Eastside women rule in county’s Women of the Year awards

- By Marge Neal -

Three women with ties to eastern Baltimore County will sweep the awards when the county’s Commission for Women gathers this Tuesday, March 28, to recognize its annual Woman of the Year honorees.

Kelli Szczybor of Perry Hall, Toni Torsch of Nottingham and Nhu Dang, a Parkville High School senior, have been named the Commission’s Woman of the Year, LaFrance Muldrow Woman Making a Difference awardee and Young Woman of the Year, respectively.

Szczybor is being honored for bringing her vision of an all-inclusive playground and park to fruition; Torsch is being recognized for her advocacy for opioid addiction awareness, education and treatment; and Dang is being honored for her school leadership, academic excellence and community volunteerism, according to Commission staff member Nancy Surosky.

“These women are all really amazing,” Surosky told the East County Times. “Our Commission is really proud of their work.”

Woman of the Year
Kelli Szczybor turned a family tragedy into a lasting legacy when she pursued a vision that eventually became Angel Park, an all-inclusive, passive and active recreation area in Perry Hall.

In creating a space that she hoped would bring people of different generations and abilities together, Szczybor was driven by the memory of her son Ryan, who died of leukemia 19 years ago when he was just 15 months old.

This is the second time she is being honored by a county commission for her work on Angel Park. She and park co-founder Michelle Streckfus were honored in October with the Accessibility Award from the Commission on Disabilities.

Szczybor got the idea for an accessible playground while volunteering to help build a similar play area, “Annie’s Playground,” in Harford County.

Her vision for such a play area in Baltimore County morphed into a much bigger plan that included passive, contemplative areas and includes room for future growth, with additional amenities as fundraising allows.

There were naysayers who said the women would never be able to raise that kind of money, and if they did, it would take years, according to Szczybor. But those naysayers underestimated the drive and passion of the project leaders, and the needed money was soon in the bank.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Councilman David Marks were instrumental in finding a piece of land near the Perry Hall library that was designated for the park and the project became a reality.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for Angel park, a project that Szczybor estimates cost closer to $3 million with in-kind services and donations, was held last October.

Bill Paulshock, owner of Bill’s Seafood and Catering, as well as Szczybor’s employer and uncle, nominated her for the Woman of the Year honor. In his nomination, he wrote that, while Angel Park was a highly visible project that garnered a lot of attention, Szczybor also does a lot of quiet, behind-the-scenes work for others.

Through the Ryan Foundation, Szczybor helps families who have children being treated at the Johns Hopkins Childrens Center, according to Paulshock.

In the nominating form, Paulshock wrote of Kelli taking time out of her Angel Park work to help a family from El Salvador pay for burial expenses for their child, who they had brought to Hopkins for treatment, according to Surosky.

She also helped a start a grief support ministry at St. Joseph’s Church in Fullerton.

LaFrance Muldrow Making a Difference Award
When Toni Torsch lost her son Dan to a drug overdose in 2010, she quickly discovered there was little to no support available to grieving family.

“After Dan passed away, I wanted to do something ,” she told the Times. “I had gone to a couple of grief support meetings but it just wasn’t cutting it; it didn’t address my needs.”

With some research, Torsch discovered an organization called GRASP - Grief Recovery After Substance Passing - but the closest group was in Philadelphia. She went to a meeting and connected with the group right away.

“I knew immediately I wanted to bring this back to Baltimore - to start a group here,” she said.

The chapter she started here now has 300 members and often meets at the Perry Hall library.

The grieving mother founded the Daniel Carl Torsch Foundation, named for her late son, and has dedicated much of the past six years to helping other families deal with the power of addiction and the grief of losing loved ones to the disease.

She has been instrumental in getting legislation passed to make Naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose, easier to get for third parties, according to Torsch’s sister, Deb Kennedy, who nominated her for the award.

Before the legislation, Naloxone could be prescribed only to the addict, according to Torsch.

“But that makes no sense, “ she said. “If the addict overdoses, then they are in no position to administer themselves a life-saving injection.”

Torsch has spent much of her life volunteering in schools, churches and the community in general, according to Kennedy, so it was only natural that she took her personal grief and used it to help others.

“If your son has cancer, everyone wants to help,” Kennedy said. “If your son is an addict, no one wants to help. My sister is right there doing something about it.”

Torsch said that she has trained nearly 400 families to administer Naloxone, and has been told that four of her kits have been used to saves the lives of individuals who had overdosed.

She laments the greed of pharmaceutical companies that has substantially driven up the costs of the drug.

“It used to be $1 a dose; it’s now $37.50 a dose,” she said. “I know it’s supply and demand, because the drug has become so much more in demand, but this is just pure greed.”

Foundation funds also help individuals pay for substance abuse and sober living treatment programs.

Torsch is candid about how her son succumbed to the power of opioid addiction, which he fought for seven years. An injury while still in high school spurred a prescription for opioid-based pain medication, which Dan began abusing.

Looking back, Torsch now recognizes that her son began complaining about various aches and pains in an effort to get doctors to prescribe more medication.

“I didn’t see it then, but when I look back, I see that he was shopping doctors for pain medication,” she said.

Dan attended four different rehabilitation programs, two in Maryland and two out-of-state, his mother said. Each time, he seemed to being doing well, but would relapse when friends from his drug circle would encourage him to do drugs with them.

“In the end, $40 killed him,” she said. “He went and bought drugs and died the next day.”

Torsch said she is “humbled and more than a little uncomfortable” with being singled out for this award.

“But I will accept it because this kind of recognition keeps the conversation going and lets people who need us know we exist.”

Young Woman of the Year
The awe in Surosky’s voice was audible as she described Nhu Dang’s accomplishments in the four years the native of Vietnam has been in this country.

Reading from the nomination form submitted by Parkville High School’s guidance department, Surosky spoke of Dang’s quick mastery of the English language, her straight-A course transcript, her weighted grade-pont average of 5.57, the leadership positions she holds in a variety of school clubs and organizations, her community volunteerism and the fact that she’s headed to Yale University, where she plans to major in biology/pre-med, on a full scholarship.

“Her mother came to this country in 2011 and worked a minimum wage job to save enough money to bring Nhu here,” Surosky said. “In 2012, she was able to bring Nhu here and the main reason for coming here was to better Nhu’s life through education.”

Each year, the Commission receives between 30 and 40 nominations for its awards and competition is stiff, according to Surosky.

“But even with that competition, this year, the student stood right out,” she said. “Nhu just rose to the top.”

Dang is a student in Parkville’s Math, Science and Computer Science Magnet Program and is ranked first academically in her class of 412 students, Surosky said.

In addition to her school and community involvement, Dang has taken on the responsibility of being a caregiver of sorts for her mother, who has suffered from chronic illnesses since living in Vietnam. Because of her quick mastery of English, Dang has become her mother’s translator and navigator of the local health care system while her mother is being restored to good health, according to the nominating information.

Dang hopes to become a medical doctor and plans to work with underserved populations.

“Her concern for others, maturity coupled with academic prowess and strong commitment to learning makes her a young woman destined for great success,” school officials wrote in her nominating form.

Homicides, violent crime on the rise in Baltimore County

Homicides, violent crime on the rise in Baltimore County

Essex precinct sees sharp decline in robberies and burglaries; North Point precinct sees increased homicides

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Baltimore County police recently released the crime stats for 2016, and violent crime in the county is up by 4.3 percent. Violent crime consists of homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and human trafficking.

In 2016, Baltimore County counted 35 homicides - a 34 percent increase over the five-year average. Since 2013, when the county only recorded 20 murders, the number of homicides has risen.

While violent crime saw a larger increase, total crime saw only a slight increase of 0.1 percent.

Anyone looking at the stats, which are available on the county’s website, will notice that rape surged by 89 percent, with forcible rape increasing by 93.4 percent. While the numbers don’t look good, the sharp increase has to do with a change in how the Feberal Bureau of Investigation, which tracks crime across the country, classifies rape. Previously, rape only consisted of “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will,” which, left to interpretation at the local level, excluded offenses such as oral or anal penetration, as well as penetration with objects and rape of males. The new summary definition of rape employed by the FBI states, “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Total robbery saw a slight 1.6 percent increase, while aggravated assaults increased by less than half a percent. Regarding robberies, convenience stores and gas stations have seen a major uptick, with both types of businesses seeing more than a 23 percent increase in robberies.

Across the county, burglaries are down almost 5 percent. Total theft saw a miniscule increase, but motor vehicle theft is up in almost every sub-category and up across all precincts. Last year saw a 33 percent increase in stolen automobiles, a 17.6 percent increase in stolen trucks and buses, and an 18.7 percent increase in other vehicle thefts.

On the local level, the Essex precinct saw a sharp decline in burglaries, with 419 burglaries committed last year against the five-year average of 474. That was good enough for an 11.6 percent drop. Robberies also sharply declined for the precinct, with 151 committed last year against the five-year average of 173. The 12.7 percent drop represents the largest decrease in the category across the county.

“We receive reports on where criminal activity is taking place and... using data and past history and trends, we figure out where to focus a lot of our resources,” said Essex precinct Captain Andre Davis. “A lot of times we reach out to community members to help us. Lastly I think it’s a combination of really good police work by the officers in patrol making the observations they need to, and improving communication infrastructure.”

While the numbers for robberies and burglaries have gone down, motor vehicle thefts are on the rise, with a 32.8 percent increase in the Essex area. Aggravated assaults are also on the rise in Precint 11. Last year, the Essex precinct saw a 5.2 percent increase in aggravated assaults. But according to Davis, those aren’t crimes that are easy to prevent.

“When you talk about aggravated assaults, those aren’t normal crime issues we can manage through resources; they happen spontaneously,” Davis said.

Davis noted that when assaults do happen, the clearance rate for the precinct is high. He also noted that his precinct goes through proactive measures, such as having an officer read over domestic reports and working to get people who could be in danger help with the proper services.

While things on the whole look solid for the Essex precinct, the White Marsh and North Point precincts saw mixed results.

In White Marsh, robberies increased by almost 2.5 percent, while burglaries soared by 47.8 percent. Of the 10 precincts in Baltimore County, only White Marsh and North Point saw increases (6.7 percent). Overall in White Marsh, only aggravated assault, theft and arson saw decreases.

For the North Point precinct, the number that stands out the most is eight, for the number of homicides committed in that area last year. The jump represents a 166.7 percent increase against the five-year average.

The North Point precinct also saw significant drops in robbery (9.7 percent), burglary (11.6 percent) and aggravated assault (12.1 percent), and total crime for the precinct essentially stayed stagnant, with a 0.1 percent drop in the overall numbers.

Neither Captain Christopher Kelly of the White Marsh precinct nor Captain Orlando Lilly of the North Point precinct were available for comment by press time.

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St. Baldrick’s: Shave a head, change a life

St. Baldrick’s: Shave a head, change a life
Jim Pizzini midway through being shaved. After shaving his head, he encouraged more donations to shave off his beard.

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

The marquee event of St. Baldrick’s fundraisers nationally - including the one in Middle River - is the ceremonial head shaving of participants who raise money for childhood cancer research.

And while that event is fun and gets a lot of publicity, the real stars of the show are the “honored children,” according to local event founder Dan Jarkiewicz.

“We center our event around our honored kids - all local kids who have or are battling cancer,” the Perry Hall resident told the East County Times. “Our greatest focus is on these kids, to hear their stories and to know they’re getting a second chance at life.”

Half of the 40 local honored children were in attendance at the event held Sunday, March 19, at Martin’s East.

Organizers created a slide show featuring each child, many of whom shared activities and hobbies they are able to pursue thanks to successful cancer research, which translates to better treatment.

One girl wore her prom dress and proclaimed that, thanks to cancer research, she was able to go to her school’s prom, according to Jim Pizzini, a shavee and DJ who provided entertainment for the event.

Pizzini participated in his seventh St. Baldrick’s event, which allowed him to be named a Knight of the Bald Table.

“It’s really a cute ceremony,” Pizzini said of the honor bestowed upon participants in their seventh year. “The kids are given little plastic swords and they tap us on the shoulder and declare us Knights of the Bald table.”

In addition to getting his head shaved this year, Pizzini decided to grow his beard out with the hope of generating more donations. He raised a little over $500 before the event from donors he recruited, and then worked the crowd at Martin’s to raise money for the elimination of his beard.

His plan worked, with donors offering nearly $275 more to see his facial hair go the way of his head hair.

As with many participants, Pizzini got involved in the fundraiser for personal reasons. Seven years ago, his mother was diagnosed with cancer and she was upset about the harsh treatments and probable loss of her hair.

“I told her I would lose my hair with her, that I would get involved with St. Baldrick’s in her honor,” Pizzini said.

He estimated he has raised nearly $2,900 in his years of participation.

Since its inception in 2009, the Baltimore-based event has raised about $1.1 million, according to Jarkiewicz. This year’s gathering included 140 shavees who raised about $168,000, he noted.

“We hoped to hit $1 million with last year’s event, but we fell about $4,000 short,” he said. “So we hit that goal early in this year’s effort.”

Nationally, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has provided $200 million in cancer research grants to a variety of hospitals and research institutions, according to its website.

“Right now, there are two new cancer drugs on the market thanks to St. Baldrick’s funding,” Jarkiewicz said. “That’s two new tools in the oncologist’s toolbox because of our efforts - we really are making a difference in these kids’ lives.”

Jarkiewicz has a daughter, Ally, who was diagnosed with a rare, genetic, blood immune disorder called HLH. While not a cancer, the disease is treated with a bone marrow transplant.

Strictly by coincidence, the new father found himself dealing with his daughter’s potentially fatal illness while he was planning his first local St. Baldrick’s event.

“I started planning it before she was born,” he said. “And then in one of life’s little twists of coincidence, she was in the hospital, surrounded by cancer patients, getting the same treatment they were getting.”

Ally was diagnosed at just six months old, received her transplant at nine months and then spent the next 10 months hospitalized because of complications of the treatment, Jarkiewicz said. Ally is now 8, and while she has some longterm complications caused by the treatment, the transplant cured her blood disorder.

“So I didn’t start the event because of my daughter but being around all those children, seeing the work of all the medical staff, knowing too many children who have died, has driven my passion since then,” he said.

St. Baldrick’s is a national organization, but 15 studies at Johns Hopkins have received grant funding from the group since 2010, according to Jarkiewicz. He stressed that all Baldrick funding supports cancer research, as opposed providing financial assistance to individuals or families fighting cancer.

He’s proud of the local contribution to that pool of money and what it means to many local families.

“It really says a lot for the community,” he said. “This community really comes together for these kids. And the research made possible with this money has provided better treatments with fewer side effects.”

Ever the energetic fundraiser, Jarkiewicz said it is not too late to contribute this year. Donations can be made online at www.stbaldricks.org/events/bmoreheroes2017.

“And next year’s event is March 18,” he said, “in case you’re interested.”

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Environmental group loses county funding due to policy change

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Gunpowder Valley Conservancy has lost about a third of its funding from Baltimore County for the next year because of a change in how the county distributes those funds, according to a leader in the organization.

Peggy Perry, GVC’s Education and Restoration Program director, said first that the county has changed over from providing environmental grant funding for the calendar year to the fiscal year. That means that funding previously covering the period from Jan. 1 - Dec. 31 in a given year will now be given for the fiscal year which runs from July 1 - June 30.

Perry also noted that the GVC received a supplemental grant of $45,000 from the county to cover the period from Jan.1 - June 30 of this year, keeping their funding level the same as last year until the fiscal year changeover.

The decrease in funding will start in the new fiscal year which begins on July 1.

“A third of what we had been getting we lost, so now we have to try to find that [funding] from other sources,” Perry said.

She declined to specify exactly how much GVC will receive from the county since there is competition for county funding among different environmentally focused groups.

Perry said GVC has applied for a grant from another source that would provide some supplemental funding for their initiatives in the second half of this calendar year, but they had not yet heard if they will get it.

“If we get that, that would take care of some of that third that’s missing,” she said.

Some environmental advocates have have decried the loss of the county’s Stormwater Remediation Fee - popularly known as the “Rain Tax” - and blamed its repeal in 2015 for the loss of funding for environmental projects.

However, Perry said it seems to be due more to a change in policy on the county’s part.

“From everything I’ve gathered, the main reason is because they want to try to expand their ability to reach more organizations with funding,” she said.

Perry pointed out that the county has invited local groups such as the Bird River Restoration Campaign and others to apply for the county’s pot of funding as well.

“They indicated they’re trying to reach out to more community organizations to get them funding to do similar types of work,” Perry explained, such as advocating for cleaner waterways and encouraging the use of “Bay-wise” practices in order to preserve the Chesapeake Bay.

Perry noted that some of the funding GVC and other organizations received in the past did come from the Rain Tax, but she did not know the details of exactly how its absence affects the GVC and its Clear Creeks Project initiatives.

“It is possible,” Perry said, that the fee’s repeal is a factor in their funding decrease from the county. But she left it to the county to say for sure.

A spokesperson for the county had not responded by press time to questions about the reason for the decrease in funding for the GVC.

“Unfortunately, [the policy change] means if we don’t replace the funding, we’re not going to be able to do as much as we had been doing,” Perry said.

She said the funding from the county had been used to help pay for GVC’s activities, particularly their Clear Creeks Project. Since 2013, they have held workshops through the program to encourage homeowners, businesses and community organizations in the Middle River and Bird/Gunpowder River watersheds to use methods of stormwater management on their properties that will contribute to better water quality.

In 2016 alone, GVC planted 858 trees across more than eight acres of land, removed 4,300 pounds of invasive plants from around 3,500 trees, and removed 7.5 tons of trash from along 16.75 miles of streams, according to their website.

The organization also installed 19 conservation gardens, including 10 rain gardens, which will treat 12,045 square feet of impervious drainage area.

Over the past 26 years, GVC has planted more than 28,000 trees in the Gunpowder River watershed, most of which is in Baltimore County.

But what Perry said was particularly valuable about the county’s funding was that it could be used for labor costs.

“A lot of the grant funding that’s out there has a restriction on the amount that you can spend on staff labor,” she explained.

The county’s grants do not have that, she said, and staff labor and compensation are important for getting all of their administrative work done.

Using the funding they have already received for this year, GVC plans to hold several tree plantings in the Bird River  watershed this spring on April 8, April 15 and May 6, as well as stream cleanup events and outreach and education workshops throughout the spring and summer.

The April 8 planting will add more trees to a 77-acre, privately owned former quarry near the Bird River where GVC previously planted more than 300 native trees in the spring of 2015.

Following its use as a quarry, the site had eroded away heavily, dumping untold tons of sediment material into the river with each rainfall. But after more than a decade of remediation, nature and bay-healthy conditions have happily returned.

The property’s owner, Norm Sines, has also placed all of his land into a conservation easement with GVC to protect it from any future development.

The April 15 and May 6 plantings will take place on two acres of land owned by the Maryland State Game and Fish Protective Association in Perry Hall. GVC and Clear Creeks volunteers will plant 200 new trees on the site, as well as install 10 rain barrels, one bayscape garden, one rain garden and three micro-bioretention systems which will all help to improve the water quality and clarity of the property’s ponds, as well as the Bird River, to which the site eventually drains.

The Clear Creeks Project will also hold educational and outreach events such as Bayscape Garden and Rain Barrel workshops along with Bay-Wise Certification parties throughout this spring and summer. More information on these events is available on the GVC website at www.gunpowdervalleyconservancy.org.

The Clear Creeks Project area includes Perry Hall, White Marsh, Nottingham, Middle River, Bird River, Carney, Parkville, Glen Arm and Kingsville.

Olszewski Jr.: ‘My intentions are to be your next executive’

Olszewski Jr.: ‘My intentions are to be your next executive’

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Marge Neal -

John Olszewski Jr. has a vision for Baltimore County for 2018 and beyond. But until last week’s Riverside Democratic Club meeting, he was a bit coy when it came to verbalizing how he hoped to implement that vision.

With some pointed questioning from a club member March 9, Olszewski finally made his plans known for sure.

“Unless I haven’t been clear, my intentions are to be your next executive,” he said when asked to put to rest rumors that he plans to run for State Senate again.

In discussing his plans, Olszewski told Riverside members he wants to be the person who “fundamentally changes the way Baltimore County does business.”

Olszewski is a former Sixth District delegate who lost in his 2014 effort to claim the district’s open Senate seat when longtime incumbent Norman Stone retired. He has been quietly traversing Baltimore County for the past 18 months, talking with community organizations, listening to residents and touting the common-good volunteer and philanthropic work being done across a broadly diverse jurisdiction.

As a result of those shared discussions, he has come to the conclusion that there are three main areas he’d like to concentrate on in his quest for the county’s top elected office: schools, economic development/job creation and general quality of life.

In opening his presentation to club members, he asked those present to name things about Baltimore County they love. Responses were slow in coming and uninspiring: low car insurance rates, low water bills and schools.

Asked to name elements they aren’t happy with, members were much quicker and passionate in their responses: traffic, crime, trash, rats, drugs and schools.

Olszewski pointed to those responses when he explained his interest in improving county residents’ overall quality of life.

“The first question anyone asks when moving to a new neighborhood is, ‘How are the schools?’” Olszewski said. “For far too many, the success of schools depends on the ZIP Code, and that shouldn’t be the case - all neighborhoods should have good, successful schools.”

He mentioned Baltimore County’s extensive waterfront and its parks system and asked why those aren’t the best they can be.

He talked about a highly visible, architecturally attractive bridge in Towson and asked why some communities get more attractive improvements while others get much more utilitarian fixtures. Such decisions just further separate communities and pit them against each other, Olszewski believes, at a time when residents and leaders need to work together.

“Nothing is going to change unless we change our leadership,” Olszewski said.

The first step, he believes, in creating that change is returning government to the people and to lead by listening.

“A good leader, a good executive, listens, puts the time in, builds a team, brings in the experts to handle the problems, the challenges,” he said. “I hope to put together a leadership team that reflects our county... I would like half of my leadership team to be women.”

But, he was quick to point out, those selections would be based on merit and ability, not simply by demographics.

Olszewski was asked to weigh in on some hot-topic issues in Greater Dundalk: the proposed sale of the North Point Government Center, the proposed development of the Fort Howard Veterans Administration campus and job creation at TradePoint Atlantic, as well as his vision for the east side in general.

“I think the North Point Government Center could have been a fantastic project,” he said of the former North Point Junior High School building at the intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue. “I would like to hit the reset button, bring back the stakeholders and start over.”

Olszewski said he did not support the relocation of the Dundalk police precinct, done in conjunction with the closure of Eastwood Elementary School.

He said he would like the Fort Howard VA campus to remain dedicated to veterans but also fears the land could be excessed and sold outright to a developer, which could eliminate the public process that now has some sway in what happens there. The current developer, Timothy Munshell, has a long-term lease on the land and must work with the community in a collaborative process to develop the property.

Olszewski said he is optimistic about the potential job creation at TradePoint, the owner of the 3,100-acre former Bethlehem Steel campus in Sparrows Point, and said he hopes “high-paying” jobs are part of the equation.

The candidate said he is neither anti-development nor anti-community: “I want that process to be collaborative and not confrontational.”

In attempting to “fundamentally change” the way Baltimore County governs, Olszewski said he would “return to the basics” on many levels. From building a campaign coffer based upon small, grassroots donations to listening to and being responsive to constituents, he said he would return government to residents.

“You are the boss; government works for you, not the other way around,” he said. ”You would be my boss.”

As of Wednesday, neither Olszewski nor any others in the running had officially filed as candidates for office in the 2018 election.

In other club business, members voted to send a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan in support of the creation of a nonpartisan committee that would oversee legislative redistricting. The process, which occurs every 10 years based upon federal census results, now is led by the sitting governor and that partisan tradition has resulted in what many residents recognize as gerrymandered districts that favor one party over another.

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Potential county executive candidates courting east-side voters

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

At the same time former State Delegate John Olszewski Jr. was speaking to the Riverside Democratic Club in Essex on Thursday, March 9, Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond visited a meeting of the Perry Hall Improvement Association to introduce herself to county residents living outside her own district in the northwestern part of the county.

While Olszewski stated Thursday for the first time publicly that he does in fact plan to run for county executive in 2018 (see the article on our front page), Almond has been more tight-lipped about her intentions, never going further than to say she is “strongly considering” a run.

Additionally, State Delegate Pat McDonough - the only sure Republican considering a run - has been vocal about his intentions and held a breakfast event at a restaurant in Essex on Feb. 18 where he spoke in no uncertain terms to a group of east-side residents about his plans to run for the county’s highest elected office and what he would do if elected.

As of Wednesday, none of the three - nor any others - had yet officially filed as a candidate in the race.

Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall) also attended the PHIA meeting to introduce Almond since she was entering his district. He observed that the two come from “similar backgrounds” of community activism and their districts mirror each other in several ways.

Almond began by speaking about the importance of community.

“To me, building stronger communities for the future is one of the areas that we really need to focus on,” she said, adding that communities have always been and must continue to be the backbone of the county.

She specified, though, that good schools, safe neighborhoods and economic development are all essential for strong communities.

Good schools, the councilwoman said, attract younger families to more established neighborhoods.

She acknowledged the need for a new middle school to serve Perry Hall, “and we need new schools across the county,” she said.

Almond opined that the county has a lot of work to do to improve its public schools. “We’re in a bit of a strange time right now for our public schools and we really need to step up our game.”

Regarding neighborhood safety, Almond stated, “Nobody’s going to move in if there’s even a perception that the community isn’t safe.”

However, she stressed that it is not entirely up to the police to ensure neighborhood safety. “It’s up to us as well to be their partners,” she said.

She encouraged residents to get involved in their local Police Community Relations Council or Citizens On Patrol organizations to help them communicate with police and each other and get more information on issues in the area, as well as to be the eyes and ears for the police.

Almond called economic development a “tricky” piece of the puzzle, though, because growth is necessary, but it has to be in the right areas.

“As David knows, with development and with business, we have to have balance,” she said, noting that many factors such as traffic need to be considered with new development.

But she believes there is going to be much more redevelopment in the years to come, “as you see shopping centers and strip malls and things like that with vacant buildings or with buildings that may not be kept up as well,” because the county is running out of large tracts of developable land.

“We have to have that economic base,” Almond stated. “We have to create more revenue in Baltimore County in order to get back to basics and make sure our communities are those good, solid communities.”

At McDonough’s event last month, which he said was the first of about 150 such events around the county, he first reflected on his race last year against incumbent Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger for Maryland’s Second District.

Although McDonough lost that race, he said he “won big” in Baltimore County - “the part that matters,” he said, specifying areas like Perry Hall, the York Road corridor and the greater east side as areas where he did well.

“So we have a solid base on which to start this race,” he asserted.

McDonough mused briefly about what could happen in the Democratic primary in June 2018 and what it would mean for him, but took a shot at Councilwoman Almond in particular.

“She is the candidate of Jim Smith, the political developers and the bosses who run this county,” he said.

Almond has held that she has a strong record of opposing developers, however, which she reiterated for the PHIA.

Nevertheless, McDonough said he plans to make a big issue about corruption in the county during the county executive race.

“I personally believe our county is at a crossroads. This county is moving in the wrong direction, rapidly,” he said, adding “we are one election away from complete disaster.”

McDonough pointed out that he has decided to run in this election because it will be an open seat vacated by the term-limited current county executive, Kevin Kamenetz. He also pointed to poll numbers at the time showing that 70 percent of county voters wanted “change” after 24 years of Democratic rule and that 60 percent planned to vote Republican in the next election.

“Those polls all change; we know that,” he said. “But those are current trends.”

If elected, McDonough said he would agressively address vacant houses and challenge Section 8 housing in the courts and otherwise, and he would overhaul the county’s Office of Code Enforcement to address the issues.

He also said he would address crime and drugs by overhauling the police department and allowing “police to be police.” He would have officers doing “sector policing” to know all crime happening in neighborhoods and any major trouble makers.

Additionally, McDonough said, he would use his influence over education to roll back the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) program championed by BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance and use the funds instead for renovations to Perry Hall schools, hiring more teachers and instituting job training programs.

McDonough criticized Kamenetz for sitting up in Towson and doing whatever developers tell him to do.

“I’m taking care of Baltimore County from now on; we come first,” he said. “You’re looking at the new William Donald Schaefer.”

Although he has not yet filed, McDonough told the East County Times, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m running. The only thing that can stop me is money.”

Hogan proposes new treatment plan for midges in Back River

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Governor Larry Hogan announced on Wednesday, March 8, a new plan to treat Back River with larvicide to provide relief to area residents and businesses from swarms of midges.

Hogan dedicated $330,000 to the effort at last Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting, along with an additional $4 million toward the Maryland Department of the Environment’s ongoing enhanced nutrient removal upgrade project at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

In October 2016, the governor proposed for the state and Baltimore County to split an approximate $1.3 million cost for several larvicide treatments throughout last fall and this year. But county officials refused the offer, calling it inadequate and asserting that Back River is a state waterway and, therefore, the state’s responsibility.

As a result, neither the county nor state put forth funding for the treatments.

The county’s director of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, Vince Gardina, reacted similarly to the announcement last Wednesday.

But Hogan touted the new funds as a way to help reduce the impacts of midges on marinas, restaurants and other small businesses, as well as on the residents who live or recreate on Back River.

Midges are a non-biting mosquito-like insect present in such numbers on Back River that they present a swarming nuisance. But because they do not bite, they are not considered a health hazard.

“The county really has the responsibility to address this problem but has continually refused to do anything about it and has ignored the pleas of Baltimore County citizens,” Hogan said in a statement. “Despite the county’s refusal to act, we have decided to move forward anyway in order to provide a measure of relief for the area prior to the next boating and tourism season, and we hope that the county will see fit to join in and add county funding as well.”

But Gardina criticized the governor’s plan, calling it a “Band-Aid approach” to a large problem that would result in a waste of taxpayer money.

“This plan ignores science and is like spraying a can of Raid on the surface of the water,” Gardina said in a statement.

A 2014 study done by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources showed that the midges are present in such high numbers in Back River because they feed on the excess nutrients which have built up in the sediments over the last century of the Back River WWTP’s operation.

And most agree that the upgrades at the WWTP to reduce the nutrients going into the river are ultimately the best long-term solution. However, some have estimated that that will not result in a meaningful reduction in the midge population for a decade or more.

Following the 2014 study, DNR recommended treating areas with the most concentrated midge populations as the most cost-effective option for addressing the issue in the short term.

The governor’s announcement did not specify how many larvicide treatments the plan would involve. But looking at cost estimates from the previous proposal, the funds would likely pay for only one or two treatments on the river.

The treatments are slated to be carried out by DNR and Maryland Department of Agriculture officials starting in the spring to provide relief during the summer season while they work to assess the treatments’ effectiveness, according to the governor’s announcement.

Council members propose directive for grandfathered development plans

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Three Baltimore County Council members have sponsored a council resolution which they hope will begin to address complaints about development projects beginning construction while governed by outdated regulations.

The resolution - introduced to the council by lead sponsor and Middle River Democrat Cathy Bevins on Monday, March 6 - would direct the county’s Planning Board to review the application of current county regulations to development plans that have been approved under previous regulations and to assess the potential impact of applying current regulations to those plans in a more timely and effective manner.

It is co-sponsored by Republican councilmen Todd Crandell (Dundalk) and David Marks (Perry Hall).

The resolution notes that approvals for residential and commercial development projects in the county remain on the books as viable projects despite sometimes being approved as far back as the 1980s, and that standards and regulations for development have changed over time. In most cases, those changes have been to make the regulations more stringent and protective, particularly with regard to storm water management (SWM), the environment and critical areas.

The document also points out that the County Council passed legislation in 2006, 2008 and 2009 intended to require previously approved developments to comply with the current law and the current development procedural review process.

“[T]here is the potential for ambiguity and inconsistent application and enforcement when previously-approved projects, which have been dormant for periods of time due to economic or other factors, are resumed and readied for construction in the present time and permitted to proceed under outdated development standards and regulations despite the mandate” of the aforementioned bills, the resolution reads.

The resolution would request that the Planning Board explore how to apply current standards to development plans which were approved under regulations that are no longer valid, hold a public hearing on the matter and report back to the council with their findings.

Since the housing market began its recovery from the Great Recession, residents around the county have complained that development projects approved long ago are now beginning construction and putting added pressure on infrastructure that is not prepared for them.

Two projects in particular on the east side which raised alarms for community members were the original plan for the Paragon outlet mall and a plan for 300 new residences on Cowenton Avenue in White Marsh, both in Bevins’ district.

The Paragon plan originally sought approval as an “immaterial change” to a planned unit development (PUD) first approved in the 1990s under environmental and SWM regulations dating back to the 1980s. While an administrative law judge ruled the plan must abide by the standards adopted in 2000, it was not until the project faced significant pressure from Bevins and community members that the developer agreed to move forward under the most current standards.

The Cowenton Avenue project was approved in 2008 but began construction last year using the SWM regulations from 2000. The county’s most recent SWM regulations were adopted in 2009.

However, a bigger issue with that project is that it was initially approved as mostly senior housing. But a more recent change to the plan allowed it to move forward as multi-family apartments, adding children to already overcrowded area schools that the school system did not plan for in its projections.

The Essex-Middle River Civic Council sent a letter raising concerns about these and other projects to County Council members Bevins and Crandell, as well as County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, in December, to which Bevins and Crandell responded jointly.

“I... understand your frustration with those development projects that remain idle for a number of years before construction commences, especially those projects approaching a decade of no progress,” Bevins wrote in the response letter. “However, it is important to understand that developers sometimes need several years to obtain the proper financing before they are able to begin construction on their projects.”

The councilwoman added that the council deals with the balance between protecting the environment and attracting new development - which brings employers and jobs - on a daily basis.

“After listening to concerns from residents in the Sixth District and eastern Baltimore County, I think it is important to have the Planning Board review county regulations and how they apply to some of these developments that were approved years ago but have remained idle...,” Bevins wrote in a statement following her introduction of the resolution. “Protecting the county’s environment is important, especially on the eastside where there are nearly 200 miles of waterfront and countless waterways. By having the Planning Board look into this issue we can better understand the costs and impacts of these old regulations to development plans that are finally being developed.”

The resolution is scheduled to be discussed at the County Council work session on Tuesday, March 28, at 2 p.m. and will be voted on at the April 3 Council meeting at 6 p.m.

County Council requires new rat-free certification to demolish buildings

County Council requires new rat-free certification to demolish buildings
The Seagram's site, vacant since 2008, has suffered several fires and a rat infestation that neighbors fear will spread to their community upon its demolition. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Council passed a bill on Monday, March 6, which is meant to be a new tool to prevent the spread of rats through the county’s more dense communities.

The bill, sponsored by Councilman Todd Crandell (R-Dundalk), requires that a licensed professional pest control technician must certify a building is rodent-free before the county will issue a permit for its demolition.

The new law applies to the total or partial razing or moving of buildings larger than 100 square feet.

“Previously, all a developer would have to do is provide a statment that the premises is rodent-free and the county would take their word for it,” Crandell wrote in a prepared statement. “Now, a professional must assess and certify the property is rodent-free so we can prevent rats from going into the surrounding community upon demolition.”

The bill was amended to include existing razing permits where the demolition has not yet occurred, Crandell said.

Doug Anderson, legislative aide to Crandell, said the impetus for the legislation was the planned redevelopment of the former Seagram’s distillery at 7100 Sollers Point Road in Dundalk.

That project will see demolition of several buildings on the site to make way for a new townhome community. Residents have stated their concerns at past community meetings regarding the project that the rats living there will scatter throughout the surrounding community when those buildings come down.

Anderson said, though, that the amendments making the law retroactive should cover the razing permits for Seagram’s, which have already been issued by the county.

“So [Seagram’s site owner and developer John Vontran] is going to have to get the eradication certification,” he said.

Demolition at the site was originally scheduled to begin in spring of 2016, but the date has changed several times in the last year, according to Anderson.

It is currently unknown when demolition is scheduled to begin, and the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections showed no new permits - including demolition permits - issued for the site in the last three years.

“As our district continues our long climb back to prosperity, we must face issues like this and use all the tools we have at our disposal,” Crandell stated. “This legislation is an aid, but the larger problem of rat infestation will ultimately only be solved through combining good policy and procedures with good citizenship.”

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Developer contribution bill fails before county Senate delegation

Developer contribution bill fails before county Senate delegation
Senator Jim Brochin (glasses) was one of only two who supported the bill in the delegation, the other being Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (right) a co-sponsor of the bill. Senators Kathy Klausmeier and J.B. Jennings, who represent the east side, raised concerns about fairness. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/7/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A bill that would limit when developers could make campaign donations to members of the Baltimore County’s elected officials was dealt a death blow Monday, March 6, when the county’s Senate delegation gave it an unfavorable recommendation.

The bill failed with a 5-2 vote against it. The two “yes” votes cast were from senators Jim Brochin, the bill’s sponsor, and Johnny Ray Salling, a co-sponsor. Sen. Ed Kasemeyer was not present.

The bill said that any developer or their “agents” could not have given a campaign donation to County Council members or the county executive within three years of requesting a land use approval such as a zoning or Master Plan change or a planned unit development (PUD) approval from the county. Developers would have had to sign an affadavit stating they had not given any such donations, and if they had, the contributions would have to be returned.

Brochin (D-Towson), who is considering a run for county executive, said the bill would level the playing field when community members oppose development projects in what he has called a “pay-to-play” system.

The County Council holds strong power to approve or deny land use decisions in the county.

But opponents have raised questions about the bill’s constitutionality, as well as concerns about fairness and the picture it paints about corruption in politics.

Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican who represents Middle River, White Marsh and other parts of Baltimore and Harford counties, said he opposed the bill because it would unfairly silence only those on one side of the issue.

“In order to do it [right], you would have to stop contributions from people on both sides of the issue,” he said.

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (D-Perry Hall) also questioned how far-reaching the bill could become since she sits on the Senate Finance Committee and receives campaign contributions from special interests such as insurance brokers and bankers.

Likewise, she noted that Brochin, who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, receives contributions from lawyers.

“Are we all going to have to start giving our money back because there are certain interests?” she asked.

Brochin countered that the bill only addressed campaign contributions to Baltimore County Council members and the county executive starting in 2019.

“It has nothing to do with state legislators,” he said, adding that he believes it is already a “fair fight” with contributions to state legislators because there is money coming in from many different angles and sometimes competing interests.

“But I also believe that, when it comes to the county, it’s developers on one side and community associations... and everybody else on the other side that have no resources, and the deck is stacked against the average person,” Brochin said.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Pikesville) said, though, using an example from his and Brochin’s districts, that there are instances in which the community has enormous resources to oppose development projects and make campaign donations on the other side of the issue. He said simply picking a side of a fight and silencing its opponents because you do not like that side would be problematic.

Zirkin continued that the bill also creates a “false, cheap-date narrative” that “disenfranchises one side of a fight” from the political discourse.

“You can’t make that determination based on who has more money,” he said.

Zirkin and Klausmeier agreed that they thought Brochin’s heart was in the right place with the legislation, but they did not believe the bill was the appropriate way to address the issue.

Salling told the East County Times that he felt the bill failed because people in his and Brochin’s districts are disproportionately affected by the issue.

However, he admitted that he was “split” on the bill and supported it mainly because many of his constituents feel so strongly about it.

And although he was conflicted about the bill, Salling said he has seen certain issues in his district specifically because of developer influence.

“It’s a factor,” he said. “And I don’t want that to ever happen again in Baltimore County, period.”

Having failed in the delegation, the bill is effectively dead and will not continue on in the General Assembly this year.

The delegation also voted unanimously  Monday to advance the Senate’s version of a bill that would raise the brewey cap in the county for Guinness’ proposed new facility in Relay, which could have implications for eastside breweries and others statewide.

