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Brochin, residents speak out against sale of Baltimore County public properties

County Council vote set for Dec. 2

By Alison Knezevich

7:49 PM EST, November 26, 2013

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State Sen. Jim Brochin questioned Tuesday how taxpayers would benefit from Baltimore County's plan to sell the Towson firehouse to developers, as residents called on the County Council to delay or stop the sale of that site and the North Point Government Center in Dundalk.

At a work session that drew a large crowd to the council chamber in Towson, Brochin said it doesn't make fiscal sense to move the fire station at York Road and Bosley Avenue to make way for private development. A group associated with Caves Valley Partners bid $8.3 million on the site and wants to build a Royal Farms there.

County officials have estimated it will cost about $6 million to build a new firehouse at Towsontown Boulevard and Bosley Avenue, but Brochin said there will likely be additional costs associated with the move.

"I don't get the math. And I've been trying to figure it out for the past few months," said Brochin, a Towson Democrat. "I don't see the benefit to this at all."

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced plans last December to put the county properties up for sale, saying it would generate tax revenue and help pay to replace aging public facilities. The county also plans to sell the Randallstown police substation on Liberty Road, but that proposal did not spark controversy.

A committee of county officials considered bids for the sites over the past year and announced their selections last month. The council is set to vote on the sale contracts Monday, though developers would still have to go through the county's development approval process before building their projects.

The Royal Farms proposal has raised concerns about traffic and crime from Towson residents. More than a dozen people testified against the project Tuesday.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican who represents Towson, said he has not decided how he will vote on the sale contract. But in a statement, he noted the council vote next week does not grant final approval to any development, and he will weigh the community's opinions.

"I stood with West Towson by opposing commercial rezoning west of Bosley Avenue, and will listen to their concerns if this process unfolds," Marks said.

In Dundalk, Vanguard Commercial Development was the winning bidder, offering $2.1 million for 15 acres of the 27-acre government center site, which residents use for sports and arts activities. The company proposed a "retail town center" and says it will keep the existing ballfields at the site.

Opponents there say selling county recreational and park land for private development is unprecedented. They say the county was secretive in the bidding process and has not addressed community concerns.

"We need answers and time to consider them," resident Patricia Paul said.

But Amy Menzer, executive director of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., said her organization believes the development plan is a valuable idea.

"From our perspective, the North Point Government Center is not a park," she said. "We think [Vanguard's proposal] will only enhance this crossroads of the community."

Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat whose district includes the government center site, said after Tuesday's work session that he planned to vote for the sale and that the community would have plenty of opportunity to weigh in during the development process.

Olszewski said he has heard from many residents who support the plan, and that opponents had "vilified" him at multiple council meetings this year. Opponents had predicted the bid would go to developer John Vontran, a personal friend of Olszewski, and that the ballfields would be relocated. Vanguard plans to keep the fields where they are, plus build a playground and a 21,000-square-foot recreation center with a theater.

"It's been the same small group," Olszewski said. "Everything they said didn't come true."

A subsidiary of Genesis HealthCare was the only company to bid on the Randallstown site. Genesis runs a 160-bed skilled nursing facility next to the county property, and wants to tear down the police station to make way for more parking.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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