Bainbridge development plan makes residents' tempers flare

Crowd at meeting irate about proposed housing

Port Deposit

March 23, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

PORT DEPOSIT - Citizens of this Susquehanna riverbank town have their own plans for the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property, and they clash with those of a development group pursuing the project.

This was apparent during a meeting of the Bainbridge Development Corp. on Monday when about 65 area residents took control of the session and demanded a voice in the process. The BDC is the quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the development of the 1,200-acre Bainbridge property.

The session started off on a hostile tone, and tempers never cooled.

For 1 1/2 hours, irate residents voiced their displeasure with a plan for 2,100 new houses at Bainbridge that would sit up on a hill overlooking town. They demanded fewer houses and expressed a desire for more parks, ball fields, playgrounds and paths. They also called for more job-creating commercial and industrial development on the site.

Residents expressed their concerns about the impact of so many new houses in the area and about the amount of taxes they will have to pay. They expressed their fears about demands on local schools, roads and police protection.

Harland R. Graef, chairman of the BDC, seemed surprised by the big turnout as people crammed into the second-story meeting room at the Paw Paw Museum on Main Street.

"I don't know what you expect to hear today," he told them. "We don't have any big concept presentation today."

Graef's initial response was to try to cancel the meeting and reschedule it at a larger facility. "We are out of compliance with the fire code," he said.

This didn't go over very well.

"A lot of people are here now, and we may not be able to make another meeting," Rodney Abrahams shouted from the back of the room. "I think we are not being accommodated, and I think we ought to stay."

"Let's go across the road and have a meeting," yelled Francis Mull. "If you want to cram 2,100 new houses down our throats, we ought to know about it. We don't want 2,100 homes up there."

With that, the citizens, along with BDC directors, filed out, crossed Main Street and went into the conference hall of Tome Memorial United Methodist Church.

Once seated, Howard Neff, a BDC director, acknowledged that there "is a lot of hostility toward the concept plan. We know what you don't want," he said. "We should give you an opportunity to tell us what you do want."

Donald Poist, a former mayor who serves on the Town Council, drew applause when he told Graef and the BDC directors that they have "isolated themselves from the people of this city, and some of you need to be replaced."

After the meeting, Poist was critical of the BDC's approach. "They normally run everybody out of their meetings after 10 minutes and go into executive session," he said. "People don't like that. They feel that they have a right to know what's going on. They pay the bills.

"I think they should have met with the citizens first to find out what they wanted," Poist said. He was referring to the BDC and the development team that 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.

During the meeting, Gloria Kilby expressed her belief that the developers were trying to see how many houses they could put on the Bainbridge property. "We need more Little League fields," she said. "We need an area where kids can fly a kite, skateboard or Roller Blade."

Walter Buck estimated that the 2,100 houses, along with a planned 1,000-unit continuing care retirement community, would bring about 14,000 more people into the area. "That means we will need a lot of roads and a lot of schools," he said.

Carl Roberts, superintendent of Cecil County schools, told the group that the BDC has kept the school system well-informed of its plans for Bainbridge. He was shouted down a few seconds later, however, when he tried to say the county doesn't use trailers to handle schools over capacity, but portable classrooms.

Suzanne Wojtech asked for the development team to include parkland, basketball courts and walking trails in its plan. "Please include something for the kids," she said.

Near the end of the meeting, Poist stood again and said the hostility was a result of citizens being ignored. "This happened because the people felt that they were being shut out," he said.

Graef told the group that another meeting will be held April 7 at the VFW hall, where citizens will be offered details of the proposed development plan for Bainbridge and have their questions answered.

Turner also assured the people that he would be available to answer questions and will be presenting a complete plan for the development on Bainbridge at the April 7 meeting.

Cecil housing

Average home prices in Cecil County, once the undisputed bargain of the region, have risen 26 percent to $178,017 between 2000 and 2002. During that same period, lot prices increased 75 percent to $70,000 for a 3/4 -acre lot. Realtors expect the trend to continue. (Article, Page 1L)

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