Rebuilding Together gives peace of mind to homeowners

Rebuilding Together gives peace of mind to homeowners
Inside John Kaiser’s home on Dunbar Road, Rebuilding Together volunteers prepare to install a new section of ceiling while outside, other volunteers replace a porch landing. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Vietnam veteran John Kaiser is struggling to keep up with repairs needed on his Dundalk home that has been in the family for at least three generations.

The problems in the house just kept piling up: a clogged drain that had all but put a stop to water use, a porch roof that was tilted and in danger of collapse, plumbing leaks in the kitchen and a back porch that was in bad need of replacement.

On Saturday, May 19, Kaiser looked on in amazement as a crew of Rebuilding Together Baltimore volunteers swept through his Dunbar Road home, making quick work of repairs he would not otherwise have been able to afford.

“It really means a lot to me,” the humble, soft-spoken man said as workers cut a hole in a piece of drywall to fit over a light fixture in a ceiling. “This is really something.”

Workers from Improvement Zone were among the volunteers whipping Kaiser’s house into shape. Owner Nick Neboshynsky described his company as a disabled veteran business and said he always likes to request the assignment of a veteran’s home.

“It makes it more special to me,” he said. “It gives me that connection.”

Noting that the clogged drain was the most vital and urgent need, a contractor was hired to fix the problem the week before the Rebuilding Together blitz, according to Bonnie Bessor, executive director of Baltimore’s chapter of the national organization.

“John essentially couldn’t use the water; couldn’t flush the toilet,” Bessor said of the plumbing problem. “So we had a contractor come in last week and that’s all taken care of.”

Kaiser, who served in the Army from 1971-74 and was deployed to Vietnam, just smiled at the work taking place in his home.

“It really means the world to me,” he said. “I was thinking I was going to have to find someplace else to stay and this changes everything.”

On Fairgreen Road, Shirley Chavis had the same look of appreciation on her face as a crew of volunteers from Booz Allen Hamilton was busy preparing her living room floor for a new covering.

Chavis, the co-owner of the house, along with her significant other, Mark Phoebus, said the crew had already put down a new wood laminate floor in the dining room and other volunteers were busy repairing a roof leak and fixing the ceiling that had been damaged as a result of the leak.

Three generations live in the home, with Chavis’ granddaughter and her two children completing the extended family.

Chavis has several health issues, including diabetes and balance issues, and Phoebus has been disabled since 2001. As a result, money is tight and they cannot do any heavy work themselves, according to Phoebus, also a military veteran.

“This is a big, big relief,” Chavis said. “So much came off my mind - these guys are awesome.”

Before the end of the day, the house would also have all new window screens, new smoke detectors and a new bathroom fan.

In addition to the “deep dive” repairs on four homes in the Dun-Logan community, all homeowners, regardless of income, were invited to take advantage of smaller offerings, including front and rear address markers, downspout extensions, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and energy-efficient light bulbs for porch lights, according to Bessor.

“We’re a ‘safe and healthy housing’ organization,” Bessor said. “Installing items that help keep residents safe and healthy in their homes is a big part of our mission.”

Hand railings and safety bars in bathrooms are among the staples provided by the organization.

Dundalk’s American Legion Post 38, of which Phoebus and Kaiser are members, offered its covered patio to the group to use as its headquarters for the day. The shelter came in handy as volunteers faced a rainy day to perform their benevolent tasks.

As a result, the Post received some volunteer help. Crews cleaned and replanted flower beds around the building, while other volunteers transformed a group of mismatched picnic tables into a uniform collection of red, white and blue gathering spots.

“We’re going to have to come back and do another coat because the paint didn’t dry fast enough in the rain,” Bessor said. “But that’s no big deal, and we’re also going to paint the stage.”

Baltimore County government provided dump trucks which picked up not only construction debris but also clutter, old furniture and other items the homeowners wanted to get rid of, Bessor said.

Over a short lunch break, Bessor pointed out various volunteers who return year after year because the mission means so much to them.

“We even have a former intern who came back to volunteer ,” Bessor said. “She just graduated yesterday with her master’s degree in social work and she could have slept in, but instead she’s here at 8 in the morning, in the pouring rain, ready to work.”

She mentioned another volunteer who first got involved because there was “strong encouragement” at work to participate, and 30 years later, she’s still volunteering on her own simply because she enjoys it.

Each year, Rebuilding Together completes about 10,000 home rebuild projects across the country, according to organization literature. Two out of every three projects help keep older adults in their homes. The repairs give homeowners peace of mind, enable them to age in place and create safer living environments with safety equipment that reduces the number of debilitating falls.

And Chavis considers herself lucky to be the beneficiary of those efforts.

“This sure has made my life a lot happier,” she said as she sat at her dining room table, surrounded by a new wood floor and space opened up by the purging of some clutter. “It’s just taken a lot off my mind and it means the world to us.”

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Library system recognizes ETHS students for constructing Little Free Libraries

Library system recognizes ETHS students for constructing Little Free Libraries
This prototype LFL design was conceived and built by ETHS senior Teddy Ziolkowski. However, the final design was slightly modified, having an A-frame roof and painted with BCPL colors. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Public Library system recognized 31 Eastern Technical High School students Tuesday, May 22, for their hard work in building eight Little Free Libraries for county residents to participate in book sharing.

The LFLs have been installed at ETHS in Essex and various public parks around the county, including, on the east side, Double Rock Park in Parkville, Eastern Regional Park in Middle River and Heritage Park in Dundalk.

BCPL financed the cost of the materials for the project to the tune of about $400, according to John Eagan, construction management instructor at the school. And since students carried out the construction, the labor cost was free, he said.

Eagan surmised that each LFL could house about 14 books at a time, depending on the size of the books.

The instructor said the project began with a design competition between last year’s students, and the construction was picked up by this year’s seniors.

