County says three eateries set for Government Center site
Wednesday, 27 August 2014 13:09

Len Weinberg of Vanguard will face the community at the PUD meeting on the Government Center plan on Thursday night. photo by Ben Boehl 

 by Ben Boehl

Before the first planned unit development (PUD) meeting on Thursday, Aug. 28 [the publication date of this edition], Baltimore County announced last week that Vanguard Commercial Development Inc., developer of the North Point Government Center site, is close to securing commitments from national restaurant chains Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Five Guys to the site, which will be named Merritt Pavilion.
    Len Weinberg of Vanguard confirmed that his company is in the process of negotiating letters of intent with the three chains to locate at Merritt Pavilion and that attorneys are in the process of formalizing the agreements, but said it was the county’s decision to release the names of the three restaurants.
    “I didn’t want the names out there, but the county wanted the community to know what was part of this great project,” Weinberg said.
    Former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks director and state legislator Bob Staab, now a leading member of opposition group Dundalk United,  responded that Vanguard is only negotiating with the three stores, and added that the news does not assure that the deal will happen.
    “It is interesting that Vanguard came up with those three stores this late in the game, just before the Aug. 28 PUD meeting,” Staab said.  “I think Weinberg feels the community pressure regarding the sale and development of the North Point Government-Recreation Center.”
    Dundalk United has been critical of the Vanguard plan, including the proposed construction of an amphitheater. Weinberg said he has heard the complaints and that the outdoor theater will not be part of the plan.
    “As we talked with members of the community, it became clear to me that they would prefer that we not include an amphitheater as part of the Merritt Pavilion project,” Weinberg noted. “We are certainly open to replacing the amphitheater with another amenity, and we’ll solicit additional ideas from the community as we move forward.”
    The Request for Proposal (RFP) required Vanguard to build a 21,000-square-foot recreation center to replace the current Government Center building.
    County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. said that he wanted to see a larger facility built at the site.
    “In listening to the community, it was clear to me that even though a 21,000-square-foot center would be among the largest in the county, we needed the facility to be even larger to accommodate all of the programs that will use the facility,” Olszewski said in a statement. 
    “I am very pleased to announce that Dundalk’s new community center will be 24,395 square feet, the second largest amount of recreational space in a community center in the county.”
    Staab said he wants to know what will be inside the new center, as he has not seen a diagram for the inside of the building.
    Weinberg said his company will fund the community center, but the design will come from Baltimore County.
    Dundalk United has also been critical of the concept because the fields at Grange will be taken over as part of the plan. The four baseball diamonds on the Government Center property and the two diamonds on the Grange property will be combined and reduced to four diamonds on both properties.
    Weinberg responded that the acreage of the green area might be smaller, but  the four diamonds, two full-size soccer fields and the clinic-sized field will provide a more efficient playing field than the current site, which Weinberg said is not level in all areas.
    According to Weinberg, the county decided to add the Grange fields as part of the overall reconfiguration of the site.
    “This is what Baltimore County Rec and Parks said is best for the area,” Weinberg noted.
    The developer added that he has been in talks with Grange Elementary School and said he heard complaints from the school that there is not enough room for a student drop-off zone on Willis Street near Church Road.
    Weinberg has a proposal under which the Merritt Pavilion parking lot would extend through a new drop-off zone that parents would be able to access from Wise Avenue.
    Staab told The Eagle the plan is better than the previous proposals, but said he is still not satisfied.
    “In general, the new plan from Vanguard appears to be an improvement; however, it is still totally inadequate based on the original RFP and still takes away valuable parkland for commercial development, which is unprecedented in Baltimore County.”
    The first PUD meeting will take place on Thursday, Aug. 28 at Dundalk High School from 6 to 9 p.m.
    Weinberg said he knows he has critics but said he invites community members to give their input and ideas
    “I really want to encourage people in the community to come to the meeting and discuss the plan,” Weinberg said.
    “I don’t expect everybody to love what we are doing. I want there to be a give-and-take of ideas about the plan that is presented. I’m happy to hear [from the community].”