They amended the bill at Guinness brand owner Diageo’s request, however, that the cap be lowered to 4,500 barrels per year from 5,000 and that the hours of operation be set at 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily.

That bill was cross-filed with one in the House of Delegates, which is also making its way through that chamber.

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Edgemere community has questions about Shiloh Baptist community center

Edgemere community has questions about Shiloh Baptist community center
Residents in Edgemere have raised concerns that the building the church purchased, at 2518 Sparrows Point Road may not be an appropriate location for some proposed uses and may not have enough parking space for others. Additionally, they would like to have been consulted about the plan at the beginning of the process. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 3/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Nearly two years ago, Shiloh Baptist Church purchased a warehouse at 2518 Sparrows Point Road in Edgemere and partnered with Project Genesis New Beginnings, Inc. to create an ambitious plan for a new community center at the site.

Since then, the church has been raising the funds they need to construct the $1.3 million project, which would be done through extensive renovations to the building.

They are also working with Del. Ric Metzgar and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling - both Republicans who represent the area - to pass bond legislation and provide the church with $200,000 in state funds, combining with $200,000 of their own to finish their first phase.

But some community members have raised concerns about certain aspects of the project and a lack of available parking space at the site, as well as displeasure that they were not informed of the plan before state funds were sought.

The building purchased by Shiloh Baptist, which North Point Peninsula Council (NPC) President Fran Taylor said is one of the larger community churches in the area, is a large, white building close to the road at the intersection of Sparrows Point Road and Ruth Avenue.

“Nobody can argue that we [wouldn’t] love to see that place fixed up and looking decent again,” Taylor said Thursday, March 2, at the monthly meeting of the NPC. But many area residents had concerns about what the building will be used for and the lack of notification they have received about the project so that they could give input regarding their concerns.

According to the church’s website, they plan to use the second floor of the building as six apartments for housing of homeless, jobless or otherwise at-risk persons such as single mothers with children, which Taylor called a “pretty big pill to swallow” for the community.

The church also plans to conduct job training and other social training to help those individuals become more self-sufficient.

The first floor would be broken into separate rooms to be used for a 250-person-capacity banquet and dining hall, a multi-purpose room, after-school services for children such as music lessons or tutoring, an 80-child day care, five classrooms and two outdoor playgrounds.

“The church has brought this, I’m sure, in good faith and in the spirit of their religious obligations,” Taylor said. “But it’s a little concerning what their future plan is for the project,” from a safety point of view.

He added that the biggest thing that jumped out at him in looking over the plan was the parking - or lack thereof. The plan, he said, only shows about 10 parking spaces.

“To me, it’s a challenge,” Taylor commented regarding the parking.

Doubts remained as well if the zoning and building codes would even allow some of the things proposed for the building because of its limited access. And day care facilities must be approved by the state.

“I think they have a lot of intentions for a small building,” said Ed Crizer, NPC’s recording secretary.

Shiloh Baptist purchased the building in May 2015, which many residents had no issues with.

“That’s not a big deal,” Taylor said. “The big deal is, what you put there has to be safe for the community.”

Taylor expressed concern that Metzgar and Salling did not come to the community with this plan before supporting it and taking it to the state for funding when they knew there could be community opposition.

Metzgar admitted to the East County Times following a committee hearing on the bond bill in Annapolis that he expected some push-back from community members.

“If they are going to be proposing or sponsoring legislation that’s going to be controversial - obviously we’re going to have questions about this - they should let us know,” Taylor maintained.

Metzgar noted that the public notification about the bill hearing in Annapolis was posted and available to the public, and that church leadership had been out in the community collecting input and information on the project.

The delegate also clarified that, with bond bills, the recipient does not receive the funds until all of their permits are approved.

"So everything is done before they get any money,"  he said.

Shiloh’s Sister Marietta Lewis, who testified at the bill hearing, told the Times at the time that church representatives have attended local meetings to take in the information. And she said they plan to hold community input meetings as the project gets closer to completion.

“Well that’s not the way it works,” Taylor said at the NPC meeting. “You have the community meetings up front and then you put your project forward [for approval].”

Metzgar said he believes the project will ultimately be something the community will be proud of.

"It's going to make that area look like a million dollars," he said, noting that the church will actually be putting more than $1 million into it with an estimated project cost of $1.3 million.

Metzgar added that rumors of the church bringing homeless individuals in from Baltimore City to house at the site are untrue.

"They're just going to bring the people in from the community," he said.

Nevertheless, he said he has asked church leadership to reach out to the community more to address their concerns about the project and gain their input.

Additionally, the delegate said there will be more opportunity for public input since the church still has to apply for several permits in order to move forward with the project.

This article was updated to include comments from Del. Metzgar about how bond bills work and the quality of the proposed project.

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Dundalk St. Patrick’s parade to feature McShane bell

Dundalk St. Patrick’s parade to feature McShane bell
The leprechaun has long been a mainstay in Dundalk parades of years past. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/7/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

Dundalk will once again pay homage to its Irish roots when its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 11.

While the procession will once again feature many traditional bagpipers, men in kilts, antique vehicles, community groups and local dignitaries, a new participant is sure to be popular with the crowds.

“I received a call out of the blue,” parade Chairman Dennis McCartney told the East County Times. “This guy told me he had a bell made in 1918 by the McShane Bell Foundry and asked if he could be in the parade.”

Essex resident Chuck Ritz has made the McShane bell the centerpiece of his rolling tribute to those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The display includes several plaques that honor the memory of Marylanders killed in the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as those who died in the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. It also honors Marylanders who have died in the wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those who are up on their Dundalk history will know that the McShane Bell Foundry was founded by Henry McShane, who also is credited with naming Dundalk after his hometown of the same name in Ireland.

His descendants, now led by matriarch Patty McShane, serve as the grand marshals of the parade.

Dale Crammond, agriculture and food counselor at the Embassy of Ireland, will serve as the honorary grand marshal.

The parade will also feature students from the O’Connor School of Irish Dance, led by Casey O’Connor, according to McCartney.

While the parade is not on the scale of its big brother, the annual Independence Day parade, it still needs the financial help of the community to survive, according to McCartney.

When some local business sponsorships dried up, McCartney personally footed the bill to add more bagpipers to the lineup.

“There wasn’t enough music and festivities for me,” McCartney said. “So I brought in some more pipers and paid for it myself.”

Knowing that he was picking up a huge part of the tab, friends recommended that he hold a fundraiser.

McCartney contacted Steve Goff, owner of the Seasoned Mariner restaurant in Dundalk, and he agreed to host a fundraiser. This year’s event is set for Thursday, March 9, beginning at about 5 p.m.

The parade chairman described the fundraiser as a “spontaneous, loosely-organized affair” where different folks show up with contributions for the cause.

“I’m going to make proper Irish coffee for $10 and I know Lil Tirschman will have some cakes for sale, and Steve donates a portion of sales to us,” McCartney said. “Beyond that, I don’t know what we’re having.”

The parade will kick off from the Logan Village Shopping Center on Dundalk Avenue and wind through Old Dundalk, following much of the July Fourth prade route, with the exception that it skips Admiral Boulevard, according to McCartney.

Asked about inclement weather plans and how residents could check to see if the procession is on as scheduled, McCartney said, “Look outside.”

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Chair massage fundraiser to honor memory of CCBC student

Chair massage fundraiser to honor memory of CCBC student
Dave Fiore.

(Updated 3/7/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Dave Fiore didn’t have the opportunity to attend college after completing his final two years of high school in a homeschool program.

He always regretted not having that experience and, after becoming a father, vowed to do everything he could to see that his daughter, Emma, was able to attend a four-year university.

To back up his belief in the importance of education, he also decided to further his own. He enrolled in the two-year massage therapy degree program at the Community College of Baltimore County and cut a deal with his daughter, according to longtime friend Kris Galasso.

“The two of them agreed that she would watch him walk at his graduation and he would watch her walk at hers,” Galasso said in a phone interview.

Emma is a freshman at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmittsburg in Frederick County.

Fiore, 39, was on schedule to complete his half of that agreement with his graduation this May, but fate intervened with those plans.

Fiore died suddenly on Jan. 31, just one day after becoming ill with what he thought was the flu, according to Galasso. He went to a doctor on Jan. 30 and was treated for the flu but collapsed and died the next day after soaking in a hot bath in an effort to ease his discomfort, Galasso said.

“He worked out, he was a personal trainer,” Galasso said of her best friend. “He ate well and was in great shape - I still can’t believe this happened.”

To honor his memory and to help make sure Emma has the financial support to fulfill her and her father’s goal of graduating from college, Fiore’s massage therapy professors and fellow students will hold a chair massage fundraiser from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 11.

“And we will stay later than that if we have people in line,” Robin Anderson, director of the CCBC massage therapy program, said.

The fundraiser will offer 10- to 15-minute chair massages for a donation of $15. It will be held at the CCBC Essex Massage Therapy Clinic area, room 330 in the Administration Building.

The group hopes to raise $5,000 for Emma’s college fund.

Anderson said she was still in shock over the sudden loss of the good student she had known since originally interviewing him as a candidate for the program.

“He was really dynamic, so happy-go-lucky,” she said of Fiore. “He just had the greatest personality.”

While personality as such is not a criteria that is measured when accepting students into the program, Anderson said it can be a sign of how well a student will succeed in the field of massage therapy.

But Fiore was ultimately selected because of his drive and ambition, and his success in the fitness industry, according to Anderson.

“He was already a physical trainer and he wanted to add this skill to his toolbox, so to speak,” she said of Fiore’s desire to become a massage therapist. “He hoped to add that ability to what he could offer his clients.”

Anderson said she will remember Fiore for the out-of-class discussions they had in her office as much as she will remember his success in the classroom.

“He used to come camp out in my office and he would talk about his daughter and his plans for her to succeed,” she said. “His daughter is why he was in school; he wanted to do better for her.”

Delivering the news of Fiore’s death to students in the massage program was one of the hardest things she has had to do during her teaching career, Anderson said.

“It’s a small program so everyone knows everyone else,” she said. “It was quite a blow.”

Galasso is still reeling over the death of her best friend. They had known each other for six years and shared a house within walking distance of the Essex campus.

“Dave was the kindest, gentlest soul you’d ever meet,” she said. “He had a smile that would brighten your whole day and light up the whole room, and he gave the best hugs.”

Fiore excelled in personal relationships and had a way of making people feel special, she said.

Galasso is the mother of four children and she was raising her children with Fiore and his daughter. She said she and her children would keep Fiore’s legacy alive by striving to live each day with kindness and gentleness toward others.

“We’re all better people for having known him and loved him,” Galasso said.

Other fundraisers are planned, in addition to the chair massage event, according to Galasso, with all proceeds going to Emma’s college fund.

“We’re raising this money so she can fulfill the dream she and her father had together,” Galasso said.

For more information about the chair massage event, call 443-840-1598 or send an email to MassageTherapySC@ccbcmd.edu.

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Enrollment projection paints grim picture for northeast schools

Enrollment projection paints grim picture for northeast schools
Parents held signs to show their support for overcrowding relief at Perry Hall Middle. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

At the beginning of the 2016 school year, BCPS did a head count to get a gauge on what enrollment looked like across the system. The results were released last week, and the outlook for the Northeast area schools is not good.

Of the area’s 21 elementary schools, 20 are over 100 percent capacity. According to the Baltimore County Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, a school isn’t considered “overcrowded” until it has a utilization rate of 115 percent. Ten schools in the area are over 115 percent, including Harford Hills, Shady Spring, Fullerton and Perry Hall, all of which are over 130 percent capacity.

At the middle school level, things look to be quite a bit better, with no schools at 115 percent utilization. With that said, both Parkville and Perry Hall middle schools are over 100 percent, with Perry Hall Middle School nearing 113 percent utilization. The Sept. 30 head count showed that 1,851 students were enrolled, putting the school 208 students over capacity. The 2015 count showed 1,737 students enrolled in Perry Hall Middle School, with projections showing the school reaching 2,048 students by 2024. New projections say that over 2,000 students will be enrolled in the middle school by the 2018 school year.

Councilman David Marks (R-5) believes the projections are on the conservative side and has been calling for a swift solution to the problem.

“I am asking the county executive to help us by putting money in the budget for either the design of a middle school at the Nottingham Park site - which is already owned by Baltimore County - or to purchase land in Perry Hall for a middle school,” said Marks in front of a crowd outside of Perry Hall Square Shopping Center.

Marks highlighted that he has downzoned more than 1,600 acres of land in his district to help deal with the issue, but stated that the crux of the problem stems from changing demographics as new families move into the area.

On Feb. 7, the Board of Education approved $250,000 in funding to develop a county-wide enrollment study to look at the issue of overcrowding. The Board also added $1 million to the school system’s transportation budget to lower the student-to-bus seat ratio from 3-to-1 to 2-to-1. Both of these measures will need to be approved by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz when he reviews the budget later this year in April. And before the budget gets to Kamenetz, Marks would like to see funding added for a new middle school in the northeast area.

Though the two measures approved by the Board of Education are small victories for stakeholders in northeast schools, the fact that the enrollment study will be done across the county means that solutions likely won’t be proposed for up to 18 months after the study begins in July, and implementing a solution could take years after the study is complete. Because of that, parents and advocates are calling for a quicker response.

“We know that we need to act now,” said BCPS Board of Education member Julie Henn. “we don’t have a year to wait for the results of this study; there need to be short-term solutions as well as long-term solutions.”

The use of trailers to shelter the overflow of students isn’t seen as an ideal solution to parents, either. A few parents at the rally last week held signs that said, “No More Band Aids at Perry Hall,” referencing the use of trailers. A few weeks ago rumors began, alleging that BCPS was planning to move five more trailers to Perry Hall Middle School. That rumor was rebuffed by BCPS spokesperson Mychael Dickerson, who stated that no decision had been made on additional trailers.

While parents have been calling for a new school, BCPS has maintained for years that they need to deal with overcrowding beginning at the elementary level. To help alleviate overcrowding in the northeast, a new elementary school on property located north of East Joppa Road and south of the intersection of East Joppa Road and Chapel Hill Road is on the way. With the school system finishing up air conditioning projects and with replacement elementary schools being built in the Southeast, Northeast and Southwest areas, parents are hopeful the focus can shift to address overcrowding at the middle and high school levels.

Over the last few years, parents have voiced their concerns about growing class sizes, feeling that their children aren’t receiving the attention they deserve. They have also become more vocal about safety issues, with many wondering about whether or not overcrowded schools violate fire safety regulations. But  the Baltimore County Fire Marshal’s Office stated Perry Hall Middle School has passed inspection without issue. Only areas of assembly, such as gyms, are inspected to determine capactity. Classrooms are not considered areas of assembly.

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Fort Howard developer signs agreement with county to avoid code violation fines

Fort Howard developer signs agreement with county to avoid code violation fines
The VA hospital building was one of two buildings on the site specifically named as needing to be secured because of open elevator shafts inside them. Signage must also be installed by March 3 warning trespassers of the danger. File photo.

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The developer of Fort Howard signed an agreement with Baltimore County Friday, Feb. 24, which would allow him to escape fines totaling more than $100,000 in exchange for fixing several safety and fire code violations on the property.

Timothy Munshell, of Fort Howard Development LLC, and his company had been facing up to $68,000 in fines from the county for failure to address problems of fire safety and security of the buildings on the premises. That amount was in addition to nearly $45,000 in unpaid fines levied against the developer more than a year ago for the same issues.

Fort Howard, the 100-acre former military installation owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has been slated for redevelopment since the veterans hospital on the site officially closed in 2002. The site has been fully vacant since the VA closed its outpatient clinic there in March 2016.

Over the last several years, the property has been the site of a number of incidents where people have illegally entered the property, causing destruction to several buildings through fire and vandalism.

Following a site visit on Dec. 14, 2014, county fire officials ordered the developer to take steps to secure the property and its structures. After failing to comply, the county issued a citation on July 31, 2015, for the violations which resulted in an order from county Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stahl imposing $44,800 in fines.

During a subsequent site inspection on April 12, 2016, county fire officials again ordered the developer to fix the code violations, followed by a second citation on Jan. 17 proposing fines of $68,000. The hearing on the second penalty was scheduled for Feb. 13, but was pushed back when both the county and developer requested time to negotiate a settlement agreement.

The agreement, which went into effect on Friday, is meant to address the ongoing problems on the property such as unmaintained and unsecured buildings, breaches in the site’s perimeter and out-of-service fire hydrants, according to Baltimore County Fire Director Lawrence Majchrzak.

The site has a 24-hour security service paid for by the developer, and the county reviews the logs weekly to make sure there are no gaps in shifts, Majchrzak said. He added that there have not been any significant fires there since that service has been in place.

However, inspections revealed holes in the perimeter fence which need to be repaired. The agreement requires the developer to inspect the fence every two weeks and repair any new breaches within three business days after notification from the county, as well as to put up “No Trespassing” signs along the entire fence line.

Several fire hydrants on the site also remain out of service which Majchrzak attributed mainly to their age. Installed in the 1940s, he said many are “beyond repair” and the valves to them have been shut off to try to stop a continuing underground water main leak.

“The people shutting off the valves are employed by the developer, so they don’t have the requisite knowledge to isolate the right shutoff point” to stop the leak, Majchrzak said.

The agreement with the county also requires the developer to hire a licensed contractor to repair and replace four operational fire hydrants, giving him until April 24 to make “best efforts” toward completion.

The agreement levies an ongoing obligation on the developer to secure the buildings on the property, particularly those with open elevator shafts that could present a hazard to trespassers or emergency responders.

Majchrzak said the hospital and another multi-story building are still “very open” and remain unsecured.

He said securing the property is so important because of the potential for injury and vandalism, though, they have seen much less destruction on the site with the security detail.

“We’ve also seen that the buildings that are secured have not been vandalized or set afire,” the fire director explained.

Other requirements set forth in the agreement include cutting off electricity to all but the gate house, the former healthcare clinic and one other building on the property; cutting back or removing any vegetation growing within 30 feet of buildings; and removing any loose materials from buildings which could burn in the event of a fire.

If the developer complies with the terms and meets the deadlines, a reduced fine of $40,000 will be waived by the county.

And while the outstanding fine of $44,800 is still looming, the county’s desire to enforce it will depend on the developer meeting the terms of the agreement in a timely manner, according to the county’s attorney, Brady Locher.

The agreement also states that once the redevelopment of the property is complete and it is no longer a vacant site, the county shall “abolish” the civil penalty assessed in Judge Stahl’s Jan. 14, 2016, order.

Baltimore County’s obligations under the agreement include continuing weekly inspections of the property with appropriate notice given, providing assistance where necessary to ensure the developer meets his deadlines; informing the police about the agreement and requesting their prompt response to calls for illegal activity on the property; and making a good-faith effort to achieve compliance without seeking additional civil penalties through code enforcement if problems are fixed within 15 days of the developer being notified.

Locher called the agreement a “good first step to getting this property to be safe for the public.”

“It has been out of compliance for so long that having this in writing will go a long way,” Majchrzak added. “This is the first time we’ve had an actual written agreement, so that’s why we’re so hopeful that these problems are going to be addressed.”

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Brochin, supporters defend developer contributions bill before Senate committee

Brochin, supporters defend developer contributions bill before Senate committee
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk, right), a member of the EHE committee, defended the merits of the developer contribution bill against MBIA representative Josh Greenfeld's criticisms.

(Updated 3/2/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Senator Jim Brochin (D-Towson) and several Baltimore County residents testified on behalf of a bill to restrict campaign donations from developers to elected officials last Thursday, Feb. 23, before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs (EHE) Committee.

The bill would make it illegal for developers or their "agents" to give a campaign donation to the Baltimore County Executive or County Council members within three years of requesting a land use decision from the county. Such land use decisions would include things like zoning or master plan changes or planned unit development (PUD) approvals.

The bill was modeled after a law passed in Prince George's County in 1992, Brochin said, and he got the idea from the office of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who represents that county.

Although many supporters were from Towson testifying about issues in Brochin’s home district, others spoke about planned development projects on the east side such as the North Point Government Center and Fort Howard, the former Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital site.

Fort Howard resident Kathy Labuda described the struggles of communities fighting the “illicit” sale of the North Point Government Center.

The prospective developer for NPGC was shown through campaign finance records to have connections to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Labuda also decried that developers with sweetheart deals with the VA have let Fort Howard waste away while neglecting to fulfill any requirements of the Enhanced Use Lease.

As well, the current developer, Timothy Munshell, was facing more than $100,000 in fines for fire and safety code violations. But due to a settlement agreement reached with the county, he may be allowed to forego paying any of it.

Senator Johnny Ray Salling, a co-sponsor of the bill and who also sits on the EHE committee, criticized the state of the NPGC as well, noting that the building has been neglected and its fate left up in the air.

Those opposed to the bill, namely the Maryland Building Industry Association, have raised concerns about the constitutionality of the bill.

However, Jennifer Bevan-Dangle from Common Cause Maryland stressed that the bill is “a finely tuned prohibition that addresses a very clear nexus of potential corruption,” she said. “The argument really has no merit with a bill that is this finely tuned.”

She added that the concept has withstood legal challenges in other jurisdictions across the country.

Josh Greenfeld, a representative of MBIA, said the bill implies that all developers, their families and anyone connected to them are corrupt. But he noted that many live in and care about the communities in which they work.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence of corruption in county government,” he said. He added his belief that the bill is unconstitutional because it restricts a form of political free speech.

Salling took issue with Greenfeld’s arguments, however, because of the sale of recreational space with the NPGC and the deal essentially having been done before there was any community input.

Brochin also said previously at a hearing before the Baltimore County Senate delegation that the law has been on the books in Prince George’s County for 25 years and has stood up to challenges.

“We need to make this system based on the development project that rises to the top,” Brochin said. “If we take the developer money out starting on [Jan. 1, 2019, when the bill would take effect if passed], and we make it about the best project moving forward... we need to do it without the money.”

Although the subject bill had its hearing before the EHE committee Thursday, Greenfeld pointed out that it had not yet been voted on by Baltimore County’s Senate Delegation.

According to EHE committe Vice Chairman Sen. Paul Pinsky, the bill cannot move forward unless it passes a vote from the delegation.

This article was updated to add more detail about the bill itself.

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Foreclosure bill progresses in House, faces uncertain reception in Senate

Foreclosure bill progresses in House, faces uncertain reception in Senate
This boarded-up home in Middlesex is just one example of the vacant homes littering older communities on the east side which can become magnets for rats, squatters and drug users who do not take care of the properties. File photo.

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Delegate Robin Grammer’s bill to help Baltimore County communities deal with vacant homes and the problems that accompany them has passed out of the county’s House delegation all but assuring it will get a favorable vote in the full House of Delegates.

Grammer (R-Essex) announced on Friday, Feb. 17, that his bill had received unanimous support from the House delegation, sending it on to a hearing before the House Environment and Transportation policy committee which handles housing laws in the General Assembly. The hearing has been scheduled for Friday, March 10, at 1 p.m. in Annapolis.

“But the key committee is the delegation and this is two years in a row it has passed out of delegation, this time unanimously,” Grammer said.

He said the problem stems from foreclosure law changes that occurred between 2008 and 2012 which have left community leaders and elected officials with no legal recourse to take action on a vacant and abandoned property for sometimes three or more years.

Grammer’s bill, also introduced in the state legislature in 2016, would require Baltimore County to issue certificates of vacancy for vacant or abandoned homes to get them moving through the foreclosure process more quickly.

As depicted in videos posted to social media by community residents and activists in Essex and Dundalk, vacant homes can become havens for squatters, drug users and rats, or targets for thieves who strip the copper pipes and wiring from them, all of which can cause problems for neighbors.

“These houses are abandoned, which leads to high grass, property neglect and dumping,” Grammer said. “These are key signs of a vulnerable property for squatters, drug dealers or copper thieves who quickly make targets of these properties.”

The delegate called the House delegation vote a “great sign” for the bill’s chances to pass, adding that he is “absolutely” confident it will pass by a wide margin in the House.

“I feel that this is the year that Environment and Transportation is really starting to tackle the foreclosure issue, and I feel that our bill is going to be one of several that pass,” he said.

Last year’s bill also passed the full House of Delegates with heavy support after a 135 - 3 vote. But it died after an unfavorable reception in the county’s Senate delegation committee, so this year Grammer is focusing on winning approval in the Senate.

The delegate said vacant homes are clearly an issue for communities on the eastern and western sides of the county.

But “I don’t know if they’ve been exposed to this problem as much in places like Towson and Lutherville,” he said, which is the area that Senate delegation chairman Jim Brochin (D) represents.

Brochin is also rumored to be running for Baltimore County Executive.

“I think we’ve really got to hammer home in the Senate the cause of this issue and the impact it’s having on our communities,” Grammer said.

Brochin noted, though, that he has concerns about taking someone’s home from them outright.

“In all my years in Annapolis I’ve just become really cognizant about property rights,” Brochin said.

He fears that the county would eventually run into a situation where someone’s home was taken and foreclosed on because they happened to be in the hospital or taking care of a sick relative for an extended period of time.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration has also expressed concerns about the bill since they do not have the legal authority to enter onto private property to certify that a home is vacant.

Brochin said he thinks the problem would be more appropriately addressed through better code enforcement practices; though, he assured he is sympathetic to the blight.

The senator said he wants to work with Grammer to reshape the bill to address the concerns.

However, Grammer remained undeterred in his push to pass the bill.

He noted that he did not bring anyone from the affected communities down to Annapolis to testify on the bill before the Senate last year.

“This is why this year we’re bringing some community members into the process to hammer home the importance of this issue,” he said.

Grammer pointed out that he brought community advocate and business owner Cliff O’Connell down this year to testify about the numerous examples of the problems associated with vacant housing, particularly in the Essex neighborhood of Middlesex.

“I think that was a large reason why we got a unanimous vote this year” in the House delegation, Grammer said.

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Edgemere church seeks state aid for completion of community center

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

In May of 2015, Shiloh Baptist Church of Baltimore County teamed up with Project Genesis New Beginnings, Inc. for an ambitious project - a $1.3 million endeavor that would bring a new community center to the Edgemere area.

The group took over a warehouse located at 2518 Sparrows Point Road, and since then they have been quietly raising funds and renovating the property. So far, the church has raised over $200,000.

Sister Marietta Lewis of New Shiloh traveled to Annapolis last Friday, Feb. 24, to make a case for a $200,000 bond issuance. She was aided by Sixth District Delegate Ric Metzgar.

“This is a church that’s out there doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Metzgar. “They aren’t just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk.”

Metzgar told members of the Baltimore County Delegation that he visited the property, and that the church’s vision for the community center is one that he is fully supporting.

Lewis told the East County Times that the community center will provide daycare, housing, a commercial kitchen with a dining hall and a multipurpose room. The facility will be open to all residents of Baltimore County.

The group plans to hold tutoring, summer camp, a music academy, GED classes, workforce development training, health education and more in the multipurpose room.

“It’s one of our missions to promote self sufficiency... to those in the area suffering from economic plight,” Lewis said referring to workforce development.

Lewis stressed that workforce development is something they really want to engage in due to the emergence of Tradepoint Atlantic, located just minutes from the subject site.

The housing that will be provided at the facility will be six refurbished apartments for those experiencing economic struggles.

“We’re looking to help disadvantaged families,” said Lewis. “It could be mothers with children, the jobless, the homeless. It depends on what their economic plight is.”

Lewis did not provide a date for when the project would be finished, but stated that as the project gets closer to completion they plan to have community input meetings. Despite the fact that community meetings have not been held yet, Lewis stated that representatives of the church have been to local meetings and have been taking in the information.

“We’ve also been attending meetings to get a good idea of what’s needed in the population, and we’ve also been studying available data,” Lewis said.

These types of projects aren’t always well-received in communities, however. Patapsco United Methodist Church was threatened with a $12,000 fine late last year for allowing homeless individuals to sleep on their property, as well as other issues local residents saw as a nuisance. While the Shiloh Baptist and Project Genesis project is different as they will be receiving permits, Metzgar noted that he expects some push-back from community members. Ultimately, though, he expects the community to see the value in the community center.

“They told me they had a vision for the property,” Metzgar said. “And when I visited the property, I was struck by the same vision. It will be a welcome addition to an area that sorely needs it.”

Proposed legislation could see yearly brewery barrel cap lifted from 500 to 5,000

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Ever since Diageo announced the development of a new Guinness brewery in southwest Baltimore County, legislators have been trying to figure out a way to lift the strict 500-barrel-per-year cap imposed on Maryland breweries.

Last Friday, Feb. 24, the Baltimore County House Delegation heard arguments for and against House Bill 1391, a bill that would create a special enterprise zone in the southwest area allowing Guinness to sell 5,000 barrels of beer on site each year.

While many in the delegation and among those who spoke to the delegation agreed with the bill, they pointed out that the legislation shouldn’t just pertain to a small area of the county or to breweries acquiring licenses, but to all already-licensed Class 5 breweries in the county. Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) is proposing an amendment when the delegation votes on the bill on March 3 that would see the barrel limit raised for those already holding a Class 5 license. Both Key Brewing in Dundalk and DuClaw in Rosedale are Class 5 breweries.

Grammer referred to HB 1391 as “poorly structured” since it pertains to only a small portion of the county, but noted that it wasn’t due to malice, which he maintains is rare in the world of liquor.

“Alcohol laws tend to be very slanted,” said Grammer. “Businesses try to outdo each other by passing laws that benefit themselves.”

A Diageo representative told the delegation that the hyper-specific legislation was crafted in a way they thought would make it easier to approve. He noted that Diageo supports expanding the bill to include Class 5 breweries across the county and state.

Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, agreed that while he supports the legislation, he’d like to see it expanded to apply statewide. Atticks told the delegation that if you look at states surrounding Maryland, most don’t have a cap on the amount of beer able to be sold at a brewery, and that those who do have a cap have it set for tens of thousands of barrels.

But detractors of the bill, including Delegate Rick Impallaria (R-Middle River), stated that many who testified years ago in support of breweries being able to serve on premises agreed to the cap, and that serving at breweries was mainly allowed so that breweries who have a tough time breaking into the market can sell their product on site. Impallaria stated that Guinness doesn’t have the problem that a lot of smaller breweries have, and they shouldn’t receive special treatment.

“If we expand for them, what’s to stop any other big name brewery from coming in and asking for the same?” Impallaria questioned.

Impallaria also questioned whether or not the bill, if expanded, would end up meaning anything to other breweries in the state.

Atticks stated that there are 10 breweries out of 67 that currently hover around the 500 barrel limit each year. He also noted that Flying Dog is looking to undergo a $50 million expansion, the same size project as Guinness.

Many of those who testified in opposition to the bill - mainly restaurateurs and liquor store owners - cited loss of business. They questioned why residents would continue to patronize their shops and restaurants when they can go grab it straight from the brewery. One man who testified in opposition to the bill suggested Guinness look to the model created by Sam Adams in Boston. Up there, residents get a tour of the beer and a pint at the end. When everything wraps up, they have a trolley service that takes them to local establishments.

But Grammer and others think there will be a big economic benefit for those surrounding the brewery even without a similar service.

“Millennials, Gen X-ers, they love this,” said Grammer. “The food truck pulls up and they’re buying pulled pork sandwiches or visiting other establishments when they finish. It’s an economic benefit.”

An Arbutus resident testified that the Guinness brewery would be a huge boon for businesses on that side of the county. He stated that for the last few decades, there hasn’t been much in the way of new attractions and that the addition of a brewery like Guinness would see tourism rise and a younger demographic willing to move to the area.

Diageo expects approximately 250,000 visitors the first year the brewery opens. With the law currently capping sales at 500 barrels, they maintain that will leave tourists with only about a half pint to consume.

Impallaria then noted that any beer given away during tours, or any voucher tickets, don’t count against the cap.

The bill in its current form is sponsored by Delegate Benjamin Brooks (D-Reisterstown) and co-sponsored by many others, including delegates Grammer, Joe Cluster, Christian Miele, Ric Metzgar and Kathy Szeliga, all Republicans. Grammer stated a vote will take place after his amendment is announced, and he’s hopeful it will pass.

Grammer also noted that he’s co-sponsoring a bill that would see the cap lifted statewide.

“The big alcohol lobby held the cap down because, frankly, they haven’t had any big political players stand up against them,” Grammer said, adding that he was hopeful the addition of Guinness would take some power away from lobbyists.

Community concerned about merging, relocation of Essex VFCs

Community concerned about merging, relocation of Essex VFCs
The red pin marks the site of the new development where the fire companies would like to build their new station. The map also shows much of their combined service area.

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The announcement two weeks ago that three volunteer fire companies in Essex plan to merge and relocate did not sit well with residents who worry about the future availability of emergency services to their neighborhoods.

They also worry about a developer’s role in the issue, seeing new housing as putting pressure on local infrastructure.

As reported by the East County Times, the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Company (RBVFC) held a community meeting on Feb. 16 to inform residents in their service area that they planned to merge with the Hyde Park and Middleborough VFCs to become the Essex Volunteer Fire Company due to rising costs of operation and decreasing support from Baltimore County government. They also announced their intention to relocate to a more centralized site, identifying a tract slated for development as their top priority.

Combined, the three companies serve a 45-square-mile area with about 21,000 - 25,000 residents living in it. But Rockaway Beach alone has about 35 square miles of that area and approximately 7,000 residents, of which a relatively high percentage are older. And for RBVFC, their pool of potential volunteers to recruit from has shrunk over the years due to the aging community.

RBVFC President Kevin Nida noted that a lot of the younger residents and Chesapeake High School students in the area live in the apartments and townhomes of the more dense communities on the upper Back River Neck Peninsula, rather than in their immediate community.

“We’re really out of the way,” Nida said. “No one really pays attention to us down here unless they need us.” Therefore, merging would help the company - all three have faced difficulties recruiting new members - maintain enough members to be able to respond to more calls for emergency service, he said.

The Times also reported in August of last year that Glen Burnie-based Craftsman Developers had proposed modifying an existing approved development plan for 180 apartments on a 22-acre site in Essex to allow for townhomes instead at a slightly reduced density.

Following that media attention, the three VFCs contacted the developer about their desire to build their new station on the site, said Conor Gilligan, vice president of land management for the developer, at the meeting two weeks ago.

Gilligan said he met with leadership from the three companies on three separate occasions to explain his development plan and discuss ways the site could accommodate them.

The subject site - bounded by MD-702, Middleborough Road, Back River Neck Road and Hyde Park Road - has two lots approved for commercial uses as part of the development plan which could be modified to allow for construction of a new fire station.

The commercial lots, both along Middleborough Road on the property, could also provide a central location for the combined service area, according to Gilligan. Each lot has direct access to Middleborough Road and could accommodate a larger building than is shown on the plan, he said.

“That would be the centralized location” for the new company, Nida added.

Gilligan stated his purpose for attending the meeting was to review with the community a plan for relocating the fire company that he believes would be mutually beneficial for him and the community.

However, an agreement for the company’s use of the property for a new station would have to be between the Essex VFC and the current owner of the property, Hendersen-Webb, Gilligan explained.

The plan for apartments on the property has been approved for about a decade, but Gilligan has proposed to change that plan to 125 for-sale townhomes and four single homes.

The developer has faced opposition from some community members over his proposal and is currently involved in a legal challenge to it brought by the Rockaway Beach/Turkey Point Improvement Association (RBIA).

Gilligan expressed at the meeting his unwillingness to spar with the community over his plan, but cautioned that the approved plan will move forward if his does not.

“I believe 125 townhomes and four single-family homes would be a much better option than apartments, because if I am not successful with this plan, I can assure you this site will be developed into 180 apartments,” Gilligan said.

Pamela Newland, chief operating officer for Hendersen-Webb Inc., confirmed that the company is now ready to either sell or develop the property.

Gilligan stressed that a mandatory homeowners association with his plan would help to maintain the quality and value of the new community, and his plan would provide much more open space than required by county law. He added that his plan would see less vehicle trips per day to and from the site and contribute less children to area schools, some of which are overcrowded.

But the opposition has contended that the plan could actually be worse than the apartments. They argue that, mathematically, 125 three- and four-bedroom townhomes would see higher numbers of vehicles and children than 180 two-bedroom apartments, according to RBIA Vice President Kevin McDonough.

In response to the criticisms, Gilligan delivered a draft community agreement for his plan to the RBIA which would see some units along Back River Neck Road eliminated from the development to create more of a landscape buffer. The developer would also make a $50,000 donation to the county or a non-profit to somehow benefit the community, similar to what a planned unit development (PUD) requires.

That agreement was delivered in August and the association has since been considering their options, according to McDonough. But he noted his opinion that the agreement lacked the "teeth" they desired in being able to hold the developer to the standards they are looking for.

Since the meeting, RBIA leadership has reached out to other community members urging them to support the RBVFC and pressure the county for more financial support in the hope that the station in their community can remain open.

“As a community, we are extremely alarmed by the animosity that the current county administration appears to have for our volunteer fire companies, particularly Rockaway Beach VFC. It’s troubling that the administration would only provide our fire department with a measly $4,000 to operate and provide us with an essential public service...,” McDonough told the Times. “We find that absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable.”

“Our public safety is an issue which needs to be addressed before any other development can proceed in this area,” RBIA President Kim Goodwin addded.

Nida did not express support or opposition for Gilligan’s plan, and it appears a new fire station could be built on one of the commercial lots whether it is developed with apartments or townhomes.

He did state at the meeting, however, that the respective VFCs currently receive much more donation funding from area families in single homes and townhomes than those in apartments.

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With eyes to the sky, Kenwood cadets complete aviation ground school

With eyes to the sky, Kenwood cadets complete aviation ground school
Cadet Captain Jacob Fuller received his wings from his father, Joseph. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Marge Neal -

With posture straight and proud, marching in perfect cadence and turning crisp, square corners, cadets from Kenwood High School’s Air Force JROTC recently marched themselves into school history.

Twenty students graduated on Saturday, Feb. 25, from an academically challenging aviation ground school course, a first not only for Kenwood but Baltimore County Public Schools.

In case the significance of the event was lost on family members and friends on hand to witness the ceremony, Senior Master Sgt. Erick Stone, co-instructor of the JROTC program, made sure they knew in no uncertain terms.

“These young cadets are graduating from an honors-level, ground school aviation course,” Stone told the crowd. “This is a monumental event; we don’t take the pinning of wings lightly and it is a significant achievement.”

Lt. Col. Maria Nowack, Stone’s co-instructor, called the graduation a “milestone event” and credited Stone, in his first year with the program, with pitching the idea of holding the course.

She congratulated the students not only for their achievement, but their initiative in signing up for an elective program that ran from 7:30 to 11 a.m. across several Saturdays.

“They had to get up at ‘oh-dark-thirty’ to be here at 7:30 in the morning on a day most of them would have preferred to sleep in,” she said with a laugh.

The cadets met for four Saturdays, with three classes at Kenwood and one at the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum, according to cadet Capt. Jacob Fuller. They also gathered for three after-school classes for a total of 24 hours of instruction.

In noting a class average of 95.2 on the “challenging” test, Nowack said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you have set the bar high for the next class, and there will be one.”

The ceremony was quick but moving. Each graduate was called individually to receive a diploma and embroidered name tag, and then a family member was given the honor of pinning each cadet with the prestigious and hard-earned wings.

While each student was being pinned, other proud family members - often younger siblings - crowded in to take pictures.

Fuller’s father, Joseph, beamed as he pinned his son, while mother Tina and other family members captured the action with cellphone cameras.

“He’s actually going to be able to be in the cockpit of a plane - to be on the wheel while they’re in the air,” Joseph Fuller said of his son, a junior, after the ceremony. “He’s only 17 - what an opportunity.”

