It's name suggested peace, quiet and serenity.
But Tranquility Place wasn't always this calm and desolate.
What was once a troubled community is now a vacant, 22-acre property on the south side of the city, overgrown with trees and brush. Little has happened at the site since five years ago, when bulldozers tore through housing that once existed.
Remnants of what used to be one of Harford County's largest housing projects, Tranquility Place Townhomes, can be found only upon close examination. Situated amidst the mature trees and deteriorating roadways is a small playground and an untouched basketball court, punctuated by "no trespassing" signs nailed to trees.
The only structure remaining, an aluminum-sided building, is deteriorating and marked with a handful of rusty signs that read "Tranquility Place." The contents of the building are unknown.
Stanley Lewis' Quest for Tranquility
"Tranquility Place" is a title diametric to what actually took place in the housing projects that used to occupy the land. The community was home to more than 600 low-income tenants, and crime ran rampant.
For a period of time, about half of the city's police calls for service were to the projects, and officers spent an absorbent amount of time patrolling the area.
In September 2004, tenants were given one-month notice that their homes would be bulldozed, and they were asked to vacate the premises.
Stanley Lewis, managing member and property owner of Wilson Street LLC, purchased Tranquility in 1995 with what he said was hopes of reviving the 1940s-era housing development which had, even then, long been known for illegal activity such as drug dealing, petty crime and risky living situations.
Lewis' attempts to clean up the project included initiatives like offering tenants money to turn in drug dealers. He worked with the Havre de Grace Police Department to evict about 20 known or suspected drug dealers.
In another effort, he required tenants be fingerprinted, and also required they have at least a GED. He was known for a reward system he developed for school-aged children who lived in the project, where he would pay them with money and gifts for earning high grades.
He formed a work force within the development, hiring some of his tenants, who were otherwise out of work, to do construction projects.
But Lewis' vision for a transformed neighborhood never took off.
Drug dealing and domestic violence continued to be a problem in the neighborhood, and the community that surrounded it—consisting mostly of renter-occupied homes and duplexes.
The Futility at Tranquility
In 2004, Lewis toyed with the idea of selling the development to focus on his service as a rabbi.
He first offered to sell the units to his tenants.
But only a handful expressed interest in his idea.
Shortly after, Lewis asked everyone to vacate, so he could make way for a new development.
Lewis razed the site himself, renting heavy equipment and bulldozing the land to make way for a new vision, hopefully a more profitable one.
But once the houses were torn down, and the bulldozers left the property, not much else happened for years.
Lewis teamed with Richard Alter, President of Manekin, to design a new plan for the site. At one time, they recruited the interest of local developer Clark Turner, best known as the visionary behind Bulle Rock.
But Turner's involvement in the project was minimal and faded quickly. Turner says he had nothing to do with razing the site, and was only in preliminary discussions about purchasing the property with Alter, before he backed away from the plan, as it took shape.
Though he wouldn't elaborate on exact reasons, Turner's vision for the property may have clashed with the other men's visions.
Lewis and Alter's plans included more dense housing, which Mayor Wayne Dougherty described as "medium-to-high end." The city's planning commission approved the original site plan, but those plans have since expired.
"I think the economy just crashed and it never got off the ground," Dougherty said, "There hasn't been a new plan come before the commission since that one, that I'm aware of."
The city's administration and police seem to agree about one thing—crime rates have decreased since the demolition of Tranquility.
"We can rest easy for now," the mayor said of the vacant property.
But it was only two years ago that Lewis was revisiting the idea of redeveloping the site for low-income, dense housing.
Dougherty said he was present when Lewis and several council members met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at the property to discuss HUD's interest.
"It went south real quick. HUD completely turned their nose to it," Dougherty said.
The mayor claims he was relieved the plan to reconstruct another housing project never left the ground, saying he would like to see someone build high-end housing on the site, and if not, he has an alternative idea: "Personally, I'd like to see them donate it to the city and we'll make it a park or green space.'"
Though Dougherty said he believes there has been "a change in ownership" of the property, Lewis claims he is still the owner, under the name Wilson Street LLC.
And when asked what future plans for the property may be, Lewis said, "nothing is going on for the moment, but maybe I can tell you more in a few days."
Should there be another development proposal for the property, Dougherty's opinion wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker. Approval lies in the hands of the city's Planning Commission, and possibly the Board of Appeals. The mayor would have a vote in any decision about the property that came before the council.
But at least for now, there doesn't seem to be a clear path forward for redeveloping the site.
This story is the first in a series on Tranquility Place, and other stalled projects and vacant properties in Havre de Grace.