Vanguard head faces critics at first Government Center PUD meeting
Wednesday, 03 September 2014 13:54

 Ken Hadfield and Dundalk United member Karen Cruz used charts and signs to oppose Len Weinberg (center) and Vanguard’s plan to redevelop the Government Center site.
photo by Ben Boehl

Proponents of plan heckled by opposition

 by Ben Boehl

    Vanguard Commercial Development Inc. held its first planned unit development (PUD) meeting on the plan to develop the North Point Government Center into the Merritt Pavilion retail center. This was the first time Vanguard had met with the community since April, but the results of last Thursday’s meeting were similar to those of four months ago.
    An overwhelming majority of those who attended the meeting in the Dundalk High School auditorium opposed the sale of the Government Center; those in favor of the sale were heckled by the opposition and no time limit was placed during the comment period.
    One difference between Thursday’s meeting and the April 10 meeting was that Darryl D. Putty, a Baltimore County government project manager, was present and taking notes.
    “This is an opportunity to hear what is being proposed and a chance for you to express any concern,” Putty told the attendees.
    He also repeatedly emphasized that he will not be the decision-maker in the process, but that decisions will be made by a county hearing officer.
    Former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks director and Dundalk United member Bob Staab continued to argue that the Dundalk area has 160 vacant store fronts and does not need more stores.
    “Twenty-seven of those stores are right across the street from Merritt Pavilion,” Staab noted.
    West Inverness resident Cary Quintana said he does not dispute Staab’s claim, but pointed out that those empty 160 stores only make up six percent of the community’s retail capacity and claimed that the national average of vacant stores in a community is around 12 percent.
    Before the Government Center building is demolished and the planned retail center is built, Vanguard has agreed to build a new 24,000-square-foot recreation center as part of the request for proposal (RFP) issued by the county.
    Debbie Staigerwald, director of The Sky is the Limit theatre program, said she has not seen the new plan for the community center but is concerned that it is only 24,000 square feet. She noted that her group currently uses 20,000 square feet and is worried she will not have enough space with other activities such as soccer and wrestling also being held at the site.
    “We are losing so much and we are supposed to be happy we are getting another shopping center,” Staigerwald noted.
    Weinberg received a few direct questions. Former County Council candidate Brian Weir asked Weinberg if he could guarantee that 25 percent of the work force would be from the local area and would receive a living wage. Weinberg responded he will try to pursue such goals, but such decisions will ultimately be made by the retailers themselves.
    Real estate agent Myia Biggs questioned Weinberg’s claim of signing letters of intent with Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Five Guys.
    Biggs said she did research and claims that Panera is no longer expanding anywhere in Maryland, Five Guys is no longer giving out franchises anywhere in America and Chipotle has no plans to come to Dundalk.
    “I do know that Segall (a commercial real estate firm focused on retail tenants) has received letterheads from  Chipotle and Five Guys,” Weinberg responded. After he was asked to share the letters with Staab and fellow Dundalk United member Karen Cruz, Weinberg declined.
    Not all speakers were against the Vanguard plan. Dundalk Renaissance Corp. president Dave Janiszewski said there are community leaders in favor of this project but do not want to be vocal in fear of being ridiculed by the opposition. Janiszewski said the Vanguard plan is good for the future of the community.
    He got booed when he made that statement.
    “[The DRC] has never claimed to represent all of Dundalk and Dundalk United does not represent all of Dundalk. The DRC is not in any collaboration with any elected officials,”  Janiszewski said, referring to the rumors of collusion between the DRC and Councilman John Olszewski Sr. and Del. John Olszewski Jr.
    Janiszewski is a former campaign manager for Del. Olszewski, and the delegate’s wife Marissa is listed as secretary for the DRC executive board.
    Former Searles Road resident David Porter questioned if all the fields are needed, saying he drives by the Government Center frequently and said he does not see all the fields being used.
    “It seems like everyone is against everything,” Porter said. “This isn’t as bad as you say it is going to be.”
    DRC Executive Director Amy Menzer said she supports the Vanguard project and was upset that those in favor of the plan were being heckled by the opposition.
    Then Menzer and Baltimore City resident Bruce Ebert got into a shouting match when Menzer complained about the heckling. Ebert stormed out of the meeting shouting expletives at Menzer.