Joanne Kent felt like she could breathe again as she drove around the Roland Water Tower Tuesday evening to get to her home in Hoes Heights. Barriers that were put up on the horseshoe-shaped road around the water tower, blocking access to the historically Black neighborhood, had been taken down.

Mayor Brandon Scott ordered the barriers to be removed, marking a small victory, Kent said, for herself and several other residents who have been fighting to keep the over 100-years-old road open. The AFRO was the first to report Mayor Scott’s decision.

“Having them [the barriers] removed, it felt like freedom,” Kent said. “It felt like our grassroots efforts were acknowledged. It felt like a small victory, but for right now, we are going to take it.”

Mayor Scott said in a statement that the road closure was never intended to be permanent. It was supposed to be a “temporary solution” as city councilmembers worked with communities to find the “best use of the space” after conceptual designs for a pocket park at the base of the tower caused a conflict between several communities.

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“Given the amount of time that has passed, the Administration determined it was more of an inconvenience for community members for the southside for the street to remain closed while this work regarding the design concepts continued,” he said. “Therefore, the decision was made to open the road.”

One lane of the roadway reopened in June. Park plans were paused and District 14 Councilwoman Odette Ramos and District 7 Councilman James Torrence got involved, after hearing residents’ complaints. Torrence said his office is going to release a plan this week about getting community input from Hoes Heights residents. He told the Baltimore Banner it will include two public meetings, two rounds of certified mailings with a survey and a reminder, and a door-to-door canvass with a digital survey tool. His office is aiming to have the survey live by January and for people to be seen and heard.

“We want to make sure the survey is unbiased and that we are clear that the role of my office is to conduct a survey and do it in a way that’s transparent,” Torrence said.

Kent said she is soaking in the victorious feeling of being heard, but she’s still looking down the street to make sure the barriers weren’t put back up. The skepticism is the product of a months-long effort and controversy that involves the city-owned octagonal Roland Water Tower built in the early 20th century.

The Roland Park Community Foundation spearheaded a $1.5 million project to stabilize and restore the water tower on Roland Avenue near University Parkway after it suffered severe deterioration. The nonprofit then started putting plans into motion for a pocket park at the base of the tower. A proposed park design did not include the roads and meant Hoes Heights residents would no longer be able to access the water tower property by car from Evans Chapel Road or go on to Roland Avenue, a main byway.

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Kent and other residents formed the Hoes Heights Action Committee to inform residents about what was happening and reach out to whoever could help prevent a permanent closure. Unhappy that they were not included in the survey process, the group conducted their own. Residents also worried that the decision to close the roads was mostly determined by people who were not directly impacted by the closure and that the history of Hoes Heights and the symbolism embedded in the tower was not fully considered and could be jeopardized with a permanent closure.

Grandison Hoe, a freedman and farmer, developed the land that is Hoes Heights with his family in the late 19th century. The area provided a safe haven for Black residents, including veterans, who could not live in but worked in neighboring communities like Roland Park.

The Roland Park Community Foundation said they “convened with leaders” and drew feedback from surveys and community meetings.

Ramos could not be immediately reached for comment, but in a previous interview, Ramos said “we can [preserve history] with a road. We can do it with a park. We’ll see.”

Kent said she believes that the “project can be done with each groups needs being accepted” and they’d like to try to find a way to address safety and the roads being open so that everyone can be happy.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

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