Zoning commissioner OKs 2-part county jail expansion

Residents consider appealing the ruling on Kenilworth site

March 01, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt approved a two-phase expansion of the county Detention Center yesterday over the objections of citizens' groups that threaten to appeal the ruling.

The $70 million project on the northwest corner of Kenilworth Drive and Bosley Avenue will more than double the number of jail beds over the next 20 years. Opponents have long called the expanded jail inappropriate near the churches, schools, homes and businesses in the neighborhood.

"It's so disheartening to me," Cathi Forbes, founder of the Coalition for Open Government, said of Schmidt's ruling. "Our major concern was that no other sites were looked at."

Residents' groups were particularly angry yesterday that Schmidt ruled on both phases of the jail expansion at once. The first phase of the project will be a four-story structure that adds 784 beds to the existing 778. A second phase in 2010 will add 224 more beds. The county would close the Courthouse Court Facility, an aging jail on Bosley Avenue that houses female inmates and inmates on work release.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger pushed for the jail expansion rather than a new jail site because the Kenilworth location is close to district and circuit courts.

Residents complained yesterday that the second phase of the project was never part of the hearing before Schmidt.

"It's just ridiculous," said Don Wright, president of the West Towson Neighborhood Association. "We're looking at something 10 years away and approving it now."

In his six-page opinion on the case, Schmidt said improvements for Phase 2 are listed in the county's plans. Testimony by county officials also stated that the new phase would have little or no impact on the expansion, he said.

The new phase would also have no impact on existing infrastructure, Schmidt said. And the matter was discussed at the community input meeting for the project, he said.

"The testimony was persuasive that the Phase 2 expansion will result in little or no additional impact," Schmidt wrote.

Forbes said yesterday that she contacted an attorney to look into possibly appealing Schmidt's decision before the county Board of Appeals. Resident leaders like Corinne Becker, president of the Riderwood Hills Community Association, support the move.

"I don't think you can presume eight years in advance what a community was going to be like," Becker said.

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