CUMBERLAND — Many residents in the Maryland Avenue Revitalization Project have been unhappy with the idea of giving up their homes. They are disappointed with the process and the amount of compensation offered by the city, which uses tax assessments as a starting point for negotiations.
Also known as the Rolling Mill project, the plan calls for the removal of 60 homes and a church between Maryland Avenue and Park Street and Williams and Emily streets. Based on economic development studies, the site’s proximity to Interstate 68 and its flat topography make it an attractive site for revitalization.
Many of the residents have stiffened their resolve to stay in their homes or obtain an offer closer to their liking.
Larry and Debbie Darby own 223 Emily St. across from Interstate 68. They raised three boys and daughter at the home.
The Darbys shared the Cumberland Economic Development Corp. contract that contains an offer of $25,500 plus $5,000 for relocation expenses. They have not signed the contract.
“We’ve lived here 28 years. We rented it before and then we bought the house from our landlord,” said Debbie Darby. “Our oldest son, we brought him home from the hospital here and he is 27 now.
“There are so many memories locked up in the house right here,” said Larry Darby, a U.S. Army veteran. “I mean my kids grew up and I taught them how to push a lawn mower and all kids of stuff here.”
The Darbys recently replaced the roof and furnace.
“We don’t have a mortgage. We just paid it off in September,” said Debbie Darby. “We’ve put so much into it. We are in our mid 50s. I don’t want to work forever.”
Larry Darby said he doesn’t want to start over.
“We don’t want another mortgage. For the price they want to give us for the house, we could not go out and buy another house and have the security we have here,” said Larry Darby . “We just put $3,000 in a garage. We remodeled the bathroom and we added vinyl windows.”
Larry Darby is also concerned about the wording in the contract. He said it would make his family responsible for lead paint and other potential hazards for three years after the sale.
The Darbys said they feel better about their situation after attending a recent meeting where real property experts offered the Rolling Mill holdouts options.
“I feel a lot more at ease from what they had said. It’s like we will get some help and there will actually be someone to help us who knows what they’re doing,” said Larry Darby.
The experts told the residents the city must pay for an appraisal before entering into negotiations. The Darbys said they were not offered an appraisal.
“You don’t know what to expect. It causes a lot of stress,” said Larry Darby.
A long process
Susan Bolyard, 209 Emily St., also does not want to move. She said she has been offered $30,000 for her single family home. Bolyard said she has lived there off and on her entire life.
“It belonged to my great-great aunt. It was a wedding present for her,” said Bolyard. “My grandmother lived here since I was born.”
Her story involves working with the city long before the revitalization plan began.
According to Bolyard, the city contacted her in 2007 and requested that she upgrade her home, which had Insulbrick siding. First used in the 1930s, Insulbrick, a composite material, was discontinued in the 1970s. She said the city wanted to fine her if she didn’t get the Insulbrick taken care of.
“I couldn’t afford a $350 a day fine so I just went with it.”
She said the city “made” her get a $40,000 loan.
With the loan, Bolyard received a new roof, siding and wiring for the house. She paid for other improvements herself.
Described by Bolyard as a “low-income loan,” she has been paying on it since 2008. Her base payments are $100 per month.
“It’s a 20-year loan. In 2028, I will owe them $30,000,” said Bolyard.
Currently owing $36,000, she said she was made a verbal offer of $30,000 for her home. She said the offer would leave her in the negative with no way to start again.
“I’m going to sit back and watch. I’m not giving them my house. I don’t want to leave. I owe too much money,” said Bolyard.
‘We want to stay’
Mary Ellen Harrison, 92, and her daughter Pamela, live at 410 Park St. Mary Ellen raised four children, one girl and three boys at her home. All of her children served in the U.S. Air Force, with two retiring from the military branch.
Mary Ellen Harrison worked for the B&O Railroad and CSX. She was a bookkeeper in the Queen City Station. Later she volunteered at Memorial Hospital to serve Meals on Wheels to homebound patients.
“My mother has been here for 47 years. We moved here when I was 14.” said Pam Harrison.
“You don’t know what to do or whether to fix anything. We are waiting. We want to stay in our home,” said Mary Ellen Harrison.
The Harrisons have a reverse mortgage on their home, which has complicated the ability of the CEDC to purchase it. They said they have not talked to anyone with the CEDC, which is trying to talk with the bank first.
“I didn’t know they wanted to buy the house until they contacted the women next door asking to buy hers (property),” said Mary Ellen Harrison.
She said she has many memories at her home.
“I just like it. I like the way it is laid off. I was raised in a log house in Markwood near Burlington (W.Va.),” said Mary Ellen Harrison. “We had a one-room school and a church. I came to Cumberland and I went to Penn Avenue School.”
“I hope we can stay,” said Mary Ellen Harrison. “I know Brian (Mayor Grim) and I like Brian. I know what he is trying to do. I think he has done a good job as mayor but I just don’t want to move. I wished we could stay.”
Mary Ellen Harrison and Pam Harrison are also pleased with the options attorney William Wantz and the preservation experts are offering the holdouts.
Diane Gilmore, a health care worker, owns 225 Emily St. beside Larry and Debbie Darby.
“I have lived here for 16 years since 1999. I have received a contract. I have not signed it,” said Gilmore.
Gilmore said she was initially offered $30,000 and then she told David Cox, housing officer, and Shawn Hershberger, executive director of the CEDC, that she owes two mortgage loans totaling in the mid $40,000 range.
“We negotiated and they agreed to pay $43,000. It all sounded good in the beginning,” said Gilmore.
However, the money they offered still left her roughly $2,000 short of paying off her debt on the home and nothing to start over again.
“It is too overwhelming. The way they approach people by coming to their houses and making these offers with these threats. They said If we couldn’t stay, it would come to eminent domain,” said Gilmore.
“If it didn’t involve people losing their houses I would say, ‘OK.’ But if you’re messing with peoples’ livelihood and their homes, then, no. It really upsets me. This whole ordeal has had me in tears. Especially having the feeling of not knowing what to do,” she said.
“I want to stand by the rest of my neighbors and just holdout until the city approaches us and tries to renegotiate. If it is not what we want, we will probably end up in court. I will stand with my neighbors. United we stand and united we fall,” said Gilmore.