City refuses to grant permit to expand park's `clean fill'

Construction debris dumped at Gwynns Falls

April 01, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

City officials intervened yesterday in a continuing dispute over a clean fill at Gwynns Falls Park, refusing to grant a permit to expand the dumping area until the contractor irons out a compromise with local residents.

Zack Germroth, a spokesman of the Housing Department, said the city is acting as a liaison between area communities and Baltimore's Potts and Callahan Inc., which has been dumping construction debris in the park's 4-acre quarry since August.

"We will meet in some fashion before people see the final memorandum of understanding," Germroth said. The compromise between the groups, he said, will be finalized within the next two weeks. City Planning Director Charles Graves III reiterated Germroth's comments.

Potts and Callahan President Charles Holub said the expansion has been stalled for about a year and he plans to wait "patiently" for the communities to sit down and work out a compromise with him.

"I've never had this problem before," Holub said. "People are always hesitant because the last thing they want is to see hazardous materials dumped, but that is not my business."

The construction company hopes to expand its clean fill -- a site designated for types of debris such as concrete, bricks, dirt, mud, blacktop, sand and asphalt -- by a little more than 20 acres.

Since dumping began last year, park neighbors have fought to stop it. But even neighbors are divided over how to confront the issue.

Otis Lee, Kevin Zucker and the Rev. Edward G. Robinson argue the clean fill is a landfill that poses an environmental threat and they want Potts and Callahan out of their back yards. They have sought pro bono counsel, but when contacted by The Sun, Steve Buvel, an attorney for the Community Law Center in Baltimore, said his group "is not yet actively involved."

Members of the Allendale, Carroll, St. Joseph's and Shipley Hill community groups favor the advice of Rena Steinzor, a University of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic attorney who sees negotiating with the construction company as the way to help the communities.

"The landfill is there, and we know it is," said Gertrude Hack, president of the Allendale Community Association. "We're trying to work within the system and make it better for the community."

Lee, Robinson and Zucker, who huddled at the park Tuesday, said they refuse to negotiate with the construction company and want all dumping stopped.

Hack says that's not possible, because the company has a clean fill permit from the city. "If it [the clean fill] wasn't a done deal, Potts and Callahan would not be operating now," she said.

"My clients would just as soon stop this facility cold, but they are doing the best they can," said Steinzor, who represents areas including more than 2,000 area homeowners.

Potts and Callahan's Holub said his 60-year-old family business has created clean fills in the city and on a 38-acre site in Bare Hills, Baltimore County.

"If the city wants to progress, they've got to get rid of excess materials," he said. "The citizens are making a mountain out of a molehill. It was never construed [to communities] as a landfill."

Holub wants to be "a good neighbor" to area residents. To that end, his company began building a soccer field, tennis courts and a baseball diamond this month for the Police Department's Hilton Police Athletic League center on Phelps Lane.

Pub Date: 4/1/99

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