County's condemnation plan questioned

Small-business owners in development area wary

February 18, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Small-business owners and state lawmakers raised pointed questions yesterday about a high-profile plan to spur economic development by allowing Baltimore County to condemn land and hand it to private developers.

"I've come here to put a face on these properties in Middle River," said Richard Impallaria, 37, owner of an auto body and boat repair shop on Old Eastern Avenue.

"Everything that's in this bill is what I am. I am new business. I am viable. Now you've turned my life upside-down again," said Impallaria.

Impallaria was one of a handful of business owners in the Essex-Middle River area who traveled to the State House in Annapolis yesterday to tell the county Senate delegation that they do not want to be paved over for economic development.

The delegation, which held a hearing on the revitalization and condemnation bill, is expected to vote on it next week.

The proposal is a centerpiece of the 2000 legislative agenda of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The county is asking for $22 million in state money to buy large swaths of land in Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown -- areas Ruppersberger says have missed the economic boom.

The proposed measure would, for the first time, give the county condemnation power. For decades, county officials and residents have resisted such a move, fearful that urban renewal and similar programs would bring public housing and migrating city residents to their neighborhoods.

"Twenty years ago, we wouldn't have even had a public hearing [on such a plan]," said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, an Essex Democrat.

Bromwell said that while he trusted the Ruppersberger administration's vision, he was leery of future leaders having so much authority.

"Times change, and so do people," Bromwell said. "Would you have an objection if we put a sunset [provision] on this bill?"

Patrick Roddy, the county's lobbyist, said county officials do not want such a phase-out, because redevelopment plans can take many years to execute.

To alleviate concerns about government programs, the bill includes a provision barring the construction of rental apartments on land the county acquires. Housing activists have criticized the language, saying poor and working-class residents would be left out of the revitalization.

The county plans to raze 823 apartments in the Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown neighborhoods.

Some lawmakers had questions about that part of the plan.

"Are you saying [multifamily housing] is not upscale enough?" said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat. "I'm asking you. Is that the problem?"

Roddy said that the county's market studies show a greater demand for single-family housing, and that the three neighborhoods have enough affordable apartments and homes.

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Pub Date: 2/18/00

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