Officials, residents spar over legislation

Baltimore County bill would condemn property

March 22, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

As a bill to condemn property in Baltimore County moves through the legislature in Annapolis, community leaders sparred with county officials last night over the lack of plans to redevelop areas to be condemned and the speed with which they are pushing plans through the General Assembly.

"They're fast-tracking this, but the community didn't know anything about it. They don't like what they're hearing," said Randallstown homeowner Donna Wilson, one of 20 people at a meeting at the Randallstown public library. She said she heard about the gathering 10 minutes before it began.

Mike Chapman, a Randallstown resident and president of the Liberty Road Business Association, told Robert L. Hannon, the county economic development director: "There should be a development plan before you condemn property."

He also told Hannon and other bureaucrats at the meeting, "There's no elected official here this evening" to hear community concerns.

Hannon told the group that getting condemnation powers from the legislature is only the first step in the redevelopment process, and that residents and business owners still have time to voice their concerns to elected officials.

The county's bill to condemn residential property in Essex and Randallstown has brought a storm of criticism from tenants and property owners who claim they were informed of plans to take their property after legislation was introduced in Annapolis seeking the right to condemn.

In Randallstown, the county has earmarked several businesses for demolition at the intersection of Liberty Road and Brenbrook Drive, as well as 148 apartments in 15 apartment buildings in the sprawling Villages of Huntington. Absent from last night's meeting were any tenants from those apartments, who would be displaced. Fronda Cohen, spokeswoman for the county's economic development apartment, said earlier yesterday that tenants were not notified of last night's meeting because it could pose legal problems for the county.

"Should tenants not renew leases in great numbers, the landlord could say their property has been devalued," she said.

Earlier in the day, Kim D. George, assistant manager for the apartment complex, said she knew nothing about the meeting.

Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council, was the only person at last night's meeting who gave her blessing to the county's plans in Randallstown. The apartment complex near her home, she said, "has made our lives a living nightmare."

Blaming drugs and other crime problems on residents of the apartments, Campbell said that even if the county has no future plans for the land after demolition, a vacant lot would be "much better than having all those criminals."

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