Plan to purchase land raises questions of use

School bus depot possible at Kingsville property

February 14, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,sun reporter

Worried that a school bus depot could be destined for their community, about a half-dozen Kingsville residents urged Baltimore County officials yesterday to delay the government's purchase of a 26-acre farm.

The discussion took place at a County Council work session, where plans for a Towson pedestrian study and police overtime expenses also came under scrutiny.

The county administration has agreed to pay the Schmidt family $1.05 million for the farm, between Interstate 95 and Gunpowder Falls Golf Course. The deal requires approval from the council, which has scheduled a vote Tuesday.

Because the county would use nearly $674,000 of state Program Open Space money for the purchase, most of the land would be restricted to recreational uses. But county officials said there is a "remote" possibility that part of the farm could be used for a bus lot, which they say is desperately needed to reduce school transportation costs.

"We have a legitimate issue here," County Administrative Officer Fred J. Homan told the council. While emphasizing that the county is focusing on two other sites for a depot, Homan added, "I'd hate to give up this potential property as an option."

But several residents said a bus depot would clash with the character of their rural community.

"These kinds of facilities should be placed in areas that are zoned industrial," Danielle Welch-Blair said. She added that she feared the possibility of gasoline spills in an area where homes are served by wells. "It's not going to take a lot of contamination of groundwater to affect our wells if something happens."

Michael Trush, president of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association, said the farm, along with the golf course behind it, is one of the "signature" sights at the community's entrance.

He pointed out the county's willingness to walk away from plans for a bus depot in Perry Hall last year after residents complained.

"If it wasn't good enough for Honeygo, it's certainly not good enough for Kingsville," Trush said.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a north county Republican whose district includes the land, said he wants the county to guarantee that the farm would not be used for a depot, perhaps through the land deed. But Homan said the administration would resist such a move, and McIntire said after the meeting he would get council members' advice on how to handle the matter.

Also yesterday, county officials asked the council to approve a $95,775 payment to Hall Planning & Engineering Inc. for a pedestrian study in Towson.

In the proposal given to council members, the administration wrote that the firm would contribute to a broader study on how to improve traffic issues in the county seat. It would also address the business community's "concerns about `walkability' issues," the proposal states.

Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz questioned the expense, saying he was unclear about the point of a "walkability" study.

"Are we supposed to bring pedestrians into a room and explain to them the proper way to walk?" said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "We're using $90,000 of our money for a show, it looks like."

Mary Harvey, head of the county's office of community conservation, said the study would help residents plan the redevelopment of Towson.

A Police Department request for $550,000 to cover overtime expenses also prompted questions.

Police Col. James Johnson said new department strategies have required more overtime shifts. He said the strategies have led to significantly more arrests.

Kamenetz asked why the department could not find the money from this year's budget. "There's no fat to be trimmed from the budget?" Kamenetz asked.

"I don't think so, sir," said Homan, defending the request. He added that after all the department's major expenses, "There's not a great deal of discretionary money."

"We didn't budget sufficiently for the department," Homan said.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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