Concerns raised on housing density

Commissioners, neighbors worry plans for Bainbridge will burden public facilities

Cecil County

March 02, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT -- As plans move ahead on development of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property -- one of the largest real estate development projects in the history of Cecil County -- there is growing public concern about its impact on the county.

Phyllis Kilby, vice president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners, said plans for the Bainbridge property, situated on a hill overlooking town and the Susquehanna River, "are a lot different from those proposed by an earlier developer, and this concerns me."

"The previous developer [Lowe Enterprises] had set aside about 500 acres for commercial development," she said. "From what I have heard, this group plans only about 200 acres of commercial development; most of the 1,200 acres would be for housing."

Kilby's concern, which is shared by others in the county, is that the proposed development is top heavy on housing and lacks the commercial and industrial development needed to balance the tax base.

Commercial development will generate more taxes and require fewer services from the county than will housing, according to Kilby.

A new team of developers has replaced Lowe Enterprises in seeking to develop the property. It includes John Paterakis, a Baltimore bakery and hotel owner; Richard M. Alter, president of Columbia-based Manekin LLC; and Clark Turner, president of Clark Turner Cos., which is building a waterfront residential and commercial community near Belcamp.

"They are looking at 2,000 houses," Kilby continued. "You multiply that by two or three cars and I'm not sure that Port Deposit is ready for that kind of an impact. The roads can't handle it. Port Deposit has only one lane in each direction."

She added: "I would like to see a study on the impact of the development on the surrounding roads, the schools and the rest of the county."

Kilby was not the only person expressing concern over the development of the Bainbridge property during a meeting of the Bainbridge Development Corp. on Monday afternoon. BDC, as the group is commonly called, is the quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the development of the site.

During the meeting, directors of the BBC voted to give the development team a 60-day extension of their agreement for exclusive rights to negotiate a contract to develop the property.

When it came time for directors to discuss the extension, the agency's chairman, Harland R. Graef, ushered the public and members of the press from the room. Kilby stood firm in the back of the room, saying they would have to physically remove her.

She was allowed to stay while members of the general public stood outside in the cold for two hours waiting for the discussion to end.

"It make you wonder what they are trying to hide," said Paul Reid, who lives just out of town, as he stood on the sidewalk outside the Paw Paw Museum, where the meeting was held.

Cynthia Rossetti said the state has "sunshine" laws pertaining to public meetings "to generate public trust. This generates public distrust."

Graef said it is normal for the board to go into executive session when contracts are being discussed.

Before being asked to leave, Rossetti asked about the density of housing to be built at the Bainbridge site. She said the number of houses proposed on the site keeps growing. "When you add more and more houses, the burden falls on the taxpayers."

In addition to the 2,000 single-family houses mentioned by Kilby, the developers' plan calls for a 1,000-unit continuing care retirement community.

Under the Lowe proposal there would have been about 1,500 houses and 500 acres of commercial development, including a conference center, a business park and at least one golf course.

Turner tried to address Rossetti's concerns by saying the new proposal would have a positive impact on the county, the state and the town of Port Deposit.

He said the housing and commercial development tax base mix "would benefit Port Deposit, not hurt it."

Bob Atkinson, who said he lives just across the main gate from the Bainbridge center, said the BDC "doesn't like you coming to a meeting and asking questions. That's why they go into executive session, behind closed doors."

He expressed concern about the increased traffic and feared that such a large housing center at Bainbridge would force the county to spend $70 million to $80 million on new schools.

The subjects of gambling and slot machines were not brought up during the portion of the meeting open to the public. Afterward, Turner said, "Slots were never a part of our plan. They were never on our radar screen."

He said it would be another 18 to 36 months before construction could begin on the site that served as a Navy boot camp until it closed in 1976. He said it would take that long to get water and sewage to the site.

Lowe pulled out of the development last year, after waiting two years for the town to come up with a water and sewage plan.

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