Opponents of seizure law submit signatures to state

Enough names gathered to put the Balto. County issue on ballot, they say

July 01, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - Slapping high-fives, members of a group opposing a precedent-setting condemnation law in Baltimore County yesterday submitted to Maryland's Secretary of State what they said were enough signatures to place the issue on November's ballot.

Group leaders gave state official Nikki Baines-Trella stacks of petitions bearing 44,037 names of registered Baltimore County voters, ending the first phase of what a leader called the eastside's "peasant insurrection" to defeat the sweeping plan of County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

"Just a few days before the 224th birthday of our country's independence, I cannot help to think back to our nation's historical revolution, of how it applies to what we're doing in Baltimore County," said state Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Perry Hall Republican and opposition leader. "It was about our forefathers, some of whom gave their lives, protecting their precious personal property rights."

Residents such as Gary Meekins - who lives in a riverfront cottage with his wife Bridgette on Punte Lane, a property targeted for condemnation - described yesterday's step as a "great victory, but we have a long way to go."

Ports and Del. Diane DeCarlo, an Essex Democrat, have led a charge against Ruppersberger's targeting of homes and businesses in Essex-Middle River, Dundalk and Randallstown as part of his neighborhood revitalization.

The loudest and most effective protests have come from eastside neighborhoods. Ruppersberger wants to build a tourist destination there with waterfront restaurants, single-family houses and spruced-up marinas while using the county's 175-mile shoreline in the style of towns like Havre de Grace and Kent Island.

Ruppersberger intends to lead a vigorous effort to explain the condemnation law.

His spokeswoman, Elise Armacost, said yesterday that Ruppersberger has a tentative set of dates for debates, starting the first week of October, and will propose them to Ports and DeCarlo. He wants to have debates in each of the seven council districts.

"If there are not enough [valid] signatures and it doesn't get on the ballot, then Dutch will move ahead anyway with his public meetings," said Armacost.

Baines-Trella said the signatures submitted yesterday will be delivered to the state Board of Elections, then given to county election officials for verification. There must be 24,136 names validated by July 22 for the issue to go to referendum.

Opponents have begun looking for ways to influence the wording of the referendum. They will submit a draft to the secretary of state by Aug. 21.

Opponents must also form a campaign committee with a chairman and treasurer, Ports said. The likely head will be Janice Hundt, a merchant and property owner who has fought the plan, laid out in February in Senate Bill 509.

Part tongue-in-cheek, Ports called the fight against the revitalization plan - which allows the county to confiscate property if a fair-market price cannot be reached between the county and property owner - a "peasant insurrection. It's the ordinary people working together to retain one of their most basic freedoms."

Ruppersberger has acknowledged that people were not given adequate notice before the bill was introduced.

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