The Baltimore County Council delayed last night hiring an architect and construction manager for the $73 million county jail expansion project to give opponents a chance to meet with county officials.
The council was scheduled to approve contracts that would pay a Los Angeles company $4.5 million to design the expansion and a Rhode Island company $2.7 million to manage construction.
But the council postponed its vote on the pacts for at least two weeks because of concerns expressed by opponents at a council work session Nov. 28. Those concerns focused on possible traffic and environmental problems in surrounding neighborhoods.
Leaders of Towson Partnership and Towson Development Corp. have joined residents opposed to expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center. At the work session, Nancy Horst, head of Towson Partnership, urged the council "to begin a fresh dialogue with all the partners in Towson."
In July, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced plans to expand the detention center on Kenilworth Drive from 778 to 1,786 beds over 20 years.
Fred Homan, the county budget chief, has said that additional studies are unnecessary because a county consultant has examined parking, staffing and other issues.
But Robert J. Barrett, a Ruppersberger aide, said yesterday the executive agreed to delay approval of the contracts so that Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican, could meet with community leaders.
"I asked Dutch for some time, and he was willing to give me two weeks," Skinner said. "I just want to develop some dialogue, so there's more understanding of how this thing came about."
Barrett said he expects the seven-member council to approve the contracts Dec. 18.
Skinner acknowledged that his fellow council members are unlikely to stop the expansion for fear a new jail could be built in their districts. "I think right now they have the votes they need for it," Skinner said.
Towson residents complained last summer that the plan caught them by surprise. Angry that they weren't included in the planning, they waged a campaign to defeat Question C, a bond referendum on the Nov. 7 ballot that included $30.5 million for the jail.
The measure was approved despite their efforts.