MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD
Wednesday, 16 January 2013 15:50

Residents young and old gathered at the North Point Public Library last Saturday to voice their opinions on the North Point Government Center sale proposal and the potential closure of Eastwood Elementary School. photo by Nicole Rodman

Locals speak in opposition to county plan

by Nicole Rodman

More than 100 citizens and community leaders gathered at the North Point Public Library last Saturday morning to discuss plans for the sale of the North Point Government Center property.
    The meeting was organized by Dundalk United, a new coalition made up of various community groups from across the Dundalk area.
    Dundalk United brings together many of the groups that have formed to oppose the government center sale, including the “Save the North Point Government Center” Facebook group started by Michelle Schriefer.
    On hand to moderate last weekend’s meeting was Foot’s Forecast founder Rich Foot, a former Dundalk High School teacher and current Dundalk resident.
    His co-moderators were Debbie Staigerwald, director of the Sky is the Limit theatre program housed at the government center, and Clean Bread and Cheese Creek founder John Long.
    Emotions ran high on all sides throughout the meeting, with both residents and elected officials getting heated at times.
    “Who here loves Dundalk?” Long asked the assembled crowd, eliciting cheers.
    Pressing on, Long received even more cheers after asking ‘Who here is tired of us being the back seat of Baltimore County?’”
    His anger evident, Long noted that the Dundalk United coalition was started “because we’ve seen too many institutions taken away without our input.”
    Turning from anger to information, Long then proceeded to go over the county’s recently-released Request for Proposal (RFP).
    The RFP spells out the terms that potential bidders must satisfy in order to obtain the Government Center property.
    Issued last week, the RFP requires potential bidders to build a facility of at least 21,000 square feet to replace the recreation space now housed in the North Point Government Center.
    According to Long, who analyzes RFPs professionally in his work with Johns Hopkins, there are a number of aspects to the county’s RFP that give him cause for concern
    As Long pointed out, the RFP mentions that the communications tower on the government center site would remain, but without the police station at the site, it would sit unprotected.
    Noting that “there are no assumptions” when it comes to RFPs, Long noted that if something is not mentioned in an RFP than it does not exist.
    Long also pointed to Section 2.3.5 of the RFP, which notes that bidders can assume that the county “will support a proposed Planned Unit Development (PUD) on this property.”
    According to the Baltimore County website, a PUD “does not establish new zoning, but is intended to create a development ‘in which residential and/or commercial uses are approved subject to restrictions calculated to achieve the compatible and efficient use of land, including the consideration of any detrimental impact upon adjacent residential communities.’”
    According to Long, this means that a potential bidder could come in and develop industrial business on the Government Center site, which is currently zoned as dense residential.
    Finally, Long also pointed to the RFP’s assertion that “the site contains no major streams or wetlands.”
    As he noted, however, there is a stream — Lynch Cove Run — that does run by the North Point Government Center.
    As Long concluded his remarks, questions began to fly from the many residents assembled.
    Questions about the proposed closure of Eastwood Elementary School and the relocation of the police station to Eastwood dominated, though many were concerned about potential traffic issues surrounding redevelopment at the Government Center site, located at the corner of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue.
    About a half hour into the meeting, Baltimore County Councilman John Olzewski Sr. came into the room, accompanied by his son, state Del. John Olszewski Jr.
    Noting that he had cut his vacation short to attend the meeting, Councilman Olszewski wasted no time opening himself up for questions.
    In beginning his remarks, the councilman noted that, contrary to remarks e-mailed to The Eagle by Olszewski aide Doris Kuhar, he has spoken to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz regarding the potential Government Center sale.
    “I have had conversations with the administration about this, contrary to what the paper has said,” Olszewski said, referring to remarks by Kuhar noted by Eagle editor Steve Matrazzo in his Dec. 27 “Talk of the Town” column.
    Olszewski added, “They took some words out of context from my aide in the office.”
     [Standing by his reporting of Kuhar’s remarks, Matrazzo noted that the remarks were taken directly from e-mail correspondence between himself and Kuhar.]                Olszewski assured the assembled crowd that the County Council has the final say over whether a proposal for the Government Center site is approved.
    As he explained, he would not approve any proposal that did not replace the recreation facilities in and around the center.
    “I will not let them take away anything without replacing it first,” he asserted.
    Responding to Olzewski’s remarks, Staigerwald addressed him, saying, “We want to be part of the decision.”
    “You will be and always have been,” the councilman replied — to mixed reaction from the crowd.
    While the councilman was forthcoming on issues surrounding the potential Government Center sale, he was unable to answer many questions regarding either the closure of Eastwood or the relocation of the police station.
    He instead noted that he would write to Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dr. S. Dallas Dance urging him to set up a meeting with Dundalk parents.
    Also on hand during the meeting were 6th District delegates Joseph “Sonny” Minnick, John Olszewski Jr. and Michael Weir Jr.
    In animated remarks during the meeting, Minnick seemed at times angry as he recounted a meeting between the 6th District delegation and a Kamenetz representative.
    As Minnick stated, he and his colleagues asked whether or not there would be a public meeting in Dundalk regarding the RFP; they were told there would not.
    For his part, Del. Olszewski echoed Minnick’s dissatisfaction with the lack of information coming out of the county executive’s office.
    “There are a lot of legitimate questions that people have about what’s being proposed, and it’s impossible for me — and quite frankly if it’s impossible for me its impossible for anyone else — to make an informed decision about whether it is something that enhances our community or is a detriment.”
    Del. Olszewski also noted that he urges Kamenetz, Dance and police chief Jim Johnson to meet with the people of Dundalk to discuss the plans.
    “We will do whatever we can to make sure that any questions you have get answered,” he vowed.
    In remarks to The Eagle two days after the meeting, Del. Olszewski further promoted transparency in the process, noting that he would like potential developers to present their plans for the Government Center property to the community.
    “An open forum needs to be held to hear what the community wants,” he explained.
    As the meeting wound to a close, Councilman Olszewski guaranteed the assembled crowd that he would take community input into account and would not approve any proposal that did not replace the recreational facilities at the government center to equal or better status.
    “At the end of the day, it’s a community decision,” Olszewski said.
    As he explained, however, the replacement of the Government Center facilities is necessary as the building is aging and potentially dangerous.
    “If, at the end of the day, we can have a place where our needs are taken care of in a new and better facility ... and have a chance to have economic development in our district ... would we agree that that is a positive thing?” the councilman asked to mixed reaction.
    He concluded the meeting by adding, “In these tough times we try to get the best we can. I will continue to be your advocate.”
    As the meeting ended, a posted list of upcoming meeting dates signaled what Dundalk United will be up to for the rest of the month.
    The proposed closure of Eastwood Elementary School and relocation of the police station will be discussed at the next meeting of the Eastwood Community Civic Association, to be held at Eastwood Elementary on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m.
    On the same day, Jan. 22, the Baltimore County Board of Education will meet in room 114 of the ESS Building on the Greenwood Campus, 6901 Charles Street in Towson.
    For more information on Dundalk United, or to see a video of last weekend’s meeting, visit the Web at www.facebook.com/DundalkUnited.