Dundalk United meets with local state legislators
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 12:03

Karen Cruz (far left) and members of Dundalk United asked state legislative aide Michael W. Lore, Sen. Norman Stone (Lore’s boss) and Del. John Olszewski Jr. to help stop the sale of the North Point Government Center.
photo by Ben Boehl

Group asks for Government Center help

by Ben Boehl

    With the future still unknown for the North Point Government Center, members of the anti-sale group Dundalk United invited the four local delegates to a meeting to seek their help in the matter.
    Sen. Norman Stone and Del. John Olszewski Jr. attended the Oct. 8 meeting, but delegates Joseph “Sonny” Minnick and Michael Weir Jr. were not present.
    “All the [legislators] were invited, and we only have two. They were all invited and I have not been given no reason for them not being here,” said Patricia Paul of Dundalk United.
    Although the Baltimore County government is already evaluating bids on the Government Center site, Dundalk United is seeking help from the state legislators to try to stop the sale.
    Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, at a state Board of Public Works meeting on Oct. 2,  questioned state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials about the proposed sale of the Government Center and a possible voice for the state in the process.
    Members of Dundalk United said they hope to get help from Franchot, but Stone’s legislative aide Michael W. Lore cautioned that DNR is unlikely to intervene in a county issue. 
    “This is an issue between county and state. The comptroller has stepped in against the state before,” Lore said, referring to the battles that Franchot and Gov. Martin O’Malley have had over slots gambling and redistricting. 
    “The Government Center sale falls on DNR on whether [appropriate action] is taking place. The DNR is not going to be looking at merit, but numbers. The odds are low that DNR will block this project.”
    Former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks Director John Weber said he worries that the Government Center sale could start a precedent by which municipalities elsewhere might be more likely to start selling off parkland in order to raise capital for local projects.
    Weber asked Olszewski and Stone if they would support legislation that would disallow the sale of public parkland that is not declared a surplus.
    “I would be willing to support it, but it has to be constitutional,” Stone added. “I don’t want the Attorney General to say ‘we can’t do that.’”
    Olszewski commented that he does not want to see parkland sold off for profit, but stated he would rather see a bill in its entirety before commenting on a hypothetical legislation.
    Tensions rose when local attorney Ron Schaffer asked Olszewski and Stone if they approved of Baltimore County’s sale of the Government Center. Stone said he was against the sale.
    “If we are going to sell it and it is going to be used for the same purpose, I would vote for it,” Stone said about selling the land. “If [the developers] were going to use it for something else, I would have a problem with that.”
    Olszewski received criticism from the crowd when he did not give a definitive answer.
    “I’m not going to give you a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I support community input,” Olszewski said about his thoughts on the sale.
    “That is a yes,” shouted Karen Cruz, president of the Eastfield-Stanbrook Civic Association and one of the organizers of the meeting.
    There were also a few tense moments between Olszewski and Paul. Olszewski said he understood why there was concern with the Sollers Investors LLC proposal, which calls for all the Baltimore County recreation programs and fields currently at the Government Center to be moved to the site of the former Seagram’s distillery [owned by Sollers investor John Vontran], with the entire Government Center site becoming home to a big-box retail center.
    Olszewski asked why Dundalk United was against the Vanguard Retail Property Development plan that calls for the athletic fields to remain where they are. According to the plan, the fields would be upgraded to include bigger backstops on the baseball/softball diamonds and seating for spectators.    
    A new 22,100-square-foot multipurpose facility would be built on the Church Road side of the property, and Vanguard would build 44,500 square feet of space, which would include six to seven retail pads on the remainder of the site.
    Olszewski questioned if the group was open to compromise, since the Vanguard plan did not call for removal of the ballfields.    
    “One of the bidders would not touch the field. They would only enhance it,” he noted.
    Paul responded that Dundalk United had no interest in compromise with the developers.
    “We are Dundalk United, and there is not an acceptable bid,” Paul said.
    When Olszewski told the group that he wants to gather more information so he can present it to the state attorney general, Paul asked why he was not able to provide the group with an answer at the meeting, saying that she had presented him with bullet points a few days before the meeting and that she believes that was enough time to formulate a response.
    “It takes weeks to get a response from the Attorney General. I need more than a few days,”  Olszew-ski explained.
    Olszewski added that he wants to see a new building because the Government Center building — more than 60 years old — is outdated.
    Former Del. Bob Staab said there is no excuse for calling the building outdated because Dundalk Elementary  School and the former Patapsco Neck Elementary School (now home to the Ateaze Senior Center) are older and are still in use.
    “That building is not falling apart. If it is falling apart, it is from negligence,” Staab said.
    The loudest cheers came when North Point Village Community Association president Dave Patro summed up the frustration of the group.
    “We were asked to like something that we don’t know nothing about. We need to stand together,” Patro said. “That is sad. If they can do this to our park, what is next?”