“Basically what they did is they created a path for the Little Free Library project,” Eagan said, pointing to the prototype, built by senior Teddy Ziolkowski, which was on display. “It created a path for the smaller version that’s going to be put at many locations in Baltimore County.”

He said students used materials such as a single sheet of plywood from which to cut the pieces they needed, and they divvied up the available roof shingles for all of the library boxes.

“That was part of the parameters and they had to make it work with the materials they had,” he said.

Eagan added that the students applied the building techniques they have learned to construct the LFLs before painting them with BCPL colors.

“It gave the students the opportunity to learn new skills and apply them directly to the project,” he said. “The students worked really hard on this project from start to finish, and they were able to manage it, design and build and see it through to the end. They did a great job.”

Ziolkowski, whose design was chosen from the competition, said he decided on a shed-style roof design because it had a simple, yet modern look.

Assistant Director of BCPL Natalie Edington praised the LFL project noting that they will serve the community for years to come.

She said BCPL and Baltimore County Public Schools share many of the same values and priorities, such as the importance of learning, reading, literacy and education.

“The Little Free Library project is all of those things on the surface,” she said. “And if you look a little deeper, you see the added value of connecting the community.”

Edington said while people often share books with friends and family, the LFLs allow people to also share them with neighbors and the broader community.

“Little Free Libraries are creativity, discussion and even friendship,” she said. “They create a more connected and inclusive community.”

She saw the effort as connecting with a partner in the community on a project that would create more connections in the community.

ETHS Assistant Principal Stephen Stevens said the LFLs are an opportunity to create a totally new environment in public parks and other spaces.

“We know that books have the ability to take us anywhere that our imaginations can also take us,” he said.

Each LFL location has a designated library branch nearest it which will monitor and initially stock it with books that have been donated to the library system, according to BCPL spokeswoman Erica Palmisano. She noted that since actual library books were purchased with taxpayer money, they will not be used to stock the LFLs.

Additionally, the boxes will be checked on at least twice per month by a library employee from the parent branches.

“I know this is sort of a pet project for some people so maybe they will do more,” Palmisano said.

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Two solar-panel projects moving forward near Kingsville

Two solar-panel projects moving forward near Kingsville
An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 5/23/18)

Hearing on possible changes to solar regs set for June 7 

- By Virginia Terhune -

More than a dozen businesses have applied to install solar panels on about 170 acres of farmland in scattered areas of Baltimore County, which they say will reduce the burning of fossil fuels and create jobs in a growing industry.

But neighbors living near the projects argue that the fenced solar arrays will interfere with scenic views, lower property values and take farmland out of production.

The county’s Planning Board is currently evaluating the effect of Bill 37-17, which the County Council passed into law nearly a year ago to govern the siting of solar facilities.

“Currently there have been no facilities constructed since passage of Bill 37-17, as projects have been appealed or are currently still in the development process,” according to a draft report issued by the county’s Office of Planning on May 17.

The planning office held meetings on March 26 and April 17 to solicit input about possible changes to the law.

Also scheduled is a public hearing on Thursday, June 7, at 5 p.m. in the county’s Jefferson Building in Towson before the board sends its final report to the County Council by the end of June.

Based on input so far, some solar companies want to raise the current cap of 10 projects per council district, according to the draft report.

Other companies want to speed up the process by replacing a public hearing from the approval process with an administrative review before the county’s Development Review Committee. Most of the projects are facing first-year deadlines imposed by participation in BGE’s three-year Community Solar Pilot program, according to the draft report.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, some land preservation and community groups want to see more restrictions on where facilities can be located, as well as incentives to create habitats for wildlife on land used for solar arrays.

Some also want more support for alternatives to leasing farm land, such as installing solar panels on capped landfills or contaminated industrial “brownfield” sites.

A county spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request Monday for an up-to-date list of solar projects in the county. However, the planning office’s draft report included a list compiled as of late March.

Eight of the 14 solar projects on the list were in Council District 3, which covers rural northern Baltimore County. Most of the projects have been granted a required special exception by a county administrative law judge, but some are facing appeals before the county’s Board of Appeals.

An additional four projects are located in District 4 in western Baltimore County, and two more are in northeastern Baltimore County in the Kingsville/Bradshaw area.

One project at 11956 Philadelphia Road on the northeast corner of the intersection of Philadelphia and Raphel roads in District 6 was granted a special exception on Dec. 29.

A second project located on the south side of the same intersection, at 10790 Raphel Road in District 5, was granted a special exception on May 11.

In both cases the Greater Kingsville Civic Association asked that additional landscaping be done along Raphel Road and at the intersection, which is considered a gateway to Kingsville. A representative for the association did not return a request for comment Monday.

Regarding industrial sites, the Chesapeake Bay Journal reported in April that 54,000 solar panels are being installed at a closed municipal landfill west of Annapolis.

The Maryland Department of Commerce offers grants to companies that buy qualified brownfield sites, and Baltimore County also offers tax credits for state-qualified brownfield sites that have gone through the Maryland Voluntary Cleanup Program.

The planning office’s draft report, entitled “Bill 37-17 Solar Facilities - Evaluation of the Impacts of Solar Facilities in Baltimore County,” is expected to be posted at on the Planning Board web page under June 2018 meetings.

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Fullerton fireworks group still looking for infusion of cash, fresh volunteers

Fullerton fireworks group still looking for infusion of cash, fresh volunteers
Photo courtesy of the Fullerton Fireworks Foundation Facebook page.

(Updated 5/23/18)

There is good news and bad news about the Fullerton community fireworks display.

The popular Independence Day production will happen again this year, but Fullerton Fireworks Foundation Vice President Rick Swinder said he just does not know how long the tradition can continue without an infusion of new volunteer help.

“We have a handful of volunteers and I mean literally a handful,” Swinder told the East County Times. “We have the same five or six volunteers who are attempting to do it all, and quite frankly, we are burning out.”

