Activists gain step in battling condemnation

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

Activists seeking to overturn Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's plan to condemn homes and businesses in aging neighborhoods have cleared an important hurdle.

Election officials confirmed Friday that opponents have gathered enough valid petition signatures to continue their push for a November referendum.

Of 16,026 signatures submitted on May 30 to the state elections board, 13,053 have been certified as valid. That's far more than the 8,046 needed by an interim deadline.

By June 30, organizers must gather 24,136 signatures, 10 percent of the number of Baltimore County residents who voted in the 1998 gubernatorial election. If one-third of the total had not been gathered by May 30, the petition drive would have halted.

"These petitions were in great order," said Doris J. Suter, an administrator with the Baltimore County Board of Supervisors of Elections. "It was easy to see the name and the address."

Del. James F. Ports Jr., a leader of the petition movement, said he was excited by the results.

Ruppersberger had Senate Bill 509 introduced during this year's legislative session in Annapolis. The bill granted the county the power to condemn land in parts of Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown, then sell or give it to developers.

Ruppersberger said the neighborhoods needed an economic boost. In particular, the county envisions an upscale waterfront village in Essex-Middle River.

Critics call the proposal a land grab that would benefit the wealthy. They want the law overturned through a popular vote in November.

Ruppersberger has said he supports the petition initiative and hopes to win converts during seven debates this fall.

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