The price of progress

Baltimore County: Limited condemnation bill could give hope to three distressed areas.

March 17, 2000

WHEN Baltimore County's House delegation meets in Annapolis today, it should not hesitate to support a bill sought by the Ruppersberger administration that could rejuvenate three troubled parts of the county.

The bill is controversial because it involves condemnation of properties in the Liberty Road corridor on the west side and Yorkway in Dundalk and the Essex-Middle River area on the east side.

Prosperity has passed by these rundown neighborhoods. Efforts to lure private developers have failed. And most troubling, middle-class families are fleeing.

Condemnation power is a sensitive matter in Baltimore County. But County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger has sharply restricted his bill to as few properties as possible. Each and every property -- 27 commercial lots, two owner-occupied houses and 404 rental units in Middle River, for instance -- is identified in the bill. No other properties would be affected.

Rarely has the county had to resort to court action against property owners. Most property is acquired through negotiated settlements. Also, the County Council must approve each property takeover. That's an important check on abuses.

The county has concrete redevelopment plans. Particularly noteworthy is the effort in Essex-Middle River to give the east side a boost by turning the waterfront into a tourist destination with marinas, restaurants and parks.

Understandably, residents are uneasy. Those whose properties are identified in the bill must be relocated by the county to other rental units nearby. Some businesses will have to be moved, too.

But what other way is there to revive these areas? Cheap, poorly maintained apartments in Liberty Road have made it unappealing for investors. The situation is equally discouraging on the west side.

This is a narrowly defined use of government power aimed at jump-starting private investment. It could give three distressed areas hope for a better tomorrow.

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