The power to condemn

Liberty Road: County plan needs legislative authority to redevelop the run-down retail corridor.

January 12, 2000

WHEN motorists drive through the Randallstown commercial corridor two things stand out: Signs of every color, height and dimension cluttering the roadside and the large number of spaces sitting vacant in shopping centers and strip malls.

What may not be obvious is that the large two- and three-story apartment complexes also have vacancies. A quarter of the Village of Huntington, a sprawling 589-unit complex, sits empty.

This shabby commercial area is an anchor dragging down otherwise healthy single-family residential communities of substantial stone and brick homes that sit a block or two away from the retail corridor. These families, predominantly African-American, have household incomes greater than the county median.

County officials have two choices if they want to make change here: Wait for the market to take over, or assume the role of developer, acquiring parcels for redevelopment.

The latter option -- probably the better -- would require new condemnation powers from the state. As the Baltimore County delegation heads to Annapolis for this year's General Assembly session, acquiring those powers should be a priority.

Amid the deterioration along Liberty Road, some investment has been made: A new Food Lion and E-Z Storage Center have opened in the Liberty Crossroads Shopping Center, and the Liberty Courts Shopping Center just finished a $1.1 million face lift.

But these private investments are insufficient to stem the area's decline. Rather than wait for market forces, which may take years, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger wants the county to act quickly to stop blight's spread. In addition to Liberty Road, the county also wants condemnation power for the east-side communities of Yorkway and Middle River-Essex.

In the past, the business community strongly opposed granting county officials the same wide-ranging condemnation powers Baltimore City and Prince George's County have. But they're wrong. Lawmakers must give the county the powers it needs to quickly and effectively combat pockets of blight.

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