County unveils plans for bigger jail

$70 million project in Towson draws wary response at meeting

September 27, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County officials held their first meeting to show plans for an expanded jail in Towson yesterday, running down a list of objections made by community members and explaining what they've done to mitigate them.

Among the chief design features of the expansion are variations in the faM-gade to make the building less monolithic, said Public Works Director Ed Adams.

The exterior of the new part of the building, which will border Kenilworth Drive and Bosley Avenue, will be glass and stone to make it look more like an office building than a jail.

The main entrance will be on Bosley Avenue, though deliveries will continue to be made from Kenilworth Drive, Adams said. The expansion will be the same height as the jail and have the same setback from Kenilworth Drive, he said.

"We've made every effort to make this building fit in with the business community and with the buildings in Towson and not make this look like a big jail," Adams said.

James P. O'Neill, the deputy jail administrator, said that the underground parking garage in the expansion will have about 190 spaces instead of the 300 recommended by a consultant.

Those attending the meeting - representatives of the Towson Partnership, the Towson Development Corp. and some large businesses - were guarded in their assessment of the plans after the meeting.

"It's going through the development plan process, so we'll see," said Gerald R. Rescigno, president of the Towson Development Corp.

In June, County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger promised a series of meetings with jail neighbors, but no schedule or plan for the meetings has been released.

Fred Homan, the county's director of budget and finance, said the idea is to have a series of smaller meetings so participants can have a more meaningful dialogue. Meetings will focus on residents and neighboring businesses and will likely be held at night so more people can attend.

The administration's plan, however, to decide how to divide the meetings and whom to invite doesn't speak well for its desire to get public input, said Cathi Forbes, a co-founder of the Coalition for Open Government and opponent of the plan to increase jail capacity by about 1,000 beds over the next 20 years.

"Our whole thing all along is that they haven't been very open about this," Forbes said. "Businesses hold focus groups, but governments hold meetings where everybody is invited to the table. They don't get to pick and choose their constituents. We pick them."

Homan said anyone who is interested will "absolutely" get the opportunity to come to an input meeting.

"We know who's called us. We know who to contact who's going to be interesting in coming here to see this," he said.

Even as they seek more of a say in the design of the expanded jail, foes of the plan continue their efforts to stop the project. About half of the $70 million for the project is to come from the state, so Forbes and others have met with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's staff in hopes of cutting the state funds.

State Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Republican who represents Towson, said that given the weakening economy and prospect for budget deficits, state funding for the jail might be an attractive item to cut, especially because the county has said it will pay for all of the expansion if state funding falls through.

"I think it would be a politically unpopular decision for the [Glendening] administration to go forward with this, given the fact that I think they're going to be looking for cuts to be made," Harris said.

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