County expected to force land sales

Council to vote on use of eminent domain at Tall Trees

March 14, 2001|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Advancing a plan to replace the Villages of Tall Trees with a public park, the Baltimore County Council is expected to vote Monday to approve $2.5 million for acquisition and demolition of 17 apartment buildings under the power of eminent domain.

The move will help revitalization of the county's east side, Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said.

Gardina said the county gained the power to exercise eminent domain after three property owners either refused to negotiate a selling price or sought almost triple the appraised value of their nearly 60-year-old buildings.

"In one case, it was a property owner seeking unreasonable prices for profit," said Gardina, a Democrat from Perry Hall. "In another case, the owner wanted up to $340,000 for each of his buildings, and yet he would not negotiate."

"We negotiated about six months with the property owners, and one steadfastly refused to even negotiate [or] make a counteroffer," said Shirley Murphy, chief of the Bureau of Land Acquisition.

Demolition of the 17 buildings is expected to cost about $1.2 million, officials from the Bureau of Land Acquisition said at a council work session yesterday.

Baltimore County has purchased or has under contract for sale 71 of the 112 properties at Tall Trees in Middle River. If a further impasse develops between the county and owners, the rest of the properties could be condemned.

The county has dedicated more than $21 million to the project, from purchase and demolition to tenant relocation and development costs.

Tall Trees buildings have sold for an average of $110,000 each.

Under eminent domain, the county will file a court petition against Robert and Suzanne Corey, owners of one building; Edward and Ann Maria Colwill, owners of three buildings; and Thomas and Maria Rafailides, who own 13 buildings.

A judge or jury will decide on a sale price after appraisals from the county and owners.

Eminent domain is widely used to acquire properties for road rights of way or public parks.

One property owner said yesterday that officials failed to negotiate in good faith.

"It really wasn't about the price the county would pay for my buildings," said Edward Colwill. "I would go to the county with 10 points, and they would dismiss them all. It was their way or the highway."

One issue, Colwill said, involved the county's insistence that tenants vacate the buildings before they were sold. "We were already losing rent because people had moved out," Colwill said.

Neither Rafailides nor Corey could be reached for comment.

The county will eventually buy all 112 properties - 104 buildings and eight individually owned units or condominiums in another Tall Trees building - to create open space or recreational land in a park setting.

Officials also are close to buying a separate structure that houses the Tall Trees community center.

Originally called Mars Estates, the two-story brick apartments housed defense workers who created an instant city in rural Middle River in 1941.

In the mid-1960s, the area in and around Tall Trees started to decline.

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