Rumors swirl on Government Center bidding process
Wednesday, 13 February 2013 12:18

On Dec. 11, Baltimore County announced plans to sell the North Point Government Center. Bids are due by April 5.
photo by Roland Dorsey

by Nicole Rodman

Baltimore County officials announced plans to place the North Point Government Center property up for sale just two months ago on Dec. 11.
    According to a statement by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the move was designed to allow for school upgrades and replacement facilities without using taxpayer funds.
    As part of the plan, the county also announced that Eastwood Elementary Magnet School would be combined with Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools.
    North Point Police Precinct 12 would then relocate to the building currently occupied by Eastwood Elementary.
    Announced without warning and accompanied by little information, the plan quickly raised controversy across the area.
    In the wake of this controversy, groups such as Dundalk United formed in an effort to provide a voice for those opposed to the county’s plan.
    Yet, as groups and individuals shared information via word-of-mouth and social networking, misinformation began circulating just as quickly.

Misinformation regarding Seagram’s site
    As rumors regarding the county’s plans have spread, many of them have centered around local developer John Vontran and his proposal last spring to build a new police station and recreation center on the former Seagrams site in exchange for the chance to develop the Government Center property.
    With this proposal coming just months before the county’s announcement, rumors began to spread regarding Vontran’s potential involvement in the county’s plan.
    Other rumors posited that the Seagrams site had already been chosen to host the new police station and/or a replacement recreation center and fields.
    According to Vontran, however, there are no plans to build any county facilties on the Seagrams property.
    Vontran, who spoke with The Eagle last Friday, said he is awaiting final comments from the Maryland Department of the Environment before he begins to tear down and clean up the Seagrams complex.
    Once the demolition and environmental remediation is done (a process that should be completed by the fall), Vontran is looking at a number of options for the site, including previously-mentioned senior housing.
    As for the Government Center property, Vontran says that his development team is looking at the county’s request for proposal (RFP) but that no decisions or bids have been made.
    Vontran said he is currently focused on fulfilling his promise to the Dundalk community — to raze and remediate the dilapidated former distillery.
    Referring to the potential Government Center sale, Vontran noted that private development (such as the county is proposing for the Government Center) has helped other communities grow and prosper.
    “We need to help Dundalk grow,” he said.

DRC letter causes controversy
    After Vontran’s so-called “swap” proposal was made public last March, the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation (DRC) wrote two letters, one to Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. on April 4 and one to Dan Gunderson  on April 30.
     Gunderson is the director of the Baltimore County Department of Economic Developement.
    In both letters, the DRC expressed interest in the economic development of the North Point Government Center property.
    “We want to encourage you, and the County Executive, to pursue examining options for this site and to act now before we miss out on opportunities,” then-DRC president Rhonda Crisp and director Amy Menzer wrote in their letter to the councilman.
    Likewise, in its letter to Gunderson, the DRC encouraged the county to “focus attention and resources on the intersection of Holabird Avenue and Merritt Blvd. as an area for potential reinvestment and revitalization.”
    There are residents who  see this letter as proof that the DRC is behind the county’s plan to sell the Government Center.
    In a letter to The Eagle signed “A Concerned Citizen,” an unnamed party includes copies of both DRC letters, noting, “You can also see the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation has been the one organization pushing for its sale despite community opposition.”
    Likewise, in a now-deleted Facebook post from Feb. 1, local opposition groups such as Dundalk United and Save the North Point Government Center posted a copy of the DRC letter to Gunderson noting, “Many have asked where the idea to sell the Government Center came from. Did it come from this letter? Notice the date. It is too bad nobody asked the community, the parents, the children, and all the program participants their opinion... Let your voice be heard! This group does not speak for Dundalk!”
    When asked to elaborate on this posting, Dundalk United representative Debbie Staigerwald wrote, “Our response is ‘we have no comment, the letters speak for themselves.’”
    For their part, the DRC pointed out in an email to The Eagle that “our letters were prompted by proposals involving the Government Center and Seagrams that John Vontran contacted us about.”
    In a statement to The Eagle on Monday, current DRC president Janice Evans and director Menzer wrote, “Regarding the North Point Government Center, DRC has made no endorsement of any particular redevelopment proposal, and we have made no statement supporting the sale of Government Center.”
    Rather, they say, the DRC was attempting to bring a number of local concerns regarding the site to the county’s attention.
    They state, “DRC is awaiting a response from the county to our letter.  We believe the information we requested would be quite helpful in assessing pending redevelopment proposals as well as in planning for the long-term vitality of our major commercial corridor.”
    In fact, the DRC has concerns of their own regarding the way that the county announced plans to sell the Government Center.
    “While we think those proposals are worthy of consideration, DRC has concerns about lack of public input to the county’s decision-making process,” DRC noted in their statement.
    In an email to The Eagle, Menzer also noted DRC’s initial concerns at the lack of details regarding the county’s proposal.
    “We were concerned that when the potential sale was first announced, there was no provision for replacing existing facilities, and we’re pleased to see that the RFP issued does require replacement,” she wrote.
    However, Menzer noted, the DRC hopes the process will result in a revitalized Dundalk.
    “We are continuing to follow this process as it unfolds and are hopeful a balance can be struck between protecting and supporting existing programs and uses, and encouraging new investment in Dundalk.”

Rumors swirl over potential bids
    Rumors have also swirled regarding the number of bidders interested in the Government Center site.
    In a Facebook update from Feb. 6, Dundalk United posted that a legislative aide to Senator Norman Stone told a resident that “I have heard that there have been 3 bids made but the winner of the bid would have to replace the fields and build a new rec center.”
    When asked about this posting, Dundalk United explained that they had received the information from Michael W. Lore.
    Dundalk United provided the email that Lore, a new aide to Sen. Stone,  sent to members regarding the three supposed bids.
    When contacted for comment, a senior aide to Sen. Stone confirmed that Lore did send out the email but that he was not authorized to do so.
    According to the aide, Stone’s wife JoAnne Stone, the Senator has no idea how many bids have been submitted. As she explained, he would have no way of knowing that information.
    For his part, Lore apologized, telling The Eagle, “I can take full responsibility. Senator Stone had nothing to do with this.”
    Lore noted that he got the three bidders figure from a phone call to Fritz Fertig, an employee with the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks.
    Attempts to reach Fertig for comment were unsuccessful as of press time.
    While the rumor of three bidders, started by a state and county official, have already spread via Facebook and word of mouth, it is important to note that this number is unsubstantiated.
    With the lack of concrete information coming from Baltimore County, many, including government officials, have begun spreading rumor as if it was fact.
    Here is what is known:
    On Dec. 11, the county announced plans to close Eastwood, move the police station and sell the Government Center for private development.
    In an RFP released in early January, Baltimore county stated that any bidders on the Government Center site would have to keep the communication tower in place and replace any fields lost to development.
    Likewise, the new site owner would be resposible for building a 21,000-square foot recreation facility to replace the Government Center’s lost facilities.
    The RFP also notes that the county would likely support Planned Unit development (PUD) zoning on the 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.”
    This means that the new owner of the Government Center property could be given greater flexibility in zoning in exchange for high-quality development beneficial to the public.
    All bids are due by April 5 at 3 p.m.
    So far, this has been the only information made publicly available by Baltimore County.
    No other official information has been released to this date.