Battle over truck terminal enters next phase

Halethorpe lot seems empty, but hearing Dec. 3 might change all that

November 23, 2009|By Arthur Hirsch | Baltimore Sun reporter

The view from outside the New England Motor Freight lot in Halethorpe might suggest the local neighborhood association has won its years-long fight against the trucking company's expansion. On what might otherwise be a busy late afternoon, the gates are locked, the loading dock, offices, maintenance shop quiet, the asphalt lot empty but for a few trailers.

Though trucking operations have all but ceased at the terminal that straddles the Baltimore City- Baltimore County line, the case remains open and local opposition has not rested. Not after years of holding bake sales, oyster roasts and shrimp feasts to raise money, not after spending about $25,000 and countless hours as the case dragged through the county Board of Appeals, Baltimore County Circuit Court and the state Court of Special Appeals, only to end up now where it began: at the county Board of Appeals.

Year 7 of the Halethorpe - or Lansdowne, depending on the interpretation - Truck Terminal Battle closes on a note of uncertainty for activists of the Greater Bloomfield Community Association, an organization that was dormant until this struggle breathed life into it.

"We don't want a lot," said Lorna Rudnikas, the organization's former president who has been active in the motor freight challenge. "Just little red-brick buildings that open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m."

She means another use for the property between Joh Avenue and Georgetown Road, where the company has run a trucking terminal since 1991 and where one trucking operation or another has done business off and on since at least the 1970s.

NEMF, one of the Shevell Group of trucking companies based in New Jersey, owns 17 acres there and the lot is still being used by another Shevell company. Earlier this month, NEMF pulled out of Halethorpe, consolidating operations at terminals in Hagerstown and North East.

Representatives of the company in New Jersey and their lawyer in Baltimore did not return phone calls, but the former NEMF Halethorpe terminal manager, Peter Filipowicz, who lost his job in the transition, said most of the 70 employees were moved from Halethorpe to the two other Maryland operations.

While about 100 trucks a day once rolled in and out of the terminal, Filipowicz said that's down to about five or six a day under Eastern Freight Ways.

Filipowicz said the move out of Halethorpe had nothing to do with the community challenge to its proposed expansion and everything to do with the recession.

The company is taking legal steps to keep its options open as the case continues next month before the Board of Appeals.

In 2006, the board denied the company's request for a "special exception" to expand the operation. At the time, the company was proposing to make room for quadrupling the number of tractors to about 300 and doubling the trailers to 260.

Opponents argued that the expansion would put the operation too close to homes, bringing unacceptable noise and exhaust fumes.

On appeal, the county Circuit Court sustained the denial of the expansion and also sided with the community in its claim that the company's right to do business on that site as a "nonconforming use" had expired in the 1980s when no business was conducted there for more than a year. The state Court of Special Appeals ordered the Board of Appeals late last year to take up the case again, and it will do so during a hearing Dec. 3.

The company's local lawyer asked last week to withdraw its petition for the expansion. The community association's lawyer, J. Carroll Holzer, called that request an attempt to effectively restart the process as if no decisions had been made.

"Our position is you've already asked for expansion and been denied," Holzer said in an interview.

His view is supported by the county People's Counsel, whose job is to represent the public on zoning matters. In a letter to the Board of Appeals, Peter Max Zimmerman - who backed the association in earlier appeals - called the request for withdrawal an "unacceptable tactical manipulation."

Rudnikas said her group is working on two fronts: fighting to see that the expansion plan cannot be revived and pressing county officials to encourage the trucking company to sell the land or develop it in a way the neighbors consider more suitable.

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