'Crown jewel' to be auctioned off Baltimore Co. plans to sell 11-acre tract to business interests

May 24, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In a move expected to clear the way for a large commercial tract along congested York Road, Baltimore County is preparing to auction off its decades-old complex of public works buildings in the Cockeysville area.

Car dealers, warehouse store developers and other businesses are inquiring about the 11-acre tract, county officials say, adding that the land could bring $8 million or more at auction this summer.

"It's our crown jewel," said Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "Interest has been fantastic."

While traffic in the York Road corridor has been a chronic problem, residents near the site say they don't expect a significant change in traffic patterns. They say the traffic generated by a commercial development would roughly equal that created by the county dump trucks, backhoes, fuel depot and heavy machinery there.

"I think the infrastructure is there at that location," said Louis Miller, development and zoning coordinator of the Greater Timonium Community Council, a 26-group umbrella organization that defeated plans for a Price Club store on Timonium Road.

The triangular parcel, bounded by York and Alms House roads and Galloway Avenue in an area known as Texas, has more than 870 feet of frontage on York Road and is zoned for business use. The oldest building in the complex is a 71-year-old garage.

Plans call for the public works shops -- the workplaces of construction and repair crews and others -- to be moved.

One of the two district highway yards is moving to Towson; the other will relocate near the Texas fire station. Other operations will move to the former Grumman aircraft manufacturing plant in Glen Arm or to a newer warehouse building in nearby Hunt Valley.

County development officials and real estate experts say the unusual sale of county land makes sense.

The York Road corridor, especially between the older commercial highway and Interstate 83 to the west, is seen by county officials as prime retailing and office development territory, combining new business and older residential areas.

"When retailers come to town, they look for York Road," said Terry Dunkin, vice president of Colliers-Pinkard, a commercial real estate firm. "It's one of the desirable areas."

Said Shirley Murphy, county land acquisition chief, "This is the last major piece we have."

Sale possible by August

To maximize the selling price, the county decided to go with an auction rather than advertising for development proposals. Appraisals of the land go no higher than $6 million, but competition for the prime site should boost the price, county officials say.

Barrett and Murphy say an auction company should be chosen this week and the contract put before the County Council next month. If the council approves, the sale could take place by August.

High-visibility commercial development would not be new to the neighborhood. Across York Road from the public works complex is a Fantastic Tans salon advertised by a large yellow sign adorned with palm trees. A new Taco Bell and a strip shopping center also are across York Road.

Though area residents fought successfully against Price Club, a Metro Food Market store is planned for Ashland, north of Texas, and a "big box" appliance store is under construction on York Road in Lutherville. Neither has caused major objections from residents.

Councilman's view

County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican who represents the area, said he is confident the parcel can be developed in a way the neighborhood will accept.

"I trust the development process," he said, noting that the zoning includes some restrictions and that the public will have a chance to discuss any proposal at a community meeting.

Employees at the public works facility take a different view of the impending auction.

Lee Smith, 56, a heavy-equipment mechanic at Texas for 20 years, said the new location in Glen Arm is "almost in Harford County. It's out of the way." He said workers have no say in the relocation. "It's political," he said with a shrug.

Nick Citro, 50, a heavy-equipment mechanic at the facility for 15 years, said he isn't looking forward to moving, though it will shorten his commute from White Marsh. "I'd like to stay just where I am," he said. "It's like a family here."

Pub Date: 5/24/98

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