The fireworks display and accompanying music festival costs about $30,000 a year to produce, according to Swinder. Much of the business community is still struggling in an economy that has not completely rebounded from the recession of 2008, and the quantity and size of donations to the group has shrunk considerably, Swinder said.

The production is 100-percent privately funded, with no assistance from Baltimore County aside from the use of Fullerton Field and a county-owned stage.

“We struggle every year and we’re browbeating the same people to donate,” he said. “It’s the same people making the donations and the same people doing all of the work and we’re just getting burned out.”

In its effort to create new fundraisers, the foundation is running its second annual golf tournament Saturday, June 9, at the Wetlands Golf Club in Aberdeen. The inaugural event raised about $5,000 with 80 golfers, and Swinder said organizers hope to attract at least 100 participants this year.

The fee is $100 per person and includes an 18-hole round of golf, cart, range balls and lunch, which will include BBQ pork, bourbon chicken, burgers and an assortment of side dishes, as well as unlimited domestic beer, soda, Gatorade and water.

In addition to the golf competition, the event will offer raffles, a Chinese auction and putting, closest-to-the-pin and longest-drive contests. A Toyota Highlander awaits the golfer who can shoot a hole-in-one on a specifically designated hole, according to Swinder.

“It’s a really tough hole, and getting a hole-in-one would be like being struck by lightning three times, but you never know,” he said with a laugh.

After May 27, the registration fee goes up to $125. To register in advance, or to volunteer to help, call Dominic Costello at 443-739-2445 or Swinder at 410-977-7829.

Checks made payable to the Fullerton Fireworks Foundation can be sent to the group via P.O. Box 19535, Baltimore, MD 21206.

Volunteers are needed as badly as donations, if not more so, according to Swinder.

“We really need people to pitch in and help,” he said. “The fireworks would be a lot less stressful if more people were involved to make them happen.”

The group meets every two weeks in the few months leading up to the tournament and fireworks, and volunteers are needed to help with tasks before the event as well as the day of, according to Swinder.

“Everybody wants something to happen, but nobody wants to do anything for it,” he said of the popularity of the event. “There’s certainly no shortage of a crowd but we have the same old, tired people doing all the work - that has to change.”

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Hogan signs school board transparency bill into law

Hogan signs school board transparency bill into law
HB 76 was sponsored by Del. Robin Grammer, a Republican who represents the Sixth legislative district (Dundalk, Essex and parts of Rosedale).

(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The 2018 legislative session in Maryland saw Baltimore County Public Schools under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers. While Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6) failed to get his legislative audit bill for the beleaguered school system passed, he succeeded in getting more transparency from the school board with the passing of House Bill 76: Baltimore County Board of Education - Education Transparency Act.

The bill, which Governor Larry Hogan signed into law two weeks ago, was crafted by Grammer to help constituents keep up with school board activities. The board currently uploads videos of their sessions to their website, but sessions often run three to four hours long, making finding pertinent information a slog.

“Frankly, that’s just asinine,” Grammer told the East County Times in an interview. “No average person, no parent, has three or four hours to watch through a video to know how their representative is voting.”

Grammer said that he has consistently been approached by constituents wishing to see policy changes in the school system. But since policy is directed by the board of education, there has not been much he could do.

With the current makeup of the board being political appointees, and information difficult to find online, Grammer hopes this bill will both keep the public informed and the board honest.

The Education Transparency Act requires that any action of the county board be recorded by a voice vote or a roll call vote and that the results of any vote or action be posted online within 72 hours, along with video and an explanation of what the vote was.

The bill does not stipulate where on the website the information has to be posted, which could potentially be an issue further down the line. However, Grammer was confident that visibility would not be an issue.

“I think some of those details are yet to be ironed out but I think there is enough language there to hold their feet to the fire when posting it online,” he said.

While the bill ended up making it out of the Baltimore County House Delegation, it almost failed. The bill was originally killed in the education subcommittee, which is comprised largely of Democrats, despite no real pushback from the board of education.

“This is completely supported. I don’t think I heard one person say this is a bad idea,” said Grammer. “They even had a board of education representative down there at most [House Delegation] meetings during session, and she didn’t even speak against the bill. The only criticism we had was from other elected officials, that the board of education didn’t have the staff to make this work.”

Eventually, criticism mounted and the bill found its way out of the subcommittee, gaining the full backing of the Baltimore County House Delegation. Whether or not it changes how the board operates remains to be seen, but Grammer sees this bill as a good starting point to re-engaging the public with the school board while letting the board know they will be held accountable.

“I see this bill as kind of a first step in transparency and connecting people in the county with their board of education representative,” said Grammer. “And I think that is a big part of the problem, why we have a board who’s acting in disregard of the concern of the people.”

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McMillion, Washington square off in school board race debate

McMillion, Washington square off in school board race debate
Washington (standing) spoke about how he has "skin in this game" with the BOE race since his children attend BCPS. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

This year marks the first year for school board elections in Baltimore County, and last Thursday, May 17, two of the three candidates vying for the seat in District 7 squared off at the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company in Dundalk.

Rod McMillion and Eric Washington spent just over an hour answering questions from the League of Women Voters and a handful of audience members ranging from the role of the board in oversight of the superintendent to policy issues like discipline.

Not present at the debate was Will Feuer, who is also running for the Seventh District seat.

“I had a prior commitment scheduled and had informed the League of Women Voters on April 19 that I could not attend,” Feuer said in a statement. “I had communicated with another candidate who stated he could also not attend and was told the LWV would reschedule if two of the three candidates could not attend. I intended to participate and was waiting for the rescheduled date.”

Washington was not originally expected to make the debate, as he had been out of the state. When he arrived, name placards for McMillion and Feuer adorned the table where the men were supposed to be seated.