The elder Fuller was referring to the Maryland First Flight program at Martin State Airport. All cadets who passed the ground flight school course are eligible for a plane ride, offered free through the program, according to Stone.

Sophomore cadet Airman Kiahra Smith received her wings from her older brother, Yusuf, 21, while younger brother Ian, 7, watched and parents Mahisha and Yusuf photographed the event.

Before the ceremony began, Nowack made her way around the room introducing herself and welcoming family members to the ceremony.

“What a great daughter you have,” she told the Smiths. “She’s smart, she’s attentive - she comes in to class and sits in front right in front of me, she knows her stuff.”

Nowack said that Smith has leadership potential and strongly recommended that the cadet take advantage of a summer leadership course.

“I’d love to see her on the staff next year,” Nowack told the Smiths. “She’s well-liked and the cadets would really respond to her as a leader.”

Jacob Fuller, who is the deputy corps commander of the 112-cadet Maryland 941 unit at Kenwood, plans a career in service to his country.

“I’m currently trying to get a job with a government defense agency,” he said after the ceremony. “If not, I plan to go to college, participate in ROTC and then become a military officer and hopefully a pilot. I want to serve my country.”

And, Nowack and Stone both believe, he and his fellow cadets have good head starts  on such careers because of their participation in JROTC.

“This makes me so proud of each and every one of you,” Nowack told the students. “The studying, the getting up early each Saturday - this is your day; enjoy it.”

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Opponents boycott meeting with developer on Fort Howard

Opponents boycott meeting with developer on Fort Howard
Several opponents of the proposed development at Fort Howard refused to attend a community meeting with the prospective developer of the site, instead braving the cold, windy weather to deliver their message outside. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Developer Sam Himmelrich held a community meeting with Fort Howard residents on Thursday, Feb. 16, to discuss his plan for developing the former veterans hospital property owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The concept plan for the development remains largely unchanged from what was presented to community members at an Oct. 12 meeting organized by the North Point Peninsula Council (NPC).

And Jacob Himmelrich, Sam’s son, who is also involved with the project, said the meeting was an effort by the developer to engage more with community members, particularly those in Fort Howard, as recommended by County Councilman Todd Crandell and community leaders such as NPC President Fran Taylor.

Nevertheless, some Fort Howard residents and other opponents of the project opted not to attend the meeting which was seemingly open to the public. Instead, they expressed their sentiments outside by hoisting signs with slogans of opposition.

According to Jacob, Fort Howard Community Association Vice President Scott Pappas had been invited to the meeting, which was organized by Todd’s Farm resident Pete Christensen.

Asked why the group did not attend the meeting, Pappas said they picketed in opposition to what he called an “outrageous” amount of construction and development at Fort Howard. “Because we’re the ones who are going to suffer with all the impacts,” he said.

He stressed as well that the gathering outside was not so much a protest as an affirmation of their support for Crandell’s expressed position that the development should be veteran-focused.

Pappas and the others used the slogan “Not On My Watch” to reference what Crandell said during a public meeting on June 4, 2015, that he would block any attempt by a developer to build what he called a “metropolis” at Fort Howard.

“We weren’t really protesting; we were more or less just making a public statement,” Pappas explained. “We weren’t against anything, we were just pro-’Not On My Watch.’”

Pappas added that he and the others also did not attend because Sam Himmelrich is not listed on the lease with the VA for the site and is not yet an official partner for the development, which the VA has confirmed.

“The short story is, he is not - as far as the Veterans Administration is concerned - on the lease or, as far as they know, a stakeholder,” Pappas said. “We’re really wasting our time, and further, we’re actually giving him credibility which he doesn’t deserve from us.”

He said the developer is simply trying to curry support for his proposal so he can eventually be added to the lease as a partner with leaseholder Timothy Munshell.

Further, Pappas questioned Christensen’s motives in organizing the meeting, noting that he had planted the hundreds of trees on the Bauer Farm property for Mark Sapperstein’s Shaw’s Discovery project.

“It seems like Mr. Christensen is always doing something for the developers, including supporting their development against what the community people possibly don’t support,” he said.

Pappas also griped about the lack of public notification of the meeting ahead of time, stating that some people across the street from the Balco Club, where the gathering was held, were unaware of what was going on.

Jacob said that since the developer was not the one who called the meeting, they left notification up to its organizers. He said Christensen was in charge of inviting members of the community.

He stressed, though, that it was an open and public meeting.

“No one who wanted to attend the meeting was stopped from doing so,” Jacob said.

According to Sam, the first phase of his project would involve restoring the officers’ quarters single homes along the waterfront and the main drive, some of which have been vandalized or burned down; building a facility to house homeless or at-risk veterans, as required by the lease with the VA; and construction of a group of 75 townhomes on the property.

Phase two would see another cluster of townhomes constructed, as well as single homes built along the waterfront at the lower end of the property.

The third and final phase would consist of apartment or condominium buildings, potentially for senior housing, according to Himmelrich. But he said the programming for that had not been completely finalized.

The third phase would also involve the completion of the required restoration and renovation of the historic buildings on the site.

One minor change for the project, Jacob said, is that they have incorporated the concept of having a percentage of the units held off the market and reserved specifically for veterans for a period of time.

While the entire site would be “veterans preferred” and marketed toward veterans, he said this is something they have come up with based on feedback from the community, as well as local elected officials.

“Basically, we’ll take them off the market for a period of time to give veterans the ability to try to purchase those units,” Jacob said.

The reserved units would be marketed only to veterans during that reserved period, he said.

He added that they have not exactly figured out yet how that will work, but noted that veterans are now a protected class for housing in Baltimore County thanks to a bill sponsored by Councilman Crandell and passed by the County Council last year.

In total, the Himmelrich plan would see about 450 homes built on the property.

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Three Essex volunteer fire companies to merge, relocate

Three Essex volunteer fire companies to merge, relocate
Rockaway Beach VFC volunteers expressed hope at the meeting to retain at least two fire engines and ambulances under the new company since EMS calls comprise a large portion of their workload. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Company put to bed rumors about their future on Thursday, Feb. 16, by officially announcing that they plan to merge with two other area volunteer fire companies.

If all goes well, the Rockaway Beach, Hyde Park and Middleborough volunteers will join to form the Essex Volunteer Fire Company and settle into a new station at a new site within the next five years, according to RBVFC Lieutenant Brian Roth.

Roth said the goal by the end of this year is to have the merger complete on paper, officially forming the Essex VFC, station 51. But he assured that will not change the services the communities receive from the companies for the time being since each will continue to operate out of their current buildings.

“We will still be sitting right down here. We will still be there when you call,” he said, adding that they could not currently fit all three companies into one building anyway.

They also do not yet have a new site, and Roth explained that their goal by the end of next year is to close one of the three stations and have land ready to build the new one. They do not yet know which station would close, he said, noting that it will be whichever one makes sense, financially and otherwise, to close at that time.

The goal by the end of 2019 is to have the new station complete and to close the remaining two stations.

Company leadership could not firmly say what will happen to the sites of the three current fire stations, each consisting of roughly an acre of land. But RBVFC does not own the land on which their hall sits, instead holding a 99-year lease with the owner, Lawrence Sinclair, a longtime area resident.

The companies’ highest priority for a new site, according to RBVFC President Kevin Nida, is on Middleborough Road between MD-702 and Back River Neck Road - a site owned by Hendersen-Webb and slated for development.

Baltimore County approved the 22-acre site for 180 apartments about a decade ago, but it became an issue again last summer when a new developer, Conor Gilligan, came up with a plan for 125 townhomes on the site instead.

In addition to the homes, the site includes two commercial lots on its Middleborough Road edge, either of which could be used to build a new fire station, said Gilligan, vice president of land management for Craftsman Developers.

But an agreement for the sale of the property would have to be between the Essex VFC and Hendersen-Webb. The VFC would then have to get approval from the county to convert and build on the commercial lot they choose.

Gilligan said he has met with the VFCs on three occasions since they approached him in August to discuss ways they can work together, adding that the site would be centrally located to their combined service area.

Nida explained that the RBVFC currently serves a 35-square-mile area with about 7,000 residents. But the new company would have a 45-square-mile service area with 21,000 - 25,000 residents.

“It sounds like a lot, but statistically it’s going to help us out better when we can pool all the members together in one spot to be able to serve that,” Nida said.

Roth said, logistically, the company can do a better job out of one station than they can from three separate ones, adding that they could potentially have multiple fire engines and ambulances due to the needs of the community.

The merge is seen as necessary partly because county funding for volunteers has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Nida revealed that RBVFC only received $4,000 in county funding last year, down from $16,000 the previous year and $60,000 15 years ago.

Roth noted that their fundraising income is typically consistent year to year, but costs of operation are always increasing, with outdated buildings constructed several decades ago and county Fire Chief John Hohman recommending the purchase of new fire engines every 15 years.

Additionally, having three companies so close together restricts each station’s fundraising territory and recruiting pool.

“It makes it very hard for us to come out and help you if we don’t have the people to get out the door and respond to your emergencies when you need us,” Roth said.

Because of this, the average response rate for the three companies has ranged from 63 - 79 percent over the last five years, according to Nida. And while the three receive a combined roughly 1,700 calls for service each year, 30 - 40 percent of each station’s calls are in one of the other stations’ territories, so that total would decrease after the merger, he said.

Roth also referenced the Baltimore County Volunteer Fireman’s Association study which recommended the merging of VFCs around the county for greater efficiency and cost effectiveness. The county has encouraged those mergers as well.

“[The county] decided that they do not want to support three fire houses down at this section,” Roth said, which he added effectively means they eventually are not going to.

He also said it would be impossible for the stations to survive on their own without county funds, and at the rate funds are dwindling, they would likely be gone in five years.

Roth noted that none of the companies involved is anxious to close.

“We enjoy serving the communities that we serve; that’s why we’re here,” he said.

But volunteer companies in Middle River, White Marsh and elsewhere throughout the county have successfully completed mergers over the last two years. And Roth said the idea of merging the Essex companies has been discussed for about the last 30 years.

Residents who attended the meeting Thursday expressed concern about the amount of development occurring in the area and the potential dangers of closing fire houses while increasing population.

But Roth said even if the county had not taken that into consideration, it is unlikely to change their mind on merging the companies.

“This is something they’ve wanted for 20 years, and I can’t imagine that there’s going to be anything to change that,” he said.

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County councilman finds fault with Charter Review Commission picks

County councilman finds fault with Charter Review Commission picks
Third District County Councilman Wade Kach (R-North County).

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Third District County Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, sent a letter to his constituents and supporters last week in an immediate call to action over the Baltimore County Executive’s and the County Council’s appointees for the Charter Review Commission.

In his letter, Kach decried what he saw as lobbyists with “clear conflicts of interest” being appointed to review the County Charter.

The Charter Review Commission was approved first by the County Council via a resolution, then by county voters during the November 2016 election. It calls for the creation of a commission in the seventh year of each decade to review and update the charter for efficiency in county government.

Kach said the commission’s purpose is also to make local government more responsive to the interests and concerns of the public.

“Because the issues that the commission will confront are so important and so sensitive, it is vital to make sure that members of the commission are unencumbered by conflicts of interest,” Kach wrote. “With this in mind, it is deeply disappointing to note that several proposed members of the commission are lobbyists with issues presently before the council.”

Each County Council member appointed one person to the commission and the county executive appointed two more. And Kach identified the county executive’s picks, as well as those by Councilwomen Vicki Almond and Cathy Bevins as lobbyists with conflicts of interest in the task of reviewing the County Charter.

For this reason, Kach asked for the removal of his name as a sponsor of the resolution which established the commission’s membership.

“I cannot in good conscience support a commission comprised of a large number of lobbyists who are currently on retainer with special interests that currently have issues before the county government,” he wrote.

He said those lobbyists focus mostly on land use issues, which make up a large portion of the daily operations of local government.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s appointees have each acted as land use attorneys for development issues on the east side and around the county.

Specifically, Edward Gilliss of Royston, Mueller, McLean and Reid represented White Marsh Mall in its opposition to the Paragon outlet mall project.

David Karceski, a partner with Venable, LLC, is acting land use attorney for a residential townhome development in White Marsh on the former Pulaski Drive-In property. That project is still seeking county approval.

Almond’s pick, John Gontrum of Whiteford, Taylor and Preston, represented developer Conor Gilligan in his bid for approval of the Osprey Pointe residential development on Turkey Point Road in Essex. That project is still pending appeal in the courts due to community oppostion.

Bevins maintained that her appointee, Michael Paul Smith of Smith, Gildea and Schmidt, is a trial attorney rather than one for land use and that the vast majority of his practice is in things like car accidents and malpractice lawsuits.

But his firm is well-known for representing clients for land use. For instance, Larry Schmidt acted as counsel for Len Weinberg, the prospective developer for the North Point Government Center. And David Gildea has represented several clients for projects in White Marsh and Perry Hall.

Bevins stood by her pick, though, holding that Smith does not currently have a client with a development project pending in the county because he does not usually participate in land use cases. She noted as well that in the eight years his father, Jim Smith, was county executive, he worked for a different law firm and did not practice in land use at all so there would be no conflict of interest.

Bevins explained that she knew she had to pick someone for the commission is willing to do a lot of reading.

“And they have to have a mind to understand that reading and why the charter was created and its importance and what is going to be happening through this commission,” she said.

She noted that Smith got his education in county government when his father ran for county executive. He was his father’s political adviser and researched county government inside and out.

“So he understands it. He understands it on many levels, not just as an attorney,” Bevins asserted.

Councilman David Marks, who was lead sponsor of the bill to create the commission in 2015 and was the only one to choose a non-attorney, said he was “comfortable” with his pick.

Antonio (Tony) Campbell is a professor of political science at Towson University and is “about as much of an outsider as you will get” in Baltimore County, Marks said. “I appointed an African-American Republican who tried to challenge Kevin Kamenetz in the last election.”

Marks said, ideally, members of the commission should not be connected to county governement. But he sees the value in having people who understand the mechanics of government, “as long as they follow strict ethical standards and recuse themselves from any conflicts of interest.”

He said he would have a greater problem with lobbyists and land use attorneys being on the commission if the body had more power than it does.

“This is an advisory committee,” Marks explained. “The committee will make recommendations to the County Council, and any changes to the charter will have to be approved by the voters.”

He said needing voter approval makes it purposely difficult to change the charter.

“I would have a real problem if the commission had the power to change laws,” Marks said. “It does not.”

The County Council voted 5 - 2 to approve the Charter Review Commission appointees Tuesday evening, Feb. 21, with Kach and Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell (R-Dundalk) voting against the measure.

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‘Harvest for the Hungry’ donates $10,000 to Maryland Food Bank

‘Harvest for the Hungry’ donates $10,000 to Maryland Food Bank
Pictured are Joppa Road Weis store manager Annette Gaydos (left), County Councilman David Marks, WCBM talk show host Bruce Elliot, Maryland Food Bank representatives Morgan Delaware and Amy Chase, Honeygo store manager Rob Santoni, WCBM General Manager Mark Beaven, Carney store manager Rick Fisher and Honeygo store Assistant Manager Barb Shiflett. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

On Thursday, Feb. 16, Weis Markets presented a check for $10,665 to the Maryland Food Bank at their Honeygo store in Perry Hall for donations the grocery chain received during December 2016.

The donations were the result of generous contributions by Weis customers and WCBM Radio listeners as part of the “Harvest for the Hungry” campaign - a partnership between Baltimore-area Weis stores and WCBM.

Contributions were raised across 12 stores in the Baltimore metropolitan region through in-store voucher purchases, on-air contributions from WCBM listeners and remote radio feeds from several Weis Markets locations, according to Honeygo store manager Rob Santoni.

Maryland Food Bank representative Amy Chase said the funds were used mostly to pay for sources of protein for needy families. Families could use gift cards to pay for protein such as turkeys around the holidays or other sources of protein for vegetarians, she said.

Chase noted that sources of protein are especially important for the food bank.

“As a food bank we get a lot of vegetables and canned goods, but not necessarily meat or other protein,” she said. “So it’s important to have that variety.”

Chase also pointed out that the Maryland Food Bank can provide approximately three meals for every dollar donated to them.

“So this donation paid for over 30,000 meals for needy families,” she said.

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‘Ashes to Go’ offers mobile blessing with a dose of hope

‘Ashes to Go’ offers mobile blessing with a dose of hope

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Marge Neal -

If a busy schedule is the only thing keeping you from participating in Ash Wednesday services, a couple of eastern Baltimore County churches have you covered.

Dundalk’s New Light and Essex’s St. John’s Lutheran churches will both provide individual prayers and the imposition of ashes through a national initiative known as Ashes to Go. The program allows residents to receive ashes through walk-up or drive-through services in their communities.

“It was really neat last year, we had about 15 people,” The Rev. Charlene Barnes, pastor of St. John’s, said. “For the first time doing something, I thought that was pretty good.”

Barnes will offer Ashes to Go from 6:30 - 8:30 a.m. March 1, at the corner of Eastern Boulevard and Taylor Avenue in Essex. For those looking for a more traditional service, the church will offer ashes from 7 - 8 p.m. at the church, 518 Franklin Ave.

At New Light Lutheran, where The Rev. Kristi King has been offering the mobile ashes program for four years, the schedule is a little more ambitious. King will greet visitors from 7 - 9 a.m. in front of the church at the corner of Dundalk, Pine and Willow Spring avenues. Formal church services with communion will be offered at noon and 7 p.m. at the church, 2120 Dundalk Ave., and mobile ashes will be offered again from 4 - 6 p.m. at the Logan Village Shopping Center on Dundalk Avenue.

“We are not called to hide inside the church and wait for people to find us,” King said. “It can be scary to go into a church on Sunday where you don’t know anyone, and meeting people where they are is less threatening.”

The imposition of ashes dates to the Old Testament, when people wore sack cloths and put ashes on their foreheads to show “repentance and grief over the ways we stray from God,” according to King.

“And this is also a reminder of our mortality, that we are ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” she said. “All of this is temporary and we return to God who is eternal.”

The New Light mobile ashes group served about 150 residents last year, but King said she would continue the service if only three people took advantage of it.

Some of the people served may never have belonged to a church, or perhaps they grew up in the church but disconnected for any number of reasons.

“If God is stirring someone’s heart, I would do whatever I could to take down the barriers for that to happen,” she said.

Barnes originally became aware of Ashes to Go while working for a church in Frederick County and liked the grassroots connection to the community the outreach effort offered.

When she was called to St. John’s, she brought the program with her.

“When I am out doing this, I am not recruiting for members or asking for anything,” Barnes said. “This is an opportunity to get out in the community with a purpose - to share the love and peace of God with people in the moment, in their journey of life.”

Last year, Barnes situated herself so she could minister to people getting off buses at a nearby stop as well as be convenient to drivers in their cars. She also took notice of people lining up at the front door of the Maryland state services building across the street.

As bus customers crossed the street  to join the line, they apparently shared with others what Barnes was offering.

One man left the line to take advantage of the service, according to Barnes. He told the pastor he had recently lost his job and was trying to get some help for his kids.

“I told him that ‘God is still in your life and he’ll give you the strength to get through this,’” the pastor said. “And he said, ‘Thank you, I just needed some hope.’”

St. John’s, though relatively small in size - the pastor estimated that about 70 members attend each Sunday - has a big impact on the community through its many outreach projects, including clothing and toy giveaways.

“We served 186 families through our holiday toy giveaway this past year,” Barnes said.

While Barnes said the Ashes to Go program is a no-strings-attached offering, she said she does end up getting rewarded.

Speaking of the man who asked for prayer after losing his job, she said he cried during the few moments he shared with the pastor.

The man was appreciative of a small dose of individual prayer and caring and walked back across the street with a little bit of hope he didn’t have earlier.

“As a pastor, you know you’re doing what you were called to do when you give someone a little hope and a little strength to carry on,” she said.

God doesn’t wait for a holy place to deliver his message, according to New Light’s King.

“He’s on the street corners, he’s where the people are,” she said. “We need to meet people in the midst of everyday life, which is how Jesus carried out his ministry, and this program allows us to do that.”

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Board of Education passes motions for enrollment study, increased transportation funding

Board of Education passes motions for enrollment study, increased transportation funding
Perry Hall Middle School could see up to five additional trailers put on school grounds before the end of the year, but BCPS spokesman Mychael Dickerson told the East County Times that no decision on “re-locatables” has been made at this time. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Parents concerned about overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School got much-needed wins last week when the Baltimore County Board of Education passed two motions that take steps toward alleviating overcrowding issues at the school.

The first motion added $250,000 to the budget for a comprehensive middle and high school enrollment study. The second motion added $1 million for increased transportation services to lower the student-to-bus seat ratio from three-to-one to two-to-one.

Over the last few weeks concerned constituents have been inundating the Board of Education with emails and letters calling for relief at Perry Hall Middle School. At last week’s Board of Education meeting, two dozen parents attended to show their support for the cause. But while the funding has been added to the budget, the budget still needs to be reviewed by the County Council and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and there’s still a chance funding could be cut.

“We’ve clearly been heard by Superintendent Dallas Dance, and I thank him for his work on helping us with this matter,” said Councilman David Marks (R-5). “But we need to redirect our efforts at the county executive. The superintendent made it clear that he understands the problem, but funding is contingent on the executive branch.”

The Northeast Area Education Advisory Committee (NEAC) sees the enrollment study as a step in the right direction, but on an 18-month timeline, some members fear it might take too long.

“We’re realistically looking at five years passing before we get relief,” said one member. “Even if they evenly redistributed every student in the northeast, we’d be at total capacity by next year.”

NEAC members proposed the idea of parents voluntarily moving their children to adjacent schools that have plenty of vacant seats, saying that many parents would rather their children be in smaller classes. Others noted that even if it was a possibility, the move would simply be a stopgap.

“This problem has gotten so bad I would move my child to Pine Grove Middle School in a heartbeat if I could,” said one Perry Hall Middle School parent. “And I know I’m not the only one. Parents are concerned about their children’s learning environment and safety.”

The idea of levying an impact fee on new development was also proposed. While Marks showed an interest, he noted an impact fee should have been levied years ago, before the Perry Hall area saw a lot of development.

“People don’t want to see taxes go up, and we also don’t want to lose our AAA bond rating. An impact fee would be nice but there’s not as much land around here for development anymore, so there’s not as much that can be raised from an impact fee,” said Marks.

Marks also noted that enrollment is rising in areas where there isn’t a lot of development occurring, and he chalks that up to changing demographics.

“We lowered the development potential of thousands of acres in the 2016 rezoning cycle, but much of this overcrowding comes from demographic changes as younger families move into older communities.”

Both of the motions passed by the Board of Education were proposed by board member Julie Henn, who previously worked with the NEAC.

While overcrowding has been an issue in the Perry Hall area for years, a new issue cropped up at the beginning of the school year in August when parents reported that buses transporting students to Perry Hall Middle School were so crowded that students had to sit on the floor.

BCPS officials stated it was likely that some students were getting on the wrong bus. They also noted that three students could fit on a seat.

But that notion was shot down by members of the NEAC.

“We can’t have students sitting on the floor, falling out of seats, it’s no way that’s safe,” said Julie Henn back in August.

NEAC members pointed out that sitting students three to a seat wasn’t realistic or safe when you take into account backpacks, instruments, athletic equipment and other gear students might be carrying.

Board member Ann Miller was also on hand for the NEAC meeting on Monday night. Miller recently wrote a fiery op-ed (which can be found on our website) condemning the county’s STAT program and claiming that cuts were made to 300 programs - including transportation - to pay for it.

The program, now in its third year, has already cost the county $275 million. Miller states in her letter that it will cost approximately $60 million annually. During the last Board of Education meeting, Miller tried to freeze expansion of the STAT program for one year but was voted down 9 - 2.

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Grammer reintroduces bill to help deal with vacant homes

Grammer reintroduces bill to help deal with vacant homes
This boarded-up home in Middlesex is just one example of the vacant homes littering older communities on the east side which can become magnets for rats, squatters and drug users who do not take care of the properties. File photo.

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Sixth District Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Dundalk, Essex) has again introduced a bill in the General Assembly which he hopes would help communities deal with vacant homes and the issues that often come with them.

House Bill 220 would force Baltimore County to develop a process to certify empty homes as vacant so they can be processed rather than sitting and decaying for months or years, the delegate said. He noted there is already language in state law that allows for the expedited foreclosure of properties deemed vacant.

“This would force Baltimore County to do that,” he said.

Grammer said he hears a lot from constituents about the lack of code enforcement or addressing community health issues, like rats or squatters, which arise from vacant or abandoned homes.

Community activist Cliff O'Connell, who owns a business in the Middlesex community of Essex, has joined with other community leaders to address the ongoing problems in their communities which he said ultimately come back to the issue of too many vacant homes in neighborhoods on the east side.

According to O'Connell, vacant homes left unattended by their owners become magnets for rats, squatters, drug users, illegal dumping or just kids looking for mischief. And when the homes fall into disrepair, particularly in rowhome communities, they create problems for other neighbors.

Beyond being an eyesore in the neighborhood and negatively affecting area property values, rowhomes especially can be a burden for others in the row. Rats attracted to messes in yards left by an eviction or dumpers can overflow into neighbors' yards. And after copper pipes and wiring are stolen by thieves, flooding can occur and threaten the homes on either side.

“This initiative is to kind of speak to that and hold Baltimore County’s feet to the fire,” Grammer said of his bill.

According to Grammer, he introduced essentially the same bill last year and it passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates with a vote of 135 - 3. However, the bill last year failed in the Baltimore County Senate Delegation after seeing opposition from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

The Kamenetz administration opposes the bill because of legal concerns over how to determine whether or not a property is, in fact, vacant, according to spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

“We have no legal authority as Baltimore County that allows us to enter a vacant house and we have no way, therefore, to certify that it is vacant,” Kobler said.

She said in the case of foreclosure, the administration fears the bill would shift the responsibility for correcting issues with the homes from the banks that own them onto the county government. “And that means county taxpayers.”

On a complaint-driven basis, Kobler explained, when a property is seeing code violations such as overgrown grass or an exterior in disarray, the county will visit the property to assess its condition. They will attempt to make contact with the owner and issue citations if necessary.

“There are steps that we take to try to deal with the banks when it’s foreclosed, et cetera,” she said.

Baltimore County does not have a program like the city’s Vacants to Value program which uses state and local funds to demolish vacant homes and make way for green space or new development.

“But we take measures through the courts to go after property owners and compel them to take appropriate care of the property,” Kobler said.

Only in “very rare” circumstances, after a long legal process, would the county take possession of a vacant house, according to Kobler.

“There has to be really compelling health and safety-related reasons,” she said.

But Grammer said the county will have to define in their own laws what the process will be for determining vacancy.

“The details they will have to work out, and I’d be happy to personally help them work through those,” he said. “But to totally discount taking any sort of action on this issue because we have to work out the details, I don’t agree with that at all.”

Grammer pointed out that other jurisdictions have processes for determining vacancy using indicators such as broken windows or doors or having holes in roofs to classify a home as an “unlivable” property.

“Nobody’s going to live in a home that has windows and doors busted out,” he said. “It’s an excellent indicator that whoever was the owner of the home has really just moved on.”

On the county’s concern about transferring responsibility for foreclosures, Grammer said he disagrees with that premise since Maryland has a judicial-based system for determining who is responsible for a property in the case of foreclosures.

“It essentially makes the courts a kind of middle man for every sort of legal check that has to take place before rights are transferred,” he said, adding, “The states who choose the judicial system [over one where the process is simply written into the law], those are the states that suffer this protracted foreclosure process.”

Grammer said his bill would ultimately ensure that the county participates in the patricipatory judicial system.

“Right now we’re essentially saying, ‘we have a participatory system, but Baltimore County is going to do nothing,’ and I disagree with that,” he said. He added that the consequences of the county’s “inaction” are evident, especially in the east side’s older communities.

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Middle River volunteers looking to better serve community with new site

Middle River volunteers looking to better serve community with new site
The new company's logo incorporates several aspects of the history from the former companies such as their previous station numbers (22 and 52) which combined to make 74 and graphics depicting the many services they provide to the community.

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Middle River Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company (MRVFR) is unique in many ways, providing fire, ambulance and water rescue services and covering a service area much larger than most other volunteer companies.

But the company continues to operate out of two separate and outdated facilities, presenting the same issues that led them to form from separate companies two years ago.

Previously unaffiliated, the Middle River Volunteer Fire and the Middle River Volunteer Ambulance Rescue companies incorporated into one entity on March 15, 2015, to become a state-recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization. They were also the first successful merger of two volunteer companies not just in Baltimore County, but in Maryland. The new company then went officially operational on Aug. 31, 2016.

However, since the merger, the two halves of the company have continued to operate from their original locations - ambulance and rescue from their site on Leland Avenue and fire from theirs on Wilson Point Road - each presenting its own challenges.

As described by MRVFR Captain Shane Pule at the Feb. 1 Essex-Middle River Civic Council meeting, the company’s stations are antiquated - each built between the 1940s and 1950s - and do not meet current industry standards.

The rescue station is isolated by railroad tracks and presents a difficult traffic situation which affects response times. The fire station is more accessible, but sits partially on land owned by Martin State Airport which adds to costs because they must lease that land.

Additionally, they have to modify their equipment to fit in the bays of their buildings because the buildings are so old, adding to costs for replacement equipment and decreasing the opportunity for its resale to recoup some of that cost.

“Our ladder truck had to be lowered as well as shortened - same with our engine,” Pule explained.

He said they would have to perform “major” renovations on each station to bring them up to industry fire and local building codes, but do not have the room at either site to do so.

“So we’ve run out of space to grow,” he said.

As a result, the company is currently looking for a new site to build a modern station with enough space for everything they need and which is central to their service area.

Geographically, the company serves all of Middle River and much more, Pule noted. The ladder truck and ambulance rescue serve an area on Baltimore County’s east side extending from the Baltimore City line to the Harford County line and west to about Belair Road. So while Middle River has a population of about 25,000, the company actually serves an area with about 100,000 residents.

And their water assets, which include the county’s only dive unit on the fire department side, cover about 83 square miles of Baltimore County waterways and will even go out of state if the need arises.

Currently, their top priority for a new site is at the corner of Eastern Boulevard and Wilson Point Road on land owned by the Lockheed Martin Corporation. That site, which is now occupied by seldom-used baseball fields, would satisfy all their criteria for a new facility, they believe.

“That is the place that would strategically put us within the geographic area of our service,” Pule said, adding that it would allow for a new station that is more visible, more accessible and up to code for everything they need. The increased visibility would help with recruiting new volunteers and general community support of the organization.

The new station is planned for now to be roughly 22,000 - 24,000 square feet with an estimated price tag of $8 million when they are ready to build.

According to EMRCC President Bob Bendler, who is also a member of MRVFR’s board of directors, several other site options are being considered as well. But MRVFR is involved in negotiations with Lockheed Martin for the corner site.

“Relocating onto that intersection of Wilson Point [Road] and Eastern [Boulevard] would substantially enhance response times. It would decrease response times tremendously for medical services,” he said, adding that it would “serve all of Middle River’s goals” as far as better emergency medical and fire services.

Two million dollars in start-up funding for the new station is available via a loan from the county, along with the potential for $1 million more in grants, according to Bendler and Pule. That, along with the $200,000 they currently have in the bank, gives them a base from which to start, and the eventual sale of their current sites will also help with their costs.

Bendler also speculated about potential county interest in the site since it is big enough for more than just the new station.

“Could that be a new location for the Essex police precinct?” Bendler asked, noting that the Essex precinct is one of the oldest in the county and the Baltimore County Police Department has been exploring the possibility of relocating it.

The precinct’s location on N. Marlyn Avenue is not central for their service area, which extends to the Harford County line, Bendler said. And most of the new residential and commercial development happening in the area is along the nearby MD Route 43 corridor.

“This [site] would put them in a better response situation and a more central location,” he said.

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FeBREWary: Tasting craft beers in the name of economic development

FeBREWary: Tasting craft beers in the name of economic development
Photo credit: Red Brick Station Facebook page. Used with permission of co-owner Bill Blocher.

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

From late January to earlier this month, foodies were in their glory as they celebrated Baltimore County Restaurant Week, with its many special culinary offerings and bargain prices.

Now the rest of the month belongs to craft beer lovers. The Brewers Association of Maryland has renamed this bleak, cold, dark, last full month of winter FeBREWary in celebration of all things hops, barley and yeast (and other secret ingredients).

Those wishing to celebrate locally brewed, small-batch beers without traveling far are in luck. Eastern Baltimore County is home to three craft breweries: White Marsh Brewing at Red Brick Station, a popular brew pub and restaurant at The Avenue in White Marsh; Key Brewing Co. in Dundalk, which offers a tasting room at its brewing facility; and DuClaw on Yellow Brick Road in Rosedale, a production brewery not yet open to the public, according to its website. DuClaw, which started as a Harford County brew pub, recently moved its beer production to Rosedale and sold its restaurants to concentrate on brewing, according to its website.

Red Brick Station is the grandfather of the eastern Baltimore County-born breweries, with its roots dating back to 1997. The restaurant has a mixed identity, with its in-house brewery and a bar that features only craft beers - no Coors Light or Budweiser available - and its extensive collection of firefighting memorabilia, including a life-size wooden firefighter sculpture that recently made the local news when it was stolen late one night by a patron.

“We already had the name White Marsh Brewing and planned to name the restaurant that,” co-owner Bill Blocher told the East County Times. But the developer planned this to be the most masculine building on The Avenue and designed it to look like a fire station.”

Some brainstorming later, the name Red Brick Station was adopted for the eatery, while the beer business remained White Marsh Brewing, he said. He put the word out to local fire companies and firefighters to help decorate the pub and the extensive collection was born.

Red Brick also emulates a traditional British pub, with English-style beers (and glasses) and several traditional English food offerings, including bangers and mash, on the menu.

Blocher laughed at the mention of the theft of the firefighter mascot.

“There were two ways to approach that,” he said. “One was to make it fun and one was to make a police report. We went the fun route.”

Via the pub’s Facebook page, Blocher offered a handsome beer reward for the safe return of the figure and added that he had video tape of the theft and would make a police report if the mascot was not voluntarily returned. The firefighter found its way home no worse for wear, the reward was given and now the mascot rests inside the restaurant instead of in the lobby.

While Red Brick is actively welcoming patrons celebrating FeBREWary, the restaurant is already so packed with special deals there wasn’t any room for more, according to Blocher.

“We only have so much space and time,” he said. “Our happy hour is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and then we have evening happy hour from 10 p.m. on. There’s always a deal here.”

Key Brewing is the baby of the group, having just started its brewing production in September 2015, according to co-owner Mike McDonald. A tasting room at its Grays Road brewery, with weekend hours only, opened about two months ago.

“We just added Sunday hours this month, in time for FeBREWary,” McDonald said. “We’ll be open now Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”

Key’s tasting room will offer five full-time beers on tap as well as a Nitro of the Day. The selected beer will be nitrogenized instead of carbonated, which results in a creamier, silky finish, according to McDonald.

In a show of brewery brotherhood, Red Brick offers a Key beer on tap as a guest brew, and McDonald still works as White Marsh Brewing’s head brewer.

“Mike’s been here since three months before we opened,” Blocher said. “He’s training his replacement now, but he will always have an official capacity here.”

The craft beer community is close-knit, according to Blocher, who mentioned a fellow brewer had stopped by recently to borrow some yeast needed for a batch of beer.

“We encourage each other and share the market,” he said. “We share our knowledge and trade stuff all the time.”

Red Brick offers a variety of food and beverage specials throughout the week, including half-price burgers on Monday evenings and $1 selected RBS beers on Tuesdays.

Key Brewing doesn’t have a kitchen, but has invited a variety of food trucks, including This Swine’s for You and Lib’s Grill, to set up shop and offer food during tasting hours, McDonald said.

“And that’s all them; we don’t charge them anything to be here and everything they make is theirs,” he said. “It’s good for them and it’s good for our customers.”

Baltimore County is also home to Clipper City Brewing Co., maker of Heavy Seas beers, with state-of-the-art brewing facilities and tap room in Halethorpe. Diageo, the parent company of Guinness beer, recently announced its plans to build a new Guinness brewery and visitors center on the former site of the Calvert Distillery in Relay. The company plans a tap room and retail store in addition to the brewery, according to a statement from Baltimore County officials.

Across Maryland, there are more than 70 independently owned craft breweries, with more expected to open by the end of the year, according to Callie Pfeiffer, marketing coordinator for the Brewers Association of Maryland.

Being held for the second year, FeBREWary was designed to “bring light to the industry during a slower time of the year,” she said.

And while small-batch craft beer is the focus of the month-long event, both McDonald and Blocher emphasized the family-friendliness of their respective establishments.

Red Brick has a large dining room separate from the pub area and an outdoor dining patio for warmer months. Key Brewing offers a couple of vintage pinball machines and foosball and pool tables for kids and adults alike.

“We certainly expect parents to supervise their children, but there’s plenty of fun stuff for them to do here,” McDonald said of the Key Brewing experience.

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Residents, officials clash over ‘law enforcement’ proposal

Residents, officials clash over ‘law enforcement’ proposal
This home in the Middlesex neighborhood of Essex had been occupied by an alleged drug dealer early last year. O'Connell has worked with BCoPD's Community Action Team (CAT) since then to clean up the neighborhood, helping with problems of rats, vacant homes and drugs. File photo.

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Prolonged and persistent crime issues in several older neighborhoods of Dundalk and Essex, along with a perceived lack of results from police, led Essex resident and local business owner Cliff O’Connell to post on social media regarding an idea he had for a potential solution.

O’Connell posted to Facebook on Jan. 14 asking how people felt about bringing motorcycle clubs into neighborhoods experiencing the problems to act as a sort of “Guardian Angels on wheels.”

The Guardian Angels are an organization that helps to address crime in communities by patrolling streets and empowering community members, according to their website.

Many respondents to O’Connell’s idea were highly supportive of the idea, including community leaders in the affected neighborhoods.

But others grew concerned that the plan could lead to more problems if motorcycle “gangs” were allowed to become vigilantes and conduct police activities in these communities.

After his initial proposition, O’Connell posted a follow-up statement to social media on Jan. 28 defending his idea and fending off critics.

“We have one of the best groups of police officers and detectives in the country. However, they are stretched to[o] thin...,” the post read. “I also have heard that our public officials have been asking for more officers and detectives, so this isn’t a secret.”

To critics of the idea, O’Connell responded, “I don’t like it either and wish there was another way to stop this decay of our older communit[ies]. If it isn’t the... rats biting at our heels or the slum lords renting every home they can to terrible tenants, it’s the thugs telling us not to sweep the leaves from our corners because it is their corner,” he said referring to a recent incident involving an elderly woman in Dundalk’s West Inverness neighborhood.

County Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Essex and Dundalk, released a statement on the matter to the media and on Facebook last Tuesday, Jan. 31, expressing his stark opposition to the idea, denouncing it as “simply a bad idea.”

“Having untrained, unvetted and unlicensed people conducting law-enforcement activities in our neighborhoods simply will not work - the risks are too great,” Crandell asserted. “The possibilities for a breakdown of law and order in our neighborhoods is too big of a risk for us to take.”

The councilman recognized, though, that the idea and the support behind it were a symptom of the desperation felt by residents of those communities.

“This is a cry for help,” he said.

Crandell assured that he would not “sit idly by” as drugs and drug dealers proliferate in these neighborhoods.

Crandell said he would also continue his advocacy for more uniformed officers and narcotics detectives to be stationed in the Dundalk and Essex precincts.

“These are the two busiest precincts in terms of calls for service,” he said. “The need is great, so therefore we need more help.”

