Waterfront development bill gains

Many oppose plan to give Baltimore County condemnation power

February 25, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Legislation moved forward yesterday that would grant the Baltimore County government wide power to condemn land and sell it to developers for a $50 million waterfront village in Essex-Middle River and revitalization projects in Dundalk and Randallstown.

The county's Senate delegation approved the bill after an emotional two-hour hearing before the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. More than two dozen residents and small-business owners testified against the measure, including several who compared the county to a fascist dictatorship.

"First, the county tells me it's confiscating my business in the name of progress," said Gene Bremont, owner of a service station in the 8700 block of Liberty Road in Randallstown.

"What's next, my house in Rodgers Forge if it has some peeling paint?" he asked, his voice cracking with emotion. "After that, Kristallnacht?"

Proponents of the bill, including representatives of three chambers of commerce, praised it as a major move to revitalize three economically depressed areas.

The hearing also provided a dose of political reality for those who came to testify. They were informed by Sen. Clarence W. Blount, the committee chairman, that the panel would defer to the wishes of the county delegation as a legislative courtesy.

"Their lives are at stake, and their points have merit," Blount, a Baltimore Democrat, said of the witnesses. "But it's a local bill."

The bill now heads to the committee for a vote.

Among those who traveled to Annapolis were scores of Essex-Middle River residents such as Michael and Carmella Dahl, who have rented a renovated shore cottage on Middle River for 10 years.

"It's going to kill me to move," Michael Dahl said. "We don't have anyplace to go." The Dahls' neighbor, Bridgette Meekins, told the panel that she and her husband, Gary, were married 18 months ago in the yard of their riverfront property on Punte Lane.

"We got married on that land; it's sacred to us," she said. "Unlike the description in the bill, our home is not a slum, not blighted."

Most in the hearing room responded with applause.

Business representatives such as Robert L. McKinney, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce, testified that there is "a terrible need for revitalization" in the three targeted areas.

Lou Brettenother, one of five private developers of the proposed $34 million Hopewell Pointe housing-restaurant-marina complex, described the county's east side as "diamond in the rough.

"Our group was looking at putting up a low-end townhouse development on Hopkins Creek, but we switched to our current project because we believe in the area," Brettenother said.

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