Executive expects sales, no condemnations

Ruppersberger prediction greeted with skepticism

April 19, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

In a bold prognosis that appears to undercut the need for a law he pushed aggressively, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger said yesterday that the county could probably acquire the land it needs to revitalize Essex-Middle River and two other neighborhoods without resorting to condemnation.

"My prediction is, in the end, I would doubt if any of the properties need to be condemned," Ruppersberger said.

The forecast was greeted with skepticism by critics of the Ruppersberger plan to entice developers to invest in aging neighborhoods in Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown.

Ruppersberger lobbied in Annapolis this year for the power to condemn land for economic development, an expansion of a power most commonly used by governments for public works projects.

The measure passed the General Assembly despite fierce opposition from east-side business owners who said government would be overstepping its bounds by forcing residents and businesses to move. The struggle evolved into one of the most dramatic of the legislative session.

"I don't believe that for one moment," said Del. Diane DeCarlo, a White Marsh Democrat who represents the east-side revitalization area and voted against the bill. "If that was the case, he would say he wouldn't need this bill. He's feeling it from all over the place. I think he is starting to feel the heat."

Ruppersberger said the authority to condemn land for economic development is an important tool, even if it is not used. Drastic steps are needed to revive the fortunes of the three neighborhoods, he said, and the new power shows developers and residents that the county is serious.

"It's going to raise the property values in an area where nothing is happening," he said. "All we are trying to do is help people and raise the community."

The Assembly bill listed more than 300 addresses that the county wants to acquire in the three neighborhoods. In Essex-Middle River, the county wants to clear a waterfront parcel for upscale restaurants, marinas and homes.

Opponents are fighting the plan and have begun gathering signatures to force a referendum on the condemnation law.

Ruppersberger said all property owners will become willing sellers once they receive offers, meaning no expensive condemnation court battles will be needed. Historically, for every 100 properties the county seeks to buy, 95 to 97 are obtained through negotiated settlements, said Shirley Murphy, head of the county's land acquisition bureau.

But that won't be the case in Essex, said Mark Webster, a liquor store employee and a leading opponent of the measure. "I'm telling you now that they are going to have to [condemn]," Webster said, "because of the fact they came out and did it so subversively, they did it behind the scenes. People are on the defensive."

Wanda Kod, a community activist in the area, said Ruppersberger's prediction could prove true, but only because owners may feel pressured.

"I think people will think they are up against a wall, and will take the money," said Kod, president of the Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association. "To pay for litigation out of their pocket would leave the homeowner with less money, which means there is no choice."

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