According to Jennifer Peach, a public information officer for the Baltimore County Police Department, the Dundalk and Essex precincts are already near the top in the county in terms of the total number of officers assigned to them with 128 and 126 officers, respectively, across all shifts. This is behind only the Woodlawn precinct which has 131.

Additionally, the county has a total of 80 narcotics investigators which are not tied to any particular precinct, Peach said. “It’s wherever the need is at the time; that’s how we use the resources.”

Crandell also said he would renew his request of Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger to enforce an existing state law which enables him to require landlords to evict those convicted of dealing drugs.

“It’s a great law if it gets enforced,” said Doug Anderson, legislative aide to Crandell. “It doesn’t allow a property owner to wiggle around the rules.”

Anderson said once a landlord has a tenant who is convicted and forced out, that often changes the whole dynamic of how they rent and who they rent to.

“If it gets done once, they’re not likely to do it again,” he said.

However, in an interview with the East County Times, O’Connell said he has been told by county representatives that the law is essentially impossible to enforce because of the manpower it would take to track who is a renter and match them with who has drug convictions.

“Who’s going to do all that,” he asked, adding that the younger dealers first have to be convicted to be forced out.

In recent years, O’Connell became a community leader after seeing the scope of problems in the Middlesex neighborhood, aiming to help alleviate issues of rat infestation, vacant homes and crime.

He joined together with leaders from other communities throughout Essex and Dundalk experiencing the same problems to form what they call the Core Group to help strengthen their voice.

“We go into all these communities and we sit down and listen to what the issues are,” O’Connell explained. “Some that we can help the community leaders with, we do - some we can’t - crime being one of the ones that we can offer suggestions.”

But they are constantly seeing daytime and evening small-time drug dealing on street corners in the communities, he said.

“It’s open-air; anybody can see it,” he said. “You don’t need a big investigation.”

Some residents have been intimidated by the dealers, and others simply will not go outside when they are out there. And when they call the police the response is slow, taking up to 30 minutes to get there, by which time the dealers have moved on, O’Connell said.

“It’s not the police department’s fault,” he maintained. “They just don’t have enough police officers.”

Seeing all of this and with not enough police presence in mind, O’Connell began to think of alternative solutions such as the Guardian Angels or private security companies.

He said many Citizens on Patrol (COP) members he has spoken to are scared of the drug dealers they may have to contend with, and some have experienced retaliation once the criminals figure out who they are. On top of that, it is difficult to organize COP watches for late-night or early-morning hours.

“Some of these situations are too violent for a COP to handle,” he noted.

O’Connell stood by his idea, stating that he only intended it to mean having a presence in the neighborhoods to deter the corner dealers and other crime, not to perform any law-enforcement actions, as Crandell described.

He pointed out that the dealers do not want to be overtly watched carrying out their trade, and buyers do not want to be seen either. So someone standing there plainly watching them will likely convince them to go elsewhere.

“I just think the shear presence of them there would scare them off,” he said.

O’Connell said he had not discussed the idea with Crandell in detail prior to the statement the councilman released. But he was disappointed with how Crandell’s video portrayed his idea as bringing in vigilantes to police the communities.

“There’s nothing that says a motorcycle club couldn’t ride in the neighborhood and the guys park their bikes at the curb and stand there,” he said.

O’Connell was pleased, though, that the controversy has brought so much attention to the issue, specifically highlighting the desperation of the residents.

However, he thought Crandell overreacted and did not handle the situation properly. He said more of the statement should have been about the desperation of those who supported the idea.

“Some of the things he’s saying here, they’re already there,” O’Connell said. “The neighborhoods are already overrun.”

Following Crandell’s statement, the Core Group released its own statement on social media by way of member Lynne Mitchell thanking Crandell and the BCoPD for hearing their pleas for help. She also noted that they have worked “furiously” for months on a way to bring the problems in these communities to the attention of police and public officials.

“When we brought the idea of motorcycle clubs being ‘guardian angels’ for our neighborhoods, we knew it would be controversial,” Mitchell’s post read. “We also know that sometimes you have to break the mold and let the people tell our elected officials and police just how bad it is and what lengths we are willing to go to to help our residents in these communities.”

O'Connell told the Times that the problems ultimately go back to the high number of rental homes in southeastern Baltimore County's older neighborhoods.

Some landlords do not take care of their properties and rent them out without proper licensing or even real leases in some cases, he has found.

"And the people who rent those houses, you don't want to have living next to you," he commented.

O'Connell said the solution has to start with some kind of reform or overhaul of the way rental enforcement is done in the county.

"Somebody in the county should be doing this," he said. "This mess should have never gotten like this."

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Steve Takos Sr., North Point State Park honorary ranger, dies at 93

Steve Takos Sr., North Point State Park honorary ranger, dies at 93

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Steve Takos Sr., who for many years was the public face of North Point State Park in his role as an honorary ranger, died Jan. 31 of natural causes. He was 93.

He was the son of Sam Takos and the former Despina Konstanta of Chios, Greece. His parents came to Maryland and his father took a job at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant, according to Cindy Shifflett, a granddaughter. The Takos family lived in the bungalows in the company-owned town of Sparrows Point.

After graduating from Sparrows Point High School in 1943, Mr. Takos joined the U.S. Navy and served from June 1943 to March 1946, according to his son, Anthony Takos. After his discharge, he taught physical education at the Sparrows Point School Annex and coached football, basketball and softball, according to Shifflett.

He married the former Mamie Roberts, a student he met while teaching at the Sparrows Point Annex. Mrs. Takos died in 2014.

“My father led a very busy life and was a very well-rounded person,” Takos said.

Mr. Takos followed in his father’s footsteps and worked for a time at the steel plant before joining the staff at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Medical Center, where he worked in the recreation department. He eventually retired as the Director of Volunteers at the Loch Raven V.A. Medical Center, according to his son.

While Mr. Takos had a long and diverse professional career, he was perhaps best known for his love of the outdoors in general and the land now known as North Point State Park specifically.

As a teenager, Mr. Takos worked as a pinsetter at the bowling alley of the old Bay Shore Amusement Park for the sum of five cents a day, according to Shifflett.

When the amusement park closed in 1947, the land was bought by Bethlehem Steel. Through his affiliation with the company, Mr. Takos was permitted to access the land and continued to fish the waters and hunt on the land. He organized and led hunting expeditions for company executives, and his wife Mamie would cook the bounty when the men returned home from the outings, according to Anthony Takos.

Mr. Takos, who lived in Edgemere, maintained his love for the old amusement park land and helped persuade the state to buy it when Bethlehem Steel sold the property in the late 1980s.

The honorary ranger loved the entire park, but restoring the grand old fountain was a pet project, according to Park Ranger Sara Rinta.

“Steve was instrumental in restoring the fountain here,” she said. “After it was restored, he painted it, he located the original fountainhead and he landscaped around it.”

According to local lore, Takos tracked the fountainhead to a guy who had it stored in his garage, Rinta said, and Takos was able to return it to its rightful home.

While Mr. Takos almost single-handedly restored the beloved fountain, there’s a greater link in his legacy, according to Ranger Bob Iman, a park service area manager whose territory includes North Point.

“Steve was instrumental in influencing the state and the DNR in creating the right kind of park for this community,” Iman said. “He insisted the park didn’t become too developed and to keep it natural; there were many things being considered for this land and the community wanted it kept as natural as possible and Steve fought for that.”

As a result, the park, with its many trails, is popular with birders, nature photographers, hikers, bicyclists and picnickers, Iman said. The passive design gives the park its own identity and gives people a reason to visit the park over others nearby, he said.

In a surprise ceremony to honor Mr. Takos’ longtime service to the park, its visitor’s center was renamed the Takos Visitors Center in celebration of his 80th birthday in 2003, according to his son.

“How they kept that a surprise I’ll never know, but he sure was surprised when he went in there,” Anthony Takos said.

Outside of his volunteer park service, Mr. Takos was a member of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore’s Greektown.

He enjoyed any activity outdoors and particularly enjoyed hunting and fishing, according to Shifflett.

“He used to catch minnows and sell them to the bait shop, and he used the money to return to Greece every summer,” she recalled. “I would go with him to fish a lot, and he always had a station wagon that smelled like peppermint and minnows.”

Mr. Takos was also active in local recreation programs, helping to umpire and coach youth baseball and basketball games and run Friday night youth dances, according to his son.

“He supported everything we did but he would never watch me wrestle because he was afraid I’d get hurt,” Anthony Takos recalled with a laugh. “Even though he was a boxer, he couldn’t watch me wrestle.”

In addition to his son and granddaughter, Mr. Takos is survived by his son Steve Takos Jr., four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and bother Michael Takos.

In accordance with Mr. Takos’ wishes, no funeral services were held. The family plans to hold a memorial service at North Point State Park sometime this spring.

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North Point Peninsula communities again grappling with crime increase

North Point Peninsula communities again grappling with crime increase

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following a string of burglaries and other crimes in and around Edgemere in January 2016, residents were up in arms and turned out in record numbers for that month’s North Point Peninsula Council (NPC) meeting to discuss the issue.

At the end of the meeting, attendees vowed to organize, communicate better with each other and keep a watchful eye on their neighborhoods to get a handle on the problems.

But prior to the NPC’s meeting last Thursday, Feb. 2, the area had again experienced a spike in recent crime, most notably in the form of thefts and burglaries. And though the turnout for the meeting was not quite what it was a year ago, residents were determined to act more definitively to prevent these problems in the future.

Officer Russ Shipley, the area’s community liaison officer from the Baltimore County Police Department reported that there had been at total of 254 calls for police service in the Edgemere area through the month of January leading to 56 police reports being written.

Nearly half of the calls - 106 - were assistance requests which include checking on neighbors or family members, medical calls, civil or domestic issues or assisting other law enforcement agencies with missing or wanted persons.

Twenty-eight calls were traffic related, including traffic stops, traffic accidents and parking complaints; 12 were disturbance calls or noise complaints; 13 were domestic incidents or spousal assault cases; and another nine were calls regarding sick or injured subjects, which include requesting police help with unruly patients.

Shipley noted there is not a lot police can do to prevent noise or domestic issues; they just respond, deal with them appropriately and move on.

There were also 21 calls for suspicious subjects or vehicles in the area, which Shipley stressed he would like to see more of.

“I wouldn’t care if that number was 100 calls for service,” he said. That tells me that you in the community see something that doesn’t look right... you pick up the phone, call 911 because you think they might be up to something.

“I urge you, make that number 100, 200, I don’t care,” he said.

Additionally, Shipley reported that police responded last month to two calls for narcotics, three for burglary and three more for theft from motor vehicles.

Both narcotics calls were police-initiated via traffic stops, he said, and arrests were made in both cases.

Regarding the burglaries, two were committed by the same suspect who was arrested and charged with both, Shipley explained. And the third was committed by someone known to the victim - their neighbor.

Shipley also attributed the thefts and burglaries to likely drug problems.

“The heroin epidemic in this country... is out of control,” he said. “These people that have this problem, they do anything they can to take care of their habit. Whether that means breaking into houses, stealing from you, stealing from their parents, stealing from anybody to do what they need to do.”

The officer added that prescription drug abuse is not as big of a problem in Edgemere, specifically, but heroin is a major issue.

NPC’s vice president, Tim Stadler, who is also a sergeant with BCoPD assigned to Edgemere on the midnight shift, said police have been working to address the spike in crime, though residents may not have necessarily noticed an increase in police presence.

He explained that the North Point precinct is divided into three squads: the lower end, which consists mainly of Old Dundalk; the upper end which includes the Eastpoint, Colgate and Berkshire neighborhoods; and the Edgemere squad.

Edgemere encompasses the whole North Point peninsula down to Fort Howard, which is mainly rural. But the beat also includes the neighborhoods of North Point Village, West Inverness and Gray Haven, Stadler said, adding that they typically only have three to four officers working that entire area on the midnight shift.

“So historically, you probably haven’t seen many police cars driving around at 2 o’clock in the morning on Lodge Forest [Drive] because, for the most part, the more serious crimes have been North Point Village or West Inverness,” Stadler commented. “So we kind of stay focused on that area.”

But with Edgemere’s rise in crime the last few months, Stadler said he has made others in the department aware of it.

“And based on that we’ve focused more resources to this area during the high crime times,” he said, noting that officers have been patrolling the area a lot more in recent weeks.

Stadler emphasized, though, that residents must call the police with issues rather than just posting about it on social media.

“I see a lot of that where people want to complain on Facebook about it but they don’t call the police,” he said. “If you want to see more police cars down here, the commanders need to see more calls coming in.”

Stadler and Shipley stressed that if residents see something suspicious, the best option is to call police. And Shipley added that calling 911 is the fastest way to get service, rather than calling the precinct.

Calling the precinct directly will not necessarily be logged with crime stats for the area, the two noted, and if the stats aren’t there to suggest the need, the necessary resources will not be allocated.

Additionally, they said, the police cannot address the problems if they do not know about them, and police statistics cannot reflect true crime numbers if people do not call police to report them.

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Gift of boots warms more than just the feet

Gift of boots warms more than just the feet
Recipients tried on and showed off their new winter boots. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Marge Neal 

Sometimes, “a shoe is more than just a shoe,” according to Major Gene Hogg, area commander of the Salvation Army of Central Maryland.

Something as simple as a shoe, or in this case, a pair of boots, can be a vote of confidence, a morale booster and a reminder that someone cares as well as a shield against the elements.

On Saturday, Feb. 4, the gifts of footwear were all those things when officials from the Toyota car company gave 200 pairs of Bogs insulated boots and 200 pairs of Moosejaw socks to members of the Salvation Army’s three area Boys and Girls Clubs who gathered at the Middle River club.

The gifts were made as part of the Toyota “Walk in My Boots” initiative that has provided footwear to club members twice, according to John Ridgeway, corporate manager of Toyota Financial Services. The car group uses the boots program to kick off the annual Motor Trend International Auto Show that runs Feb. 9 - 12 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“We always enjoy giving to the community,” Ridgeway told the crowd gathered for the event that included a fellowship meal. “We do this day-to-day and I tell my folks all the time, it’s not about making better leaders, it’s about making better people.”

Ridgeway, who works in Owings Mills, said the company strives to help communities where its workers live, with an emphasis on education, safety, food, housing and the arts.

In just the second year, Toyota’s campaign has distributed more than 600 pairs of boots and donated $45,000 in cash to the Baltimore area as well as through sister programs in Detroit and Chicago, according to Ridgeway.

“While many programs give out coats, we thought it was just as important to protect the feet,” he said. “So we hope these boots warm your feet, warm your heart and warm your soul.”

Hogg grew up in humble circumstances and shared his story with the crowd. He told of having an alcoholic father and a period of homelessness when he and his family lived in a car.

When people are struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent and other bills, a gift like that of the boots is special and leaves a lasting memory. When Hogg was about 7, he was given a G.I. Joe action figure as a gift when his family was in a dismal place in life. That someone cared enough to give him that toy that he came to cherish stuck with him throughout his life.

“I’m 54 now and the impact that simple gift had on me stays with me to this day,” he said.

That lasting impression that someone cares plays a role in Toyota’s desire to support its neighboring communities, according to Ridgeway, who hopes the recipients wear their new boots in good health and with warm feet accompanied by an equally warm heart and soul.

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Hogan’s State of the State highlights legislative agenda

Hogan’s State of the State highlights legislative agenda
Hogan (top center) delivered an upbeat message of strength and bipartisanship while focusing solely on state policy. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Governor Larry Hogan’s State of the State address to the General Assembly  started off much like his previous two addresses - with calls for bipartisanship.

Hogan was silent on a lot of issues of national concern - immigration and the Affordable Care Act among others - and used his 30 minutes as a rallying call for his legislative agenda, which includes tackling the heroin and opioid crisis, limiting pollution overflow from the Conowingo Dam, a bipartisan solution to paid sick leave and a call for the repeal of the “Road Kill Bill.”

“This much-needed progress is strongly supported by an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said of the 1,073 transportation projects under construction across the state. “We risk eliminating much of that progress... so I ask again today, on behalf of the people of Maryland: please do not stand in the way of these critical transportation projects.”

Hogan’s contention that 66 of the 73 highest priority projects would be stopped if the bill isn’t repealed by Feb. 10 was rebuked after the speech by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. According to Hogan, Baltimore County would see all of its major projects halted - including the widening of I-695 - under the new project scoring guidelines. Kamenetz noted that the bill “simply requires the Governor to provide an advisory scoring process, letting the public understand how decisions are made when road projects are funded” and referred to warnings of halted projects as “scare tactics.”

Aside from the Road Kill Bill, however, Hogan’s address was largely positive and bipartisan.

On the issue of heroin and opioid abuse, Hogan noted that over the last two years legislators in Annapolis have been committed to tackling drug abuse issues, and that he plans to continue working to provide a solution to a problem that is “tearing apart families and communities.”

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6), who was recently appointed to the Health and Government Operations Committee, stated that “local collaboration” is needed to tackle the issue and noted that there will be a town hall event in the not-too-distant future to help figure out solutions.

“We must commit to doing whatever it takes to address this crisis, and no state can do it alone,” said Hogan. “Nearly all of my fellow governors of both parties have joined with me in asking the federal government to finally get engaged in this national crisis.

This issue has plenty of bipartisan support, with State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) taking the reins on the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force and the Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders. Before the legislative session began, Klausmeier wrote to the secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene asking him to seek all available funding from the federal government. Maryland would be eligible for $10 million.

Highlighting the recent reports of the improved health of the Chesapeake Bay, Hogan stated that his administration is “finally seeking innovative and cost-effective solutions to reduce the sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous pollution which flows down the Susquehana River, through the Conowingo Dam” and into the bay.

A cleaner bay could have a potentially big economic impact on eastern Baltimore County considering the bay and the waterways that lead to it play a pivotal role in the local economy.

One issue discussed in the address that may ruffle some feathers is paid sick leave. Local legislators informed the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce before the legislative session began that the bill would likely be coming, much to the chagrin of local business owners.

Hogan noted that those without the benefit “are sometimes faced with hard choices about their health and welfare” while smaller businesses also would have a hard time providing paid sick leave.

He called for a compromise that would require larger companies - those with 50 or more employees - to provide paid sick leave while smaller companies would get tax incentives for providing additional benefits.

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‘Para-gone’: Communities reflect on folding of outlet mall project

‘Para-gone’: Communities reflect on folding of outlet mall project
This artist's rendition shows a concept of how the outlet mall might have looked once built. The future of the property remains uncertain.

(Updated 2/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The news that the outlet mall planned for White Marsh would no longer move forward and the owners are considering selling the site brought mixed feelings for many in the community who had been following the issue.

Word came out in mid-January that Paragon Outlet Partners LLC had vacated their offices in Baltimore, with some former employees saying the company no longer exists. Paragon’s parent company, The Lightstone Group, also confirmed they are moving away from outlet mall projects and are considering selling the White Marsh property which was slated for the outlets.

The outlet mall plan had garnered significant opposition from the community. But many were won over when Paragon agreed to build a traffic ramp to access eastbound MD-43 to mitigate traffic, and to abide by the most current environmental and storm water management regulations. A voter referendum related to the project passed last year with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

At the Wednesday, Feb. 1, meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, the group’s president, Bob Bendler, kicked off conversation on the topic by noting that the news was “bad news, but not the worst news.”

Where there used to be one 83-acre site along MD-7/Philadelphia Road in White Marsh, owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, there are now two since roughly 50 acres were sold to Paragon for their project. The remainder was retained by COPT.

The zoning was changed for both sites individually through the 2016 rezoning process to allow for commercial uses.

There had been a planned unit development (PUD) approved for the initial entire site which included 1,250 new homes. But according to County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, and Tom Peddicord, legal counsel for the Baltimore County Council, the new zoning now takes precedence and the PUD - which did not offer traffic mitigation or abide by current environmental standards - can no longer go forward.

Additionally, any new project approved for the site would be subject to current environmental and storm water regulations, rather than outdated ones. And the new zoning does not explicitly allow for residential uses.

“In many senses, that’s a victory, I believe, for the communities,” Bendler said. “So there were some positives in all this. And now that it’s not going to happen, there’s still some residual positive.”

However, the EMRCC also reflected on what was lost when the project fell through, including the aforementioned ramp, which Paragon had agreed to build to the tune of nearly $9 million.

The ramp would have carried traffic from MD-7 to eastbound MD-43, allowing it to bypass the congested intersections of MD-7 at Ebenezer Road and US-40/Pulaski Highway at Ebenezer Road.

Although some had criticized the ramp as impossible or inadequate, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar confirmed the ramp had been fully designed and approved to move forward.

“Now all we have to do is find the wherewithal to get it done without Paragon,” Bendler commented.

Bevins indicated to the East County Times that she will try to get any future developer of the site to contribute to such a ramp, depending on the size of their project, “because if a much smaller development goes in there, that ramp may not be needed,” she said.

“Anybody that’s looking at that property, I’m going to work with them - just like I did Paragon - to get the best project that I can get there and get the same things we got before for the community,” Bevins said.

The councilwoman told the Times she has already had meetings with others interested in the property, and she has let each know that building or contributing to the ramp is what would make any project more acceptable to her.

Also lost were traffic improvements to the intersection of US-40 at Ebenezer Road, which is classified as “failing.”

According to county development regulations, any developer seeking to build in the traffic-shed of a failing intersection must contribute to improvements there. However, Paragon was set to be a major - if not the sole - contributor to those improvements.

The outlet mall’s folding even had a significant effect on the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, which was set to receive a “six-figure” donation from Paragon for their new station to be built just across the street from the site.

Although the donation was only a verbal agreement and an exact figure had not yet been agreed upon, according to WMVFC spokesman Tyler Rivers, that donation will now not be coming through.

Despite this, station Captain Rick Blubaugh said their planned move will continue.

“Since the project has been withdrawn, we are actively working to fill the budget gap that now exists,” he said. He encouraged anyone interested in donating to visit their website at www.wmvfc.org or call 410-335-5112.

WMVFC had also been looking forward to the traffic ramp, which would have allowed them to more quickly reach the eastern portions of their service area while avoiding congestion at the aforementioned intersections as well as the train crossing on Ebenezer Road.

“We look forward to any future developer continuing the work for a ramp for access to eastbound [MD-]43 to increase our access to the community,” Blubaugh stated.

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County residents support ban on developer contributions

County residents support ban on developer contributions
Members of Baltimore County’s senate committee, including Senators J.B. Jennings (left), Kathy Klausmeier, Jim Brochin and Johnny Ray Salling, heard testimony in the State House’s “Red Room” Friday, Jan. 27, regarding Brochin’s bill to restrict political donations from developers. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Residents from all over Baltimore County, including several from the east side, gathered in Annapolis last Friday, Jan. 27, to air their grievances about the influence developers have on local politics.

State Senators representing the county held the meeting to hear public testimony for and against a bill introduced in the General Assembly which seeks to “strip money from the system” of how land use decisions are made.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Towson, north county), says that developers or their “agents” seeking any kind of project approval, zoning change, zoning variance, master plan change or any other such approvals cannot have given a campaign donation to the county executive or County Council members in the preceeding three years.

No fines or criminal penalties are attached to violations of the law; the contributions would simply have to be returned if they were within the three-year timeframe.

Brochin said at the meeting that the issue has been a source of frustration for many residents who feel their voices are not being heard in government because they are being blocked out by developers’ political donations.

But this bill would take the money out of the development process, ensuring that only the best projects and ideas move forward, he said.

During his introduction, Brochin spoke in reference to the Towson Gateway planned unit development (PUD) - now known as Towson Station - which involves the county’s sale of the Towson fire station property to a developer to build a retail shopping center and gas station, despite heavy opposition.

The property is not zoned to allow a gas station, but the PUD process provides flexibility in zoning in exchange for a community benefit and makes it possible. PUDs also must be intiated with the passing of a County Council resolution.

Public input meetings for Towson Station saw near-total community opposition, but the project was allowed to begin the process anyway when the County Council passed the PUD resolution for it.

“The average citizen didn’t feel like they had any say at all because developer contributions [influenced the decision],” Brochin said.

He noted that fellow Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk), also a sponsor of the bill, had a similar situation in his district - referring to the North Point Government Center - and it continues to be a problem all around the county.

Regarding Towson Station, Green Towson Alliance member Beth Miller testified that Fifth District Councilman David Marks was not going to introduce the PUD resolution, and the developer relayed that information to County Executive Kevin Kamentez.

According to Miller, Kamenetz then responded to Marks with a statement that he would withhold $8 million in county funds from the Fifth District if the PUD did not go through.

“If this isn’t developer influence that’s undue, I don’t know what is,” she said.

Ellen Kobler, a spokesperson for Kamenetz, denied this, stating Marks was simply advised that if the PUD was not approved to allow the sale of the property, it would leave an $8 million hole in the county budget which was planned to pay for a new Towson fire station and contribute toward school construction projects.

“What was said was that if the money for the sale of the project did not come in, then that’s real money  that was going to be used for projects and that there would end up being some projects that couldn’t be done,” Kobler said.

However, while Marks said there were many reasons why he submitted the PUD resolution, he confirmed that the county executive “clearly threatened” to withhold the funds from his district if the review process did not begin.

“There were other reasons, but the possibility of losing $8 million for my district was always in my head,” Marks commented.

Sparrows Point resident Russell Donnelly testified that the North Point Government Center project was another example of things that should not be happening because the vocal community overwhelmingly opposed it. But the plan passed through and was approved by the county anyway.

And Allen Robertson, who lives in Bowleys Quarters, explained that new laws were passed to specifically allow a project in that area to be approved, seemingly because of developer contributions and despite community opposition.

He testified that he would like to see the bill go further, imposing fines or other penalties for violations in order to have a greater effect.

Josh Greenfeld, vice president of Government Affairs for the Maryland Building Industry Association, was the only person at the meeting to testify against the bill. He conveyed the MBIA’s opposition to it on the grounds that there is “little to no evidence” of undue influence by developers in elected officials in Baltimore County and the legislation is, therefore, unwarranted.

“I think that much of the testimony here goes to the fact that many of these projects take five, 10, 15, 20 years or never happen at all,” he said, adding that they get appealed, are spoken about in community meetings and are debated in the halls of county government.

“I believe if the County Council believed that there was an issue here, they might come and ask for it rather than a top-down imposition to control the land [use] process at the state,” Greenfeld stated.

He also claimed that the bill is “blatantly and facially unconstitutional” because it singles out one type of business and says they cannot give campaign contributions, which he called a form of political free speech. He added that he does not believe the bill would pass the “strict scrutiny” standard of law.

But Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore, Harford counties) refuted that argument because when the state legislature legalized slot machines in 2007, it added in that casinos could not donate to legislators.

Similarly, Brochin noted that his bill is modeled almost verbatim after a Prince George’s County law which passed in 1992 and has been on the books for 25 years.

Greenfeld said he did not believe either statute had ever truly been challenged.

“These things will be in effect as long as they are unchallenged,” he said.

When asked by Salling, Greenfeld also said he has never seen any “bribes” of elected officials by developers during his experience in state and Baltimore County local politics.

But Salling responded that there has been “a lot of influence” in his district with respect to at least one development project.

“I believe there’s a lot of people and influence that have gone the wrong way with it, and it’s a serious problem now,” the Dundalk senator said.

If passed, the law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, after the next elections for Baltimore County Executive and County Council.

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Controversial Home Act resurfaces in state legislature

(Updated 2/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

After failing to pass in the Maryland General Assembly and being rejected by the Baltimore County Council in 2016, a Baltimore County state delegate has again introduced the Home Act in this year’s General Assembly session in Annapolis.

The new bill, essentially the same as the one that went before the County Council last summer, would prevent landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants on the basis of how they intend to pay their rent. It would add “source of income” to the list of protected characteristics in the law for housing.

Additionally, it would not take away a property owner’s right to scrutinize applicants based on other, non-discriminatory aspects such as their ability to pay, credit history or criminal history.

The bill is chiefly aimed at those with federal Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8.” And although the bill’s sponsor, Towson Delegate Steve Lafferty, did not respond to requests for comment, the stated purpose of the legislation is to give voucher holders more access to economic opportunity in more affluent areas that do not currently accept vouchers, as well as to de-concentrate poverty in the areas where many residents currently use the vouchers.

Penalties for violating the law would include up to a year in prison, up to a $1,000 fine or both.

Fred Weimert Sr., a retired minister in the Towson area and head of Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, said the housing market is one of the greatest problems people face today.

“Many people do not have enough money to afford a house,” he said. “This is an act that helps make housing possible for people who do not have enough money.”

Weimert said it would be a good thing to not have people with vouchers concentrated in only a few areas of the county, such as the southwest and southeast.

“It would be good for them to be [spread out] all over Baltimore County and all over the state. We’re talking very few people,” he said.

Baltimore County has approximately 6,600 families using vouchers for its more than 200,000 housing units.

While it is a new year and technically a new bill, it is already running up against the same criticisms - and some of the same critics - that it saw before the County Council.

Not all those representing the east side had responded as to whether or not they would support the bill. But all those who did - including Sixth District Delegates Bob Long, Ric Metzgar and Robin Grammer; Seventh District Delegate Pat McDonough; Eighth District Delegates Joe Cluster and Christian Miele; and Seventh District State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, all Republicans - responded in opposition.

Long, a real estate broker who represents Essex and Dundalk in the legislature, believes the focus should be on attracting good jobs for residents so that people can afford to own their homes.

“We need to spend more time on creating new jobs,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on stuff that we shouldn’t be dealing with and we’re not spending enough time on what we need to deal with.

Grammer said he understands the arguments for the initiative. “But as someone who was born and raised and lived my entire life in eastern Baltimore County, the only thing that I’ve seen come from Section 8 is the damage that transient people have done to our communities.

“There’s no way that I could ever vote for that bill,” he said, adding that he is not sure what will happen with it this year.

Some critics have expressed doubt that the requirement would have the desired effect of spreading out the voucher holders. And the County Council representatives on the lower east side, where more than half of the county’s voucher holders currently reside, worried that they could actually see more in their districts because some landlords do not currently accept them and property values are lower. Therefore, residents could get “more home for their voucher,” Dundalk Councilman Todd Crandell said during the summer.

Others want to see property owners retain their rights to decide who they are willing to rent to and whether or not they are willing to enter into a contract with the federal government.

Del. Cluster said as an owner of several rental properties, he does not want the government telling him who he should rent to.

“I understand what the bill is trying to do, but it shouldn’t be government that’s out there telling the individual citizen what they should and shouldn’t do,” he said.

Weimert contended, though, that with the voucher program, landlords actually have more leverage over problem tenants because they could lose their voucher.

He recognized that that there are problems associated with the program, however.

"I think it might be good if the county supervised people with vouchers better and gave them more supportive help," he commented, adding that he would also like to see landlords have more access to tenants using vouchers to discuss any issues.

McDonough, perhaps the initiative’s most ardent critic, said he has filed two bills of his own in the legislature in response to Lafferty’s Home Act.

He said the first would create a commission in Baltimore County to study the impact of Section 8 housing on county neighborhoods. He noted that it is specifically in response to what he said has been a 30 percent increase in poverty in the county over the last 10 years, as well as increased crime issues and the cost of education.

The second bill would mandate that any nonprofit organizaton receiving public money to manage funding or services related to Section 8 housing must provide information about that organization’s leadership to provide transparency to taxpayers and reveal any potential conflicts of interest.

McDonough referred to an award of $19 million to one organization which sought to move voucher holders to areas like Monkton or Kingsville to allow them to live in a better environment. Allegedly, there is another $46 billion in the pipeline for similar projects, he said.

“I don’t know who these people are,” the delegate said. “Are they connected to the county executive? Is there a conflict of interest? We’re giving them a lot of money to do something we don’t like to begin with.

“But even if we liked what they were doing, all I hear from liberals and down here in Annapolis is ‘disclosure and transparency,’” McDonough said.

Weimert lamented that there is such a stigma about the voucher holders, often along racial lines, but 30 percent of those with vouchers are senior citizens.

"When I talk to my neighbors, I'm frequently told that 'that young man over there is Section 8,' and it's normally because he's African-American," he said. "And I want to tell them I know of only one or two people that are single males that end up with a voucher."

Weimert added that people often think that minorities or any problem neighbors are voucher holders.

"I don't think most people even have a clue who is a Section 8 family," he said.

He was saddened that the loudest opposition has come from the areas where vouchers are most concentrated.

“If people are spread around the county better, you won’t have the [problems with] concentrations of poverty,” he said.

However, McDonough took solace in President Donald Trump and Housing Secretary Ben Carson now being in charge of public housing and Section 8.

“I think you’re going to see some changes,” he said. “You may see this program of moving people out to Kingsville go down the toilet.”

This article was updated to add Del. Christian Miele (R-8) as among the elected officials who oppose the Home Act bill.

No relief for overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School

No relief for overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School
Without relief, Perry Hall Middle School is projected to reach nearly 125 percent capacity by 2024.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Back in October, Councilman David Marks (R-5) and Julie Henn, then the head of the Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC), informed a group of parents that Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) had promised overcrowding relief at Perry Hall Middle School. But with the recently proposed budget, no help is in sight for the middle school.

“Last fall, Superintendent Dance committed to me that funding would be in place to address the severe overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School,” said Marks. “Now, there is suddenly no funding in the proposed capital budget to begin this process.”

At the NEAC meeting in October, Marks and Henn, now a member of the county’s Board of Education, told the group of parents that relief would either come about through an addition to Pine Grove Middle School or the construction of a completely new middle school/high school campus that would be built at Nottingham Park. But neither plan is included in the new budget.

“As the father of two children who attend Perry Hall schools, one of whom is at the middle school, I know firsthand the problems this overcrowding creates,” said Marks. “It isn’t enough to promise solutions at some later date. We need help now.”

In a letter Dance sent to the Board of Education, he denied ever promising relief for Perry Hall Middle School.

“I met with a couple of members of the County Council, one being Councilman Marks, on Sept. 28, 2016, to review our FY18 capital budget request,” Dance wrote. “From that meeting, it was clear that AC and high school renovations were the priority. We acknowledged projected overcrowding; however, all sides agreed that we needed to review our 10-year enrollment projections (slated to be released in late February) before recommending any future project(s) to relieve overcrowding at the middle and high school level.

“The system has never promised funding for secondary (middle or high) seats in FY18,” the letter continued. “What we have said and continue to say is that we will begin conversations this summer with our entire community on ways to alleviate overcrowding at the secondary level as we can’t look at middle/high seats just by school alone.”

At the start of the year, three new trailers were installed to alleviate crowding in the school. It has been rumored that up to five more trailers will be installed, but Mychael Dickerson, chief communications officer for BCPS, stated that a decision has not been made at this time.

Marks commented that he was “appalled” by the decision not to provide relief for the school, which started the year at 110 percent capacity. According to BCPS projections, the capacity for PHMS is expected to reach 124.7 percent in 2024, but those projections are on the conservative side.

Christine Hagan, who heads up the Perry Hall Middle School PTSA, expressed her frustration at the lack of relief, saying that parents just wanted to know that they were heard. In a letter sent out to parents recently, Hagan called on parents to express their opinions to Dance and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

“Things are likely to get worse before they get better, and while we wait for the official release of revised population projections for our school, it is apparent we are growing quicker than anticipated,” Hagan said.

Speaking with the East County Times, Hagan also noted that pressure needs to come from parents who have children in the feeder elementary schools.

“The issue with the middle school is that we’re not going to be the ones to see or reap the benefits. You’re only there three years, and you’re really advocating for the following students,” said Hagan. “With that in mind, it’s parents with children in the pipeline who need to be seen and heard. The PTAs of feeder schools really need to fight the battle.”

The county has maintained that in order to properly deal with overcrowding, they need to address it at the elementary level before working their way up to middle and high schools.

Marks expressed frustration at the lack of relief, citing the County Council’s efforts to reduce overcrowding by downzoning thousands of acres in 2016.

“Now it is time for the School Board and the County Executive to step up by starting the process for either a new middle school or an addition at an adjacent middle school,” said Marks. “We need to move now.”

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Mother searches for answers in death of 3-year-old boy

Mother searches for answers in death of 3-year-old boy
Cameron Blake, 3, was found unconscious at his Essex home and rushed to the hospital where he later died.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Three-year-old Cameron Blake’s death has left his mother, Adrianne, looking for answers. Last week, Cameron was taken off life support at Johns Hopkins after fighting for his life for four days.

“I said that I was going to fight for him as long as he was willing to fight for himself,” said a teary-eyed Blake. “And when it became apparent that he didn’t have any fight left in him, I decided to take him off life support.”

Cameron was found in the Glenwood Road apartments in Essex on Friday, Jan. 20, suffering from cardiac arrest. He was rushed to Franklin Square before being transferred to Hopkins. Doctors discovered Cameron had been badly beaten, suffering from fractured ribs among other injuries.

“These are physical abuse injuries we’re talking about,” said Baltimore County Police spokesperson Elise Armacost. “This case elevated to a criminal investigation shortly after [he was taken to the hospital].”

Authorities have been tight-lipped about the investigation until they hear back from the Medical Examiner, and so far no suspects have been named.

Sifting through Maryland Case Search, however, provides a trove of information regarding the years-long battle for custody and protection.

For the last two years, Blake and Cameron’s father, a man identified by court records as Delonte Mack, have each levied child abuse claims against one another. At the time of Cameron’s death, Mack was sole custodian of the child after he had filed abuse charges against Blake. Blake failed to appear for certain mandated court classes, and after Cameron had gone through the adjudication process he was given to Mack.

But Blake maintains that the case was a farce, an action taken by Mack to get in between Blake and Cameron.

“He’s intimidating, and he always tries to get in between people and play them off of each other,” said Blake.

Before Mack received custody, Blake had twice filed protective orders and abuse cases against him. Both of the cases were deemed “unsubstantiated” and closed. Blake told the East County Times that in at least one of the cases, Baltimore City Child Protective Service (CPS) workers had never managed to make contact with Mack.

That claim was verified by sources, requesting anonymity due to the nature of the case, within Baltimore City and Baltimore County’s Department of Social Services.

The Times reached out to Katherine Morris, communications director for Maryland’s Department of Human Relations, to find out what protocol is for CPS when they can’t locate a person accused of abuse. Morris gave a response detailing typical protocol but did not respond to a question about whether or not a case should be closed before contact is made with the accused.

But according to attorney Mitchell Mirviss, vice president of Policy for Advocates for Children and Youth, cases shouldn’t be closed without making contact with the accused.

“You call other contact people and make a full court press to try to find the parent,” said Mirviss. “They have the staff to be able to do that. People don’t disappear.”

Mirviss couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, but noted that this isn’t the only example of a child “falling through the cracks.”

“The breakdown comes on multiple levels,” said Mirviss. “There would be a breakdown in the failure to monitor. There’s a breakdown regarding the protective services investigation in what may be inadequate attempts to contact the father. It’s a pattern that we have seen that when a parent goes missing there isn’t very strong follow up to try to locate that parent even though there are individuals who do keep in contact with the parent.”

The lack of communication doesn’t just stem from CPS. Last summer Mack was arrested on multiple assault charges. News of the arrest never made its way to the Family Preservation worker working on the case. Mack was slated to appear in court on Jan. 23 but failed to appear. He has since been located and is in custody for failure to appear. He could not be reached for comment.

“When I told the worker about his arrest, that was news to her,” said Blake. “So while he was locked up last summer for a couple days, who was looking after my son?”

Regarding her own abuse charges, Blake maintained her innocence. She admitted that she used a belt to discipline her son on two occasions, but not in the days leading up Mack filing against her. When a CPS worker asked Cameron how he got bruises, he told the worker “Mommy beat me with a belt.”

But Blake emphasized that Cameron didn’t really have a strong grasp of time, citing an instance when Cameron claimed that Blake cut his genitals. He was referring to his circumcision at birth, but couldn’t grasp the concept of time.

