nonviolence in the streets and in the movie theaters. If the reader is interested in an honest film or two about the madness of war/violence, I am promoting Downfall, about the last 10 days of the Third Reich, and A Very Long Engagement, which skewers the insanity of World War I. Then get out and join a demonstration to end the quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Max Obuszewski
Baltimore

The Play Was the Thing

I moved to Baltimore about six weeks ago and I love City Paper.

I’d like to respond to John Barry’s review of A Bicycle Country (“At Sea,” Stage, April 6). First, it was clearly evident, at least onstage, that Julio had experienced paralysis only on the right side of his body. Additionally, when Ines was conducting Julio’s therapy, her efforts were focused on Julio’s right arm and leg, and he was standing, albeit by means of being strapped to a post, at the beginning of the play. Therefore, it could reasonably be concluded that with therapy and barring a second stroke or other unforeseen health problems, even a senior citizen might expect to regain almost 100 percent of their physical abilities.

Secondly, in spite of the theater’s small size, the stage design was fitting for the theme of the play. Julio’s detached house and the raft’s size reinforce the context of the setting. Cuba is an island, isolated and surrounded on all sides by a vast expanse of water; it is within these two vignettes that, as stated in the dramaturge’s notes, playwright Nilo Cruz investigated the plight of his people.

Finally, if the play was indeed inspired by Magritte’s painting, then upon further consideration perhaps it would be helpful to think of Cruz’s plot as a series of snapshots in a living photographic narrative. Julio, with “curmudgeonly dignity,” endeavors to overcome the betrayal of his own body; Pepe, the “likable, rum-swilling third wheel,” does his best to lift the spirits of his friends despite his own personal hardships; Ines, “bursting with energy,” stubbornly refuses to allow Julio to give in to atrophy. These forces drive the characters toward Julio’s birthday five months later, at which point Julio’s spirits and health have recovered enough that he feels himself equal to the task of making the crossing to Florida. The isolation and desperation of the first act is mirrored, nay magnified, in the second act by the ravings and hallucinations, and then tied together by repeating the subject of Magritte’s painting. Maybe Cruz doesn’t say more than we’ve already heard, but maybe that wasn’t the point.

Nadia Nasr
Baltimore

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