Despite the early confusion, the event went on with just McMillion and Washington. McMillion got the ball rolling, opening the debate by highlighting his 35 years working in the school system as a substitute teacher, full time teacher, department chair and athletic director.

“I teach everyday. I’m in a school everyday. I’ve got two years sick time,” said McMillion. “I’m the kind of guy who goes to work. I go to work and I do my job. I’ve seen the school system run from the inside and I have a lot of opinions about the way it’s run. I’m a firm believer in an elected school board. For years I’ve said this system wasn’t working, people weren’t being held accountable.”

Like McMillion, Washington also touted his decades of work in education. The Dundalk resident has been in education for 25 years, working as an administrator for the Community College of Baltimore County for the past 16 years handling conduct issues at the Essex campus. He also has children in the school system and feels that gives him an advantage.

“I have skin in this game,” said Washington. “[To be a board member] you should have children in the system, you should be an educator. Most importantly you should have skin in this game.”

Both McMillion and Washington expressed concern about the current board’s transparency, with McMillion noting that more could be done to keep people updated on policy issues. He also stressed the need for public input on the appointing of a new superintendent.

“Over 50 percent of the budget is all about the school system and we need to be accountable,” said McMillion. He added that although there may be a large contingent of people who are not informed on the school system, “they’re still taxpayers.”

“Their money is going out of their pocket to pay taxes and run BCPS,” said McMillion. “We need to get the public back in this process and re-establish trust.”

Washington agreed with McMillion on transparency, saying the school board needs to “open the books and lay it bare,” but spent a good portion of time lamenting the lack of oversight from the board with both former superintendent Dallas Dance and interim superintendent Verletta White.

“I think at some level they may have failed in doing their task,” said Washington. “If they had kept better hold on the superintendent in terms of his activity, a lot of things that have come about now would have never happened ... Now it’s on the board to make sure that all of the records are open to everyone and an audit is done that is transparent.”

For Washington, the biggest issues are school safety, teacher salaries and school construction, saying that “we in this part of the county have been shortchanged for quite a long time” regarding equitable disbursement of construction funding.

McMillion said the biggest issue for the board is appointing a superintendent and oversight.

“To me it starts with the superintendent and works its way down,” he said, highlighting White’s role in changing the school system’s grading policy. He also hit on increasing school safety, including adding student resource officers at elementary schools, and issuing a comprehensive audit.

The Essex resident lashed out on the STAT program as well, saying the focus needs to be on teaching reading and writing, skills McMillion says graduating students are lacking.

That sentiment was shared by Washington who added, “it’s a shame” the way the school system has shifted so much to using technology in the classroom.

“I am not saying we don’t need technology, but we must use technology wisely to enhance our lives, not turn away from the basic simple things that made our students great,” said Washington.

Because there are more than two candidates in this race, all three names will appear on the primary ballot on June 26, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election on Nov. 6.

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Tradepoint Atlantic buys Sparrows Point shipyard for $33.5 million

Tradepoint Atlantic buys Sparrows Point shipyard for $33.5 million
The former Bethlehem Steel shipyard, then operating as BB Metals, won a naval ship-breaking contract to dismantle the USNS Range Sentinel at the shipyard in 2012. In its prime, the Sentinel saw action in World War II. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Tradepoint Atlantic officials have recently acquired another piece of the Sparrows Point puzzle that will afford them total control over the modalities available at the more than 3,000-acre property that is the former site of Bethlehem Steel Corp. and its many successors.

Tradepoint has acquired the Point’s shipyard, which has changed hands several times and operated under many different names since Bethlehem Steel sold the property in the late 1990s, according to online taxation and property records.

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, confirmed to the East County Times on May 8 that the property transfer had been settled “a couple of weeks ago.”

Online Maryland property tax records updated earlier this week show the property legally changed hands April 30. SPS Limited Partnership LLLP sold the 226-acre parcel to TPA Properties 9 LLC for $33.5 million.

Asked for more detail about the acquisition and how it fit into the industrial and distribution complex’s plans for the future, Tomarchio declined to elaborate.

“We plan to put out an official statement in the next week or two, and we’ll have more details and background for you when we release that statement,” he told the Times.

The marketing of Tradepoint as a full-modality transportation and distribution center has centered on the property’s deep channel shipping access, an in-house railroad and close proximity to interstate highways and commercial freight rail lines.

It is unclear whether Tradepoint will operate the shipyard or lease it to a contractor, but the sale ensures that the company will control the facility that provides drydocking and manufacturing capabilities for vessel repairs, shipbuilding and ship-breaking.

The shipyard property has a storied past. Steelmaking and shipbuilding began at The Point in 1887 when Maryland Steel set up shop on what was previously waterfront farmland. The entire property was acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, according to online histories of the land. The shipyard parcel was sold in 1997 to Veritas Capital Fund, which operated the facility under the name of Baltimore Marine Industries Inc. Veritas subsequently sold it to Barletta Industries. Barletta operated under the name of Sparrows Point Shipyard and Industrial Complex.

The land continued to lose value as the shipbuilding market faltered. BMI/Veritas sold the property in 2004 for $9.25 million, and subsequent sales were for $4.8 million and $2 million before the sale to Tradepoint for $33.5 million, according to taxation and assessment records.

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Chesapeake Realty Partners proposes luxury apartments in White Marsh

Chesapeake Realty Partners proposes luxury apartments in White Marsh
As proposed, the project would consist of one- and two-bedroom units and "high-end" amenities such as a club house, recreational open space in the center of the site and some covered parking. Image courtesy of Chesapeak Realty Partners.

(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Eastside TRF, LLC, which is affiliated with Chesapeake Realty Partners, is proposing to build 324 “high-end” apartments, called “Avenue Grand,” on a nearly 13-acre, undeveloped site within the White Marsh business community.

The property, located at 8120 and 8130 Corporate Drive, backs up to Sandpiper Circle and is “the last piece of property on [the west] side of I-95 that’s available in the business community,” according to Jim Matis, engineer for the project.

