County Council eases criticism of land deal Lansdowne purchase had sparked controversy

September 11, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Their outrage expended in private, a quiet Baltimore County Council yesterday reviewed an illegal Lansdowne land deal without a nasty word for apologetic Ruppersberger administration officials.

Although some councilmen suggested recently that the deal could trigger firings, there was no hint of retribution at the meeting.

"I'm trying not to point fingers ," said Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, referring to the deal in which a community group used county-supplied federal funds to buy 3.5 acres.

The deal, which sidestepped council oversight, violated the County Charter. But the two officials most involved -- County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly and Community Conservation Director P. David Fields -- defused criticism by meeting with each council member privately.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who had suggested that Fields might be fired, looked up, startled, when the issue opened for discussion and no other members spoke.

After a few perfunctory questions, he also let the matter drop.

Kelly and Fields said they never suspected they were violating the charter while seeking quick action on projects to preserve older communities. Council members seemed to accept their intentions.

"The whole project is extremely valuable," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

The county is allowing Catholic Charities to build 64 apartments for the elderly on a Lansdowne tract purchased with state park funds. In exchange, the county needed a replacement site for a park, and officials focused on land near Baltimore and Fifth avenues.

But involvement of the private Southwest Leadership Team, and lack of council oversight, sparked controversy. Two appraisals that put the land value at less than half the $200,000 purchase price also enraged councilmen.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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