So far no suspects have been named. Blake said she isn’t sure who beat her son, but she hopes to get answers soon. One thing she is sure of is that she’ll keep fighting.

“I won’t be fighting just for Cameron, but for every child going through this,” she said. “I’ve already decided, this is going to be my fight.”

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Critical Area study finds fault with county variances; Baltimore County proud of proactive work

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Marge Neal -

A recent study appears to paint a negative picture of Baltimore County’s stewards of the Chesapeake Bay’s critical area buffer.

But others say the report doesn’t offer a complete picture of the process that landowners go through to get approval to build new structures or improve or add onto existing structures on watershed land.

At issue is a study conducted by the University of Maryland Carey Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic. The group of law professors and students looked at all critical area variance requests submitted to six counties - including Baltimore County - from 2012 to 2014 and the end results of those requests.

The researchers found that a high percentage of the variance requests - ranging from 89 to 100 percent - were granted in the counties studied.

In Baltimore County, for example, 35 variances were requested by property owners during the studied time period. Of those, 33 were approved, including two after-the-fact requests, one was partially approved and one was denied, according to the study.

The high percentage of variance approvals is troubling to Alison Prost, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who issued a strongly worded statement regarding the study and the perceived leadership failure on the part of state officials and the Maryland Critical Area Commission.

“Even as Maryland is considering weakening the state’s Critical Area Act law to make the shoreline law more friendly to business, this study raises concerns that the law has already been severely compromised,” she said in the statement. “Clearly, the questions raised by this report should worry every Marylander who thought our most ecologically sensitive shoreline areas were being protected.

“The report clearly shows a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of local governments. It also suggests a lack of leadership on behalf of Maryland and the Critical Area Commission, both of which seem lax in overseeing local government actions,” Prost said.

The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protections Program “seeks to protect the bays and their tributaries by limiting development in shoreline areas,” according to the study’s executive summary. It restricts development within the critical area, defined as all land in the bay watersheds within 1,000 feet of tidal influence. The program also prohibits disturbances in the critical area buffer, defined as a “minimum 100-foot strip of land that runs adjacent to all tidal waters, tidal wetlands and tributary streams.”

There are three categories of land within the critical area: intensely developed areas, limited development areas and resource conservation areas.

Construction within the critical area is forbidden except in instances where the owner can meet a list of criteria established by state and local programs. For example, if a landowner can prove that a denial of a variance request will result in an unwarranted hardship, a variance can be approved.

Lot coverage through construction and paving is generally limited to 15 to 25 percent of a parcel of land.

The legal clinic studied the variance requests filed from 2012 - 2014 in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Kent, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Worcester counties. In five of the counties, most landowners filed for permission to build new houses, additions to existing houses, decks, patios, garages and similar structures. In Kent County, many of the requests sought to install septic systems.

In addition to being troubled by the high percentage of variances approved, the study’s researchers also found fault with critical area enforcement. Because of inconsistencies in the amount of enforcement information available, the law clinic was “unable to draw any significant conclusions within or among the counties regarding the effectiveness of critical area enforcement.”

But the researchers did find critical area violations in all of the studied jurisdictions, with Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s having a “relatively high” number of violations and Kent and Queen Anne’s with a “relatively low” number.

Variance requests filed in Baltimore County mostly involved “grandfathered” properties and most pertained to land in limited development areas. Thirty-one requests were for variances within the 100-foot buffer, three were for property in the expanded buffer and one was a request to exceed the maximum-permitted lot coverage, according to the study.

Kate Charbonneau, executive director of the Maryland Critical Area Commission, believes looking simply at the number of variances requested and approved might be misleading and unfair to local jurisdictions that “work hard at trying to reduce the number of variance requests on the front end.”

Local planning, zoning and permits employees work “proactively” with property owners to develop plans for land that mesh the owner’s building desires with critical area compliance, she said.

“In the variance process, there is difficulty in balancing what is good for the environment while also protecting the property rights of the landowner,” Charbonneau said.

Vince Gardina, director of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, said his staff members review all plans and requests for building permits within the critical area.

“We try to be accommodating,” he said. “We try to allow the property owner to make the most use of the land while minimizing the impact on the critical area.”

With more than 200 miles of waterfront in Baltimore County, there are relatively few variance requests filed, according to Gardina.

One problem with Baltimore County’s waterfront is that it was subdivided into “very small lots” decades ago, resulting in small - by today’s standards - homes. When owners want to rebuild or improve, there’s little room to work with and they often request to cover more than the coverage limit.

He cited one property owner who filed a request during the study time period who asked permission to raze the existing house and replace it with a new house with an attached deck and a swimming pool.

“With many of these requests, if we were to apply the law literally, most owners could not build anything on the properties, or just a very small home that might not fit their needs,” Gardina said.

In working with the property owner, county officials approved the house and deck but denied the pool, with conditions that had to be met by the owner. He had to plant trees to mitigate the disturbance of land within the critical area, he had to sign an environmental agreement and allow the county to review all plans as the project progressed and he was required to install signs in the critical buffer identifying it as such with instructions to not disturb.

“We try really hard to work with property owners but we don’t have a lot of tolerance for those who violate the law,” he said. “We will issue citations to those who violate the law, and those citations can lead to hearings and fines if the owner doesn’t correct the violation within the allowed time.”

For example, a property owner in Dundalk recently filed for a variance for an already-constructed 33-foot by 57-foot concrete patio built within the 100-foot buffer. The request was denied. Barring a successful appeal of the ruling, the owner will be required to tear up the patio and restore the land to its original condition.

Granting a variance is not an arbitrary decision, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R-Fifth District), who sits on the state’s Critical Area Commission.

Variance requests are heard and decided upon by administrative law judges, he said.

“There is a judicial standard that should be applied to variance requests,” he said. “Either those standards are met or they are not and that leads to a decision.”

Marks said he believes that what the counties do should be looked at by the Critical Area Commission, and that is a belief shared by Charbonneau.

“The counties can propose changes to their own programs through their own zoning processes,” she said. “And we encourage them to work in coordination with the commission to best balance the rights of landowners with the environmental needs of the bay area.”

The commission doesn’t endorse a one-size-fits-all approach to critical area enforcement, according to Charbonneau.

“Our chairman is more interested in having the local jurisdictions work on these issues - for them to have a customized approach and make individual changes in their programs in recognition of the individual needs of the counties.”

As a result of the study’s findings, the researchers’ recommendations include fine-tuning the definitions and scope of the variance criteria via the General Assembly; having local jurisdictions defer to the Critical Area Commission when it opposes a variance request; increased promotion of the regulation that prohibits pools in the critical area buffer and those that address lot coverage; and increasing the transparency, accountability and reporting, including uniform record-keeping of inspection and enforcement information.

The entire study is available online at www.law.umaryland.edu.

BPW releases $5 million in deferred construction funds as county school air conditioning situation improves

BPW releases $5 million in deferred construction funds as county school air conditioning situation improves
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance pleads his case for school construction funding to the BPW at the annual "begathon" Wednesday in Annapolis. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/26/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The Board of Public Works voted unanimously to release $5 million in school construction funds back to Baltimore County a year after voting to defer $10 million for what they perceived to be foot-dragging on the issue of school air conditioning.

Governor Larry Hogan and State Comptroller Peter Franchot heaped praise upon Superintendent Dallas Dance and Baltimore County for forward funding $83 million in anticipated state funds to complete school air conditioning projects earlier than originally planned.

But Franchot’s praise was short-lived as he expressed skepticism about Baltimore County’s ability to complete the 21 projects slated to be finished by August while also noting that 13 schools will still be without air conditioning.

“I appreciate the work you’ve done, but the fact is that there are 8,400 students, 561 teachers and 320 classrooms left without climate control year after year after year,” Franchot told Dance. “I started this issue six years ago and there was a solution right in front of everyone’s nose then - put portable air conditioning units in.”

Franchot stated that children having to go multiple years without climate control in their classroom is inhumane and told Dance that if he wanted the other $5 million in funds he’d have to figure out a solution for the short-term.

“To get the other funding, you’ve got to produce a plan to bring immediate relief to these thousands of kids. You’ve got to produce a plan to bring immediate relief to these thousands of kids,” said Franchot.

Dance attempted to quell Franchot’s skepticism on the county’s plan by telling him that Baltimore County is currently ahead of schedule by two or three weeks and under budget for their ongoing projects. However, he admitted that he didn’t have an answer for how to provide immediate relief to schools that will be left without air conditioning for at least a few more years.

Hogan and Franchot advised Dance that he should look to Baltimore City for a solution.

Baltimore City Public Schools also had funds deferred last year for lack of air conditioning in schools, though their deferred funds amounted only to $5 million. But at the annual “begathon” - a gathering of superintendents in which they petition the BPW for funds - in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 25, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises told the board that the city school system will use portable air units and split-unit systems that provide both air conditioning and heating. For their efforts, the BPW released all $5 million in deferred funding.

State Treasurer Nancy Kopp stated that withholding the money “was a mistake in the first place.”

Santelises told the board that in order to provide funding for the units, the school system would have to delay some roof projects and fire safety updates, but noted that no students would be in unsafe buildings.

Hogan and Franchot both noted that the board will be reconvening in May to discuss the remaining 25 percent of school construction funds - approximately $120 million - and that, should Dance come back with a short-term answer to air conditioning, the remaining deferred funds would be released.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released a statement thanking the board for recognizing the improvements made. But when pressed by the East County Times on whether the administration would consider using the $5 million in newly released funding for portable units in order to unlock the remaining $5 million in deferred funds, a spokesperson said the county executive had “no comment.”

Dance was in Annapolis to ask for funding for construction projects, including the new Victory Villa and Dundalk elementary schools, the new northeast elementary school and the renovation of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, among others.

The superintendent noted that the air conditioning initiative has taken a long time because the school system is also trying to figure out overcrowding issues, and the schools left without air conditioning after next year are ones that are either undergoing renovations or getting completely new buildings.

Kenwood High School is slated to have air conditioning installed by 2018, while Patapsco will have to wait until renovations are complete in 2019. Dundalk, Berkshire and Colgate elementary schools will all have to wait until their new buildings are complete in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

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Hogan touts economic growth in visit to Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce

Hogan touts economic growth in visit to Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce
Gov. Larry Hogan (third from left) presents an award to Tradepoint Atlantic CEO Michael Moore at the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and awards ceremony. Tradepoint was given an award for economic impact.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner usually generates a lot of excitement in eastern Baltimore County, and this year was no exception with Governor Larry Hogan tapped as the keynote speaker.

Hogan, a Republican, started off his address by thanking residents of the east side for getting him elected three years ago.

“It’s particularly great to be back on the east side [of the county],” said Hogan. “We surprised a lot of people in that race a couple of years ago... and there’s no place that had more to do with me becoming governor than the huge victory we got on the east side of Baltimore County.”

The governor spent much of his speech comparing his first two years in office to former Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration, deriding increases in taxes and business regulations.

“In the years just before I took office, the state had increased taxes 43 times in a row, taking $10 billion more out of the pockets of struggling Maryland families and small businesses,” said Hogan. “And the result was devastating on our economy. Businesses, jobs and tax payers were fleeing our state in droves.”

According to Hogan, Maryland lost 8,000 businesses and 100,000 jobs during the O’Malley administration. He compared that to the 70,000 private sector jobs added since he took office in 2015 and noted that he had cut taxes, tolls and over a hundred business regulations since taking office.

Given that the east side was home to Bethlehem Steel and the Glenn L. Martin plant, Hogan spoke at length about his administration’s success with regard to increasing the number of manufacturing jobs. Hogan told the Chamber that during O’Malley’s two terms, the state had lost almost 20 percent of manufacturing jobs, nearing almost 30,000. But, again, things have changed since Hogan was sworn in.

“Over the last two years we’ve had an incredible resurgence in manufacturing in Maryland,” said Hogan. “We’ve created more manufacturing jobs than all of the other states in the mid-Atlantic region combined. That’s pretty good. We went from one of the worst in the country to No. 4 in the nation in the rate of manufacturing job growth.”

But while Hogan spent much of the night touting his administration’s economic impact, he also touched on the controversial Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act, or the “road kill” bill as Republicans have taken to calling it. The bill requires that road projects must be ranked and any funding for a project not deemed to be priority will be cut unless the governor provide in writing a “rational basis for the decision.”

“Contrary to what some of my friends across the aisle have been saying, the reality is that these new regulations take effect on Feb. 10 and under these new requirements with this bill, 66 of the state’s top 73 transportation priority projects simply will not be able to move forward,” Hogan told the group.

According to Hogan, all of Baltimore County’s top priority transportation projects would have their funding cut. This includes the widening of I-695.

“I don’t have to tell any of you in this room that relieving congestion and moving forward on improving our transportation infrastructure is absolutely critical to economic development,” Hogan said.

The evening also provided local business owners the chance to speak with Gov. Hogan about more local issues of importance. Sam Weaver, president of the Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC) told The East County Times he discussed the issue of midges with Hogan. Midges have become an issue on the east side, and it hass negatively impacted businesses. Weaver maintains that the issue needs to be dealt with before it gets out of hand. According to Weaver and Hogan, there were plenty of local politicians and business leaders broaching the topic with Hogan.

“I’ve heard more about midges recently than I ever have before, that’s for sure,” Hogan joked.

And, of course, there were plenty of awards and honors given throughout the night. Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, who recently announced his retirement, was honored by the County Council while Richardson Farms, Cliff’s Hi-Tech, Jim Jennings Transmissions, the BRRC and Tradepoint Atlantic were all honored by the Chamber for “setting the standards for excellence and innovation with their business practices and community involvement.”

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Salt levels may have contributed to December fish kill, MDE says

Salt levels may have contributed to December fish kill, MDE says
Dead fish recently began washing up on the shorelines of the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, causing some concern about a resurgence of the recent fish kill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A fish kill update issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment suggests unusually high salinity levels may have been a factor in the deaths of roughly 10,000 fish in the Bird and Gunpowder Rivers of eastern Baltimore County.

According to MDE, initial laboratory test results are consistent with the department’s preliminary finding that the fish kill, which began on Dec. 19 and lasted until the first week of January, was likely caused by toxins produced by the saltwater algae known as Karlodinium veneficum.

Karlodinium is typically found in waters with higher salinity such as in the larger Chesapeake Bay, and the MDE report stated that blooms of the algae had been seen as far north as Cecil County’s Northeast River in November. However, drought conditions in December caused higher salinity in the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, combined with fairly high water temperatures due to the warm fall weather, both of which may have bolstered the algae’s growth.

A cold front then swept through the area just before the fish kill, MDE found. The change to colder temperatures can cause the algae to die, and in dying it can release toxins that damage the gills and cause respiratory distress.

Nine fish species were affected by the event, including yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, black crappie, gizzard shad, channel catfish and spottail shiner - all freshwater varieties. No saltwater fish were involved.

Early last week, residents along affected shorelines began noticing more dead fish washing up and some feared a resurgence of the fish kill. But MDE has no documentation of a second fish kill, according to a spokesperson, who said the new fish being seen were likely decomposing remnants of the December event.

MDE Communications and Outreach Manager Adrienne Diaczok explained that the bodies of fish that died sometimes take a period of time to surface, and cold weather has preserved them for an extended period.

“It is possible some of the fish died more recently as a result of the latent effects of the water conditions that we preliminarily believe caused the kill,” Diaczok said. “But we don’t believe those conditions exist at this time and we believe the vast majority of the fish most recently seen died in the late 2016 event.”

Some in the community have questioned MDE’s estimate of the number of fish dead, instead suggesting it was actually as many as 100,000 or more.

But while MDE officials initially reported only 6,000 dead, they have not wavered from their adjusted figure.

“Our investigators employ a statistical analysis based on shoreline observations and extrapolations, which resulted in the 10,000 estimate,” Diaczok explained. “It is possible that the number might be slightly higher because there were some areas we were not able to get to for observation and there were fish that surfaced later, but the increase would likely be in a range of a few thousand.”

Dan Doerfer, environmental advocate with the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, sought to address the root of the problem at the organization’s Jan. 4 meeting. There he noted that Karlodinium algae blooms are becoming more of a problem around the world due to nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus washing into local waterways.

“The reason for having algae blooms still comes back to the fact that there’s too many nutrients going into the local streams and those waters,” he said. “And when the weather changes this late in the season and those algae die off after blooming, that’s what causes the fish kills.”

Karlodinium veneficum was the same algae responsible for the November 2015 Middle River fish kill which affected an estimated 200,000 fish.

“It’s a worldwide problem,” Doerfer said. “And unless we get storm water under control where the nutrients are being restricted… we’re going to continue to see the problem.”

He commented that it is “more important than ever” for developers to meet the most current standards for storm water controls in their projects, since many nutrients come from storm water runoff. He added that he is “a little nervous” with all of the development planned for the Middle River and White Marsh areas.

EMRCC President Bob Bendler said residents also cannot blame the nutrient levels in the Bird, Gunpowder or Middle rivers on Pennsylvania or New York by way of the Susquehanna River, which drains into the bay.

“The Susquehanna brings down a tremendous amount of pollution, but it doesn’t come into Middle River or the Gunpowder. It comes from our yards,” he said, noting that many residents in the watersheds of those rivers over-fertilize their lawns and gardens, leading to much of the nutrient pollution.

Bendler expressed at the meeting an interest in gathering together community members, business owners, developers and environmental advocates so they can interact and be educated about the issues and what they each can do to help.

“Two fish kills ought to be enough to get our attention to try to do something bigger,” he said.

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County exploring new type of facility for management of recycling, solid waste

County exploring new type of facility for management of recycling, solid waste
Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh, seen here from above, is the county's ultimate assurance that it will be able to handle all of its solid waste for the next 10 years, according to the draft Executive Summary of the 2019 - 2028 Solid Waste Management Plan.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

On Monday, Jan. 23, the Baltimore County Bureau of Solid Waste Management (SWM) began its “listening tour” at the Perry Hall library to garner public input on its 2019 - 2028 solid waste management plan, hosting its first of five meetings on the topic.

One thing in particular the bureau seeks public input on is the concept of using a High-Diversion Material Recycling Facility (HDMRF) for trash disposal in the county. This is an approach to collection and processing that would see all materials - trash, recycling and yard waste - put out for collection together for a single pick-up per week.

SWM spokesman Charlie Reighart said this method is “not at all common” in the U.S. But SWM Bureau Chief Michael Beichler noted it has gained traction in Europe and is beginning to emerge in California.

Using the HDMRF, 100 percent of the recyclables disposed of in the county would have the opportunity to be captured and recycled, according to Beichler.

The county currently only captures about 20 percent of refuse as recycling and is able to send just 12 percent to market for sale.

“I’ve always felt that at least 50 percent of what’s in the total stream is recyclable,” Beichler said. He added that SWM has found an operator who says they can guarantee a rate of about 52 percent recovery of recyclables.

“That’s a quantum leap far beyond anything anywhere,” he said.

According to Beichler, the county has evolved and adapted its solid waste program, changing to different methods roughly every 10 years, and have looked at models from around the country and the world to determine what would work best here.

“The key part is, what can we do at a Baltimore County price?” he said.

Beichler anticipates that the added cost of the HDMRF would be offset or exceeded by being able to recover more recyclables for sale.

The county has sent out a Request For Proposal for the concept, but has not gone beyond that stage.

Recycling tends to net the county about $62 per ton, while disposal of waste at the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy facility in Baltimore City costs the county about $65 per ton.

Baltimore County has a contract with the facility to deliver at least 215,000 tons of trash per year for incineration, which is good at least through 2021.

“That’s the majority of the trash we generate,” Reighart said.

Similarly, transfer of trash to disposal sites outside Maryland costs the county about $64 per ton. The county has budgeted for transfer of 50,000 tons in FY 2017.

“So if you’ve got a recyclable item, and you’ve got a choice between putting it out in the recycling or the trash..., the swing is about $126 - $127 a ton,” Reighart said. “The decisions that residents make are being borne by all of the county residents, whether you recycle or not.”

According to Beichler, the bureau handles about 900,000 tons of trash and 80,000 tons of recycling per year from about 322,000 residences, for which they provide roughly 43 million pick-ups per year. And through all that, they only receive approximately 7,000 complaints per year, he said, contributing to their 88 percent satisfaction rate from residents.

Reighart, explained the goals of the solid waste program as promoting waste prevention, which helps with pollution prevention and disposal cost minimization; increasing and encouraging recycling; resource recovery, which includes incinerating waste to produce energy; and decreasing the amount and toxicity of solid waste.

Commercial waste comprises more than half of what is generated in the county as a whole, according to Reighart.

“We really don’t have any control over that under the current situation,” he said, noting that the private sector “does its own thing,” moving material to where it makes sense to move it.

The county does, however, encourage increased commercial recycling which can be more cost-effective for businesses.

On the residential side, the bureau works toward waste minimization through encouragement of grasscycling - think, “cut it high and let it lie” - and composting of organic materials, and publishing their Reuse Directory, which lists organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army that accept donations of items residents find no longer useful but have not run out of useful life. The directory is available online and in hard copy and is published every two years.

Residential collections are handled by 39 private collectors, and the county’s adoption of single-stream recycling made it much easier for residents to participate, Reighart said.

Yard materials are also collected between April and mid-December in about 70 percent of the county. According to Reighart, they are not collected the rest of the year or in the other 30 percent of the county because not enough material is generated to make it cost-effective.

“It’s more important for us to be cost-effective because you’re all taxpayers in the county,” he said.

The three residential drop-off centers will also take an unlimited amount of material from county residents for free.

“Nobody else does it quite the way we do it, and it seems to work,” Reighart commented.

He also noted that the cost-effectiveness of Baltimore County’s program is consistently on par with or better than other counties around the state.

Reighart said that, overall, the county is in “pretty good shape” when it comes to solid waste management. “We’re not in a bad spot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get better,” he said.

SWM will hold additional public input meetings regarding the solid waste plan around the county, including at the North Point Library on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 p.m.

Other meetings will be held at the Arbutus Library on Monday, Jan. 30; at the Cockeysville Library on Monday, Feb. 6; and at the Pikesville Library on Thursday Feb. 9. All meetings will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Copies of the 2019-2028 plan’s draft Executive Summary are available on the county’s website, in the office of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson (County Office Building) and at every branch of the Baltimore County Public Library system.

Persons may also submit written comments about the plan to Steven A. Walsh, P.E., Director, Department of Public Works, 111 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Md. 21204. Written comments must be received by March 2.

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Almond visits Riverside Democrats as she mulls county executive run

Almond visits Riverside Democrats as she mulls county executive run
Second District County Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

(Updated 1/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

While we may have just finished up with an election cycle, another is on the horizon. With term-limited Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz leaving office and reportedly eyeing a run for governor, his seat will be up for grabs. There’s plenty of speculation about who will contend for the seat, but one name is all but certain: Vicki Almond.

Almond, a Democratic councilwoman from Reisterstown, told the Riverside Democratic Club of Essex last week that she’s “strongly looking to make a run for county executive.”

Members of the club told Almond that they have felt ignored by the Kamenetz administration during his two terms in office. They cited the sale of the North Point Government Center and lack of speed on school air conditioning installation, as well as a Republican sweep of the souteast area in the 2014 election, as reasons for displeasure.

Almond told the group that, stylistically, her approach to management is much different than Kamenetz’s.

“My style certainly is different,” Almond said. “It’s about bringing together the best and brightest people we can find and let them run their departments, let them be creative, let them bring ideas to the table.

“Do I know everything there is to know about budget, about public works, about environment? No, and I won’t stand here and tell you that I do,” she continued. “But I’m a good judge of people. I can bring on the best and the brightest and let them do their jobs, encourage them to do their jobs.”

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who introduced Almond to the Riverside Democratic Club, vouched for Almond’s leadership and noted that she frequently manages to find palatable compromises.

“There’s a word in our vocabulary that hasn’t been in other people’s, and that’s ‘compromise,’” Bevins said. “This job is about compromise. And if you’re someone who has a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, that’s just not a way to govern. And I can tell you that Vicki doesn’t govern that way.”

Almond billed herself as a someone who listens to what communities want. She cited a development project in her district that called for 250 homes to be built. The plan infuriated members of the surrounding community and eventually the number was whittled down to about 130 homes. She also got the developer to make improvements that often go overlooked when dealing with developers, such as new signage for schools.

Bevins also recalled that millionaire developer Howard Brown dumped a lot of money into the campaigns of Almond’s opponents, whom they viewed as more development-friendly. Bevins went through a similar situation with developer David Cordish.

“They didn’t get their way and they didn’t like it,” said Bevins. “They put a lot of money into a lot of opponents to run against us; they didn’t get what they wanted.”

The group told Almond that historically, Democratic clubs on the east side tend to endorse members of the community that have been visible in volunteer efforts. “If you build a relationship with the community, the community will support you,” said one member.

“That’s why I’m here 18 months before the election,” Almond told the group. “I want to form relationships on the east side.”

Almond told the group that she got involved in Parent Teacher Associations when her children were in school, and from there she began volunteering. She’s worked on a campaign with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and worked as chief of staff for Senator Bobby Zirkin among others.

In her first race for a seat on the council, Almond faced stiff competition, including three women and a relative of Ruppersberger’s. She pointed to her entrenched relationships in her area through years of service as the reason for her victory.

After spending six years on the Baltimore County Council and seeing how things work at the state and federal level, she said she could only imagine working at the local level.

“I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a politician - though you do have to have some of that in you,” said Almond. “I have been a public servant for so many years, and part of being a public servant is listening. I don’t know more than you do about your community and I won’t pretend to, but I need to learn and I need you folks to help me learn that. And that’s truly important to me. Running a county will be a whole lot different than a district, so I have to learn and be a part of every single part of Baltimore County.”

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Brochin submits bill to restrict developer campaign donations

Brochin submits bill to restrict developer campaign donations
Senator Jim Brochin, who represents Towson and northern Baltimore County, announced his legislation Monday to restrict campaign contributions from developers in Baltimore County. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

State Senator Jim Brochin (D-42) announced on Monday, Jan. 16, a bill he submitted to the state legislature in Annapolis which would prohibit what he sees as “pay-to-play” political contributions from developers in Baltimore County.

The legislation says that developers or their “agents” seeking a zoning change, a zoning variance, a planned unit development (PUD) approval or any Master Plan change may not have contributed funds to the county executive’s or any County Council member’s election campaign in the preceding three years. If the developer seeking approval had contributed money to any of them, that person would have to return those funds.

The bill, Brochin said, is modeled after a Prince George’s County law which passed in 1992. And he said he spoke with someone in the Maryland Building Industry Association who told him they no longer make political donations in that jurisdiction.

“Development is based on its merits, and it’s not a pay-to-play system there,” he said. “We’re trying to get rid of a system that’s frustrating all of us.”

Brochin said that system was exemplified by the county’s sale of the Towson fire station to build a Royal Farms, as well as the sale of the North Point Government Center in Dundalk to a private developer with connections to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), who represents Dundalk, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Brochin noted that the Frederick County delegation is also currently working on a similar initiative for their jurisdiction.

“Almost every jurisdiction sees there’s a problem,” the senator said. “For some reason, the [Baltimore County] Council people now and the county executive don’t think there’s a problem.”

He acknowledged that the problem precedes the current county executive and County Council members and that his bill will not fix everything.

“This is an institutional problem in Baltimore County and somebody has to say enough is enough,” Brochin said.

He said the system has been frustrating to the community members who do not feel like they are being heard when it comes to development because the developers pay for their prime access to the decision makers.

“Where does the power rest, with the developers and big money or with the people?” Brochin asked. “There is no doubt in my mind that the developers have the key to Baltimore County right now.”

However, some saw the move as politically motivated because Brochin is widely viewed as a candidate for Baltimore County Executive in 2018.

Several County Council members were less than enthused with the criticisms that came with the announcement and returned fire with jabs at Brochin’s own acceptance of political donations.

“Any reader of the East County Times knows that I have regularly opposed developers when I disagreed with their projects, and that we downzoned thousands of acres of land to lighten school overcrowding and preserve green space,” said Councilman David Marks (R-5) who represents Towson and Perry Hall. “But the larger issue is that, by statute, the County Council already does not accept contributions when rezoning property.”

Marks was referring to the law that bars council members from taking political contributions during the yearlong Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

“I look forward to Senator Brochin introducing legislation at the state level that applies restrictions to the Judicial Proceedings Committee on which he sits, a body whose members have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from trial lawyers and special interests,” Marks said.

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk, said he found it ironic that the General Assembly would target the Baltimore County Council when some of its own members are facing campaign finance violations and accusations of conflicts of interest.

“I don’t care if this legislation passes or not,” Crandell stated. “My decisions are based on what is best for our district, period. This is and will always be the only determining factor.”

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who represents Middle River and White Marsh, came under fire in 2015 when she introduced a bill to ease the path for the Paragon outlet mall in White Marsh and state campaign finance records revealed that she had taken a combined $5,000 from Paragon executives prior to her last election in 2014.

Bevins was adamant, however, that the campaign donations did not influence her decision to submit the bill.

“It doesn’t influence me,” she said at the time. “I’ve said ‘no’ many times to people who have contributed to my campaign.”

Bevins did not comment for this article, but she has also faced campaign opposition from developers who supported opposing candidates they saw as more sympathetic to them.

She told the Riverside Democratic Club in Essex on Jan. 12 about her run-ins with billionaire developer David Cordish, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into an opponent’s campaign after a zoning decision she made to allow redevelopment of a dilapidated property in Middle River threatened one of his shopping centers nearby.

Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group, released a statement in support of Brochin’s legislation after analyzing spending on local campaigns around the state. The group found that developers are consistently the interest group investing the most in these campaigns - “because they have the most invested in the outcomes,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, CCM’s executive director.

“Focusing on developer dollars at the county level makes sense - land use decisions are the most consistent policy our councils make, second only to the county budget in importance,” she said.

The bill will be heard simultaneously in the Baltimore County delegation and the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis, and Brochin’s office will give advance notice of the date of those hearings for those interested in testifying.

If passed, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

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State will not fund Back River midge treatments without county money

(Updated 1/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The State of Maryland has backed away from a plan to fund larvicidal midge treatments this year on Back River, saying its share of the money will not be available without participation from Baltimore County.

Last fall, Governor Larry Hogan and other state officials extended an offer to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to evenly split an estimated $1.3 million cost for several applications of midge larvicide on the river to help alleviate the issues caused by midges.

Midges - non-biting, mosquito-like insects - are present in such numbers in and around Back River that they pose a swarming nuisance to businesses and residents in the area. The larvicide treatments would have killed midge larvae in the water at the points where their numbers are highest.

Kamenetz, by way of county Environmental Protection and Sustainability Director Vince Gardina, promptly rejected Hogan’s offer, claiming the waterway to be state jurisdiction and, therefore, state responsibility. He also called into question the state’s cost estimate, saying it was too low to do the job adequately.

Following the rejection, State Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7) helped organize a so-called “midge summit” in late October between state and county officials and the leadership of the Back River Restoration Committee, which has advocated for the treatments.

According to BRRC President Sam Weaver, his understanding after the midge summit was that the state had agreed to put forth its half of the funding regardless of if the county would participate. That way they could still fund some of the treatments and see how far those funds would go.

But Weaver said he recently found out from another state official, who was not involved in any decision making on the issue, that the funding of midge treatments on Back River is now “completely dead.”

He said he had to find out from this state official because he was the only one who would return Weaver’s calls about it. He added that he got no response from officials in the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which was to be the source of the funding, nor from the governor’s office. And he said the two state senators involved were not aware of the issue.

“I’ve been told the money is available,” Weaver said, “but somebody’s got to put their stamp on it.

“I can’t believe they sat there with 18 people in that room and said what they said and now all of a sudden it’s all in the toilet,” he said, referencing the midge summit.

But MDA spokesman Jason Schellhardt said in order for the state funding to move forward they would need the county to agree to participate in the program.

“It’s always been a we-need-them-to-participate kind of deal,” Schellhardt said, adding that the state did not agree to put up its half of the funding without county involvement. “I was in that meeting and I don’t think that was ever said.

“It’s always been the kind of deal where we’re willing to work with the county on this but we need their participation for our funding to work,” he added.

But Jennings and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), the other state senator involved, each said they were unaware that the state’s money was contingent on the county chipping in.

“This is news to me,” Jennings said. “It was my assumption with what the governor said at the Board of Public Works press conference [when he announced the offer]… that the state was still at least going to put up half to do half the treatments and do what they could to lessen the severity of what’s taking place down there.”

Jennings also said he recalled state representatives specifically stating in the midge meeting that they would fund their half of the treatments regardless of the county’s involvement.

“I rehashed it several times - because I chaired that meeting - that it would be taken care of,” he said.

Likewise, Salling said he was not previously told that state funding would not come through without the county agreeing to put up the other half. He and Jennings would be sending a letter to Hogan to see if they will get the funding, “which we were promised,” he said.

Salling also recalled state representatives at the midge meeting agreeing to come through with their half of the funding with or without the county’s.

“That’s why we were there; they did say that,” he asserted. “We’re going to try to find out through the governor’s office where we’re at because we thought we were getting the finances.”

The state’s half of the funds would have covered two or three larvicide applications, according to Salling.

Additionally, Salling is planning to introduce another funding bill in the state legislature to allocate money for the treatments through the state budget. He introduced a similar bill last year which passed the State Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates.

“We’re seeing if we can get the funding and if we can get the help,” Salling said. “We’re trying to go through the state to get the applications done to take care of the problem that we’ve had for years now.”

He said he has support for the bill from other senators on both sides of the aisle.

Days Cove landfill preparing to discharge treated leachate from treatment plant

Days Cove landfill preparing to discharge treated leachate from treatment plant
An aerial view of the Days Cove Rubble Landfill showing its proximity to the former quarry to the north and Days Cove to the east. The treated leachate will be discharged toward the north of the property.

(Updated 1/16/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Days Cove Rubble Landfill in White Marsh expects to have its newly-constructed leachate treatment plant up and running within the next month so they can begin discharging the treated liquid directly from the facility, according to company officials.

Darren Hunt, manager of the Days Cove Reclamation Company which operates the landfill, said the treatment plant is still in “start-up mode” and engineers continue to inspect and calibrate the equipment in anticipation of the plant’s opening.

“We’re getting close, but we’re still not to the point where we’re ready to discharge,” Hunt said. And when they are ready, they will still have to go through a sampling protocol and submit the data to the Maryland Department of the Environment to be sure it meets the discharge requirements.

The leachate is currently trucked to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk for treatment at that facility.

Leachate - the liquid that first enters the landfill as rain and eventually permeates through to the bottom - is collected and will be treated by the treatment plant on the landfill property. The treated leachate will then be discharged from the plant via a two-inch underground line to an open storm water collection pond on the property.

As per their permit, the plant will discharge roughly 13,000 gallons of treated leachate per day, which, Hunt said, “is like leaving a garden hose running.”

Hunt assured that the leachate will be cleaned and treated by the plant to the same standards as drinking water.

“So the water that’s coming out of this treatment plant will not be discharged unless it’s the same water that’s coming, technically, through the tap at your house because it’s the same standards with the same limits,” he said.

He noted that the leachate being treated and discharged is strictly from the rubble landfill - separate from the adjacent Eastern Sanitary Landfill used for general trash from the county - and said their leachate is “fairly benign to begin with” as compared to the garbage landfill.

Due to their solid waste permit from MDE, most of the materials handled at the rubble landfill are construction materials like stone, gravel, brick and wood, which is the only organic material they deal with. Metals and plastics can be recycled and are not landfilled.

Should the collection pond fill up with treated leachate or during a rain event, the water would spill over into a drainage ditch allowing it to freely infiltrate into the ground in a wooded area on the site, according to Hunt. And the point where the water would enter the woods is about 1,000 yards from the nearest shoreline, he said.

Hunt said that, according to MDE which wrote their discharge permit, any water discharged by the plant will infiltrate into the ground before it has any chance to reach surface water. Additionally, much of the water would simply evaporate from the collection pond in the summer and it would not discharge at all in warm, dry weather.

“It potentially could reach this pond in the winter months when everything is saturated or frozen,” Hunt said. “But the chances of that are highly unlikely.”

The “pond” he referred to is the former Campbell quarry next to the landfill which has a small link to the waters of Days Cove and, therefore, to the tidal Gunpowder and Bird rivers.

“I keep hearing [rumors] that we’re discharging directly to the Bird River, and that’s just not the case,” Hunt said.

He conceded that the discharge could potentially reach the river through ground water. “But there’s no pipe dumping treated leachate into Bird River,” he said.

The rubble landfill is estimated to remain open for eight more years, Hunt said, at which time it will be closed and capped. The amount of leachate needing to be treated will then decrease over time because the cap will prevent new rain infiltration. However, it can take up to 10 years for all of the moisture to fully permeate through.

“Once you close out the landfill, you cap everything off with the closure material… there are two five-year monitoring plans that are part of our permit, which basically ends the landfill,” Hunt explained.

The first five-year period consists of ground water sampling, erosion control and leachate treatment, he said.

“So at the end of that five-year period, if you’re not generating any leachate and you have no environmental issues, then the landfill closes out,” Hunt said.

If it continues to produce leachate, the landfill will be closed at the point during the second five-year period when the leachate ceases.

Following the closure of the rubble landfill, the area will be converted back into a state park for use by the public. It is slated to include walking trails, a swimming area in the former quarry and wildlife habitat creation. Work on the park would begin with the closure of the landfill in 2025.

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County to hold hearings regarding 10-year solid waste plan

(Updated 1/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Beginning Monday, Jan. 23, the Baltimore County Department of Public Works will hold public discussions to solicit community input on the development of their next 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan.

The plan, which will cover the period from 2019 to 2028, will lay out how the county will handle its solid waste during that time and explains how it will achieve its goals for solid waste management.

Five public meetings will be held around the county, including at the Perry Hall Library, 9685 Honeygo Blvd., on Monday, Jan. 23, and at the North Point Library, 1716 Merritt Blvd. in Dundalk, on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Other meetings will be held at the Arbutus Library, 855 Sulphur Spring Road, on Monday, Jan. 30; at the Cockeysville Library, 9833 Greenside Drive, on Monday, Feb. 6; and at the Pikesville Library, 1301 Reisterstown Road, on Thursday Feb. 9. All meetings will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

No snow dates are scheduled, and if Baltimore County Public Libraries are closed due to inclement weather, the meeting on that date will be canceled.

According to the draft Executive Summary of the new plan, the county’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management (SWM) believes its existing solid waste and recycling infrastructure to be adequate at least through 2028.

Therefore, DPW believes implementation of the plan would extend the life of the county’s only operating landfill - located in White Marsh and which is already more than half full - by preventing waste and increasing recycling, improve the cost-effectiveness of the county’s solid waste management and recycling program, and enhance resident satisfaction with the program.

Goals for the program under the plan, according to the Executive Summary, are to promote waste prevention, increase recycling, increase resource recovery and decrease the quantity and toxicity of solid waste requiring landfilling.

Baltimore County accepts all of Harford County’s single stream recyclables for sorting at its Central Acceptance Facility in Cockeysville as the result of an August 2013 agreement. It also accepts 135,000 tons of Harford’s trash per year at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill (ESL) in White Marsh under the agreement, but all of that material is then transferred out of the county to disposal sites owned or used by Waste Management, Inc.

The county also has one major out-of-county outlet for its own residential trash. The solid waste bureau has a contract with Baltimore City through 2021 - with three remaining five-year renewal options - to take 215,000 tons of trash per year to the Wheelabrator Baltimore waste-to-energy facility.

The county has also made “significant strides” in growing its residential recycling program under the current Solid Waste Management Plan, according to the summary, increasing recycled tonnage from 36,167 in 2009 to 54,310 in 2015.

