Opposing apple pie

East side: Residents resist revitalization efforts, even though they will be the main beneficiaries.

July 08, 2000

ARE THE opponents of Baltimore County's limited condemnation law interested in protecting property rights or in sabotaging County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's revitalization plans?

In an otherwise prosperous county, the Essex-Middle River community stands out -- for all the wrong reasons. Crime has been increasing. One-third of households earn less than $15,000 a year vs. the county's median income of $41,764. Apartment buildings stand abandoned.

After years of ignoring the neighborhood's sorry decay, Baltimore County wants to assemble 400 acres of land to market to private developers. Condemnation may be needed to assemble the parcels slated for redevelopment.

Creation of a waterfront village is a key component. Planners see the village as a catalyst for development-- just as Harborplace was for the Inner Harbor. Ironically, Harborplace also attracted strong opposition -- and a referendum drive to block it.

Many people in the county have genuine concerns about the county's power of eminent domain. Even though other Maryland localities routinely use condemnation for redevelopment purposes, Baltimore County residents remain uncomfortable with the concept.

Judging from the speed at which signatures were gathered to put this issue on the Nov. 7 ballot, opposition is substantial. Many opponents -- particularly longtime property owners -- worry that rising real-estate values and property taxes will drive them from their homes. Others believe outside developers will buy property cheap and reap giant profits. "This is nothing more than a big land grab," said one resident at a recent meeting.

An influx of investment will, indeed, boost property values. But that is a plus, not a minus, and a major change from the area's steep decline in recent years.

Yes, higher property values bring higher-income residents. But as income levels increase in Essex-Middle River, crime should fall and social ills diminish.

Most communities embrace government initiatives to upgrade their neighborhood. This vehement opposition may explain why Essex-Middle River for so long has been unable to pull itself out of its downward spiral.

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