The adjoining property has two existing three-story office buildings. The subject site was initially planned as part of that office complex, Matis said at a May 9 community input meeting for the project, but a former owner re-envisioned it for apartments.

“Finally, Chesapeake is taking it to that next step,” he said, “which makes sense with the proximity to the mall and the proximity to services relative to the business center.”

The land is currently zoned for light industrial use, but the Baltimore County Council passed legislation last year to allow residential uses at the site due to its proximity to the White Marsh Town Center district.

The project plan calls for four buildings, each with 81 units and five stories tall, Matis said. The complex would consist of about 60 percent one-bedroom units and 40 percent two-bedroom units. Primary access to the site would be from Sandpiper Circle, and it would likely have secondary access through the office complex.

CRP, according to its president, Jon Mayers, has built such projects as Bay Country and The Woods at Bay Country in Chase, as well as the Honeygo Town Center in Perry Hall and more recently the Winthrop in Towson which he called “highly successful.”

“It’s got the highest rent in Baltimore County,” Mayers said. “It is without a doubt a high-end, Class-A product for the county.”

The vision for Avenue Grand is similar to the Winthrop, he said, albeit with a different building type, set of amenities and a slightly different target demographic. But it would have the same design features, such as high-end kitchen and bathroom finishes, wide hallways, high ceilings, abundant light, a washer and dryer in every unit and other such perks - and they expect to get slightly higher rents there than at the Winthrop.

He added they do not skimp on bedroom sizes. “So they’re really luxurious.”

The target demographics for the project, Mayers explained, are millennials who do not yet have children, who want a variety of things to do and who want an urban-like lifestyle without living downtown, as well as empty nesters who want to stay near their families and who want amenities to fit their active lifestyles.

“There aren’t a lot of options, if you look at the apartments in the area, for the people who can afford it; they would not rent those apartments,” he said. “A lot of those people are going downtown now.”

In addressing concerns from residents about “affordable housing,” the CRP president assured “this is not that.”

“This is not Section 8, we don’t get government financing, we won’t have a HUD loan, we won’t have anything like that,” Mayers said. “This is our money.”

Ryan Nawrocki, a candidate for County Council who attended the meeting, pointed out that any rental property owner can accept government housing vouchers and expressed concern that CRP could do that with this project, particularly if the County Council passes legislation requiring rental owners to accept the vouchers or set aside a certain percentage of their units for affordable housing.

But Mayers noted those rules are not in effect now, so they are not what will govern the design or scope of this project.

“We’re not taking Section 8; we never have,” he said. “We can’t get the highest rent in the county and have the quality of project that we want and have the residents we want move there and stay there if we move Section 8 people in. It would be completely against everything we’re trying to do.”

Nawrocki, who arrived late to the meeting, also posted on social media afterward that the developer would seek to have “zero open space for the development.”

However, before the candidate arrived, Mayers explained to attendees that the majority of the project would be centered around a “really large, gracious green space” with things like pavillions, fire pits and hammock gardens, plus a pool and a 9,500-square-foot club center.

He did say, though, that CRP would seek to pay a waiver fee for the remainder of the required open space they could not supply on the site.

Regarding children living in the new development and attending area schools, Nawrocki pointed out that enrollment at Fullerton Elementary School, for which the project would be zoned, is currently at 132 percent of capacity.

Baltimore County Public Schools enrollment projections also show enrollment at the school continuing to rise in the coming years. But those projections do not take into account the planned new 700-seat elementary school on nearby Ridge Road, slated to open in August 2020, according to BCPS spokeswoman Dolores Pierorazio.

Mayers said his project would likely not start construction until late 2019 or early 2020, leaving time for the new school to open before adding any new students.

“The additional seats at the Ridge Road site are anticipated to provide significant relief to the area when they are added,” Pierorazio said. “The project was specifically identified to provide capacity relief to the [northeast] area.”

Patricia Malone, land use attorney for the project, said there is also available capacity in adjacent school districts, “which is a proper way to have a development project approved.”

Per the county’s calculation for children from the project attending area schools, they assume 11 elementary school-aged children would live there. But because of the product type and demographics, they have experienced lower numbers.

“We follow the county calculation,” Mayers said, “but in a project like this we typically have less than what the calculation says.”

He said market studies have shown that there are plenty of families who want three or four bedrooms, “but they don’t pay the rent we want, and they’re not going to create the lifestyle for the other folks that we want.”

He could not guarantee some families wouldn’t move in, but added only three school-aged children live in the Winthrop out of 292 units.

Nawrocki also raised concerns about traffic, noting that the nearby intersection of MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard at Honeygo Boulevard is heavily congested and is currently rated at a level of service (LOS) D, meaning drivers can experience delays during peak hours.

But Baltimore County and the Maryland Department of Transportation consider an LOS D “acceptable” on roadways.

Matis, the project engineer, said the new housing would not change the intersection’s rating.

Additionally, there is significant other major traffic infrastructure in the area, including MD-43 at Perry Hall Boulevard - the closest major intersection to the site - which functions at a LOS A during both morning and evening peak hours, according to state data.

Other community members expressed excitement about the project for what they saw as the potential to breathe new life into some of the area’s older businesses.

“I’m excited about it because I think White Marsh Mall is dying,” said White Marsh resident Mark Thompson. “Something like this is a step toward maybe turning that mall around.”

He added that his community, which he said is the closest neighborhood to the site, wants to see the it happen because they see it as positive growth.

Sandra Lombardo, branch manager at the White Marsh library, said she supported the project because the targeted demographic groups are some of the heaviest users of libraries.