“In addition, Baltimore County opened its own single stream materials recovery facility (MRF) in November 2013, which enabled the county to retain the value of collected recyclables and maximize the financial benefits of its recycling program,” the summary states.

From its opening through November 2016, 156,000 tons of recyclables were sold from the MRF, generating gross revenues of $20.1 million and avoiding $9.9 million in trash disposal costs, the summary said.

The summary also points out that, while recycling tonnages have remained constant since 2011, residential trash tonnages have decreased over the same period - “a promising trend,” it adds.

As it stands, the county’s only guaranteed outlet for trash after 2021 is the ESL. But SWM is committed to securing adequate replacement capacity before the long-term waste-to-energy contract expires, according to the summary, assuring the county a high degree of solid waste management independence.

As of January 2016, the landfill had an estimated remaining trash capacity of about 10.4 million cubic yards, according to the ESL Solid Waste Management Facility Tonnage Report for 2015. This means that nearly 5 million tons of trash could still be landfilled there, and the report estimated that the ESL would not reach capacity until the year 2053.

“The bottom line is that, for the most part, ESL’s longevity will continue to be a function of choices the county and its citizens make,” the summary stated. “Recycling materials that would otherwise become ‘waste’ is each resident’s responsibility, for fiscal as well as environmental reasons.”

Copies of the 2019-2028 plan’s draft Executive Summary are available on the county’s website, in the office of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson (County Office Building) and at every branch of the Baltimore County Public Library system.

Persons may also submit written comments about the plan to Steven A. Walsh, P.E., Director, Department of Public Works, 111 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Md. 21204. Written comments must be received by March 2.

After several false starts, Shaw’s Discovery looking at fall occupancy

After several false starts, Shaw’s Discovery looking at fall occupancy
The older plan depicted above remains mostly unchanged by the current proposal. However, the new plan will feature five single homes instead of the one shown here. Image courtesy of Hoehn Landscape Architecture.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Marge Neal -

If Mother Nature is cooperative, new residents may be able to call Shaw’s Discovery home by this fall.

“At this point, the only thing that will slow this process down will be the weather,” developer Mark Sapperstein said in a phone interview Jan. 6. “As long as we don’t get any wet, mucky weather with extended rain or snow that makes it hard to move equipment, we’ll be good to go.”

The 143-unit housing development slated for the Bauer Farm land in Edgemere includes five single-family homes and 138 townhouses. The units will be built to run parallel with the existing Willow Road and along the waterfront, according to Sapperstein.

The developer was scheduled to give a project update at the Jan. 5 meeting of the North Point Peninsula Council (NPC), but inclement weather canceled the gathering. In giving an update to the East County Times, Sapperstein said he hoped to reschedule for the February or March NPC meeting.

Crews are now clearing out for road sections and working on sediment and erosion control and storm water management elements, according to Sapperstein.

“That’s what I call earth work, and that will take us into spring - about two to three months,” he said. “After that, we’ll do the pipe work for water and sewer and other utilities and then we’ll be ready to start building the first group of houses.”

Plans call for the single-family units to be built first and then individual groups of five or six townhouses at a time. Sapperstein’s original design called for four-cornered “villa” town homes but he has since opted to build the more traditional rows of houses. The project is being built by NV Homes.

In response to some community conversations taking place on social media that are spreading false information, Sapperstein said the development will not include any “Section 8” housing.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “There will be no subsidized housing.”

Sapperstein deferred to NV when asked about estimated list prices, but noted the houses will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” In 2007, when the planned unit development, or PUD, was first approved by Baltimore County officials, Sapperstein estimated the homes would sell in the range of $450,000 to $750,000.

NV officials did not respond to requests for information and the project is not yet listed on the company’s website.

While buildings will be concentrated along Willow Road and the shoreline, most of the interior of the parcel will be left undeveloped. A portion of former farmland has already been reforested. The only additional clearing that will occur will be for the creation of community walking paths. A public boat ramp with trailer parking is planned, as well as three proposed piers for the use of Shaw’s Discovery residents only. The community boat facility is a “public benefit” negotiated as part of the PUD planning process. Developers who create PUDs are allowed to work outside of current zoning limitations in exchange for allowing public input during planning stages and providing amenities that benefit the general public.

Bauer’s Farm Road, now a private road, will be improved and widened to meet public road standards, Sapperstein said. The public will use the road to access the boat ramp and walking paths. At the point the road curves left toward the new houses, a landscaped turnaround will end at a gatehouse entrance to the private community. A gate will also be placed at the entrance of the new road off North Point Road near Willow.

The project has been stalled several times. When Sapperstein first acquired the land - nearly 200 acres - for $2.85 million in 2004, he inherited a landfill contaminated with toxins, including heavy metals. The developer estimates he spent about $3 million on that remediation and when he was ready to start building, the market for such luxury housing had plummeted because of the recession.

Sapperstein is now confident the economy is healthy enough to make the project a success.

“I’ve sold all of the lots and all I have to do is perform,” he said, referencing the “earth work” needed to prepare the land for building. “I would think the first residents could move in by fall.”

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Bromwell, Kamenetz announce Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative

Bromwell, Kamenetz announce Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative
Delegate Eric Bromwell (at podium) is leading the fight in Maryland to keep pharmaceutical costs from skyrocketing while providing transparency for citizens. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) and Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) joined Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and state Attorney General Brian Frosh to announce a Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative on Tuesday, Jan. 10, outside the State House in Annapolis.

The initiative, which has the support of dozens of  medical and citizen groups around the state including the AARP and NAACP, consists of two proposed bills - one that calls for drug corporations to explain the high cost of drugs as well as notify the public before substantial price increases, and another that gives the attorney general the authority to take legal action to stop prescription drug price gouging.

Bromwell, who is now the vice chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, is the lead sponsor of the House bill aiming to bring about transparency.

“I first ran for the House of Delegates when I was 24 years old and the first mailers and walk pieces I have from back when I first ran said that I wanted increased access to affordable health insurance and prescription drugs for all Marylanders,” said Bromwell. “Fifteen years later I’m happy to be standing before you fighting the good fight.”

Kamenetz, who grew up working at his family’s pharmacy in Overlea in the 1970’s, said he’s seen how increasing drug prices have affected people looking to get prescriptions filled.

“I watched the anguish as our customers were unable to afford prescriptions, and they had to make choices as to what they could pay for and what they could not,” he said.

Kamenetz went on to say that he still sees that anguish today, as senior citizens around Baltimore County struggle to pay for prescriptions. He also noted that high drug prices have placed a burden on local governments who provide prescription drug benefits.

“We’re also an employer of 25,000 employees, and we give our county employees a prescription drug benefit,” he said. “I’ve seen over the last 10 years the price of prescription drugs that we have to pay out of our budget has doubled.”

The county executive stated that allowing the attorney general to take legal action to avoid price gouging while forcing drug companies to be transparent is the right move.

Frosh stated that over the last several years, prices for generic drugs have increased dramatically. Citing a 2014 survey of pharmacists related to 25 generic drugs, prices increased by 600 to 2,000 percent in some instances. Frosh maintained that the reason for the increase in costs wasn’t due to manufacturing, but rather back-room dealing by companies to avoid competition.

Frosh alleged that companies are divvying up the market and allowing costs to skyrocket by not competing. He pointed to a slew of generic drugs that have been available for decades whose costs have skyrocketed for no reason.

One such drug, the officials said, is Daraprim, the price of which rose from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet. The price of Naloxone, a drug popular among first responders for its ability to reverse the effects of an overdose, jumped from $1 a decade ago to $40 today. Every police officer in Baltimore County now carries Naloxone, costing the county $14,000 annually.

“This kind of hedgefund behavior has threatened the health and the lives of working families across the country,” Frosh said. “It’s affected our ability to deliver healthcare, it’s squeezed the budgets of hospitals and it’s cost state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Frosh maintained that high costs threaten the entire health care system and asserted that price gouging will be a thing of the past in Maryland.

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MTA’s transit revamp nearly complete; customer input still sought

MTA’s transit revamp nearly complete; customer input still sought
This map shows the proposed new route for the MTA’s 120 line linking White Marsh with Johns Hopkins Hospital. The route elicited enormous public response during the workshops over the last year.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Marge Neal -

A long and complex process to revamp the Maryland Transit Administration’s public transportation system, known as Baltimore Link, is coming down the home stretch.

And if the number of people who gave public testimony recently about the proposal is any indication, the proposal meets with customer acceptance, officials believe.

A public hearing held at the White Marsh library on Monday, Jan. 9, attracted few people and only two residents offered testimony.

After holding two rounds of community workshops from October 2015 to September 2016, in which residents were invited to offer comments and suggestions regarding current service across all transportation modes offered by MTA - bus, light rail, MARC commuter trains, Metro subway and Mobility - a proposal that presents more efficient, logical routes and better links between those modes was created.

The final phase of customer input is underway with a series of public hearings that allow for one last gathering of comments before finalizing the plan. The proposed service changes will take place on June 18, according to Kevin Quinn, MTA’s director of planning and programming.

MTA serves about 380,000 riders per day across all transit modes, with 250,000 of those daily customers riding buses, according to Quinn.

“Clearly the majority of our riders are using buses, and buses are our least efficient system,” he said. Because many routes go through downtown Baltimore, with a four-street area that he compared to the skinny center of an hourglass, it is not uncommon for buses to be behind schedule.

Recognizing that MTA started as a bus company which added other modes of transportation over the years, company officials recognized that the modes were not efficiently integrated.

“Most of our routes and the current system are at least 50 years old, and a lot has changed in 50 years,” Quinn said, noting that many communities look vastly different than they did 10 years ago, let alone in the 1960s, with new housing patterns and employment hubs.

“We need to better reflect the region, we need to better connect to other modes and we need to be more reliable,” Quinn said.

To that end, officials studied both the growth and death of employment centers and living areas, the length and complexity of existing routes and the relationships of different modes to create a plan that would achieve the objectives.

The result, MTA hopes, is an adjusted transportation plan that offers shorter, more manageable and efficient routes that will have a much better chance of staying on schedule; routes that are scheduled to better connect with different modes; and routes that better meet the needs and locations of customers.

For example, Quinn said, he and his colleagues looked at long routes that traveled from Catonsville into downtown Baltimore and then on to White Marsh. They discovered that few, if any, people travel the entire length of the 40-mile route. Because the line travels through the downtown bottleneck and from one side of Baltimore County to the other, it experiences many opportunities to be thrown off schedule. When a line gets jammed up in one area, that  causes a ripple effect throughout the rest of the route, according to Quinn. A 15-minute delay becomes a 30-minute delay by the time the bus gets back to its point of origin, and that time can never be made up; the schedule is off for the rest of the day.

The solution was to chop that line up into smaller, more manageable segments while still meeting the needs of all riders.

While this plan is the first comprehensive revamping of the company’s offerings in most employees’ memories, minor tweaking of services happens all the time, according to Ryan Nawrocki, senior director of MTA’s Office of Communications and Marketing.

“We are constantly tweaking around the margins to address small problems or needs,” he told the East County Times. “We can do all the tweaking we want but that won’t fix core structural issues. The system operates on a grid laid out 50 years ago and it doesn’t work anymore.”

Alta Apartments resident Amanda Bull said she is already benefitting from an adjusted bus line that added stops at her apartment complex.

In her testimony, she said she is “really benefitting from the new 102 line” and that she appreciates the more convenient, safer stop. Bull, who does not own a car, said she now gets to work in half the time that it used to take when she used the 58 and 55 bus lines.

“It’s a very convenient route and takes me to a lot of different places,” she said.

After her testimony, she told the Times that her apartment complex, which is near the Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville, never had bus stops. She and other residents had to walk to a stop on Belair Road.

“One night, when I was walking home from the bus stop after work, I was robbed at gunpoint,” she said. “I feel much safer with the new stops so much closer to home - I’m not getting any younger and that’s important to me.”

Several public hearings still remain for customers to weigh in on the proposal, and written comments are being accepted through Feb. 21. The department’s comment form can be downloaded at baltimorelink.com and mailed to MTA’s Office of Customer and Community Relations, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21202. Comments can also be emailed to HearingComments@mta.maryland.gov with “written testimony” in the subject line.

Future hearings include those set for 6 - 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Catonsville library and from 5 - 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Waverly branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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Dunkin’ Donuts planned for former Meineke site in Essex

Dunkin’ Donuts planned for former Meineke site in Essex

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A developer revealed his plans to build a new Dunkin’ Donuts on a currently vacant site at the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and N. Marlyn Avenue in Essex at the Wednesday, Jan. 4, meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council.

The site, formerly the location of a Meineke Car Care Center and most recently Windshields on the Go, has been vacant for several years and the building now sits dilapidated. It is also located within the Essex Commercial Revitalization District.

The developer’s plan is to improve the roughly 16,000-square-foot site with a nearly 1,800 square-foot Dunkin’ Donuts carry-out and drive-through, according to John Povalac of Baltimore Land Design Group, the civil engineering consultant for the project. Carry-out would be the primary purpose for the establishment, he said, but it would also have limited seating inside.

The establishment would maintain its existing right-in, right-out access to Eastern Boulevard and full-movement access to Marlyn Avenue.

“Presently, the site is almost entirely paved,” Povalac said, so nearly all storm water runs off into the street and storm drains. “We’re going to add about 20 percent green area with the improvements, expanding some of the existing grass areas in the back, maintaining the grass area between [us and] the Essex Liquors store and really working on improving the landscaping and green space along the Eastern Boulevard and North Marlyn Avenue frontages.”

They will also construct a micro-bioretention facility closer to Eastern Boulevard for storm water management. About 75 percent of storm water on the site will flow to the facility rather than into the street.

Some EMRCC members expressed concern that trash from the bus stop at the intersection could end up in the storm water management area.

But architect David Roberson, representing Dunkin’ Donuts, said the corporation would not allow a franchisee to have a messy location and inspects them frequently. Franchisees are expected to keep their properties clean, and if they don’t, they can be forced to sell the franchise, he said.

“Even if it’s off-property, Dunkin’ will not allow that appearance,” Roberson said. “Monthly they are rated on the appearance of their store, inside and out.”

Roberson and other community members remarked, though, that two other Essex locations - on Eastern Boulevard near Stemmers Run Road and on Hyde Park Road near MD-702 - owned by the same franchisee that would own the new location, are continually kept clean.

Additionally, no one is on the site now to police the trash produced by the bus stop, which is heavily used. Having the business there would help to keep the trash under control, Roberson said. He added that they would not be opposed to putting an extra trash can on the property near the bus stop.

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MDE still investigating fish kill; results expected by end of this month

MDE still investigating fish kill; results expected by end of this month
Dead fish recently began washing up on the shorelines of the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, causing some concern about a resurgence of the recent fish kill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

An estimated 10,000 fish have died as a result of the latest fish kill on Maryland’s waterways as of Dec. 30, according to state environmental officials. And The latest evidence still points to toxins produced by algae to the be the likely cause.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is still investigating the incident, which has occurred in waterways in eastern Baltimore County, including the Gunpowder and Bird rivers. The investigation began as early as Monday, Dec. 19, when dead fish were first seen, according to a statement from MDE.

MDE spokeswoman Adrienne Diaczok said a Department investigator was on-site Monday, Dec. 26, in response to the reports they have received and the investigator saw fish that continued to show signs of stress.

"Our field staff believes that the die-off has likely ended, however, we encourage citizens to let us know if they see dead fish by calling the Chesapeake Bay Hotline at 877-224-7229," Diaczok said. She added that no new affected areas had been identified by investigators.

"Samples collected last month are being tested at the lab now," she told the East County Times on Thursday, Jan. 5. And the results are expected before the end of January.

The kill has affected at least nine fish species, according to MDE, including yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, black crappie, gizzard shad, spottail shiner and channel catfish.

Some residents living on and around the rivers theorized that it could have been caused by pollutants or excess bacteria in the water, pointing to a recent sewage overflow in Joppatowne and a summer study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which showed high levels of bacteria in the water after heavy rainfall.

But MDE pointed to an algae bloom instead as the likely cause.

“To this point, our investigation shows no signs of pollution as a potential cause. The preliminary results of the investigation show toxins produced by algae to be the likely cause,” Diaczok said.

She said that the monitoring by MDE investigators has shown elevated cell counts of Karlodinium venifecum algae in the Gunpowder River.

Diaczok explained that the epicenter of the fish kill appears to have been near Mariner Point in Joppatowne, spreading to Foster Branch and out into Bird River and the rest of the tidal Gunpowder.

While MDE believes the affected area is limited to the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, Diaczok said investigators had also taken samples in Dundee Creek - just to the south of Gunpowder - on Dec. 26.

Although in much smaller numbers, a few dead fish could be seen belly-up in Dundee Creek near Marshy Point Nature Center that Monday.

In the early aftermath of the fish kill, photos posted on social media by fisherman and water quality advocate Scott Sewell showed many of the other fish species that MDE named as having been affected by the incident.

But by Dec. 26, nearly all the fish seen washed up on the shorelines were carp, with a few stressed and lethargic channel catfish hovering close to shore.

“I want to stress that this is an ongoing investigation,” Diaczok told the Times, “and until we have laboratory results back we can’t speculate as to why you viewed an abundance of channel catfish and carp.”

MDE asks that individuals who see an accumulation of dead fish in state waters report it through the 24-hour, toll-free Chesapeake Bay Safety and Environmental Hotline at 877-224-7229.

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Dundalk Kmart to begin liquidating; will close by mid-April

Dundalk Kmart to begin liquidating; will close by mid-April
The Dundalk Kmart will leave a large hole in the shopping center where it is located. It is reportedly the only Maryland store to close. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The Dundalk Kmart will begin liquidating its inventory on Jan. 6 and close for good in early spring, according to a spokesman for Sears Holding Corp., the retailer’s parent company.

“We can confirm that we are making the difficult but necessary decision to close the Kmart store at 222 North Point Blvd.,” spokesman Chris Brathwaite wrote in an email to the East County Times. “The store will close in mid-April. Until then, the store will remain open for customers.”

The number of employees who will be affected by the Dundalk store closure is not “publicly available,” according to Brathwaite. Most workers are part-time/hourly employees, but associates who are eligible will receive severance pay and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores, he said.

Kmart customer Ginny Long said she will be sad to see the Dundalk store close.

“I’m very disappointed. We do a lot of shopping in this store,” she said, adding that she buys all of her purses there and enjoys the clothing as well.

Long, who lives in North Point Village, said she may try to shop at other major stores in the area, but dislikes Walmart.

Another customer, who only identified himself as “P.C.,“ said he was not surprised to see the store go.

“I could see this one closing,” he said. “This store has been going downhill for several years, unfortunately.” He mentioned that the last time he was there, just before Christmas, there was a fight that had to be broken up by police.

A Middle River resident, P.C. said he was more disappointed to see the Kmart location on Belair Road in Fullerton close, however. “That one was a lot nicer,” he said.

P.C. noted, though, that the space could be a good location for a new grocery store after Kmart leaves. “They could probably use one around here,” he said.

There is a Mega Grocery & Market in the same shopping center as the Dundalk Kmart, but no full-sized, super market-type grocery store in the immediate area.

The news of the closure comes on the heels of the company’s Dec. 8 announcement about 2016 third-quarter earnings. Company officials reported a net loss attributable to shareholders of $748 million for the period of July 1 - Sept. 30, compared to a $454 million loss for the same time period in 2015.

“We remain fully committed to restoring profitability to our company and are taking actions such as reducing unprofitable stores, reducing space in stores we continue to operate..., reducing investments in under-performing categories and improving gross margin performance and managing expenses relative to sales in key categories,” Sears Holdings Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Edward S. Lampert said in the earnings statement.

Revenues decreased about $721 million to $5 billion for the quarter ended Oct. 29, 2016, compared to revenue of $5.8 billion for the quarter ended Oct. 31, 2015, according to the earnings statement. Company officials attribute  much of the decline to having fewer Kmart and Sears full-line stores in operation (which accounted for $323 million of the decline) and a 7.4 percent decrease ($304 million) in comparable store sales during the period.

Kmart comparable store sales decreased by 4.4 percent for the earnings period. Officials noted declines were experienced in grocery and household, consumer electronics and pharmacy categories, but said they are “encouraged” by sales increases in several categories, including apparel, jewelry and outdoor living.

“We will continue to take actions to generate liquidity, adjust our overall capital structure and manage our business while meeting all of our financial obligations,” Chief Financial Officer Jason M. Hollar said in the earnings statement.

The company did not officially release a list of store closings but announced them internally to employees, according to many media outlets. Spokesman Brathwaite would confirm only the Dundalk store closure.

This latest wave of store closures comes soon after the shuttering of another 64 stores that started liquidating in September in preparation for mid-December closings, according to online reports.

While the company did not formally release a list of stores slated for closure, it did announce on Dec. 29 that it had obtained a secured standby letter of credit facility that will allow the company to initially borrow up to $200 million. Upon request by the company and approval by the lenders, Sears Holdings could borrow up to an additional $300 million, according to the statement issued by the company.

The letter of credit facility is being provided by JPP LLC and JPP II LLC, which are affiliates of ESL Investments, Inc. Citibank, N.A. will serve as the administrative agent and issuing bank.

“This new standby letter of credit further demonstrates that Sears Holdings has numerous options to finance our business strategy,” CFO Hollar said in the statement.

While Sears Holdings will be closing the brick-and-mortar Kmart building in Dundalk, Brathwaite said the company’s goal is to “maintain these valued relationships long after a store closes its doors” through programs like the Shop Your Way membership platform - which offers reward points for purchases - and through online sales.

Loyal Kmart shoppers will be encouraged to patronize other local Kmart stores, Brathwaite said, including the one on Waltham Woods Road in Parkville.

Devin Crum contributed to this article.

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Developer plans 150 new homes along US-40 in White Marsh

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following the conclusion of the 2016 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, Pikesville-based Schwaber Holdings announced its plan to develop a roughly eight-acre property along Pulaski Highway in White Marsh with 150 townhomes.

The property, known as the former site of the Pulaski Drive-in and which was previously slated for a Carmax facility, was rezoned through the CZMP from mostly Resource Conservation to majority residential.

David Karceski, land use attorney for Schwaber, said there were a number of things they agreed to do or not do in order to get the new zoning, such as limiting the number of homes to 150, which is less than the acreage would allow; not allowing traffic access to Baker Avenue at the back of the property, which was negotiated with the adjacent Loreley Beach community; and keeping intact the environmental easements at the back of the property.

“We won’t disturb those or change the configuration of those at all,” Karceski explained.

Dwight Little, an engineer with Little and Associates, said there are two stormwater management (SWM) ponds existing on the property, and the site was already graded for the Carmax plan. Their plan is to use the SWM facilities and develop the area of the property that has already been graded, he said.

Little said the SWM facilities in place were built under regulations that predated the year 2000 SWM regulations.

“So I’m sure there will be some retrofitting here for water quality benefits,” Little explained. “But the intention is to use these facilities.”

Steve Rosen, a consultant for the project, pointed out that the SWM facilities were designed to handle the Carmax facility which would have produced much more stormwater runoff.

“So essentially, we’re going to be overmanaging by a significant amount,” Little said.

The Carmax plan was slated to include a regional body shop, an auction facility, a 100,000-square-foot building and a “huge” parking lot, according to Schwaber CEO Mark Renbaum, who added that the roof of the building would not have been any kind of “green” roof.

“This is a far greener project,” Renbaum said. “That Carmax project was almost all asphalt and paving.”

The SWM ponds in place are grandfathered and can be continued under the older regulations. But Little said because they are overmanaging by so much, that may result in the desired water quality benefits sought by newer regulations.

However, residents on and around the Bird River are still concerned about any development which may affect the river’s water quality.

“We’re particularly sensitive that what happens on the site stays on the site,” said Peter Terry, treasurer of the Bird River Restoration Campaign.

Little also noted that they are expecting to provide significantly more open space than they are required to thanks to a recent law change that allows developers to include environmentally constrained areas as part of a project’s open space.

The project was meeting the open space requirement under the previous regulations, but now will be able to include the forest easement acreage in that total, Little said.

Traffic is a concern for neighbors as well because, although there is a break in the median on Pulaski Highway at the entrance and exit to the site, they do not yet know if they will have a traffic light there to serve the development.

Residents of nearby Stevens Road lamented that they, too, have around 150 homes and the state will not install a traffic light for them because they do not have enough traffic volume.

Loreley Beach community members also expressed a desire for a degree of separation between themselves and the new community to prevent residents of Pulaski Crossing from using, or perhaps misusing, certain amenities like their boat ramp which their homeowners association pays for.

Karceski said they have no plans for a fence between the two communities, but they do plan to plant some additional trees and shrubs at the back of the property to make the existing forest between them even more dense.

Grammer to focus on community protection, skilled trades in legislative session

Grammer to focus on community protection, skilled trades in legislative session

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

In the upcoming session of the General Assembly in Annapolis beginning next Wednesday, Jan. 11, Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) plans to concentrate on protecting communities from opiate treatment centers and bringing a focus on skilled trades employment back to the classroom.

He will also revive some previous initiatives such as home foreclosure reform and eliminating the imfamous “Broening Highway toll.”

In a statement Grammer released regarding his legislative agenda, he noted that community leadership has contacted him about unaddressed problems with heroin and opiate treatment centers in his district.

“We are seeing examples of patients who leave the facilities only to physically harass local businesses and their customers, [wander] into traffic on state roads and gather in residential areas,” Grammer said in the statement.

“This is completely unacceptable,” he continued. “I will be putting forward legislation that will regulate the areas at which these facilities can be placed and prevent them from operating in residential spaces.”

The Baltimore County zoning code already regulates where such facilities can and cannot go. But residents, business owners and other elected officials have asked him what can be done on the state level, he said.

Grammer told the East County Times that the issues, predominantly occurring on North Point Boulevard in Dundalk, are that patients are being released and then walk into and across the busy state highway. He added that a driver told him she recently had to slam on her breaks because of someone standing, “idling,” in the middle of the road.

“That’s a road people travel pretty fast on,” Grammer commented.

He acknowledged that those causing these issues are sick people, but that they also have a “long history” of going to local businesses and getting “belligerent” with business owners and customers.

“So that’s why we’re at where we’re at,” Grammer said. “And there are regulations, but we’re going to have to tighten up on those, evidently.”

Grammer’s next priority for the 2017 session is to bring back a focus on vocational jobs in education and reinvest in “on-the-job” training to reconnect young Marylanders with skilled trades.

The delegate’s statement said the idea the vocations would die and that we need to “ram every student through college” has proliferated over the last few decades and education policy has reflected it.

“This change has been to the great detriment of our district and our state as we have managed to create a shortage of skilled tradespeople in every industry and at the same time create entire communities of people who cannot find jobs,” the statement read.

Grammer admitted that the implementation of this initiative is not necessarily set in stone.

“But I think a component of it is going to have to be a program that releases students from compulsory education and allows them to, essentially, enter the skilled trades field,” he said.

He explained his idea for this is that, if a company is willing to completely train a young person and pay them at the same time, he is okay with that. He added that many do not have the desire to step into a classroom to learn a trade, but have been prosperous that way, nonetheless, even in more recent decades.

Grammer acknowledged that the college route holds a lot of opportunity as well. “You’re not going to be a doctor by learning it on the job,” he said.

However, he said there is an absolute shortage of skilled tradespeople across the board in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, as well as throughout the region and state.

“If you divest in trades education, and then you continually poo-poo these fields, you’re going to push young people away,” Grammer noted. “And you know what? If you work in a skilled trade, you make great money. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working in trades.”

He mentioned that these fields include electricians; heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); commercial drivers and more.

“These fields are never going away,” he said.

Regarding the ongoing redevelopment of the former steel mill at Sparrows Point, Grammer said we have a great opportunity with this.

“If you’ve watched the plans from the owners of Tradepoint Atlantic, there’s an ebb and a flow to it,” Grammer noted. “And the jobs that they will be able to bring to that site are largely dependent on the environmental conditions that we can provide.

“If we can provide skilled tradespeople to them, it’s just going to help them,” Grammer said. He said the same of providing a good tax and regulatory environment and good traffic infrastructure.

Grammer said the TPA executives continually talk about their need for access to transportation, a good tax and regulatory environment, a way to get people to the site and educated workers.

He said the lack of vocational training has created a “skills gap” where there are employers who cannot hire and large communities who cannot find jobs.

“You can’t put people in these jobs unless they know how to do it,” Grammer said. “So [bridging] that gap is what we’re trying to do here, and I think that really relates to what’s happening at Sparrows Point.”

Another of Del. Grammer’s legislative priorities is to reform the state’s foreclosure laws, which he said are “idling thousands of vacant properties in our communities in a legal limbo that prevents us from taking action to address” them.

“I continually hear reports of vacant homes that have become the target of copper theft, dumping, squatters, drug traffic or havens for rats,” he said.

This is an issue that Grammer attempted to address in the 2016 session, but his bill failed to move in the Senate after passing the House of Delegates by wide margins.

“I tend to write legislation that really is agreeable, and I didn’t anticipate the obstruction from the Senate,” he said.

According to Grammer, his bill passed “overwhelmingly” through the Baltimore County delegation and the full House of Delegates. “And typically that’s a pretty good sign that it will pass the full legislature,” he said.

But the bill died in the Baltimore County Senate delegation, which is comprised of senators who represent Baltimore County.

Grammer said the Baltimore County administration lobbied against his bill, arguing that they do not have regulations to concretely define a house as vacant.

“That’s correct, but that’s what we have the County Council for,” he said.

The legislation would have forced the county’s hand, but Grammer said the Senate “got a little shaky” on the issue after hearing that argument.

This year, Grammer plans to bring affected community members to Annapolis to testify and give the issue a face.

“We’re really going to have to bring the community members who are dealing with this every single day and have them talk about the problems that they’re experiencing and why this really is needed,” he explained.

Grammer said under his bill, the county will have to define “vacant” and determine how they will implement that definition into the law in order for it to work. But he said he is willing to work with the county on that.

Grammer has also worked extensively to address the issue of the Broening Highway toll.

To bolster revenues, the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) directs traffic bewteen Broening Highway and Interstate 695 through the toll at the Key Bridge even though the traffic does not cross the bridge.

The consequence of this, Grammer said, is that many commercial and residential commuters decide to travel through the community streets of Dundalk to access I-695 at the next exit to avoid the toll.

“As we experience the redevelopment of Sparrows Point and see continued growth at the Port of Baltimore, we expect to see massive amounts of traffic on this route,” the statement said. “If this issue is not fixed, Dundalk will be inundated with traffic over the next 10 years.”

Grammer submitted a bill to address this last year, and according to him, he was told at one point that the legislation was going to advance. Then General Assembly leadership told him that MDOT thought they had a fix, making the legislation unnecessary, so it was tabled.

The 2016 session ended without passing the bill. And MDOT subsequently decided not to address the issue, seeing things down the road which they believed would compensate for it, according to Grammer.

“Given that opportunity, they took no action at all to remediate the problem,” he said. “And they do know it’s a problem.”

The delegate said he was given a promise last year by the leadership that if MDOT did not fix the problem, they would pass a bill and force them to do so.

He said he thinks this year’s bill will make the fix slightly more clear.

“It’s my hope that the legislature will honor its word and pass the bill this year,” Grammer affirmed.

Del. Grammer's entire legislative agenda can be found here.

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Bauer farm developer to discuss plans with North Point community

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Mark Sapperstein, the owner of the former Bauer’s farm property in Edgemere, has confirmed his attendance at the next North Point Peninsula Council meeting, set for Thursday, Jan. 5.

The proposed Shaw’s Discovery development is planned to include 139 townhomes and five single-family houses, according to online Baltimore County records. The project will also include a public boat ramp with parking, according to a rendering by Hoehn Landscape Architects. The community boat ramp is a “public benefit” that fulfills a requirement of the planned unit development (PUD) process, according to Arnold Jablon, director of Baltimore County’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

“The community and the developer worked together on the plan and that PUD was approved by the [administrative law judge],” Jablon told the East County Times. “The county is bound by the approved plan.”

Sapperstein bought the parcel of nearly 200 acres for $2.85 million in 2004, according to state land records. Much of the land is waterfront. Most of the land will be left forested or otherwise undeveloped, with houses concentrated along the waterfront and parallel to Willow Road, according to the Hoehn rendering.

Sapperstein is scheduled to speak at the North Point Peninsula Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, in the Edgemere Elementary School library classroom.

County Council approves new rules for open space, traffic calming

(Updated 12/28/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Toward the end of this year, the Baltimore County Council has enacted separate measures which change the open space requirements for development projects and update the criteria for installing traffic calming in neighborhoods.

The Council passed the open space legislation last month and it went into effect Nov. 21.

According to Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall), co-sponsor of the bill, it tries to incentivize developers to include more amenities and recreational open space within their residential projects.

“In a place like Towson, where there’s maybe a roof and you want to incentivize the developer to make it green and put amenities outside, then we would give a certain credit for that,” Marks explained.

That does not include indoor amenities within the project such as a pool or spa in an apartment complex’s clubhouse.

The bill also improved the county’s reporting requirements so that the administration has to consult with the relevant councilperson when spending open space waiver fees.

By law, open space fees must be used in the same councilmanic district as the development by which they were contributed. But now, the administration must consult with the Council member representing that district when deciding where to use those funds, which Marks said did not always happen before.

In the case of Towson, which Marks also represents, the bill says that when developers cannot meet the requirements, the open space fees must be expended within a certain distance of downtown Towson.

“My district goes from Charles Street to Harford County and people in Towson, candidly, don’t want their open space funding going into parts of Perry Hall,” Marks said. “They want it more in Towson.”

Marks said the development community was very interested in the bill. But so was NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, Inc. - a nonprofit organization that works to protect open space in the more urban parts of the county - due to a part of the measure that says developers can count wooded portions of their site toward their open space requirements.

“It doesn’t make sense for them to have to tear down a forested area to provide a homeowner’s association’s common area,” Marks affirmed. “You can use passive areas toward your open space requirement. The development community and NeighborSpace both argued that that made a lot of sense.”

Before this bill, when developers could not provide enough open space in their projects, they paid an open space fee and the county administration decided how the money was spent.

Marks said he has had some luck in Perry Hall getting those funds used for things like Angel Park, Gough Park and other recreational facilities.

“But ultimately, it’s up to the administration where they want to put the money,” he said. “This tries to incentivize developers to go ahead and provide the amenities on-site so they don’t have to pay those fees.” And if they do pay the fees, the Council member is involved in where it goes, he added.

On Monday, Dec. 19, the County Council also passed a resolution to approve the new Baltimore County Neighborhood Traffic Management Program (NTMP).

The county’s traffic calming procedures had not been updated since 2007, so Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-Middle River) - who initiated the action - and the Council asked the county’s Departments of Planning and Public Works to review and update the program. They placed particular emphasis on streets classified as “collectors” and those outside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL).

“I get calls all the time from people [asking for traffic calming], said Bevins. But under the older criteria, some neighborhoods fell just short of meeting the requirements even if there was a clear traffic issue, she added.

After the Council’s request for an update, the departments came back with some recommendations for criteria changes, which the Council then approved.

Specifically, “collector” roadways, which handle higher traffic volumes because smaller streets feed onto them, were not previously considered for any traffic calming.

All streets may now be considered, however, roadways with peak traffic volumes higher than 350 vehicles may only be considered for upgrades to existing pedestrian crossings or other passive measures. Only those with peak volumes below that threshold may be considered for speed humps.

Also, any request for traffic calming that has a marked school crosswalk on it will be looked at for upgrades, regardless of whether the street itself qualifies for traffic calming.

Additionally, streets outside the URDL can now be considered for traffic calming if the residential lots fronting on them are two acres or less in size for the entire stretch of the requested street. Streets outside the URDL were not previously considered.

“It’s a few things that will help a few more neighborhoods qualify” that need it, Bevins said, adding that the funding for traffic calming projects is usually available when streets are approved for them.

However, she said some roads “just don’t make sense” to install traffic calming measures, such as the higher-volume collector roads because they would create traffic backups, as well as in neighborhoods where the homes sit far back off the roadway.

“I don’t see that changing,” she said.

“But some of these neighborhoods, I really see them needing it and one thing usually disqualified them” under the old criteria, Bevins commented.

The councilwoman said she does not think her district had any traffic calming projects waiting in the pipeline, but the rule changes may have allowed new ones to be considered.

Prior to Council approval, the NTMP had been prepared by DPW and adopted by the Planning Board on Oct. 6.

Spirit of giving hits local elementary schools

Spirit of giving hits local elementary schools
For three weeks the students at Glenmar Elementary brought in goods for animals in need. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/28/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

“I see a lot of people when I leave the house who are homeless, and I was thinking that I wanted to help them,” said Unns Tahir, a fourth grader at Colgate Elementary School.

It was that simple for Tahir and fellow fourth-grader Blaque Keller. They saw people in need and they wanted to help. That’s when they joined the Charity Club at Colgate.

The club, set up by fourth-grade teacher Danielle Lewis, has about 14 members. But despite their small size, they have a big impact on the community surrounding the school.

The club is currently holding a can drive to help out those who are struggling to find consistent meals. They’re calling it “Can-cember,” a play on their sock drive they did in October called “Sock-tober.” Their sock drive saw the students collect hundreds of pairs of socks for the homeless.

“I wanted something happy to happen to the homeless,” said Keller. “It’s becoming winter, and the first thing that will get cold is their feet.”

While Lewis set the club up and acts as moderator, she lets the students figure out who it is they want to help.

“The kids decide for the most part; I just kind of push them a little,” said Lewis. “They always want to help the homeless. It’s very kid-driven.”

The cans donated for this drive will be donated to a homeless shelter, most likely the same one they donated the socks to. But Lewis said she’ll also reach out to area churches and see what input they have.

The club meets every Tuesday, collecting cans and socks from each classroom in the school. They then meet and discuss how to potentially improve the amount of donations, while also looking ahead to future endeavours. They have already decided that they’ll be ending the year with a 5k run to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

“We’re a Title-1 school, which means 80-percent of our students live beneath the poverty line,” said Lewis. “So they don’t have a lot themselves most of the time but they look to give what they can. They know they have it tough, but they know there are people who have it tougher.”

Tahir and Keller both plan to stay in the club until they reach middle school, but they plan on taking their charitable spirit with them. Whether that means joining an existing club or starting one from the ground floor, they plan to keep on giving.

“The biggest reward you can get is the feeling of goodness in your heart,” said Tahir.

The spirit of giving isn’t just reserved for people, however. The students at Glenmar Elementary School in Middle River collected pet toys, food, treats, blankets, beds, collars/leashes and more for its Paws for a Cause initiative. The goods were stored in the front of the school in a doghouse display (complete with a sleeping Snoopy on top) made by the school’s art teacher, Eileen Fitzgerald.

Jessica Platt, a counselor at Glenmar, stated that throughout the year the school has had can and clothing drives and delivered the goods to local churches. She also connects families of students to local resources.

“It’s just a way for the school to make sure that the community is happy and healthy,” said Platt, who is in her first year at Glenmar.

Platt wanted to do something around Christmas but recognized that not everyone has the same religious beliefs, so she came up with the idea of a drive to benefit animals in need.

“Not everyone here celebrates Christmas or Hannukah, but everyone loves animals,” she said. “It’s a way for all of the students and parents to get involved, and they loved it.”

All of the goods were delivered to Defenders of Animal Rights, located in northern Baltimore County, which was selected because it is a no-kill shelter.

“We want these items to go to a shelter that’s going to help animals live long, healthy, happy lives. Some of our faculty have history with that shelter and suggested it, so that’s who we ended up going for,” Platt said.

Platt hopes that the initiative will cause students to pause - hence the name - and give.

