Jail expansion proposal irks neighbors

Goal is to ease crowding in Balto. County lockup

July 10, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

They've never liked being neighbors with a jail.

Residents living along Morningside and Kenilworth drives in Towson say they love their neighborhood but hate the local lockup, and they don't want it to grow.

If it isn't music blasting from the cars of families visiting inmates, it's the roar of motorcycles used by employees as they leave after late-night shifts, they say.

Then there's the trash that neighbors say is often left around the entrance to the 19-year-old Baltimore County Detention Center on Kenilworth Drive.

"They throw trash, they use foul language. Sometimes it's like they're having tailgate parties over there," said Helga Willemain, who lives in one of two dozen homes along Morningside Drive.

Neighbors reacted with questions and complaints last week after learning about Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's plans for a $75 million expansion of the detention center.

"There's got to be another piece of property somewhere else in Baltimore County to expand," said Sharon Frazier, a 20-year resident of Morningside Drive.

Ruppersberger announced plans Thursday to relieve crowding in the county's jail facilities, now split between two sites in Towson. The daily inmate population has swelled from 497 in 1988 to 1,222 in 1998, according to county statistics.

Plans for the expansion, recommended by a consultant in South Carolina, call for construction of 1,008 inmate beds at the complex along Kenilworth Drive on the edge of downtown Towson, beginning in 2002. The plans also include an administration building, a 300-space underground parking area for staff and visitors, and an expanded lobby.

The expansion would allow the county to demolish the 249-bed jail at the intersection of Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard, now used primarily for female inmates, and the five portable buildings there that house 84 work-release inmates.

County officials say having on-site parking will mean less noise and litter. Dorothy Williams, administrator of the county Bureau of Corrections, said Friday that she would meet with neighbors to try to resolve those problems.

"If I can narrow down their concerns, and if it is my employees or something I can address, I will address it," she said.

Officials say expanding the Kenilworth Drive location makes sense because the county owns the land. Having a jail there also minimizes the time needed to transport inmates to the District Court and Circuit Court buildings in downtown Towson, they add.But neighbors asked Friday why the county's detention facilities have to be in one location and why they have to be so close to their homes.

"It's a huge monstrosity," said Peggy King, vice president of the Morningside Drive Community Association.

The Rev. Allen Spicer, an Episcopal minister who has lived on Morningside Drive since 1984, said inmates are also transported each day to the District Court buildings in Essex and Catonsville. Other inmates are brought to the jail from police precincts throughout the county, he said.

"It doesn't seem to me that it has to be in Towson," said Spicer, 63.

Corinne Becker, who lives on Kenilworth Drive, said the street is already congested. She suggested county officials design the project with the entrance on York Road.

Becker, who is president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association Inc., said she has asked the Mass Transit Administration for about six months to remove a bus route from Kenilworth Drive because the buses shake her house.

"We feel very strongly that Kenilworth Drive has all the traffic it can handle," Becker said.

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican whose district includes the detention center, said he will not oppose the expansion plan.

But Skinner said he plans to push for a York Road entrance.

"The No. 1 concern is the traffic," he said. "People do not want more cars on Kenilworth."

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