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Education, crime, small business are District 8 candidate priorities

Education, crime, small business are District 8 candidate priorities
Norma Secoura (left) addresses the crowd while Carl Jackson, Kevin Leary, Joe Cluster, Ben Boehl, Christian Miele and Eric Bromwell wait for their turn. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The dais at the Parkville Senior Center was packed last Thursday, May 10, as the Greater Parkville Community Council hosted a forum for local House of Delegate and State Senate candidates.

Challengers and incumbents running in districts 8, 42A and 42B were invited to share their vision with and take questions from Parkville, Carney, Cub Hill and Towson residents.

Before yielding the floor to the candidates, GPCC President Ruth Baisden spoke of the accomplishments of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who died suddenly early that morning, and asked for a moment of silence in his memory.

Candidates were given three minutes each to introduce themselves and to share their visions and priorities for their respective districts. For the purposes of this article, only District 8 candidates are covered.

Many candidates bragged about being lifelong or long-term residents of the district and spoke of attending local public schools, colleges and universities. Across party lines, candidates spoke of the need to improve the school system - including academics, the physical condition of buildings and the need for more transparency in the day-to-day governance of the school system. Other priority items discussed included lowering crime rates, attracting new businesses to the “Main Street” area of Parkville, health care, the opioid crisis and improving the general quality of life in the district.

Current Eighth District Delegate Christian Miele is giving up that seat to run against Democrat Kathy Klausmeier for the district’s State Senate seat.

He spoke of his record while in the House of Delegates and pointed to causes he had championed, including a tax credit program designed to “incentivize businesses to come to Parkville’s Main Street,” and a program to hire unemployed military veterans.

“It’s time to vote for change because change is necessary to move Maryland forward,” Miele said.

House of Delegates Republican challenger Joe Norman, who introduced himself as a small business owner and recreation council coach, did not pull any punches when explaining why he is running for office.

“I’m sick and tired of being treated like a bottomless piggy bank by our state government,” he said. “I’m tired of business as usual.”

Jared Wineberg introduced himself as a Republican but said that is not his identity; he is a man with Christ, family and country/state as his priorities.

The new Parkville resident moved to the area about three years ago after being drawn to its small-town feel. He said he would like to see “a really cool downtown;” he is happy to see an elected, accountable-to-the-people school board get seated this year; and said he is concerned about the state of education and the crime rate.

“Police are professionals and we need to support them with the resources they need,” he said.

Republican Norma Secoura told the crowd that her “bread and butter” has been community work. She cited her many years of community involvement, including membership and participation with the Overlea Community Association and Fullerton Fireworks Committee efforts.

“I want to be in the House of Delegates because I care,” she said. “It’s a natural progression of my work.”

The lifelong district resident told the crowd that she has a “665” phone number she has had her entire life.

Carl Jackson, a Democrat, works at the University of Maryland at Baltimore in its School of Social Work. He told the crowd of starting at the bottom, in the mail room, and working his way up to administration while also earning a master’s degree in business.

“Education is everything for me,” he said. “I am the first of my family to receive a higher education degree and I am a graduate of Overlea High School.”

He said he believes new elected leaders are needed because leaders who spend too much time in Annapolis “tend to do what they want instead of what the community wants.”

Republican Kevin Leary is a military veteran, a former cop and a small business owner, he told the crowd. He is concerned about the school system, which he said is teaching students “how to take a test” and little else.

He also expressed concern about the amount of student misbehavior and how it is addressed.

“There has to be discipline,” he said. “I don’t want to keep everyone out,” but he believes that after interventions fail, students need to face consequences for their bad behavior.

He said he would like to see efforts to attract more small businesses to the area and believes Maryland’s regulations “crush” small business owners.

Republican incumbent Delegate Joe Cluster is in the second and final year in the term he was appointed to finish after his father was appointed as the state’s parole commissioner by Gov. Larry Hogan.

He said Parkville is “very important” to him and cited putting up with long commutes while working in the District of Columbia and Annapolis because he did not want to move out of his Parkville community.

He told the crowd his top priority is getting Hogan reelected.

“A divided government works for you; a monopoly government doesn’t work for you,” he told the crowd. He believes more Republicans need to get elected so Hogan’s projects and initiatives stand a better chance of being enacted.

Republican challenger Ben Boehl, a “lifelong district resident,” said the current Democrat-controlled state government is “pro-criminal and anti-business” and he would like to see that changed.

He said he is tired of criminals being given “four, five and six chances” by the criminal justice system and also expressed concern about school budget money being spent on digital devices while “school buildings are crumbling.”

Incumbent Delegate Eric Bromwell, a Democrat, said businesses are under-represented in Annapolis because it is “very difficult for business owners to go to Annapolis for 90 days each year.”

He expressed concern about the widespread problem of opioid abuse and lauded Perry Hall resident Toni Torsch for her involvement in spurring laws to address the problem.

Citing the easier access to Narcan, an antidote for opioid overdoses, and the creation of a standing order that lets any pharmacist sell Narcan to anyone who requests it, Bromwell said, “Toni Torsch is the reason Maryland is a national leader in this effort.”

Bromwell also said he is not happy with overdevelopment, with a CVS or other chain pharmacy on seemingly every street corner.

Maryland’s primary election will be held Tuesday, June 26. The top three vote getters in each major party will advance to the general election, set for Nov. 6.

Those desiring more detailed information on candidates can visit their websites and social media pages.

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Bhandari positions himself as the education candidate in District 8

Bhandari positions himself as the education candidate in District 8
Supporters, fellow candidates and elected officials joined Bhandari to cut the ribbon on his campaign headquarters in Perry Hall. Photo courtesy of Harry Bhandari.

(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

In 2014, Harry Bhandari just missed out on the Democratic nomination for the District 8 House of Delegates race, losing by less than three percent of the vote. While it is easy to get discouraged and take time for oneself after such a close loss, the ever-affable Bhandari did the opposite.

Bhandari called Delegate Eric Bromwell - a man who had just beaten Bhandari in the primary - and invited him to his house for dinner. The two discussed the future and what Bhandari should do in the meantime.