“It’s equally as satisfying to give as it is to receive,” Platt said. “And that’s what I’m trying to impart on these students as their counselor.”

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Odd Fellows are Christmas good guys

Odd Fellows are Christmas good guys
Though not associated with the Odd Fellows, this pile of gifts sat in a Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce office ready to be received by children. File photo.

(Updated 12/28/16)

- By Marge Neal -

Maybe it’s fitting that a local Odd Fellows lodge scheduled an unusual special event to raise money for a Christmas gift campaign.

The Odd Fellows of North Point Lodge 4 held a chili cook-off in November to fund its Odd St. Nick program, a version of Secret Santa that provided gifts for local families in need.

“It was the second year for the chili cook-off and the first year for our Odd St. Nick program,” lodge Noble Grand Jeff Phillips said. “Last year, we donated the proceeds to Wounded Warrior but this year we decided to keep it local.”

Thanks to the money raised by the chili competition, lodge members were able to provide Christmas for six families with 15 children ages 5 - 17, Phillips said. After identifying the families in need, the group received gift lists from the recipients and went shopping to fulfill as many wishes as possible.

“My basement looks like Santa’s Workshop,” Phillips said just before Christmas, as volunteers were making plans to deliver the items. “We bought specific gifts for the younger children and got gift cards for the older children so they can do their own shopping.”

Thanks to some extra financial donations, the shopper also bought groceries and needed housewares for the families, Phillips said.

The chili contest has been slow to grow, but Phillips said lodge members hope to grow the event and add a bull roast so two events raise money for what they hope becomes an annual effort.

“This is all in-house,” Phillips said, “an all-volunteer effort with no overhead. So every penny we make goes to the program. The bigger we can grow the chili cook-off, the more people we can help.”

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Communities call for county action on outdated development regulations

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Devin Crum -

At its most recent meeting on Dec. 7, the Essex-Middle River Civic Council voted to send a letter to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Council members Cathy Bevins (D-Middle River) and Todd Crandell (R-Essex) asking them to take a new look at how development regulations are applied in the county.

The EMRCC - consisting of 20 community associations throughout Essex and Middle River - has recently noticed that there are many approved development plans on the books in the county that have been idle for years with little or no movement.

Some of these plans were approved but were put on hold because of the housing market crash and subsequent economic decline. And many were approved under now-outdated development regulations, particularly with regard to storm water management (SWM) and other environmental regulations.

In many cases, the community may have even forgotten about these projects, EMRCC President Bob Bendler said.

“And when they rear their heads and begin their development, we find out that they’re not covered under current regulations,” some having been approved a decade ago or more, he said. “And they can have a serious impact on the environment.”

Prime examples of these types of projects include the Paragon outlet mall and the Cowenton apartments in White Marsh, as well as a townhome project now planned in Essex.

When Paragon first came forward, they sought to build under 1980s environmental and SWM regulations, which were what governed the originally approved plan for office buildings on the site. And the county’s departments of Permits, Approvals and Inspections (PAI) and Environmental Protection and Sustainability were willing to allow the project to move forward under those old regulations.

A county administrative law judge ruled that it had to abide by newer, but not current regulations. And it was not until Paragon faced immense public pressure that they agreed to proceed under the newest standards.

“It cost them some money, but they’ve got a lot more community support now,” Bendler said.

The Cowenton apartments were originally approved in 2006 as senior housing which would not have affected area schools. The developer even had a legal agreement with the community not to change the plan without consulting them. But that covenant has now expired and the plan has changed to 300-plus simple apartments that were not accounted for in school enrollment projections.

And the Essex property, on Back River Neck Road at Hyde Park Road, was initially approved for a shopping center in the 1960s before being changed to an apartment complex and now a townhome development not required to use the newest environmental guidelines.

The EMRCC is now requesting action from the three elected officials to research just how broad an issue this is in the county, as well as the possibility of putting limits on how long an approved project can sit idle, and they have sent a letter to them expressing their “serious” concerns on the matter.

In the letter, the civic council asks that, to the maximum extent possible, current state and county regulations be applied to projects at the time “substantial construction” occurs.

“This represents a particularly important issue when dealing with environmental requirements,” the letter reads.

In addition, they request that phased projects be subject to the most recent or updated requirements in effect at the time each phase begins.

“The importance of some environmental and safety regulations make it imperative that new and more protective regulations... be implemented as soon as possible and everywhere applicable,” the letter states, adding their desire to see the county avoid or at least minimize any exceptions to this for plans currently in the pipeline.

The EMRCC acknowledged that these changes may be seen as an added hardship for developers since existing laws govern the timeframes for applying regulations to their projects.

“However, the benefits of the updated or new regulation often outweigh the inconvenience or expense involved,” the letter reads.

“This is not something developers are going to like,” Bendler admitted, adding, though, that the community is willing to be reasonable. But, he said, they cannot have situations where regulations that are known to be ineffective are still used in building new projects.

Kamenetz spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the letter is currently being reviewed by PAI Director Arnold Jablon. PAI is tasked with overseeing development and land use throughout the county, according to its website.

As reported in the East County Times on Oct. 13, Bevins had previously said developers sometimes need several years to get financing in place for their projects, and she would not want to put onerous timeline restrictions on them.

But some community members, such as Clyde Speelman of Hopewell Pointe in Essex, feel that a project sitting for 10 years or longer is “entirely too long,” feeling instead that four to five years would be an acceptable limit.

“Adequate public facilities formulas and how regulations apply to development projects are a constant discussion among Council members,” Councilman Crandell said in a statement to the Times. “I think we owe it to our constituents to look deeper into [this issue] and appreciate the Essex-Middle River Civic Council expressing their concerns.”

Jim Almon, a spokesman for Councilwoman Bevins, said she would be working with Crandell on a joint response to the EMRCC letter.

Essex Co-op residents reclaim right to display manger scene

Essex Co-op residents reclaim right to display manger scene
The manger scene was restored to its original location by a majority vote of the Co-op's residents. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On Monday, Dec. 19, residents of the Essex Co-op won what they referred to as a “religious rights” victory, after a vote to display a Nativity scene in the lobby area overwhelmingly passed.

Since election season, members of the Co-op have been engaged in a struggle with management at CSI, the non-profit that runs the Co-op.

“It started back during the election,” said Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6). “The residents couldn’t pray or say the Pledge of Allegiance [in common areas]. I received emails and phone calls from residents and people who have family here. They were very upset; they felt denied. There were people in tears over this.”

After Metzgar received those reports, he and State Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) opened a dialogue with CSI. He was told that residents could pray, as long as it was nondenominational prayer. He was also told they were able to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but noted that the official meeting where the vote was held began without it.

Residents of  the Co-op again contacted Metzgar and Salling when the Nativity scene was denied a place in the lobby. According to Co-op members, management had told the residents that displaying a Nativity scene would be in violation of the law since the Co-op receives federal funds. Salling and Metzgar said that is not true.

“They said that there was a law that  stopped them from being able to display the scene, but that isn’t true,” said Salling. “I said, ‘No, you have a policy, that’s not a law.’ After that they realized they had to be proactive which is why the vote is being held.”

Held on Monday afternoon, the vote saw 50 residents show up to cast a ballot. It passed with a tally of 46 - 4.

“We were really upset by this,” said one member of the Co-op. “This is a Christian area in Essex, and we’re not ashamed of it. If there are people of other religions here, I wouldn’t mind if they put up a menorah or some other decoration.”

Salling and Metzgar said they were pleased with the vote. They also expressed gratitude to CSI for allowing the issue to be settled by the residents.

“I appreciate them holding the vote. It shows true democracy, it shows what it’s all about,” said Salling. “And it shows that there’s accountability when they take a misstep.”

CSI management, who could not be reached for comment, told Metzgar they were going off of policy that was put in place almost 30 years ago.

“I told them that I think it’s time they update the policy,” said Metzgar.

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Residents raise concerns over Lockheed Martin cleanup activities

Residents raise concerns over Lockheed Martin cleanup activities
Cranes and dredges used for the environmental remediation can be seen from Wilson Point Park on the other side of Dark Head Cove. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Devin Crum -

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Essex resident Scott Sewell posted a video on social media showing a barge in the process of dregding a portion of Cowpen Creek on Middle River as part of Lockheed Martin Corporation’s environmental cleanup of the area.

The video, which has received some 2,200 views, soon became an outlet for residents on both sides of the river to express their skepticism that the cleanup should really be happening and that perhaps the corporation should leave well enough alone.

Throughout the past several years, LMC has taken part in a consent decree to clean up the contamination on the land and in the waters surrounding their Middle River Complex. The contamination is the result of past industrial activity.

Over the course of the consent decree, the company has collaborated with and been overseen by local, state and federal environmental agencies to guide the course of the work. They are currently engaged in removing contaminated sediments via dredging from Dark Head Cove - also known as Martin’s Lagoon - and Cowpen Creek along the shoreline of the MRC.

The work is aimed at removing pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as well as some heavy metals like chromium and cadmium, which are attached to the sediments.

But in his video, Sewell expressed his concerns that the contaminated sediments being stirred up by the dredging could drift around and be distributed throughout the rest of Middle River by the tides and currents. And he hopes “to God” that the toxins do not cause another major fish kill like what happened in the area a year ago.

In November 2015, around 200,000 fish were found to have died in the creeks of upper Middle River. However, the Maryland Department of the Environment published a report on the fish kill which implicated a late-season algae bloom. The bloom, they said, was caused by the availability of excess nutrients in the water due to storm water runoff, along with an increase in temperatures around that time.

This particular species of algae, the report explained, produced a toxin that suffocated the fish. And when the algae died off and decomposed, it stripped the oxygen from the water, compounding the problem.

MDE’s report found that LMC’s remediation activities did not contribute to the fish kill.

LMC officials also explained that strict requirements govern the dredging currently being done in the waterways.

For example, the difference between the normal turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water and the restriction they must abide by is so small that you would not be able to tell the difference between the water samples with the naked eye, according to Steve McGee, LMC’s project manager for the work.

Additionally, they have employed a turbidity curtain to prevent solids from migrating out of the work area and turbidity monitors both inside and outside the curtain which are constantly sending water quality data.

According to LM spokesman Tom Blackman, they would have a meeting with MDE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately if they exceeded their turbidity requirement to determine what went wrong and how they would address it.

Following a walk-through of the work site with LMC officials on Thursday, Dec. 15, Sewell maintained his skepticism that the turbidity curtain can prevent contaminants from migrating out of the work area since it does not create a water-tight seal and does not strain solids from the water. In addition, it only drops to eight feet, which is not the full depth of the creek all the way across.

But McGee pointed out that the turbidity monitoring indicates the disturbed particles do not travel far from where they originated and do not even get as far as the curtain.

However, they do have another turbidity curtain sitting on the boat ramp ready to deploy should they need an extra barrier, McGee noted. And when the dredging is complete, they will put in place a six-inch thick sand cap to minimize the movement of any residual contamination.

Also part of the project is the installation of a new bulkhead around the MRC consisting of marine-grade steel to prevent any migration of potentially contaminated soils from the land into the water, McGee said. The bulkhead has a 70-year design life.

Another topic discussed in responses to the video posted online was the type of dredge being used. Some commenters suggested a suction dredge would be more appropriate since it would not leave the distrubed particles in the water.

But as the LMC officials pointed out, suction dredging does not necessarily retain all of the water that comes up with the sediment material.

The mechanical dredges LMC is using do not retain all of the water either, but they are specially constructed with screens to drain off unwanted water brought up with the dredged material while retaining any solids, McGee said. And turbidity monitoring in and around the work area ensures that there is not too much migration of the disturbed sediments.

Sewell told the East County Times that he also does not fully trust the MDE report about last year’s fish kill in that it was caused by an algae bloom and LMC was not at all responsible. He cited a previous fish kill in the 1990s which MDE explained as having been caused by a spike in the river’s salinity, which he found similarly hard to believe.

He and others responding to the online video expressed a sentiment that the sediments should have been left undisturbed and the pollutants allowed to degrade or become buried naturally over time.

However, LMC and environmental officials have explained in public meetings that PCBs build up in the food chain, first being consumed by organisms in the mud and eventually by fish when they eat those organisms. The contaminants then concentrate in fish.

“I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing,” Sewell said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I’m anti-protecting the environment; no one cares about the environment out there more than me.”

But now that the decision has already been made and the work is being done, he said, “you better believe I’m going to hold their feet to the fire” to be sure it is done right.

More information about LMC's environmental remediation activities can be found by visiting the following links:

Middle River Photo Tour:

Fall 2016 Newsletter:

Sediment Project Bulletin – Season 1:

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Secret Santas toil to provide Christmas for local youngsters

Secret Santas toil to provide Christmas for local youngsters
Members of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce compile their gifts before delivering them to children.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Marge Neal -

While Santa Claus and his wife get most of the credit this time of year for delivering gifts to everyone on the couple’s “nice” list, there are many more local helpers who pitch in to make sure deserving youngsters and less-fortunate families are also able to celebrate Christmas.

Many community organizations, churches, school PTAs and fraternal organizations “adopt” children and families this time of year to ensure there are gifts under the tree and food on the table during the holiday season.

The Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce is “very grateful” to coordinate gift-giving to about 85 local children, thanks to a generous “Secret Santa” who underwrites the massive campaign each year.

“Each year, our Secret Santa calls us with the number of children that can be adopted,” chamber Executive Director Sharon Kihn said. “And then we have school counselors who identify kids in need and find out what is on their Christmas wish lists.”

The benefactors, now aided by friends and family members as the project has grown, do all the customized shopping - down to preferred clothing styles and colors - for everyone on the list, and then wrap and tag each gift, according to Kihn.

“They now have to rent a truck to deliver all the gifts,” Kihn said. “And each child gets a humongous bag of gifts. It’s amazing to see.”

Chamber member Julie Gaynor, who also teaches in Baltimore County Public Schools, has worked with the Secret Santa program since it started.

“It’s massive,” she said of the effort. “It’s a Christmas beyond belief, I’m sure, for most of these little ones.”

The annual Secret Santa campaign started innocently enough about 12 years ago. With just about one week remaining until Christmas, Gaynor realized she still knew of several children who were in need of some holiday help and reached out to local folks who might be able to help.

“Julie called me and asked if I would be willing to take a child who hadn’t yet been claimed,” the anonymous benefactor told the East County Times. “I asked how many children she had, she said 10 and I told her I’d take all of them. And then it took off; it just kept increasing every year.”

The Secret Santa has what she calls her “Christmas angels” - a group of like-minded philanthropists who enjoy sponsoring children and making sure their Christmas wish lists are fulfilled.

She recalled one of her earliest memories of helping children and families in need as the one that planted the seed of giving. She adopted some children through the Howard County Public School System. She personally delivered the gifts to the family, which was living in a motel at the time.

“We delivered all these gifts, and the parents came out of the room and cried,” she said. “And the children were just so excited. It was a really powerful feeling that just stayed with me.”

The Secret Santa admits to being a particular shopper who wants to make sure all the gifts are individually tailored to the children requesting them. From the skin tone of a doll to the color of clothing to a favorite professional sports team, Santa wants to know her children will be thrilled with the gifts they unwrap on Christmas morning.

“A lot of these kids never have brand names, and to get them something special, to get them that brand name that everyone else is wearing, is really something,” she said. “It makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and all my Christmas angels feel the same way.”

The Secret Santa said her group’s goal is to serve at least 100 children next year.

In addition to the 85 children served by the Secret Santa program, a family of four children and their mother were treated to Christmas by an anonymous donor; the CCBC Essex campus community provided gift cards for middle and high school students; and the BreakThru Beverage Group adopted another 14 families, according to Kihn.

Shop with a Cop

Baltimore County’s Shop with a Cop program remains popular, with 108 children involved countywide this year, according to Officer First Class Natalie Bakhsh, who works in the Essex Precinct’s community outreach office.

School resource officers and counselors help identify children to participate in the program, which involves pairing each child with a police officer for a shopping trip.

Locally, 44 children participated in the shopping excursion, with 10 from the White Marsh precinct, 23 from Essex and 11 from Dundalk.

“Each child gets to ride in a police car with their officer and each gets to spend $100,” Bakhsh said.

The Hereford and Timonium Optimist clubs raise money year-round to fund the effort. Fundraising was a little tougher this year, Bakhsh said, but a last-minute donation of $1,000 from a local businessman allowed 10 additional children to be included.

The Cockeysville Walmart hosted Shop with a Cop on Dec. 10. When the children arrived in their special rides, they were greeted with tunes by the Dulaney High School marching band.

“They could spend their money any way they chose,” Bakhsh said of the young shoppers. “They could buy for themselves and many also chose to buy gifts for others.”

Walmart provided gift-wrapping services for those who bought gifts for others, according to Bakhsh.

When the shopping was done, the Hunt Valley Outback Steakhouse hosted all the children for breakfast.

“The staff came in on their own time and volunteered to cook breakfast for the kids,” Bakhsh said. “The officers all pitched in to tip the staff.”

And if spending $100 and enjoying breakfast with their own police buddies wasn’t enough, each child enjoyed a free cupcake, courtesy of Flavor Cupcakery and Bake Shop in Cockeysville.

“All the kids have a good time and so do our officers,” Bakhsh said. “They really look forward to participating each year.”

The chamber’s Secret Santa agreed, saying she gets more out of the effort than the children do.

“I enjoy waking up on Christmas morning with a smile on my face, just thinking of all the children I shopped for and imagining them opening all of their gifts,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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Kamenetz issues citation to Franklin Square’s Child Protective Services Team

Kamenetz issues citation to Franklin Square’s Child Protective Services Team
Kamenetz (left) and Shellenberger (right) gave high praise to the Child Protective Services Team (center) at Franklin Square Hospital in Rosedale. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger visited MedStar Franklin Square to issue commendations to Dr. Scott Krugman and Dr. Michelle Chudow of the Child Protective Services Team.

“I’d like to formally thank the medical center for their commitment to the community, particularly to the community of children they help,” said Shellenberger.

According to Shellenberger, he meets with the group multiple times per week to discuss potential abuse cases and ways of keeping children safe.

“This is just another example where there’s dedication, and really a sense of where hospital professionals go beyond the call of duty and really work tirelessly to advocate for something they believe in,” said Kamenetz. “And in this instance it’s taking care of children who are in the greatest need.

The Child Protective Services Team has been in operation since the early 2000s. The team investigates abuse, provides comprehensive abuse and neglect services, provides community outreach and training and much more.

“It’s been a long process to get to this point,” said Krugman, who oversees the team and has been involved in child protection for over a decade. “I’m so glad we could be of assistance to make this work.”

Krugman stated that the relationship between medical personnel and investigative authorities have never been better. That sentiment was echoed by Shellenberger after the presentation.

Shellenberger stated that they are not just concerned with criminal cases, though that is a benefit to the partnership. Aside from criminal cases, he said that in cases where abuse couldn’t be proven they are at least able to refer cases to the Department of Social Services which has a lower threshold for investigation.

“This advocacy group, it’s the police, the Deparment of Social Services, the medical team and prosecutors all working together to look out for what’s the best interest of the child,” said Shellenberger.

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Gunpowder Valley Conservancy celebrates Clear Creeks volunteers

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy celebrates Clear Creeks volunteers

(Updated 12/19/16)

- By Christine Potts, assistant project manager for the Clear Creeks Project -

Purnell Glenn and Buzz and Sandra Stromberger, all Middle River residents, were recognized at this year’s Gunpowder Valley Conservancy’s 2016 Volunteer Awards Banquet for exemplary contributions to the Clear Creeks Project.

Glenn is the homeowner’s association president for the Miramar Landing community, which consists of some 740 single family and townhomes and sits at the intersection of the Back River, Bird River and Middle River watersheds.

For personally contributing over 100 hours of his time to planning, promoting and championing the Clear Creeks Project at Miramar Landing program, Glenn received a 2016 Community Leader of the Year Award for outstanding contributions to the Clear Creeks Project.

Clear Creeks: Our Water, Our Heritage, Our Pride is a community-based, grant-funded initiative, managed by the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, that answers residents’ desire for improved water clarity in the creeks, runs and rivers of the Bird River, Middle River and Tidal Gunpowder watersheds.

Since 2013, the project has been helping residents take simple steps, like planting trees and installing Bay-friendly gardens and rain barrels, in order to help prevent storm water runoff from polluting local waterways and causing problems, like flooding and standing water, on residential and institutional properties.

This year, the Clear Creeks Project expanded its scope beyond just individual homeowners and institutions by launching the Clear Creeks Project at Miramar Landing, a pilot program within the greater Clear Creeks Project that focuses on instituting storm water remediation and Bay-friendly gardening practices on shared, community-held properties.

Clear Creeks Project Manager Peggy Perry credits Glenn’s “critical support” and “vision of a more environmentally-friendly, sustainable community," as essential to the program's success. “The Miramar Landing community project was successful mainly due to the outstanding contributions and community leadership from Purnell Glenn,” said Perry.

Glenn said that prior to participation in the program, the Miramar Landing HOA had been discussing ideas for increasing community beautification and environmental awareness. The Clear Creeks program helped them achieve those goals. “We have become really green; we are doing our part,” said Glenn.

On Miramar Landing community property, project volunteers planted 137 trees and 8,765 square feet of neighborhood gardens filled with Bay-friendly native plants that will help support local birds and pollinators. Glenn also worked with Clear Creeks Project partners to make Miramar Landing the first HOA community in Baltimore County to have its community property certified “Bay-Wise” by the Baltimore County Master Gardeners.

Like Glenn, the Strombergers mobilized members of their own community to take actions to help local waterways. The couple contributed some 58 hours hosting Clear Creeks garden workshops for their Bird River Beach community. They assisted at project events and helped promote Bay-friendly practices to their fellow parishioners at St. Matthews Church in Bowleys Quarters. For their efforts, the Strombergers received a Certificate of Appreciation for Community Leadership Award.

To learn more about the Clear Creeks Project, visit the project website at www.clearcreeks.org.

The Clear Creeks Project is made possible through funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Chesapeake Bay Trust; Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability; Baltimore Gas and Electric; Gunpowder Valley Conservancy; and Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, administered by Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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County’s Sixth District a target for Republicans in 2018

(Updated 12/14/16)

- By Devin Crum -

A little over a month ago, on Nov. 3, Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins held a campaign fundraiser in White Marsh in preparation for her reelection campaign over the next two years.

And being just five days before the end of one of the most contentious and polarizing election seasons in recent memory, some may have been surprised to see so many people of mixed political allegiances coming together in the same room to support the second-term Democrat.

Bevins’ fundraiser showcased support from Democrats all over and well outside of her council district, and many others who do not identify as Democrats, either remaining politically neutral or whose sentiments lie on the opposite end of the spectrum from her own.

But Republicans see the district as Republicanizing, making Bevins vulnerable, and are salivating at the possibility of a GOP majority on the Baltimore County Council if they can unseat her in 2018.

Citing recent voting patterns in the Sixth District and in eastern Baltimore County in general, the Maryland Republican Party plans to concentrate efforts on winning the last Democrat-held council seat on the east side, as well as taking the county executive’s office, according to MDGOP Executive Director Joe Cluster.

“If we can win that seat it would give the Republicans control of the council,” he said, adding that “unlike last time,” he believes Republicans will also have a strong candidate for county executive in 2018.

Cluster opined that the other three Republican-held seats on the council will remain in their hands over the next election, with Fifth District Councilman David Marks (Perry Hall) and Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell (Dundalk) enjoying high levels of public support in their districts.

The Third District (North County) may see a new councilperson since sitting Councilman Wade Kach “probably” will not run again, Cluster said. “But that’s the most Republican district there is in the county.”

While there was no word yet on who might run against Bevins, a source within the party who asked not to be named noted that the councilwoman has campaigned significantly for Democratic candidates for President, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and she supported Anthony Brown for governor in 2014.

Her constituents, however, have largely voted against such candidates, particularly for executive offices, according to state voting records.

Going back to 2010 when Bevins was first elected, 55.7 percent of District 6 voters chose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich over Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley, giving Ehrlich about 4,500 more votes than the Democrat in that district.

Likewise, voters in District 6 decisively chose Republican county executive candidate Joe Bartenfelder that year by a 3,400-vote margin, sending him away with 55.4 percent of the district’s vote.

District 6 overall chose the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator, U.S. Congress and State Senate by slim margins in 2010, but the House of Delegates seats representing the district more often went to Republicans.

It is worth noting, though, that the Republican candidate for State Senate in the Seventh Legislative District got more votes from county District 6 voters than any Democratic candidate in their respective races that year, and the Seventh District is represented entirely by Republicans.

Bevins only narrowly won her own election with 50.4 percent of the vote, only edging out her Republican opponent by 300 votes, or one percentage point.

The following election two years later saw Democratic candidates enjoy wider margins of support in the district over their Republican counterparts.

But while voters in the county’s Sixth District chose Democrats more often than Republicans in 2012, Democrats did not receive majorities in the races for President and U.S. Senate, taking home only 49.8 and 43.8 percent of the vote, respectively.

Just over 1,000 votes separated the District 6 totals for President Barrack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Interestingly, the unaffiliated candidate for U.S. Senate that year received about 200 more votes than the Republican in the district. The combined totals from that candidate and the Republican could have easily topped the Democrat’s.

The Sixth District was kinder to the GOP in the 2014 election, which saw Republican Larry Hogan overtake heavy Democratic favorite Anthony Brown for governor. Several other Republican candidates also rode a wave of conservative sentiment to victory across Baltimore County’s east side and the state that year.

In District 6 specifically, despite Bevins throwing her support behind Brown, 66.4 percent of her constituents voted the other way, choosing Hogan by more than 10,000 votes.

And while they tended to prefer Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) over his Republican challenger, residents of the jurisdiction living in congressional districts 1 and 3 chose the Republican more often.

Sixth District voters overall picked Democrats for State Senate and Republicans for House of Delegates by similar margins as they had in 2010.

But in the local races they changed their tune from four years prior. Democrat Kevin Kamenetz took home a thin majority - 51.4 percent - of Sixth District votes cast for county executive. And Bevins herself defeated her Republican challenger by 12 more percentage points than she had previously, earning an extra 6 percent of the vote.

Seeking to build on the wave of conservative sentiment from 2014, though, and take advantage of Gov. Hogan’s high popularity, Republicans eagerly awaited the release of this year’s election results, according to Cluster, to see how Baltimore County and Sixth District residents had voted.

Councilwoman Bevins again supported the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for president. And she was the sponsor of a controversial County Council bill to allow an outlet mall in White Marsh which was the subject of a referendum, appearing on the ballot as Question K. So Republicans sought the results of those votes in particular, Cluster said.

The difference in the 2016 Presidential race was razor thin in District 6, being separated by only 342 votes across the district. But unlike in 2012, the Republican, Donald Trump, held the higher vote percentage.

Trump actually took a nearly identical percentage of the vote as Romney did in 2012. It was Clinton who simply had the lower turnout.

The race for U.S. Senate was also close among Sixth District voters, separated by just 443 votes. Democrat Chris Van Hollen took in a similar percentage to the Democratic candidate in the Senate race four years prior, maintaining a lead over Republican Kathy Szeliga.

But Szeliga managed to secure a haul 20 percentage points higher than the Republican in 2012.

As for Question K, party members had surmised it passed county-wide without much support in District 6 where it would actually have the greatest effect.

Additionally, the unnamed source said that some believe Bevins’ decisions over the last two zoning cycles have made her vulnerable.

Election results show that the ballot measure enjoyed widespread support in Bevins’ district, however.

The question passed with 61.3 percent of the vote in the district. County-wide, the results were slightly closer, with 58.7 percent voting for it.

In fact, of the district’s 35 precincts, the ballot question only failed in two and tied in one other.

Votes for and against the measure were close in many precincts, but ultimately, the vast majority voted in support of it. And the tie came in a precinct that only registered only 10 votes on the issue - five for and five against.

Despite some of the voting trends of her constituents, Bevins said it is her community relations and work on constituent services that has seen her through.

She noted that her background while working under former County Executive Jim Smith was in constituent service.

“For seven years, that’s all I did was problem solve and work with communities,” she said at the fundraiser, adding that it was not about being a Democrat or Republican. “When you called my office I didn’t look you up in the voter registration file.”

Bevins said that when she first ran for office in 2010 people trusted her and thought she would do the right thing. And since being elected, her office has handled more than 4,000 constituent issues, she noted.

“And that’s from researching and responding back to the constituent,” Bevins explained. “That’s a lot of work that everyone in my office does to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

On top of that, she noted that she has endlessly advocated for new schools and air conditioning in existing schools, bringing the district up from having the lowest percentage of air conditioned schools in the county.

“I work with both Democrats and Republicans on the County Council because that’s what you have to do to get the work done,” Bevins asserted, adding that they have worked together and supported each other on issues such as decreasing development, preserving open space and planning for smarth growth.

She admitted that not everyone likes her zoning decisions and that she cannot please everyone with those. But she said her district is moving forward and being revitalized with respect to building new neighborhoods and creating new businesses.

“That’s exactly what we need,” she said, noting that White Marsh and Middle River are major growth areas within her district.

Bevins said that when she campaigned in 2010 and 2014, people wanted jobs on every level.

“Students, seniors, couples, singles - everybody wants jobs, and I am creating jobs,” she said, pointing to the growth that has occurred along MD Route 43, and the outlet mall planned for MD Route 7 in White Marsh, as well as the planned redevelopment of the Middle River Depot.

“For me, it’s about a balance of business and community, along with also preserving open space,” Bevins said.

She secured the preservation of 15 acres of open space in White Marsh this year through the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process and the use of Program Open Space funds.

But she contended that she works hard for her constituents to address their concerns.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I do,” Bevins told the East County Times. “My office works extremely hard.”

Elected officials preview upcoming legislative session in Annapolis

(Updated 12/14/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

For the last few years the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce has hosted a legislative preview session as a way for local legislators to speak to constituents, specifically business owners, about what they expect to be on the docket for the upcoming session. And one issue seemed to be on everyone’s mind: paid sick leave.

All of the legislators in attendance at By The Docks in Middle River on Tuesday, Dec. 6, were in agreement that paid sick leave is on the horizon, but at this moment little is known about what the bill will look like.

“I’m sure it’s going to be pushed really hard this year,” said Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8). “But my guess is that if it is going to pass, it’s going to pass with the blessing of chambers of commerce from around the state.”

Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7) echoed Klausmeier’s sentiments, simply saying “it’s coming” when the issue of paid sick leave was brought up.

Days after the the legislative preview session, Governor Larry Hogan announced that he will lobby the General Assembly to mandate paid sick leave for companies comprised of more than 50 people. Small businesses would not have to provide paid sick leave, but should they choose to offer it they would be eligible for a tax deduction of up to $20,000 per year.

Earlier in the year, the House of Delegates passed a paid sick leave bill that would have mandated seven sick days a year for companies with 15 employees or more and included benefits for part-time employees. Whether or not Hogan’s proposal will work for the Democrat controlled General Assembly remains to be seen.

While paid sick leave will certainly be something to keep an eye on, most at the legislative preview were in agreement that this year, there isn’t really a major proposal that has everyone buzzing. Because of that, there’s a bit more freedom to work toward other endeavors. Klausmeier stated that she would like to take advantage of this situation by tackling opioid addiction and overdose deaths while also dealing with the issue of squatters on foreclosed properties.

Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) took a not-so-subtle jab at the full Baltimore County delegation by stating that the senators and delegates need to work together to make sure the needs of every resident in the county are being met, hinting at what he feels is neglect on the east side.

Salling also told the crowd that, given an uptick in police shootings this year, he wants to pass a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that would see harsher penalties for those that commit crimes against police officers. While crimes committed against officers already carry harsher penalties - for example, murdering a police officer is always considered first-degree murder regardless of premeditation - Salling wants police to be protected under hate crime laws.

“There’s a lot of trouble in our nation and in our city,” Salling said. “Police go out and they protect and they serve. And they aren’t respected and there’s a serious problem with that today.”

Salling said that he wants people to realize how devastating and wrong it is that others could harm those who are trying to protect citizens. He said increasing penalties might decrease incidents of assault on police officers.

Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) also addressed the crowd, telling the chamber that he is likely to take on pharmaceutical prices during the upcoming session. Healthcare costs have been a huge issue since the passing of the Affordable Care Act, with a major focus on premiums and co-payments. But for Bromwell, he wants to shift the focus to pharmaceuticals.

“When you look at healthcare cost increases, 25 percent of the increase in cost is thanks to pharmaceutical prices,” said Bromwell.
Bromwell said there used to be a subcommittee that dealt with pharmaceuticals but it no longer exists.

Perhaps the most intriguing proposition for the new session is a bridge that would connect southeast Baltimore County with the Eastern Shore.

“This is something that was brought up decades ago and subsequently shelved, but it’s coming back up again,” said Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6).

Back in September, Hogan announced a $5 million study on expanding access to the Eastern Shore. Hogan wants another bridge as opposed to an expansion of the Bay Bridge, and Baltimore County is looking like a possibility, though it’s unknown where the bridge would be located at this time. The study that Hogan called for could take up to four years to complete.

Grammer also talked about the need to secure capital funding for Franklin Square given the growing population of the east side.  He also stressed a need to put more effort into trade schools, noting a severe decline in skilled labor.

He went on to talk about the need to remove a toll at Broening Highway and I-695, which he sees as an unfair tax on workers going from Sparrows Point to the Port of Baltimore.

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6) told the chamber he again plans to take on the issue of prayer in school, but noted that economic development needs to be at the forefront of discussion this session. Metzgar maintained that Essex and Dundalk have been neglected long enough, and that the General Assembly needs to do more to revitalize these areas.

Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7) said that he expects the Affordable Care Act to go through rigorous changes and that his committee will be handling those changes. He went on to talk about a crisis in emergency rooms due to overcrowding.

“I’m not sure what the answer is, but you can’t have people go in there and wait for five, six or seven hours,” McDonough said. “There is some problem there and we need to find out what it is.”

McDonough also said that bail will be a contentious issue. Bail reductions have occurred recently, and McDonough claims it’s putting dangerous criminals back on the street. McDonough maintained that violent offenders and drug dealers that have been harming communities are getting back onto the streets in record times, and that the General Assembly needed to undo changes made by Attorney General Brian Frosh.

Delegate Bob Long (R-6) was also in attendance, saying that he was going to be joining in to focus on paid sick leave, as well as looking to scale back other regulations. Long also stated that he wanted the legislators to seriously consider active shooter situations, which have become so prevalent in today’s society.

Lockheed Martin progressing with environmental cleanup on Middle River

Lockheed Martin progressing with environmental cleanup on Middle River
A barge is used for dredging near the mouth of Cowpen Creek. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Decades of pollution in Middle River resulting from industrial manufacturing done by the Glenn L. Martin Company is in the process of being cleaned up in order to protect public health.

Lockheed Martin Corporation has planned the cleanup activities in three Middle River tributaries - Cowpen Creek, Dark Head Cove and Frog Mortar Creek - over the last several years to address the environmental damage done by its predecessors. But the remediation work began in earnest this October.

In Cowpen Creek and Dark Head Cove - also known as Martin Lagoon - workers began the first of two seasons of dredging on Oct. 17 to remove contaminated sediments from the waterway, according to Mike Martin of Tetra Tech, a contractor for the project.

The cleanup effort also involved some light dredging two years ago, Martin said. “This time around we’re back to basically do the full job.”

In accordance with their permits, the company has until Feb. 14, 2017, to complete the work planned for this season so as not to interfere with any fish breeding that may occur in the waterway. But Martin said they hope to finish by January.

He explained that this round of work consists of dredging in Dark Head Cove to finish what they started in 2014, as well as using barges to dredge as far up Cowpen Creek as they can get.

“So where the North American Electric property is, that’s somewhere around the area where we’ll be able to make it,” Martin said, adding that beyond that point is “basically a mud flat” at low tide.

Along with the dredging, the company will replace the metal sheets along the bulkhead that keep additional contaminated soil from entering the waterway.

Dark Head Cove and Cowpen Creek will remain closed to public access during the work, as they will during the second season which begins in June.

Although Martin was unsure of the exact timeline for season two, he said that work will involve the clean-up of the rest of Cowpen Creek, working down from the BGE substation at the top toward the point at which they could no longer continue during season one.

The chief contaminants being removed from the waterways are substances classified as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be carcinogenic, as well as some heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium.

These substances are bound to the sediments, Martin said, and do not migrate through the water. Additionally, a turbidity curtain lines the work area to ensure the sediments they stir up while dredging do not travel down the creek.

Although work could not begin in the water until Oct. 17, Martin said they began much of their preparation work on land before that.

“Obviously a lot of the work has to occur on land,” he said, noting that the contaminated sediment they remove must be taken up onto land so it can be processed, put onto trucks and hauled off for disposal.

Martin described the sediment they remove from the water as “like a thick milkshake” when they bring it up. As the water - which contains some of the contaminants - is filtered and drained off, it is collected into a holding tank before being discharged to a county santitary sewer, as permitted by Baltimore County. That water will ultimately be treated by the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The sediments themselves are processed by adding Calciment - a cement and quicklime mixture - to stabilize it and make it more like soil so it is safe for transport to a landfill.

“Landfills don’t want a big truckload of mud, and you don’t want to be driving a truckload of mud down the highway,” Martin explained.

He added that the quicklime dries up the moisture and the cement binds up the material. It is then hauled off for disposal in approved landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania which are specifically equipped to handle and dispose of those types of contaminants.

Martin expected the project to cost a total of about $2 million.

But according to Paul Calligan, Lockheed Martin’s project manager for the remediation, because the pollution occurred as a result of work done for the federal government, the company will be allowed to recoup that cost using the price of future contracts with the government.

On the other side of Martin State Airport, along Frog Mortar Creek, workers are constructing a ground water filtration facility to prevent pollutants from leaching into the creek from a former dump site used by the Glenn L. Martin Company.

Until the mid-1970s, the Martin Company - and subsequently Martin Marietta - owned all the land that now includes Martin State Airport and the Maryland Air National Guard base. And during the 1950s and 1960s, the company used a 20-acre area along Frog Mortar Creek as an industrial landfill, where they disposed of waste materials from manufacturing, according to Mark Salvetti of contractor CDM Smith.

“This was all legal at the time,” Salvetti said. “It was covered over, and when the airport was sold it went with the land. It wasn’t recognized as an issue back then.”

Through extensive investigation, Lockheed Martin has found a lot of debris along with degreasing products and industrial solvents, Salvetti said.

“So what we find here is groundwater that has been contaminated with primarily trichloroethylene,” which he said breaks down into other products in the environment, such as vinyl chloride, and are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The pollutants in this area are found in the water as opposed to the sediments, according to Salvetti. But they do not migrate far because of their volatility and instead vaporize into the air before dispersing.

A water contact advisory extends 200 feet into the water from the shoreline, but Salvetti noted the majority of the toxins are found much closer to the shore.

As a result, they are building a groundwater treatment system which uses 16 groundwater wells along about 1,000 feet of shoreline to extract the polluted water before it reaches the creek. The facility will then treat the water by removing and destroying the contaminants before discharging the cleaned water back to Frog Mortar Creek via a submerged outfall.

“And it really is clean; it actually will meet drinking water standards,” Salvetti said.

The building for the facility is expected to be fully enclosed by early to mid-January, he said, to finish the interior construction. They aim to turn on and begin testing the system in April and bring it to fully operational by May or June of next year.

“We’ll be running around the clock, seven days a week, treating that groundwater,” Salvetti noted. “And then we’ll keep treating until the water is clean enough that we don’t need to treat anymore to keep Frog Mortar Creek clean.”

They will continue monitoring water quality in Frog Mortar Creek and sampling the groundwater around the site on a regular basis during operation, submitting monthly reports to the state, he said. They will also monitor the facility itself to be sure it is operating efficiently because it is so expensive.

