Renewal bill gets personal touch

Ruppersberger effort results in 19-5 vote for condemnation plan

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

A broad lobbying effort by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger paid off yesterday, when the county's House delegation approved a condemnation bill despite criticism from opposing lawmakers who said they had been misled about the scope of the proposal.

The Baltimore County House delegation approved S. B. 509 on a 19-5 vote, with an abstention from Del. Nancy Hubers, a Middle River Democrat whose husband owns land on the east-side peninsula where the county wants to create an upscale waterfront village.

"Dutch talked to every single member of the delegation on the bill," said Pat Roddy, a lawyer and lobbyist for the county. "It is unusual. He felt the need to explain directly."

Ruppersberger's methodical outreach underscores growing concern about the legislation, which is a centerpiece of the executive's priority list for the session.

Increasing numbers of residents, business owners and lawmakers are criticizing the bill, saying the county shouldn't seize land they worked hard to maintain only to give it to developers for tony stores, restaurants and homes.

But Ruppersberger administration officials say areas of Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown need an economic boost that only dramatic redevelopment would provide.

Under the proposal, the county would gain the power to condemn land for economic development, rather than for roads, sewers, parks and other public projects as current law allows.

Voting against the bill were Del. Diane DeCarlo, a White Marsh Democrat, and four Republicans: James F. Ports Jr. of Perry Hall, A. Wade Kach of Cockeysville, Martha S. Klima of Lutherville and James M. Kelly of Towson.

Ports said county officials are distorting the truth by telling lawmakers that similar measures already are in place in Baltimore City and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

A side-by-side analysis of the Prince George's law and the Baltimore County proposal shows significant differences, Ports said.

"People need to know that it's precedent-setting," said Ports. "They're telling people it's not, and it's not true. It's just a land grab and a money grab. It's a sweet deal for developers. Look, Dutch is running for governor. Give me a break."

Roddy, the county lobbyist, said that the differences Ports points to make the Baltimore County bill more restrictive, and thus protect residents more.

DeCarlo warned that the state Department of Housing and Community Development is keeping tabs on the county plan.

The state agency has $11.9 million in outstanding loans for projects in the east-side area, according to a letter to DeCarlo from housing secretary Raymond A. Skinner released yesterday. Skinner said the state projects "could be negatively affected" by Ruppersberger's plans.

Ruppersberger and opponents of the bill are gearing up their lobbying efforts for the bill's next stop, the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee on Thursday.

East-side opponents are represented by a lobbyist, J. William Pitcher, of Annapolis, who said he would try to raise procedural roadblocks to the bill at next week's hearing.

Pub Date: 3/18/00

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