Foe of revitalization law seeks to profit from plan

Property owner tried selling to county

March 08, 2001|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

One of the most outspoken opponents of Baltimore County's ambitious east-side redevelopment law last year has tried to sell his property on Middle River to the county for nearly $1 million to take advantage of the revitalization plan he denounced.

But after negotiating with the property owner, Richard "Rick" Impallaria of Joppatowne, for more than a year, frustrated county officials have rejected the deal. They say his property - a century-old, concrete-block building housing an auto body shop and other businesses on two acres of riverfront - is not worth six times the $165,000 Impallaria paid for it 1 1/2 years ago.

Impallaria, 38, is asking $1.5 million for his property on the open market. If it doesn't sell, he said, "I'll just build the biggest auto body shop on the water."

Impallaria said yesterday that county revitalization funds would help that effort, though a body shop next to a new tourist destination is not what county officials envisioned for Middle River.

Impallaria bought the property, a former icehouse, in September 1999, not long before County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger announced the east-side redevelopment plan that became known as Senate Bill 509.

The bill would have allowed the county to condemn certain properties, including Impallaria's in the 1900 block of Old Eastern Ave.

Impallaria became one of the plan's most visible opponents, appearing before television cameras to denounce the plan and helping to lead a successful drive to subject SB 509 to a referendum in November, in which voters soundly rejected the measure.

Despite the defeat, the county is pursuing a revitalization plan that calls for replacing run-down World War II-era apartments with hundreds of single-family houses and parkland.

Along the headwaters of Middle River, next door to Impallaria's property, three struggling marinas have agreed to work with the county to fashion a first-class tourist destination with restaurants, shops, a walking promenade and, possibly, new piers.

Critics, in and out of government, suggest that Impallaria worked himself into a leadership role in the anti-SB 509 Citizens for Property Rights to multiply his investment many times over.

Supporters applaud Impallaria's civic activism and his business acumen for seeking a huge profit on his land.

Impallaria thinks he is justified in seeking a high price, especially after what he says was harassment and persecution by the county.

"These county people, from Ruppersberger on down, have put me through a nightmare," he said. "I've been negotiating with them to sell my place for 18 months. But now they missed the boat, there ain't no wiggle room no more."

The amount of money Impallaria wanted from the county was "preposterous," said Del. Michael H. Weir, an Essex Democrat.

"If Impallaria gets anything like what he is asking, it will be a misappropriation of funds, and I will fight it," Weir said. "This loudmouth played the role of damaged party, and now he wants to make a financial killing. It's total hypocrisy."

Robert D'Antonio, president of the Essex-Middle River-White Marsh Chamber of Commerce, also questions Impallaria's motives. "If he played the system to make a personal gain, then that is very unfortunate," D'Antonio said. "There were a lot of people who trusted him."

Janice Hundt, a leader of Citizens for Property Rights, now known as Essex Middle River Community in Action, defends Impallaria.

"The county didn't want to work with Rick because they thought they could condemn his property," she said. "They wanted him to pay for expensive environmental, structural and boundary studies."

Impallaria's threat to keep his auto body shop next to a fancy waterfront destination has not been lost on officials. In February last year, they offered Impallaria $450,000, which he rejected.

At that time, Impallaria wanted $500,000. But after the anti-SB 509 forces gained in influence, he bumped up his price. He wanted $800,000, then $950,000.

"Mr. Impallaria is looking for an advantage, and the taxpayers aren't going to pay his price," said Robert J. Barrett, a top aide to Ruppersberger.

Though county officials have rejected Impallaria's real estate offer, they have quietly agreed to void a $1,000 fine levied against him when county inspectors found he was building on the property without a permit.

Impallaria said he took the citation to Barrett and was told to forget about any violation or fine.

During the fight against SB 509, Impallaria crafted an image through local media as a victim of the proposal. He summoned television crews when he learned that county environmental inspectors were coming to his business.

The success of Citizens for Property Rights against SB 509 gave the group cachet that carried into this year's General Assembly session.

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