Not business as usual on Randallstown corridor

Owners brace for condemnation

September 20, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Stan Griffin's family auto-repair business recently opened a second location in Randallstown, but it's not an expansion worth celebrating.

Instead, Griff's Automotive, which opened last month, is viewed as an insurance policy of sorts.

Like other business owners at Brenbrook Drive and Liberty Road, the Griffins are bracing against the possibility that the government will condemn their property - where cars have been repaired for nearly half a century - for development.

"It's an expensive way to protect yourself," Griffin said of the new service center in the 8600 block of Liberty Road.

Business owners in Randallstown who might lose their properties are spending more time these days campaigning against Senate Bill 509 - the measure that would confer enhanced condemnation powers on Baltimore County - than waiting on customers and ordering inventory.

"They can't manage the businesses because they don't know what the long term is," said Henry Weisenberg, executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association.

Griffin said he spent one day last week stuffing and mailing 400 letters opposing the condemnation bill, which is the subject of a referendum in November, and urging people to come to tonight's debate on the bill between County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and Del. James F. Ports Jr., a Baltimore County Republican. The debate will be at 7 p.m. at Randallstown High School.

While most of the furor over the condemnation bill has come from the east-side neighborhoods of Essex and Middle River, opposition has been growing among Randallstown businesses and statewide groups. The bill also targets properties in Dundalk.

Yesterday, three nonprofit organizations, including the Smart Growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Maryland, announced their opposition to S.B. 509 because of lack of public involvement.

"They included citizens up to a point, and then they dropped them," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends. "It's a disturbing trend that is getting in the way of a lot of good ideas."

Common Cause/Maryland and the Maryland Center for Community Development joined 1000 Friends in opposing the measure. They are concerned that revitalization plans don't incorporate older buildings or provide replacement housing for lower-income residents.

County officials have said that property owners would be fairly compensated for their land, but longtime owners like Griffin worry they would never be able to replace properties they've owned for decades and might lose loyal customers if they have to move.

Ann Klohr has joined Griffin in the campaign. She helps run her husband's business, Klohr's Repair Service, one of several commercial ventures the family has operated in the 8700 block of Liberty Road since 1905.

The county's condemnation proposal "has disrupted .... our lives," she said yesterday. "We're a small business, and we don't have visions of being CEOs. This is the American dream."

Some homeowners in the area favor the county's plans, especially the proposal to eliminate 148 of 589 apartments at the Villages of Huntington off the 8700 block of Liberty Road, a complex with a 25 percent vacancy rate.

Community activist Ella White Campbell said the Stevenswood Improvement Association, representing 250 homeowners, voted in April to support the county's plans.

"It's impossible to attract key [businesses] in this area," she said, adding that the shopping centers need to be rebuilt "so you can attract the businesses that are necessary for the survival of the community."

Sun staff writer David Nitkin contributed to this article.

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