Dundalk United gaining numbers
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 12:04

Critics say group hurting local growth

by Ben Boehl

In the aftermath of December’s announcements from Baltimore County regarding plans for Eastwood Elementary School and the North Point Government Center, Eastwood parents were fighting the school closing, the Eastwood community was fighting the arrival of the police station and the recreation programs at the Government Center were fighting the closure of that building.
    Separate groups were fighting separate battles, even as their causes were linked.   
    Then, instead of each group waging an individual battle against the county, the groups came together and started Dundalk United.
    “We serve the Dundalk, Maryland region as a multi-community coalition of citizens and leaders who seek a strategic, consent-driven process for all county government decisions or Dundalk about facilities, programs, children and their public education,” said a statement on the group’s Facebook page.
    The group held its first meeting on Jan. 12 at the North Point Library. The main topic of the meeting was the closure of the Government Center.
    Rich Foot, founder of Foot’s Forecast, is one of the parents in the group Support Eastwood Elementary Magnet School, which is trying to keep the school from being consolidated into a program at Holabird Middle and Norwood Elementary schools. His group is one of many which merged to form Dundalk United.
    According to Foot, Dundalk United is made up of community associations in North Point Village, Eastfield-Stanbrook and Gray Manor-Northshire, as well as youth sports and recreation groups, Clean Bread and Cheese Creek, Sweet Adelines, Eastwood residents and the “Save the North Point Government Center” group — just to name a few.
    “We don’t have one particular group that overshadows the others,” Foot said.
    Debbie Staigerwald, director of the Sky is the Limit theatre program at the Government Center, was part of the Save the North Point Government Center group. She said that Dundalk United is growing to groups outside of the Eastwood/Government Center controversy because of fears that more recreation councils or schools could be affected.
    “They are worried if they are next. It is Eastwood now, but who knows what elementary or high school (could) be next,” Staigerwald said.
    “Our vision is to keep growing. People want to become a part of Dundalk United.”
    Staigerwald added that Dundalk United has been in contact with groups all over the county, That includes the Mays Chapel community, where many local groups oppose the building of a new elementary school on the site of a local park in Lutherville.
    John Ayres, president of The New Norwood Holabird Community Association (NHCA), has been one of Dundalk United’s biggest critics. Ayres, is upset that he never got to speak at the group’s meeting on Jan. 12 and called the meeting unproductive.
    “Nothing came of it. They need to get educated with what is going on in the community,” Ayres said. “Selling Dundalk United T-shirts for $5 is not the way to go. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to stop focusing on issues without (having all) the facts.”
    Foot  appreciates the efforts of the NHCA to come up with a proposal (described in last week’s Eagle) to close five schools and to replace them into a new facility, but has reservations about the plan.
    Foot and Staigerwald both wonder if the NHCA went to the schools and those communities to discuss their idea of closing down these schools.
    “What types of studies did he conduct? Anything like this takes years to study,” Staigerwald said of Ayres and the NHCA.
 One of the goals of Dundalk United is to get more community input meetings so the community is not in the dark, as  with the Eastwood consolidation and the RPF of the North Point Gov. Center.
    “We don’t like how Dundalk is being treated and we want our voices heard,” Foot said, adding that Dundalk United plans to come up with its own proposal at a later time.
    Locals have also expressed displeasure with local officeholders, so is Dundalk United looking to field some candidates for the next election cycle?
    Foot said that he is busy with Foot’s Forecast and has no desire to run for office, and that if anyone from the group wanted to run it would be an individual decision. 
    Foot added that Dundalk United  is not specially looking to groom candidates against incumbents for the 2014 elections, but wants to keep all options open.
    “Looking ahead to the elections is like trying to predict a snowstorm a year away. We don’t know what is going to happen,” Foot said.
    Edgemere resident David Janiszewski said that he understands the message of Dundalk United but wishes they went about it in a proper manner. He agrees that the whole RFP process could have been better presented by the county, but does not understand why the group would be against the project that would result in a new recreation building without using taxpayer’s money.
    “I would concede that they had some valid concerns, but the approach they are taking to disseminate information is not helpful to the overall issues affecting Dundalk,” Janiszewski said. 
    “As I explained to certain people after the meeting,  I am not against all they stand for. I think they need to open a dialogue for the community and remain open-minded.”
    Janiszewski has taken a few shots himself. During a meeting about the Fort Howard project, he admitted that he was the only one in the room who verbally supported the project. He said he is not alone, but was the one who stood up to the opposition.
    Janiszewski said the days of the steel mill are gone and the area needs to find ways to grow the local economy.
    “They are the same citizens that oppose change in Dundalk. They oppose any economic change that is in the best interest for Dundalk,” Janiszewski said.
    Staigerwald responded Dundalk United isn’t against economic growth, but needs to stand up to keep the county from taking away schools and recreation programs for kids.
    “We feel that a lot of people are not happy,” Staigerwald noted. “We are very angry — not concerned as [County Executive Kevin Kamenetz] said — but angry about what has been going on.”