Vacant complex a step nearer rebirth

September 11, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Harford County and concerned residents of Edgewood have moved a small step closer to turning the World War II-era Washington Court apartments into a community of homeowners.

The County Council adopted a resolution Tuesday night urging the county executive to assume temporary ownership of the 48-acre, 274-unit housing project from Aberdeen Proving Ground and to support a program for the sale of individual units.

The vacant apartment complex on Cedar Drive in Edgewood is in the process of being declared surplus property by the Army. As the local jurisdiction in which the land is located, Harford County will have the option to acquire the property when that process is complete.

The council's resolution proposes creation of a private, nonprofit housing organization to oversee the sales of the homes. The apartments would be sold as owner-occupied units only, and a homeowners' association would be established to enforce mandatory covenants and restrictions.

Larry Klimovitz, the county director of administration, told the council that County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann supports the program idea and has been negotiating with APG on the possibility of assuming ownership. He said the county still is investigating the extent of repairs and renovation -- including possible removal of lead paint -- that the buildings will need and the potential cost of the project.

Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, chief sponsor of the resolution, said many citizens have complained to her about the amount of low-income housing in Edgewood and have expressed fears that Washington Court, in the hands of a single owner, could survive only as federally subsidized rental housing.

More than one-third of all subsidized housing in Harford County -- about 1,000 units -- is concentrated in the Edgewood area, according to Amey Epstein, director of the Harford County Housing Agency. Mrs. Rehrmann and housing officials have said that 20 percent is the maximum the agency would like to see in any area of the county.

About 25 people from the Edgewood community attended the council meeting Tuesday to support the resolution.

"We have an opportunity here to take what could be a boarded-up development and make it profitable, taxwise, to the county and the community," said Bill Kinne, president of Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood.

According to the resolution, 60 percent of the voting members of the housing organization's board of directors would be Edgewood/Joppa area residents and at least 65 percent of profits from the sale of homes would be reinvested in the community of Edgewood/Joppa.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

* Passed a bill creating a Core Service Agency to plan, manage and monitor community mental health programs. The private, nonprofit agency would be run by a board of directors appointed by the county Board of Health.

The state Mental Hygiene Administration has encouraged local jurisdictions to establish health authorities separate from the Health Department to administer publicly financed mental health and addiction services, and has said it will give local subdivisions more say in how they spend their allotted state money if they do so.

Harford County Health Officer Thomas M. Thomas said state grants to Harford mental health services reached a peak in fiscal 1993 and have decreased slightly in the last two years.

RTC "Core Service Agencies get the lion's share of new funding," he told the council.

"That doesn't mean you can get anything you want with new money, but it does mean that funding is targeted to CSAs," he said, urging the council to approve the proposed agency.

The vote on the bill was unanimous, despite recommendations against approval from the administration and a task force established last year to study the implications of a core service agency.

Mr. Klimovitz, representing the administration, said the bill was premature and more study should be done.

A task force representative objected to the County Council approving members of the board because the council also serves as the Board of Health.

Mr. Thomas said the $175,000 to $200,000 cost of establishing the agency would be borne by the state.

* Passed a bill that would require the county to mail and post notices when the zoning administrator receives a written request to interpret the zoning law. Specifically, the bill would require the zoning administrator to notify neighbors whose property adjoins the property in question by mail within 14 days after receiving the request for interpretation.

The property about which a question is raised also would have to be posted with a sign indicating that it is the subject of a request for interpretation.

County Planning Director William Carroll, who also is the zoning administrator, said he receives about a dozen written requests a year for interpretations of specific language in the zoning code. He said the office receives several informational requests a week by telephone that are more general questions about permitted land use.

Most written requests are made by property owners or potential buyers of nonresidential property who want to change the use of land, he said. The proposed law would cover written requests made by neighbors as well.

A fiscal impact note prepared by the county administration indicated the cost to the county for signs, letters and labor would be $2,550 annually. The bill was co-sponsored by District B Councilwoman Joanne Parrott and District D Councilman Barry Glassman.

* Adopted two resolutions asking the Maryland Higher Education Commission to award Harford Community College more than $200,000 in Community College Construction Loan grants.

The college is seeking $92,000 for the design of a new classroom building and $115,560 to cover construction contingencies at the Business and Industry Training and Apprenticeship Center that is under construction on the campus near Bel Air. The latter building is due to be completed in December.

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