Balto. Co. plan aims to revive ailing east-side communities Proposal covers 70-plus square miles

February 14, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials unveiled yesterday an ambitious public-private blueprint to rejuvenate Essex, Middle River and other east-side communities that have long been troubled by pockets of unemployment, poverty and crime.

The plan -- covering an area of more than 70 square miles with a population of 166,566 -- includes creating parkland, razing rundown apartments and adding new businesses. County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger III stressed that the 23-point plan is crucial to the county's stability.

"The whole county is at stake," Mr. Ruppersberger said at a gathering of county agency directors, education leaders and residents. "Poverty and accompanying crime can spread. Several areas in the southeast are right on the bubble of despair. They need help, and a lot of the solution is attitude. That starts with me."

Mr. Ruppersberger said he will marshal the southeast area's assets -- a core population with a strong work ethic and community pride, participation by private industry, and the county's 175 miles of shoreline on the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries.

Those attributes already are paying off, county officials said, noting that a proposal for a Harborplace-like project on Dark Head Cove near Martin State Airport has attracted several inquiries from developers.

East-side business and community leaders voiced their hope that the plan -- which will be presented to the planning board tomorrow -- will bring new life to the area.

"This is brand new in the sense that all the county's forces are being brought to bear on the problems facing the area," said Pat Winter, executive director of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce. "The plan has Dutch's energy and coordination. That helps to avoid agency duplication and infighting."

Joseph A. DiCara, president of Essex Development Corp. and a lifelong resident of the area, said Mr. Ruppersberger's effort is "the first time I can remember anyone recommending to remove low-cost housing and build affordable single-family homes. He is giving us a more cohesive look than anyone has ever done."

Under the banner of economic development, the county recently created its first business enterprise zone on more than 2,300 acres along North Point Boulevard. Manufacturers there can receive utility rate reductions, property tax credits of 80 percent on the value of new investment during the first five years, and one-time credits ranging from $500 to $3,000 for each new worker hired.

Industrial redevelopment is also planned for the Philadelphia Road-Pulaski Highway corridor, White Marsh and Middle River -- a region that has seen the loss of more than 20,000 jobs in the last two decades.

Mr. Ruppersberger's plan calls for razing dilapidated low-income apartment developments such as Riverdale and Chesapeake Village -- both of which are more than 50 percent vacant -- and replacing them with affordable single-family homes. That is designed to lower population density in the area.

The plan also calls for improving transportation to employment centers and health services; creating additional substance-abuse centers; training more civic leaders to support youth programs; and creating goals in public schools, where absenteeism and student mobility have been major problems.

While safeguarding the environment, officials want to push hard for the development on Dark Head Cove and establish parks accessible by water and land.

For example, planners hope to develop a 400-acre park on the Dundee-Saltpeter Creek by 1998. The master plan for the park includes a nature center, a model farm, trails and a wildlife preserve.

Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon said the county will study the features that could be included in the Dark Head Cove project.

He said the interested development companies, whom he refused to identify, are from Maryland and out of state and "have a track record."

Jack Dillon, the senior county planner who designed the complex that could include a fish market, an exhibit hall, a hotel and an underground parking garage, said he has been contacted by several local engineering firms. He referred them to Mr. Hannon's office and Lockheed-Martin, which owns the property.

Tom Quinn, president of Lockheed-Martin's real estate subsidiary, said he, too, has received calls from companies interested in the development.

"The next step should be an economic market analysis because I don't want to see the idea wither and die," he said. "The impetus has to come from the county executive, and apparently that's what is occurring."

Ellen Jackson, secretary of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, added, "We have seen so much lip service before on the east side, but hope is growing with Dutch on this."

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