He estimated that the facility will be in operation for a period of between 30 - 50 years at an approximate operating cost of $1 million per year.

Salvetti noted that they anticipate seeing the concentrations of contaminants decreasing within the first few months of operation, and their goal is to have them low enough in a year or two to remove the water contact advisory.

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Dundalk man killed in early morning beltway crash

Dundalk man killed in early morning beltway crash
Robert Peros (far right) left behind his parents, two brothers and sister, as well as his wife and three young children (not pictured).

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Marge Neal -

The Greater Dundalk community is rallying around the family of a North Point Village man who was killed in a car crash Saturday, Dec. 3, while helping his father fix a flat tire on the Baltimore Beltway near Woodlawn.

Robert Peros, 32, had stopped on the shoulder of the highway near Crosby Road at about 8:35 a.m. Saturday to help his father when he was struck by a 2003 Buick LeSabre that veered from the roadway to the shoulder, according to a Maryland State Police statement. The Buick first struck a Nissan van, owned by Peros, and continued along the shoulder, hitting a 2009 Chevy Silverado that was stopped on the right shoulder with a flat tire, according to the statement.

Peros was declared dead at the scene, according to Sgt. Horton, a spokesman for MSP’s Golden Ring barrack. Peros’ father, whose name was not available, remained hospitalized in critical condition as of late Monday. The driver of the LeSabre was also hospitalized.

It is unclear where Peros was at the time of impact, Horton said.

“The father said he was outside of the vehicle when the crash occurred, but was not sure where his son was at the time of impact - he couldn’t remember,” Horton said Monday. “It’s still under investigation.”

The name of the driver who veered onto the shoulder and struck the two vehicles had not been released as of Tuesday, and no charges had been filed, according to Horton. The case would be reviewed by the state’s attorney’s office, he said.

“We don’t believe alcohol or drugs were involved; there was nothing on the scene to indicate that,” Horton said. “We will request the medical records.”

At least two online fundraisers have been created using the gofundme.com organization, and the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company, where Peros was a probationary firefighter, is raising money for his family, according to company spokesman Bob Francis.

Peros was married and the father of four children. He and his wife, Ashley, had also adopted two nieces and a nephew, according to longtime friend Rob Dunford.

“Rob was just one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back,” Dunford said of Peros. “If this had happened to me, he’d be out on a street corner with a sign, collecting money for me.”

Peros was a field technician who repaired commercial kitchen equipment, according to Dunford, and his wife is a stay-at-home mother, which means the family is abruptly without an income.

“Rob was a good person, just a regular blue-collar kind of guy who would do anything he could for anybody, and we’re just trying to do something for him,” Dunford said.

Peros joined the Wise Avenue fire company as a probationary firefighter in April, according to Francis. He needed to schedule a physical exam for the medical clearance to achieve firefighter status, according to Francis.

The fire company has pledged to donate proceeds from this Saturday’s train garden income to Peros’ family.

“We will donate at least $500 to the family, or all of Saturday’s train garden income, whichever is greater,” Francis said.
Noting that for-profit online fundraising sites charge administrative and other fees, Francis said the fire company is accepting donations for the Peros family.

Anyone who wants to make a donation to Rob’s family can do it through the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company, and then 100 percent of the donation will go to the family,” Francis said.

Donations to the Robert Peros Fund can be mailed to the fire company at 214 Wise Ave., Dundalk, MD 21222.

The online fundraisers can be found at www.gofundme.com/mike-and-robs-family-fund andwww.gofundme.com/rob-peros-family-fund. As of Tuesday, the two funds collectively had raised about $5,000 toward a combined $15,000 goal.

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Appeals court rules North Point Government Center sale needs state approval

Appeals court rules North Point Government Center sale needs state approval
The fate of the North Point Government Center building has been left in limbo by state opposition to the county's plans. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Marge Neal -

In what Dundalk United leaders consider a “major victory,” Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has ruled that Baltimore County officials must have the approval of the Maryland Board of Public Works to sell the North Point Government Center and surrounding campus.

Gov. Larry Hogan, state Treasurer Nancy Kopp and state Comptroller Peter Franchot sit on the BPW, which is charged with overseeing state expenditures to ensure the state’s fiscal integrity, according to its website.

Baltimore County has a deal to sell the former North Point Junior High School building to a developer who has proposed a retail center called Merritt Pavilion for the land at the corner of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue.

Since Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced in 2012 his comprehensive plans to close Eastwood Elementary School, sell the government center and move the Dundalk police precinct offices from the government center to Eastwood, the plan has been championed by some residents and protested by others.

After competitive bids were reviewed, Vanguard Commercial Development was named the winning bidder. The company proposed a retail center and pledged to upgrade or create athletic fields and other outdoor amenities.

A statement on the Baltimore County government website boasted that the developer had letters of intent with several nationally known businesses, including Chipotle, Panera Bread and Five Guys, that committed to leasing space at the proposed shopping center.

The project would create 2,000 jobs, including 1,500 short-term construction jobs and 500 permanent retail jobs once the center was fully occupied, according to the statement.

While the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation supported the idea, citing the jobs and retail opportunities it would provide for the community, some area residents and Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council volunteers decried the loss of indoor recreation space, particularly a 600-seat theater used year-round by a variety of organizations.

The recent Court of Special Appeals verdict was a “Merry Christmas gift, a little early,” according to Dundalk resident Bob Staab. The former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks director is a leader of Dundalk United, an organization created to fight the county’s effort to sell the property.

Staab believes the sale of the building and surrounding park land is a “horrible precedent” to set, and warns other communities that a park in their neighborhood could be next if this sale is completed.

He also complained that the community was kept in the dark and was not allowed to participate in the planning process.

“We are just losing, losing, losing while the county gives us false promises and lies after more lies,” Staab said in a phone interview. “The county executive doesn’t care about the residents of Dundalk, and he doesn’t work for the residents of Baltimore County. He works for Caves Valley [Partners] and all the other developers who want to build in Baltimore County.”

Don Mohler, a spokesman for the county executive, said Tuesday that county officials don’t agree that a covenant in the property deed about a potential sale needing approval from the Board of Public Works is still relevant.

The state has no financial interest in the land, he said, with loans taken to build the school long paid off, he said.

“We continue to request that the governor put the approval of this project on the agenda and bring it up for a vote,” Mohler said. “Let us make our presentation on why we think this is an outstanding project and then vote up or down, but don’t continue to keep the project in limbo.”

The proposed project would tear down an “outdated, dilapidated, falling down building” and replace it with a “state-of-the-art” recreation center, Mohler said.

“The new center would be one of our finest rec centers,” Mohler said. “The governor is allowing politics to get in the way of progress and he’s ignoring the recreational needs of Dundalk residents.”

Phone calls to Leonard Weinberg of Vanguard were not returned by press time.

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Patapsco United Methodist hit with potential $12,000 citation for housing homeless

Patapsco United Methodist hit with potential $12,000 citation for housing homeless
The church's sign displayed an appropriate message in light of the neighbors' complaints. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After months of complaints from neighbors about homeless individuals taking residence in the back yard area of Patapsco United Methodist Church (PUM), the church, located at 7800 Wise Avenue in Dundalk, has been slapped with a $12,000 citation and order to appear in court on Dec. 21.

Baltimore County code enforcement has been out to inspect the church multiple times this year, with complaints being lodged against the church in June, July, August and November. The first three visits yielded no violations against the church. But the last one, dated Nov. 22, found that the church was in violation of county zoning codes for “failure to cease exterior use of property as housing units.”

According to neighbor complaints, homeless persons in the area had set up tarps on concrete slabs to create makeshift shelters at the back of the church. The complaint filed in June cited the shelters and noted that trash and waste were being created. The July complaint referred to the June complaint, while the August complaint noted that a local business owner had started to get upset due to the homeless “urinating on his trees.”

For many churches, turning away the homeless population is in direct conflict with their faith according to Pastor Katie Grover, who heads up PUM.
“The business of the church is to serve God, and God says, ‘Whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done unto me,” said Grover. “We want to care for these people the best we can.”

Grover stated that while they don’t encourage people to stay on the property, they aren’t going to rid their property of those looking for a place to sleep. Aside from utilizing the back area, benches around the church are often occupied at night. A garden area in the middle of the property also frequently houses those without permanent housing at night.

With a new heating system required for the church - which Grover estimates will cost about $80,000 - the loss of $12,000 to code enforcement would be a major blow to PUM.

“We’re kind of in a tricky situation here, because we don’t exactly know how we can be compliant since we don’t have people here at all hours of the day to make sure the back area is clear,” said Grover. “We were told if the violation is fixed before the court date the fine could be rescinded, but we’re not exactly sure about what it is we need to do right now.”

Grover noted that it’s not ideal for the homeless to be outside on their property, but added that bringing them into the church brings more codes into the equation. And considering the lurch they currently find themselves in, they can’t afford to take that risk.

The bigger issue at play here is homelessness in general, Grover admitted, adding that people want an answer to the issue, but predominantly want it to be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach.

And in east Baltimore County, it is an issue that is increasingly working its way to the forefront.

The 2010 census found that 25 percent more people didn’t have permanent housing than the last census. Of the homeless population, 36 percent lived in Dundalk, Essex and Rosedale. While there are no solid numbers at this time, it stands to reason given the economy that the number has most likely risen.

There’s also the issue of shelter availability, with the only men’s shelter in the county located in Catonsville. Next year, the Eastern Family Resource Center will be adding beds for men, but as it stands they only serve women and families. There are cold weather shelters in the county, but only one readily accessible to those in the Dundalk area. They’re also only open between Nov. 15 - April 15 and do nothing about housing homeless when the temperatures rise in the summer.

Councilman Todd Crandell and Delegate Ric Metzgar both agree that the homeless problem needs to be seriously addressed. Crandell talked about the need to stress available resources that churches can utilize, while also noting that the issue of homelessness is tricky because some are on the streets due to addiction while others are there for mental health or other reasons. Metzgar added that a community town hall needs to be held to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, and that churches like PUM who currently provide this type of help to the homeless need to band together.

Grover conceded that she understands the issues that neighbors have and added that she isn’t trying to start a fight. She doesn’t want to split the church or divide the community in any way. But she also knows that her church’s mission is to provide aid for those who need it. And with the Christmas season upon us, she can’t help but think of the parallels between this ordeal and the biblical story of Mary and Joseph being turned away from housing in Bethlehem.

“We have to remember that when Christ’s parents went into Bethlehem, they couldn’t find a place. The savior of the world was born in a stable and he later said in his ministry, ‘foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head,’” Grover said. “Our savior was a homeless man. If we can’t welcome the homeless, can we welcome God?”

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Cannons return to Fort Howard Park after restoration

Cannons return to Fort Howard Park after restoration
The newly restored guns again stand strong with their weather-resistent finishes and concrete pads to protect them from the elements. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/1/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Almost exactly a year after Fort Howard Park’s two antique cannons were removed for restoration, they returned on Nov. 15 to their post overlooking the mouth of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Fort Howard Community Association and now-retired Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Leslie Ernest orchestrated the restoration of the cannons, which departed from their 40-year post at the park on Nov. 18 of last year for a complete makeover.

The cannons were transported to the Maryland ANG’s base in Aberdeen where personnel performed the metal resurfacing at no charge. Likewise, a local carpenter at Chesapeake Woodworking, located on Kresson Street in Baltimore, restored the cannons’ wooden wheels.

And although much of the labor and materials for the project were donated, the FHCA was still responsible for covering the cost of materials, according to FHCA Vice President Scott Pappas. He estimated the total cost of the project, including the donations, to be worth roughly $50,000 per cannon.

Prior to their restoration, the M1906, World War I-era cannons had endured four decades in the elements and suffered vandalism and neglect, leading them to deteriorate and become an eyesore. They had previously sat directly on the ground, allowing the wooden wheels to decay.

Baltimore County had been seeking removal of the cannons, citing the liability they created at the park and a lack of funds to restore them themselves.

And because of that vandalism and neglect, the community partners had sought to return the cannons to the Fort Howard Veterans Park following their restoration, rather than Fort Howard Park.

The FHCA wrote in its proposal for the location change that the risk of recurrence of vandalism to the guns remains unabated at Fort Howard Park.

That risk is so great, they wrote, that the park must be closed to the public for 10 weeks each fall to protect Halloween props used for the Fort Howard Dungeons attraction. This also creates a problem for public access.

“In response to the imminent recurrence of vandalism to the M1906 at the previous location, the Fort Howard Independent Odd Fellows Lodge Grand Senior Warden Dennis Brown has agreed to dock the guns at the War Memorial area under lease to the Odd Fellows from Baltimore County government,” they wrote.

The Veterans Park, they contended, is more visibile, more secure and more accessible by the public.

Fort Howard Veterans Park fronts directly on North Point Road - the only route into and out of the community - and sees police patrols pass by twice per eight-hour shift. It is also highly visible to the surrounding neighbors and traffic.

On top of that, the cannons are not historically fitting for Fort Howard as a military installation.

Battery Harris, in front of which the cannons sit, originally housed two rapid-fire five-inch rifled guns. Following their removal in 1917, the battery was home to a Coincidence Range Finder which helped the other gunners to be able to accurately pinpoint their targets. Batteries Stricker and Nicholson housed 12-inch and six-inch rifled guns, respectively. And Battery Key housed 12-inch mortars.

The M1906 cannons fired a 4.7-inch projectile and were much smaller by comparison than those in used at Fort Howard.

The FHCA thought they were set to install the cannons at the Veterans Park upon their completion. But due to what Pappas called a “mix-up in the paperwork,” park staff told them when they showed up to deliver the finished cannons that they did not have approval.

“For the time being, they are being stored at the Fort Howard Park,” Pappas explained. “We have approval for them to be set at the Fort Howard Veterans Park. It’s just a simple matter of living up to the [conditions] that the county put in front of us to get them up there.”

On the bright side, though, the county had poured concrete pads at Fort Howard Park for the cannons to sit on to avoid the wooden wheels rotting away again.

The FHCA is hoping to have the cannons moved to the Veterans Park in time to be part of the Memorial Day ceremonies held there.

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BRRC updates community on Back River’s progress

BRRC updates community on Back River’s progress
The BRRC removed 57 tires - some completely buried - from the area around Race Road in Essex. The area was described by some as a “dump city” because of its seclusion and the ease of dumping there illegally. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/1/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Back River Restoration Committee leadership had a lot to talk about at their fall general meeting on Nov. 15, particularly in the way of their progress and the issues facing Back River.

The Back River watershed encompasses approximately 55 square miles, reaching deep into Baltimore City and as far north and west as Towson. It also has about 73 miles of streams emptying into it, and the BRRC has done its best to try to clean every one of them.

With such a large watershed, an enormous amount of trash is able to make its way to the waterway via its many tributaries. So the BRRC has stepped up its efforts this year to clean not only Back River itself, but the streams leading to it and the communities around them. And along the way they have forged strong ties with community organizations to further their goals.

Illegal dumping is one of the largest issues they face as an organization, according to BRRC President Sam Weaver. He described several instances of private contractors dumping their scrap and waste materials into storm drains and along secluded streets.

Weaver mentioned a certain dump site along Trappe Road in Dundalk that is a frequent nuisance.

“It’s just all the time over there. We clean it up and it’s just there again,” he said, adding that the BRRC and county workers have each cleaned it “a number of times.”

The BRRC works on both sides of the river - in Essex and Dundalk - to clean up the watershed, holding clean-up events and doing community outreach to educate the public.

They have worked closely this year with several community leaders fighting against rats in their neighborhoods as well.

“The rats, the trash, the downgrading of the communities - it kind of all goes together,” Weaver said. “This stuff all winds up in Back River and the Chesapeake Bay.”

They performed two major clean-ups in the Middlesex community of Essex and the West Inverness community of Dundalk.

Earlier this year, the BRRC set out to clean up a drainage ditch behind Middlesex that was filled with garbage and had been used as a dumping ground by neighbors. The group spent three days loading three 30-yard dumpsters with nearly 25,000 pounds of trash that had been piled “up to your knees,” according to Weaver.

“None of us thought it would ever be right again,” he said. “After we were done it looked like a resort.”
Similarly, at the clean-up site in West Inverness, “trash was just everywhere,” Weaver said.

The BRRC brought some of their heavier equipment that day and helped the neighbors pull out some of the larger items that had been dumped there.

More recently, on Nov. 19, the organization held a community clean-up of the area on both sides of Race Road in Essex, which has had major problems with dumping because of its seclusion.

BRRC member Clark Testerman described the area as “dump city.”

Cliff O’Connell, who helped with the clean-up, said the lack of residents there and the forested land on either side of the road make it ideal for dumpers.

“There’s no homes; it’s all woods,” he said.

Any trash dumped there eventually makes its way into Stemmers Run, which drains to Back River, O’Connell said. “It’s a lot easier to get it here before it goes into the stream.”

BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn noted that they had cleaned the area three years ago. But volunteers said it was as bad Saturday, as it was previously.

All told, volunteers removed about 15,000 pounds of garbage from the area, including at least a ton of metal and 57 tires before they could make their way into the waterways, according to Weaver.

Weaver also praised the county for showing up “in force” with three dump trucks and a front-end loader to help when they could not get a dumpster to the location.

The Back River trash boom, in place since 2010, has been an immense help to the BRRC, helping them to catch “an enormous amount” of trash that would otherwise head directly into Back River and the Chesapeake Bay, according to Weaver. Between the boom and the trash BRRC has collected elsewhere, they have surpassed 2.8 million pounds of trash and debris removed from the river since 2011.

“That’s a huge amount of trash to keep out of the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

Wynn noted that the boom has caught an average of about 45,000 pounds of trash per month this year - up from about 37,000 pounds last year. But she said this year’s numbers are boosted by a major rainstorm back in February that dropped four inches of rain on the area in one night.

The resulting clean-up over the next four weeks saw approximately 97 tons of waste materials removed from the river and its tributaries, Weaver said.

While the trash boom is effective, it only covers part of the river, leaving anything drifting down Stemmers Run to go straight out to Back River and the Bay. And without funding from the county for another boom, according to Weaver and Wynn, the focus will remain on cleaning the upstream estuaries and communities to catch the trash before it hits the river. And they will continue to reach out to the community to educate residents about the issues as well.

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Seven Courts-area stream restoration plans almost complete

Seven Courts-area stream restoration plans almost complete
Work on the southern tributary of the stream (dark blue) begins about 600 feet east of Naygall Road, including the BGE right of way and a small portion near Springtowne Circle. Work continues downstream until the confluence with the northern tributary. The northern tributary begins at the culvert at Seven Courts and continues until it meets with the Southern Tributary and they form the main tributary. The main tributary continues to the end of the project limits at the India Avenue bridge.

(Updated 11/23/16)

- By Marge Neal -

Plans to restore a section of a degraded stream that feeds into the Lower Gunpowder River watershed are about 90 percent complete and headed into the permitting process, according to Baltimore County officials.

Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS) staff members met at the Perry Hall library on Nov. 21 with residents from the affected area, which runs from the BGE right-of-way near Naygall Road to the India Avenue bridge.

Once completed, the restoration project will accomplish several goals toward a healthier and cleaner Lower Gunpowder watershed, according to Eric Duce, a natural resources specialist with DEPS.

Work on the unnamed tributary will result in better water quality, improved wildlife habitat, erosion control that will lessen property loss and will provide additional infrastructure protection.

“Sewer and water lines often run parallel with streams and erosion can cause exposure of those lines,” Duce told the audience of about 10 residents. Rebuilding the stream bed and reinforcing the banks with dirt, large rocks and plantings will better protect that infrastructure, reducing the chances of sewage spills into the waterways.

Plantings of native plants and trees will also help absorb excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, preventing them from leeching into the groundwater or making their way to the Gunpowder River and beyond, Duce said.

The work will also help the county comply with mandates regarding the health of the Chesapeake Bay. As the result of a lawsuit brought against Baltimore County, the local government must work toward meeting the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of a number of nutrients being carried into the bay via tributaries. The consent decree reached as a result of the lawsuit states that certain thresholds must by met by 2024.

Heather McGee, another natural resources specialist with DEPS, likened the TMDL to a diet.

“Consider the TMDL to be like calories and only so many calories should be consumed each day,” she said after the meeting. “The TMDL states how much of each of many nutrients can safely go in the water each day, and reaching those acceptable amounts is the goal.”

The project is substantial, according to Duce, involving the restoration of about 4,500 linear feet of stream bed.

With the project just entering the permitting process, work probably won’t begin until summer or fall of next year, according to Rob Ryan of DEPS’ watershed restoration division.

Because of restrictions on construction in waterways during potential fish breeding season, crews are not allowed to work from March 1 to June 15, Ryan said.

“We won’t start a project and then stop,” he said at the meeting. “And with 10 or 11 other projects going on at the same time, most likely we’re looking at next summer into fall.”

Asked about a timetable for the project, Duce said there are many variables that come in to play.

“Right now, it’s hard to say because of the permits process,” he said at the meeting. “There’s a lot of work and not many qualified contractors that can do the work.”

Other factors, including weather, the size of the work crew assigned to the project and identifying quarries with sufficient supplies of rock needed will all play a role in how long it takes to complete the work, Duce told the East County Times.

Advertising for competitive bids to be submitted can take up to three months, according to Duce and the actual work will take at least two months and perhaps longer.

The stream restoration is expected to cost at least $2 million, according to Duce.

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White Marsh Volunteers break ground for new station

White Marsh Volunteers break ground for new station
An architect’s rendering of what the new station will look like when completed along Philadelphia Road in White Marsh.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Officers and members of the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, together with officials from every level of government, celebrated the next step in a years-long process to build themselves a state-of-the-art fire station to better serve the community.

Dozens of guests - representatives of government, community and business groups and the fire company itself - gathered Monday, Nov. 14, on a six-plus-acre site, donated by General Motors’ White Marsh plant for the project, to break ground for the new station.

The company’s current station, located about a mile from the new site, was built in the 1940s and has been plagued by traffic and flooding which have affected response times at a time when the community they serve is growing and demand is increasing.

Additionally, the station was not built to accommodate extensive personnel or community gatherings.

The company, started in 1943 and incorporated in 1945, began with seven men and seven women responding to roughly 100 calls per year in what was a rural farming community.

WMVFC now responds to up to 4,000 calls per year in what has become a thriving growth area and a business and residential hub.

According to WMVFC President Kevin Palmer, the company began exploring a move in 2006, and the process to begin the project on the chosen site began four years ago with a simple letter to GM.

The new station will accommodate 25 or more personnel per day, include private and semi-private bunks, additional showers, a full-service gym, full-service kitchen and a study area to further education, Palmer noted. It will also house an indoor interactive training tower allowing members to train year round, plus a community meeting center and ample outdoor space to host community events.

“So as the history of our organization goes, we are changing our location and our building, but we are still going to be the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company that proudly serves our community,” Palmer said.

He added that the company’s capital campaign had raised more than $30,000 from the residential community in just one month and over $300,000 toward the project from business and community groups.

Station Captain Rick Blubaugh said the groundbreaking not only marked a special occasion, but spoke to the ideals and practices on which the nation was founded.

“The officers and members of the White Marsh Fire, EMS and Rehab Company will soon be better able to serve this area given its expanding size and development,” he said. “This was accomplished through public-private partnerships.”

Blubaugh pointed to a low-interest loan from the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen’s Association (BCVFA) to fund construction, support from County Council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks in directing resources their way, Senator Kathy Klausmeier’s sponsorship of a funding bill for the new station in the state legislature and future allocation of “significant public funding” from the county administration as essential pieces of the project.

“I pledge to you in return that this strong organization will work dilligently to meet the expectations of the community, execute smart business practices and respond consistently to calls for service,” he said.

On top of a 9.2-percent increase in funding for volunteers in the current budget, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has pledged a pot of $3 million for volunteer companies who decide to merge and form joint corporations.

BCVFA Vice President Craig Coleman said the WMVFC provides a blueprint for this process, having merged with the Central Alarmers - an emergency services support organization - last year for the benefit of both companies. And there are now nine more volunteer companies in the county exploring mergers.

“Any volunteer company will benefit from what the White Marsh Volunteer Fire and EMS Company and Rehab 155 have done,” Coleman said.

GM’s assistant plant manager, David Rizzo, said the groundbreaking was a major milestone for both GM and WMVFC, stating that since they are one of the busiest fire companies in eastern Baltimore County, a new facility to support the community is a “winning proposition for all.”

“The donation of this property by GM to the fire company is symbolic of GM’s committment to our community,” Rizzo said. “We are proud of the good work done protecting the community by our partner in this effort.”

Councilwoman Bevins said she was grateful for GM’s generosity through the agreement.

“It’s such a tremendous contribution to the community and to the White Marsh volunteers,” she said.

Bevins commended Blubaugh and Palmer for their leadership in seeing the project through. She emphasized, though, that the fundraising campaign is not over and they still have a long way to go.

She also touted that the new traffic ramp to eastbound MD-43 - made possible by the Paragon outlets locating across the street from the new site on Philadelphia Road - will be a great help to them in improving response times.

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger noted that the old station is even older than he is.

“It’s amazing that our volunteer firefighters have been able to do what they do to protect our people with such an old station,” he said while remarking on how much better the new station will be.

“The more we give these types of facilities to our firefighters, and our volunteers especially, I think the more they’ll be there,” Ruppersberger opined. “And the more that they’re there, the better and quicker for the response time.”

Also part of the funding for the new station was the sale of a 12-acre parcel of land opposite the old station on Ebenzer Road for approximately $800,000 which was finalized on Nov. 4.

A local business purchased the land and has committed to preserving the White Marsh Post Office which sits on it, according to Blubaugh. However, the new owner’s other plans for the land have not been disclosed.

The land was originally donated to the company by Janey Bickel to do with what they wanted, and they had considered using that site for a new station. But studies of the land in the early 2000s concluded that the site work needed for utilities and other infrastructure there would be too expensive. Additionally, they would still have to contend with traffic backups and the adjacent train crossing.

Blubaugh assured, though, that the proceeds from the sale will be used to build a new station and provide the community with even better service.

The company is working with North Point Builders for construction of the new station and is anticipating an eight-month build beginning spring 2017.

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Water’s Landing lowers density, seeks Critical Area Commission approval

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Water’s Landing at Middle River, the planned unit development (PUD) slated for the 58-acre Weber Avenue property off Old Eastern Avenue in Essex, has dropped its planned density by about 20 homes, and the developer is focusing efforts on moving a school bus lot as well as winning approval from the state’s Critical Area Commission.

“This plan now, which has been in evolution over the last six months... is now settled down at 186 units,” said Richard Alter, president of Manekin Construction and developer of Water’s Landing.

The PUD resolution was approved by the Baltimore County Council in July 2015 to allow up to 207 units.

One of the “more significant” changes to the plan, Alter said, is that he has eliminated a planned extra road near the middle of the site which helped him take the unit total down while leaving a larger swath of forest undisturbed.

Much of Alter’s focus of late has been his effort to relocate a school bus depot, located on a 17-acre property that juts into his plot. Alter has contended that the bus lot does not belong near a community like his and has been working with Baltimore County and Baltimore County Public Schools - which each owns portions of the acreage - to find a suitable new site for it.

Alter said because school enrollment on the east side is increasing, BCPS is planning to eventually build a new, larger bus lot anyway. The existing lot has no running water or restroom facilities and currently relies on portable toilets, he said.

“It’s a pretty terrible facility,” Alter said, “so I would hope that sometime before we get finished we’ll be able to relocate it.”

He noted that they have multiple locations in mind, one of which is owned by the county and another by BGE.

The bus lot also has above-ground fuel tanks which have created a concern about the need for environmental clean-up at the site. And Alter said he needs to complete the second phase of studying pollutants from the buses themselves on the lot.

“We know that there’s gas and oil - you can just see it on the ground when you go there,” he said. He added that the lot has been there for “a lot of years,” so they know pollutants are present but not the quantities they are dealing with.

Additionally, Alter is seeking approval for the project from the state’s Chesapeake Bay Critical Area (CBCA) Commission and said he is at the beginning of a yearlong process in that regard.

Much of the project area is within the 1,000-foot CBCA, and as part of the CBCA application, the developer must identify other sites in the same watershed for reforestation of trees taken down since it cannot all be done on-site. The developer is required to pay to the county $1.50 per square foot of impact to the CBCA if mitigation cannot be done on-site. The county would then be responsible for using those funds to plant trees elsewhere.

Alter said a total of about 16 acres of reforestation will need to be done, much of which could be done on the bus lot site if they are able to relocate it.

Alter is hoping to use some of Baltimore County’s remaining Critical Area growth allocation, which would allow him to build more within the CBCA.

The growth allocation consists of 5 percent of the land mapped within the county’s critical area.

“So essentially, you can increase the [allowable housing] density with that 5 percent number for acreage of growth allocation,” said Claudia Jones, science advisor for the Critical Area Commission. “But that comes with certain conditions and standards,” she said, such as a 300-foot setback from the water for permanent structures.

Alter’s plans show homes at an average distance of 270 to 280 feet from the shoreline, with some coming as close as 150 feet.

Jones said it is “highly unlikely” the developer would be allowed to build within that 300-foot buffer, but that he could potentially get around the restriction through other remediation.

“The commission has, in those situations where the developer has not done the whole 300-foot setback, they’ve required some offsets and they’ve been pretty hefty additional stormwater [management] or additional tree planting,” Jones explained.

“It’s not something that the commission takes really lightly,” she said. But they do look at allowing that type of impact to the critical area if they can gain something somewhere else like preserving or improving a wetland, for example.

The developer is looking to be able to start construction of the project in 2018.

Even with volatile energy year, CCBC ‘delighted’ with solar power results

Even with volatile energy year, CCBC ‘delighted’ with solar power results
People often choose to park under the panels for extra protection from rain, snow or the sun's heat in summer.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Marge Neal -

A little more than a year after the “turning on” of the Community College of Baltimore County’s solar panels, school officials are pleased with the savings experienced to date, even though those savings were considerably lower than anticipated.

Based upon previous consumption habits and the negotiated price of the power produced by 16,500 photovoltaic panels built across the college’s three main campuses at Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex, college officials anticipated saving about $100,000 a year, according to Melissa Hopp, CCBC’s vice president of administrative services.

Through the first 11 months of solar power production, the actual savings were about $40,000, according to Hopp.

In what Hopp said was an unfortunately timed - and unprecedented - move, Saudi Arabian officials glutted the global market with energy around the same time CCBC started buying the green electricity, which supplied a little over 27 percent of the college’s full needs through the first 11 months.

While the college was thrilled with its negotiated rate of the solar-produced electricity, it buys the other 70 percent of its electricity through a buying consortium that is able to negotiate low prices because of the volume of energy purchased.

The consortium paid about 5 cents per kilowatt for a period of time while CCBC was paying 8 cents for the solar-produced energy.

“We went back through our records to at least 2005 and never saw electricity at or below 8 cents,” Hopp said in a phone interview. “We were thrilled with 8 cents; no one could have seen 5 cents, even for a short period of time.”

The administrator fully expects the savings to reach the anticipated goal, which is a total of $4 million over the course of the 20-year agreement.

When the 20 years is up, a variety of things can happen, according to Constellation spokeswoman Christina Pratt.

“Constellation owns and operates the system, which is good for the college - it protects them from any kind of liability or expense in repairs and maintenance,” she said in a phone interview. “In 20 years, there are many options, such as to continue the agreement as is or go with something else.”

A lot can happen in 20 years and Pratt expects technology to have greatly improved, so changing the system to the latest generation of panels would be on the table, as would the possibility of rate changes, a change in the maintenance agreement or any number of other details.

For at least the past 10 years, college officials have studied and been more aware of wind and solar power.

“We really began our sustainability efforts in earnest about eight years ago, when we started focusing on our consumption habits,” she said. “We looked at our gas and electric consumption but without really looking at the supply side.”

While working to “continually reduce” the college’s carbon footprint, Constellation/Exelon entered the picture. As a result of the Exelon acquisition of Constellation - then the parent company of BGE, the area’s regulated utility company - the newly merged energy giant was encouraged to increase its solar power production, according to Hopp. Looking for large spaces upon which to build solar facilities, Constellation officials approached the college in November 2014 and pitched the idea of building solar canopies on parking lots of the three main campuses.

After the CCBC Board of Trustees approved the concept in principle, a purchase agreement was reached, with Constellation agreeing to foot the bill for all construction and maintenance costs over the 20-year period, and CCBC agreeing to buy 100 percent of the energy produced by the panels, according to Hopp.

“We negotiated a flat rate eight cents per kiloWatt hour, which will be very beneficial to us now and in the future,” Hopp said. “Also, there would be no cost of transmission of the power to us.”

The transmission of traditionally-produced electricity varies and costs between 1.7 and 2 cents per kW hour, depending on the campus and meter, she said.

Construction began on the canopies during the summer of 2015 and was completed by September. A ceremonial “flipping of the switch” activated the panels in October 2015.

In addition to the anticipated energy savings over the course of the agreement, the college benefits in many other ways through its new relationship with Constellation, Hopp believes.

The installation of the solar panels is one of the most visible efforts on the college’s part to bring attention to the school’s sustainability efforts, according to Hopp.

“Students come onto campus and immediately see CCBC’s commitment to sustainability,” she said. “They see that CCBC cares about Earth.”

Constellation also has funded a $50,000 STEM Scholars program, which “financially, socially, academically and professionally supports” students pursuing associate’s adegrees and certificates in a variety of science, technology, engineering and math-related fields, from HVAC installation and maintenance to computer and environmental science, according to Pratt.

The scholarship program works particularly hard to attract low-income and minority students.

“This relationship has also allowed us to connect with one of the larger employers in the region,” Hopp said. “We were able to have student interns do some job-shadowing during the construction of the panels.”

One of those job-shadowing students, a single parent, completed her studies in HVAC and is now “one of the only African-American women doing HVAC installation for BGE Home,” Pratt said.

Another unintended benefit is that the canopies created garage-like facilities, which protect cars and students from rain and snow, as well as keep cars cooler in the summer, Hopp said.
“Students love them for those reasons alone,” she said.

The project also includes 10 charging stations for electric cars.

“So absolutely, we’re delighted with the results,” Hopp said. “Constellation has been a very good partner and we look forward to the continued relationship.”

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Ruxton Chocolates moves candy manufacturing business to Route 43

Ruxton Chocolates moves candy manufacturing business to Route 43
The 32-foot Mary Sue Candies Bunny was on hand for the groundbreaking event. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week, construction crews were hard at work on the new $8 million headquarters in Middle River for Ruxton Chocolates.

“Baltimore County has worked with us every step of the way as we put the pieces in place for this new building,” said Bill Buppert, president of Ruxton Chocolates. “We are very excited about growth opportunities as we expand our nationwide private label business.”

Growth opportunity is what brought Buppert, known as “Billy Wonka,” and his business to White Marsh, as the move helped to consolidate three separate locations into one. Two of the previous locations were based on Baltimore City while one was located in Pennsylvania. The new 100,000 square-foot building will eventually be home to 43 new workers when the facility opens next summer.

“We now have coffee, alcohol and chocolate along Route 43, and that’s reason to celebrate,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told reporters that the county has been working hard to expand business  in the White Marsh-Middle River area, touting nearly $1 billion of recent private investment.

Back in September, the County Council unanimously approved issuing $8 million worth of bonds on behalf of 1412 Tangier LLC, the firm handling the construction of the new facility. The firm will have to repay the bonds over time, while the county will earn an annual fee for issuing the bonds. Should the bonds not be paid back, the county won’t be on the hook for payment.

“We are pleased that the company that makes some of Maryland’s iconic candy brands has picked Baltimore County for its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility,” said Kamenetz.

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At Tradepoint open house, residents interested in ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’

(Updated 11/8/16)

- By Marge Neal -

While Tradepoint Atlantic officials paint a positive image of the long-term economic impact the former Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point plant complex will have on the Baltimore region, Greater Dundalk residents are more concerned about the immediate creation of quality, well-paying jobs.

Tradepoint officials, in continuing their mission to bring life back to the former steel mill property, provided an update and presented an economic impact study when they invited the community to its most recent open house, held Nov. 3.

A standing-room-only crowd filled a conference room at Tradepoint to hear the update, ask questions and peruse displays that have preserved steelmaking artifacts.

Economist Anirban Basu, CEO of the Sage Policy Group, delivered a synopsis of the economic impact study that Tradepoint commissioned his company to conduct.

Basu estimates that Tradepoint, throughout the complex’s buildout over the next 10 years, will create about 9,500 permanent, direct jobs and will create $1.8 billion in direct economic activity among the site’s tenants. Regionally, job growth is expected to hit 17,000 jobs, with an additional $1.1 billion in associated worker income, for a total annual economic impact of about $3 billion for the Baltimore region.

Much of the impact discussed by Basu is down the road, but residents are more concerned about jobs now.

When asked about the number of workers on-site now, Tradepoint general counsel Mike Pedone said there are 12 people in Tradepoint’s office.

“The important thing will be the jobs our tenants will bring,” Pedone said.

Nearly 700 employees report to the site each day now, according to Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint‘s vice president of corporate affairs. Those include Tradepoint’s corporate, maintenance and rail teams, as well as construction workers who are building FedEx’s new warehouse, MCM employees who are still razing steel facilities and doing site preparation work for new construction and employees of new tenants such as Cap Rock Grain, an importer of organic feed grain.

Dundalk resident Don Kellner, a Bethlehem Steel retiree, said good quality, well-paying jobs are needed in the community now.

“There’s got to be a manufacturing base,” Kellner said at the open house. “You can’t survive on $12 or $13 an hour; you can’t raise a family on $12 an  hour.”

Kellner mentioned a new local employer that is “bragging about paying $12 an hour - and no benefits,” and said the area needs better than that.

Tradepoint has about a dozen leases with new tenants that have been executed in the past year. Agreements with Under Armour, FedEx, Pasha Automotive and Atlantic Forest Products are among those announced publicly and the Tradepoint corporate team is “constantly marketing” and bringing attention to the opportunities for growth and expansion available at the 3,100-acre waterfront site, according to Tomarchio.

It is important for residents to realize how complicated the work is to convert the property from a steel mill to an industrial park complex, Tomarchio said.

“We’re taking down an old steel plant and remediating 125 years of environmental damage,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “It’s a very complicated process.”

His colleagues are working closely with county and state officials to ensure that permits are issued as quickly as possible so new tenants can be accommodated as soon as possible, he said.

“We need to build, companies need to do their own build-outs after that and then move in,” he said. “It takes time.”

A timeline on when job growth could be expected is difficult to construct because of all the variables involved, according to Tomarchio. The site build-out is projected to take until 2025. Job growth depends on “how quickly we can get clients in here and how quickly they are able to grow and expand,” he said.

Basu believes the rebirth of the Sparrows Point land will only add to the momentum already being experienced in the Dundalk area. In response to a question from Dundalk Renaissance Corp. executive director Amy Menzer, Basu said that Dundalk has shifted from being a community on the decline to one on the rise.

With perhaps up to 10,000 more jobs “on this land that is being cleaned and reclaimed, you’re maybe looking at the first positive opportunity  for Dundalk in a long time,” Basu said.

While many positive moves are being made and much progress is being achieved by the Tradepoint team, Pedone cautioned that it will be a long process to reach the maximum potential of the property.

“It sometimes takes a long time for this to really be good news for the community in terms of jobs,” he said at the open house.

King Pallet owner A.J. Bierman already thinks the progress so far is good news.

“This country was built on the backs of small businesses,” he said at the open house.

Bierman made note of the small businesses along North Point Boulevard near Tradepoint and said those would all benefit from the build-out.

“I, for one, appreciate the work you’re doing,” he said.