Kamenetz speaks to GDCC
Wednesday, 15 May 2013 13:12

Debate with critics civil but substantial

by Ben Boehl

    Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz came to the Greater Dundalk Community Council (GDCC) meeting on May 9 to talk about the county’s budget and the recently announced proposal from the Sparrows Point Partnership, but most members in the audience came to talk about the sale of the North Point Government Center.
    This was the first time that members of the Dundalk community had a chance to speak with Kamenetz in an open forum.

    The County Executive did appear at a New Norwood Holabird Community Association meeting in February, but questioners at that meeting had to sign up in advance.
    Members of Dundalk United, the umbrella group for opposition to the Government Center proposal, asked why the Government Center had to be sold. Kamenetz said the reason why the site, along with the Towson Fire Station and Public Works Facility and the Randallstown Police Substation, was placed on the open market was to save the county money.
    “All three buildings are in need of repairs. The old way, we would have borrowed money to rebuild the properties,” Kamenetz said.
    “We thought, ‘Why don’t we do a Request for Proposal for all three properties and [have private investors] make an offer?’ We are finding ways to pay for it without using taxpayers’ dollars.”
    According to Kamenetz, a committee will look at the bids and decide if any are in the best interest of the county. Then there will be a hearing for the community and the County Council will vote on the proposed sale.
    When asked why the process has been such a secret, Kamenetz explains that he does not know the details of the bids and even does not know the members of the committee that will review the RFP. Kamenetz said this is done to eliminate any question of political influence.
    “We don’t want the committee to be part of a political process, Kamenetz added.
    One member of Dundalk United complained about the fact that Sollers Investors LLC developer John Vontran’s bid was even being considered.    
    “He wants to give us that piece of crap and take our wonderful building,” said the member of Dundalk United as he asked how Vontran can buy the property after going through bankruptcy proceedings a few years ago.
    Kamenetz answered that it will be the job of the committee to evaluate all the bids and potential buyers to see which is the best fit for the community.
    Vontran told The Eagle on Friday that he and his Sollers Investors LLC team have the funding for their project.
    “That was several years ago when that happened,” Vontran said about the bankruptcy. “Our team would not go through all these semantics if we did not have the proper finances.”
    John Ayres, president of New Norwood Holabird Community Association, reminded everyone at the meeting about his plan to tear down the Government Center and build a new state-of-the-art educational facility at the location.
    “You need to read the original deed,” Ayres said. “What happens if (the RFP) does not fly? Because it could happen.”
    “I think we’d go back to the drawing board if the County Council does not approve,” Kamenetz responded.
    Seventh District Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who also attended the meeting, acknowledged  along with Kamenetz that the Government Center needs to be replaced and is not worth upgrading.
    “I don’t know what will happen to the building,” Olszewski said about what might happen if no sale is completed. “Will it come down? What do you do with all those programs? This is not an easy solution.”
    Members of Dundalk United held a protest at the intersection of Wise and Holabird avenues and Merritt Boulevard to protest the planned sale of the North Point Government Center on May 4. They were joined by members of the Save Mays Chapel Park group that is protesting the building of a school on the grounds of a Lutherville park.
    After Kamenetz got into a yelling match with protesters during the ground breaking of the new Mays Chapel Elementary School — and was criticized for telling hecklers, “It’s my job to talk, your job to listen” — some wondered if there would be any confrontation between Kamenetz and the Dundalk United protesters at the GDCC meeting.
    The meeting did remain civil, but there were a few interesting moments.
    Former state Del. Bob Staab questioned some of Kamenetz moves and the running of the Baltimore County government.
    “I think I know how government works, Bob. I’ve been doing this for 19 years,” Kamenetz said.
    There was also some questioning from Dundalk United member and Eastfield Stanbrook Civic Association (ESCA) president Karen Cruz as to why Kamenetz never met with her group.
    Kamenetz explained that his aide Bryan Sheppard told him ESCA did not want him at their meetings.
    “We wanted to come to your community meeting and we were uninvited,” Kamenetz said.
    Cruz denied that claim.
    Olszewski also faced criticism from Dundalk United members, as they questioned if he has the community’s best interest at heart. 
    Olszewski calmly responded that he must be doing something right, since he has been elected to four terms.
    “I have listened to what the people have said over the past 15 years,” Olszewski noted.
    Kamenetz said he knows that there is a disagreement, but said that he enjoyed the dialogue with the Dundalk community.
    “I’m trying to do my best. Nothing is a done deal,” he added. “Your input still matters.”
    Olszewski said there would be a meeting for the public during a council session, but agreed with North Point Peninsula Community Coordinating Council president  Harry Wujek that an additional meeting in a bigger forum should be held in Dundalk.
    “We are going to have pros and cons. Some people may like it,” Olszewski said.
    “We are waiting for the process to play out.”