Balto. County condemnation bill draws protest

Hundreds may attend state Senate hearing

February 23, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki and David Nitkin | Joe Nawrozki and David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Several hundred people are expected to travel to Annapolis tomorrow to protest legislation that would grant Baltimore County the condemnation power it wants to create an upscale $50 million waterfront destination in Essex-Middle River.

"This is an extremely emotional issue for me," said Bradley L. Wallace, who runs a 60-year-old family-owned engine shop at 1801 Eastern Blvd. that is targeted for demolition. "I chose to stay in this area through the bleak times. Now, when the politicians and money people see they can benefit from our sacrifice, they order us out."

He and others plan to take cars and rented buses to raise their objections at a hearing of the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, as the plan faces growing resistance from small business owners and residents.

The long-awaited waterfront development project, designed to pump economic life into the county's sagging east side economy, is the centerpiece of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's 2000 legislative agenda. Ruppersberger is seeking state authority to condemn land and sell it to developers, and is asking for $22 million in state money this year to buy the real estate.

The proposed legislation was introduced earlier this month by state Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat.

More than 100 residents attended a raucous community meeting Monday night to hear details of the plan. Concern carried over to a luncheon yesterday sponsored by the Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce.

Robert D'Antonio, president of the chamber, said yesterday that he is concerned about the bill's lack of a time limit on the condemnation authority.

"We favor the bill but we'd like to see a sunset component in the legislation, plus stronger guarantees for people to receive fair market value for homes and businesses," said D'Antonio, whose group represents 300 businesses.

Robert L. Hannon, chief of economic development for the county, said yesterday the county will not budge from the language or intent of the bill.

"We're not willing to negotiate on the sunset issue," said Hannon, who was interviewed after the luncheon. "We are committed to the plan and any alteration -- say, limiting condemnation to three or five years -- would curtail the implementation of our plans. It would send the wrong message to developers, that we aren't strong enough to stand behind our plan."

More than 1,600 residents live in rental properties in Essex-Middle River and Dundalk targeted for condemnation. At least a dozen small businesses on the east side also are targeted.

Officials say residents displaced by the project will receive assistance in relocating.

Businesses and residents also have complained that they were not brought into the process of planning and approving the waterfront development plan.

"This plan was being formulated two years ago, yet our organization was told only two months ago," said D'Antonio.

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