When community organizer Ramon Perez and neighbors visited people who live in and near Greenbelt Place Apartments to find out what concerned residents, one business was high on the list - Walnut Carry Out on Walnut Street.
The loitering, trash, and alleged drug dealing near and around the convenience store was too much for many residents to handle.
But in late March, things started to change because of the efforts of a newly formed neighborhood group, the Greenbelt Vistula Heritage Council.
The council, which is concerned with improving the area within Cherry Street, Greenbelt Parkway, Lagrange and Summit streets, signed an agreement with the store for the owners to spruce up its area and discourage people from hanging around outside.
It was a small first step for the council, but an important one, said Shuron Boone, one of the group's organizers.
The council is the outgrowth of a group of apartment renters in Greenbelt Place who organized the tenant organization Parents United For a Fresh Start. PUFFS, as the tenant group is known, was instrumental in working with the NorthRiver Development Corp. in garnering tenant support for recent renovations and identifying problems at the complex, formerly known as the Cherrywood Apartments.
"It was our intent to expand outside of the complex," said Ms. Boone, a mother of two daughters who wants her children to be able to play outside without a worry.
"There comes a point where you have to stop talking and just do it," she said.
"With [Ramon Perez], we started knocking on doors in November and asking neighbors what they wanted to see for the neighborhood."
NorthRiver Development received a $15,000 grant from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for community organizing.
NorthRiver used the funds to help the fledgling council hire Mr. Perez, the community organizer for the Lagrange Development Corp.
Before long, members of
the Greenbelt Vistula Heritage Council started talking with the store and building owners about neighbors complaints. On March 29, the council and the store signed an agreement that the store would be responsible not only for cleaning up its store, but pushing away potential loiterers.
"Neighbors have complained about the store since I've been here," said Jordana Soyke, the asset manager with NorthRiver who has worked as a contact person for the council.
"It was always a problem. I think the agreement with the carryout could be a real turning point for the community. You have people involved who really care a ton about the neighborhood and what happens to it," she said.
Store owner Amer Alghazzawi said he was happy to work with the community because it helps customers feel safer.
"All I want to do is make a living and make people happy," Mr. Alghazzawi said.
"I have six garbage cans outside and six cameras around my store to protect my employees and my customers," he said.
Mr. Alghazzawi also asked his neighbors for help in watching out for crime around the store and alerting police.
Mr. Perez said the agreement with Walnut Carry Out will help the council recruit members and give them some momentum in their efforts.
"You can see the leadership starting to form in the community and they got their first hard-fought victory," Mr. Perez said.
"I only see things getting better for them."
Ms. Boone said the council is an effort by the neighbors to "take the neighborhood back."
She said they hope the council can win agreements with other businesses in the community that will improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.
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