“He ran an extremely efficient and positive campaign four years ago, and when he decided to run again it was an easy decision to team up,” said Bromwell.

Since then, Bhandari has been quite visible. He served as president of the Linover Community Association, was appointed by District 6 County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins to serve as a member of the Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee and, in 2017, was awarded the Baltimore County Asian American Excellence Award.

A Nepalese immigrant, Bhandari knows firsthand the struggle of the American dream. In his homeland, he was one of the youngest principals in Kathmandu. When he arrived in America, he found himself working at a gas station trying to make ends meet.

“It was very terrible,” Bhandari told the East County Times. “I was working 12- to 16-hour shifts. But I came here with a dream, and I’m living that now. I willingly became a U.S. citizen, and this country has given me a tremendous opportunity. Everybody wants to run to win elections, but I ran because I felt it was a community service to the country that gave me so much.”

Since then, Bhandari has had schooling at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has worked as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Baltimore County and worked in Baltimore City schools. With his background steeped in education, it should come as no surprise that education is his top priority.

“I will always advocate for better schools. As a teacher, I have firsthand experience with the issues facing the education system,” said Bhandari.

He cited overcrowding and old infrastructure in the county’s school system as two of the biggest issues for his constituents. Bhandari stressed that teaching 30 students might be fine in a lecture setting, but noted that “engaging students in a productive struggle” requires smaller class sizes. He also questioned how funds are currently disbursed.

“We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world, no doubt. But we have students in schools with brown drinking water. Overlea High School got $800,000 for artificial turf, but the rooftop is leaking. It shouldn’t be like that,” said Bhandari.

Bhandari applauded the General Assembly for putting a measure on the November ballot that will see a lockbox set up for casino revenue earmarked for education but said he would like to see more done to help fund education initiatives. He proposed potentially taking a cue from Colorado and legalizing recreational marijuana to generate tax funds that would go into funding education initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten.

“Good schools create good jobs in the long run,” Bhandari said.

Bhandari, a Nottingham resident, also advocated for more vocational training, which he believes would have a great economic benefit for many reasons. Besides limiting potential student debt, Bhandari contends that vocational training would help keep jobs in America.

“Sometimes I’m disheartened when you call a business at midnight for anything, and who picks up the phone? Someone in Korea, India or the Philippines,” said Bhandari. “It’s so disheartening. The opportunity should belong to our kids first, and we have to invest in them.”

Besides education, Bhandari also wants to focus on protecting health care, especially for the elderly, and improving transportation by creating and connecting bike trails, like the Northeast Branch Trail.

The Democratic  hopeful also wants to see an  increase in small businesses in his district, but acknowledged that it comes back to education and vocational training.

Bhandari has built up a strong level of excitement around his campaign. At a recent ribbon cutting for his campaign headquarters in Perry Hall, about 70 people showed up to lend their support, including Bromwell, State Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Johnny Olszewski, Jr. Bromwell told the Times that he hopes Bhandari can pull off a win to provide extra support in the General Assembly.

“It’s always good to have another ally in Annapolis, especially if it’s a high-character guy like Harry,” said Bromwell.

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East County Times brings home three awards from MDDC contest

East County Times brings home three awards from MDDC contest
ECT Editor Devin Crum brought home first- and second-place awards for Growth and Land Use and State Government reporting, respectively.

(Updated 5/16/18)

- By ECT staff -

At the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association’s News With Integrity 2017 editorial and design conference, the East County Times brought home three awards for editorial submissions.

The contest recognized exemplary work published during the 2017 calendar year and was held Friday, May 11, in Annapolis.

Times Editor Devin Crum won first place in the Growth and Land Use reporting category for Division D. He also took second place in the State Government reporting category for Division D.

Reporter Marge Neal earned an award in the division for coming up with a creative headline for an article. Her headline, “Fullerton fireworks organizers hope display doesn’t go up in smoke,” took second place.

Ms. Neal’s article explored concern that the Fullerton Fourth of July fireworks display might not have enough money to continue the show, and their pleas for more support from the community. Look for an update in the Times on how that event is shaping up for this year in the coming weeks.

Mr. Crum’s second-place article talked about the issue of abandoned boats in local waterways and legislation passed in the state legislature, then signed by Governor Larry Hogan, which sought to simplify the course of action authorities could take to remove them.

However, environmental stewardship organizations such as the Back River Restoration Committee have still struggled with unclear regulations for addressing the issue.

And Mr. Crum’s first-place article brought to light a White Marsh community’s concerns over a proposal for 150 new townhomes in their area as part of a project called Pulaski Crossing.

The neighbors felt the project did not fit with the surrounding area, which is mostly commercial or industrial. Additionally, what other homes are found in the area are single-family detached structures, not townhomes.

As recently reported in the Times, the community association fought approval of the development through the county’s judicial approval process and ultimately prevailed.

It remains to be seen whether or not the developer for the project will appeal the decision.

ECT congratulates both writers for their hard work, and we look forward to seeing many more awards in their futures.

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Kamenetz, White address state superintendent’s decision to halt BCPS superintendent appointment

Kamenetz, White address state superintendent’s decision to halt BCPS superintendent appointment
While Dundalk Elementary students and faculty were in high spirits at the ground breaking ceremony for the new school, BCPS higher-ups and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz were still reeling from the decision to block the full appointment of Verletta White. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week, state schools Superintendent Karen Salmon declined to approve Verletta White as the permanent Baltimore County schools superintendent, citing concerns about White’s ethics disclosure form and the lack of an audit for the school system’s procurement process for awarding contracts.

The decision by Salmon triggered a harsh response from Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who accused Governor Larry Hogan of meddling in local affairs and ordering Salmon to block White’s appointment.

In a statement sent out on Wednesday shortly after the news broke, Kamenetz accused Hogan of using children’s education to play politics.

