Facing nagging opposition in Middle River and Essex, Baltimore County officials attempted last night to make a more convincing sales pitch for a sweeping revitalization plan that would condemn houses, apartments and businesses so the properties could be sold to developers.
Several hundred angry residents turned out to hear county officials explain the government's $50 million redevelopment project -- one that officials say would rejuvenate the east side's sagging economy.
George Field, 55, whose home on Orville Road is in the area targeted for condemnation, was among the protesters. "They say they're going to clear out slums, a blighted area, but all they're going to do is sell it back to developers in a huge land grab," said Field. "It's just like communism."
The county wants to convert more than 400 acres into a waterfront tourist destination on the headwaters of Middle River. The development would feature trendy marinas and restaurants, parks and single-family housing. The county also has proposed condemning and redeveloping land along Yorkway in Dundalk and along the Liberty Road corridor in Randallstown.
Tenants in the Villages of Tall Trees on Old Eastern Avenue, a complex that is home to more than 2,000 people, were not invited to the meeting, though they can attend one later this month.
Tall Trees would be taken through an eminent domain plan already announced. Other land in the Essex-Middle River district would be condemned through legislation and purchased by the county, then sold to builders or transferred to private firms.
Officials say more than 1,600 rental units are vacant within five miles of Tall Trees. County officials such as Robert L. Hannon, chief of the county's economic development office, and Mary Harvey, with the county office of community conservation, were shouted down several times as they attempted to explain the government's position.
The county has appraised most of the buildings at Tall Trees, owned by 39 landlords, and officials say many will be prepared to sign contracts in several weeks. But several property owners disagree, contending the county has not been negotiating purchases.