Friction plagues area’s community organizations
Wednesday, 20 June 2012 10:39

Seagram’s, DRC coalition among disagreements

by Ben Boehl

    The Greater Dundalk area’s community organizations — and their leaders — can be rightly credited with doing a lot of good for their neighborhoods and their hometown.
    But at least one community group leader, Norwood Holabird Community Association president John Ayers, says there are too many egos within the community organizations and that their stubbornness is hurting Dundalk.    

Ayers gives an example of how community opposition against a store such as Target kept a retailer out of Dundalk.
    According to reports, developer John Vontran had an idea to build a new police station, government and recreation center and senior housing units on the former Seagrams’ property and in return would take possession of the current North Point Government Center site at the intersection of Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard.
    Then it was reported that Vontran would pursue a large “big box” retailer for the Government Center site.
    Ayers said the opposition won, but the greater Dundalk community lost because not everyone was on the same page.
    Rose Mary Tallon, who was one of the community members that opposed Vontran’s idea of trying to get a retailer at the Government Center site said community and civic associations are not trying to keep retailers out of the community and it has to due with economics. She stated that Dundalk’s median household income was next to the bottom of all the county’s Census Designated Places and that’s not good for business.
    “The reason why the national retailers like Target, Best Buy and Kohl’s do not have a presence in Dundalk is not due to squabbling amongst our community associations.  Their absence has to do with a combination of market economics and real estate,” Tallon explained. “These chain stores are publicly traded; one of their responsibilities is to continually grow the value of their stock shares.  They will not take on the several millions of dollars of debt required to purchase land, build and then operate a store unless they are extremely confident that it can run at a profit.”
    One of the newest projects to try to unite all of these leaders is the new coalition created by the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation (DRC). Ayers approves of the DRC coalition but is upset over the egos.
    “They all think they are kings and queens of their territories and they are not,” Ayers said about some of his fellow community presidents. “They are just representing the people in their communities. They are not ruling them!”
    At the beginning of the last DRC meeting, David Patro, president of the North Point Village Civic Association and Colgate Improvement Association president David Hyland both expressed concerns that their groups were going to lose their identities and that they were all going to be under one umbrella.
    “There was some concern from some leaders that their group was going to lose its individualism. We assured them that they are not. We are working to improve the Greater Dundalk area but we don’t want the groups to lose their identity,” DRC Community Projects Coordinator Leah Bunck said in the June 7 issue of The Eagle.
    “I didn’t mean to be a heartache, but it’s something I wanted to know about. I wanted to know where we stood. I didn’t want North Point Village and the rest of us to regret this six months later,” Patro later explained. “But after I got the answer I wanted, I’m behind this with the DRC. I think this is going to work.”
    Joe Stadler, a resident of St. Helena, believes that the coalition can work, but agrees that egos need to be checked at the door.
    “I’m St. Helena. I’m always about St. Helena. You can say that I have an ego when it comes to being an advocate of St. Helena, but you have to learn to put that aside,” Stadler said. “We have to come together as a whole. It’s all about being an advocate for Dundalk.”
    David Hyland, president of the Colgate Improvement Association (CIA), said he is still undecided if his group will join the DRC coalition because the CIA board of directors must approve the membership. Hyland said this has nothing to do with egos or territorialism. He gets along well with other community organizations, but has questions about the DRC.
    “I think it’s good thing, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” Hyland said. “The community leaders should be voting on the agenda.”
    Hyland is also concerned that the DRC is already giving out grants. CIA is a federally-registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and Hyland is worried that accepting the grant could violate that status.    
    Ayers was also critical as the DRC coalition meeting had less participants than the first meeting back in March. The  latest meeting was held on June 2, which Ayres admitted is a busy day for graduations, but he said he  wants to see more involvement for all communities.
    Patro agreed, but isn’t worried about those community leaders that didn’t show up. He wants the community leaders present to focus on the agenda of improving Dundalk.
    “I realized that I have over 1,000 houses in my (North Point Village) area and I’ve got only over 100 members. That doesn’t stop me. The same is true with this DRC coalition. We are going to do this with or without them. The ones that didn’t come are missing out.”
    With or without a DRC coalition, there is still disagreements over key issues in Dundalk.
    While the idea of a big box store coming to the Government Center site appears gone, there is still the debate of what to do at the old Seagram’s site. Vontran wants to develop senior housing, with an office designation but that has caused a conflict as some community members are against that type of zoning.
    “We need to stop thinking with the emotional side of our brains and need to base our issues on the facts,” Ayers said.