“He’s created turmoil over the school calendar and the school construction process,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “Now he directs his schools chief to take the unprecedented step to overturn the judgment of the local school board who knows Superintendent White best. He’s shameless!”

On Friday, May 4, at the ground breaking ceremony for the new Dundalk Elementary School, Kamenetz doubled down on his claim that Hogan was interfering in the process and also questioned whether or not Salmon has the authority to block White’s appointment.

“This is a disturbing trend from Governor Hogan,” said Kamenetz, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the upcoming gubernatorial primary. “I guess he’s trying to hurt me as his political opponent, but what he’s really doing is hurting these kids.”

Kamenetz went on to blast Salmon, saying that the “state superintendent has  no authority to withhold her approval of superintendent White.

“The only basis she can do that is if superintendent White is not qualified and she’s certainly well qualified after serving 24 years in this school system. The real issue is this is Larry Hogan playing politics.”

Hogan’s aides dismissed Kamenetz’s accusation, pointing out that the state superintendent is appointed by the state school board. When Salmon was appointed to the position, six of the 11 voting members of the board had been appointed by Hogan. This is the first time a local superintendent has been blocked at the state level.

Hogan’s spokeswoman, Amelia Chasse, said that the governor did not have any communication with Salmon about the decision to block White.

“It is startling that Mr. Kamenetz does not share the superintendent’s concerns, given what has gone on in the Baltimore County school system on his watch,” said Chasse, alluding to the recent prison sentence of former BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance.

Dance was charged with perjury for lying on financial disclosure forms and was sentenced on April 20 to six months in prison.

White took over as interim superintendent just under a year ago after Dance resigned one year into his second four-year term.

White told reporters that her initial reaction was one of disappointment, but said she could not focus on that at the moment.

“My focus has been on the permanent superintendency, and so that’s where I’m keeping and maintaining my focus,” said White. “I’m not a politician and I don’t get into the politics.”

The decision by Salmon sent shockwaves through Baltimore County last week, with politicians piling on. State Senator Jim Brochin, a Democrat who is seeking the county executive seat in Baltimore County, told the East County Times that White should have never been appointed to a full term before school board elections later this year, which will likely see many new faces on the beleaguered board.

“I’ve said all along that I thought the most pragmatic thing for the board to have done is to appoint her for one year and let the incoming elected school board make a decision on who the next superintendent was going to be,” said Brochin.

At the heart of the issue was whether or not Salmon would be willing to extend White’s interim status for another year. Baltimore County school board chair Edward Gilliss had previously stated that the board was looking at all available options, including applying for a waiver. However, that changed in mid-April, and Gilliss stated that Salmon would likely not be willing to grant a waiver.

A spokesperson for Salmon stated at the time that she would not be willing to go on the record about potential discussions with Gilliss. The East County Times had requested an interview with Gilliss on Friday after the ground breaking ceremony, but he left as soon as it ended. A call to Gilliss went unreturned by press time.

Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6), who led the charge in Annapolis for a comprehensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools, referred to Salmon’s decision as “a victory for east Baltimore County” and “a statement that we want to see new direction.”

“This is a remnant of an un-elected school board,” said Grammer. “There’s no way that everything you’re going to happen when the new class is elected next year.

That sentiment was echoed by House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-7).

“This politically-appointed school board pushed through a partisan selection, despite concerns about ethics and audits, completely disregarding the real and lasting change the citizens want; the change that will come under the newly-formed school board,” Szeliga said.

Szeliga, Grammer and Delegate Pat McDonough, a Republican candidate for county executive, had been three of the most vocal detractors of White throughout this whole ordeal. Szeliga expressed her concerns to Salmon via a letter in the weeks leading up to White’s appointment, while McDonough has consistently railed against her on the campaign trail.

McDonough has repeatedly stated that while White is a nice person, she is the wrong person for the job. He had been advocating for a national search with the position that the lame-duck school board should not appoint a new superintendent right before an elected board takes over.

Grammer added that the board should have been following the lead of the minority group of board members, comprised of Julie Henn, Ann Miller, Kathleen Causey and former county executive Roger Hayden, who had been calling for a nationwide search for superintendent.

Two weeks before the board voted to appoint White, they approved a contract for a nationwide search, though no headway had been made on the search. The decision to award the contract to the same firm that brought Dance to Baltimore County also came under scrutiny.

The circus surrounding White completely overshadowed Friday’s groundbreaking event at Dundalk Elementary. Officials had gathered to celebrate the beginning of construction on a new $46.8 million building project which would see the existing building, which was built in 1926, replaced with a state-of-the-art building.

The building is slated to open in August 2019, with the capacity to hold 735 students.

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Judge denies plan for townhomes in White Marsh, citing Master Plan

Judge denies plan for townhomes in White Marsh, citing Master Plan
The subject site in the center, previously cleared and graded for the Carmax project, is almost completely surrounded by commercial uses and single-family detached housing. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen sent out his decision last Tuesday, May 1, to reject a plan for 150 new townhomes along Pulaski Highway in White Marsh.

The plan, known as Pulaski Crossing, would have seen the homes built on a 31-acre parcel at 11301 Pulaski Highway, which was the former site of the Pulaski Drive-in and was previously proposed for development of a Carmax auction and maintenance facility.

However, neighbors opposed the plan calling it incompatible with the area, and Judge Beverungen cited a lack of conformity with the county’s Master Plan 2020 in his decision.

Beverungen focused his legal analysis of the plan chiefly on three issues: compatibility, density and Master Plan compliance.

The developer, represented by land use attorneys David Karceski and Adam Rosenblatt of Venable, LLP, argued that a compatibility analysis for the development was not required due to the zoning classification of the land being developed.

Protestants against the project, represented by attorney Michael McCann, argued that the analysis was required, but Beverungen sided with the developer, finding that it is not.

Regarding density, Beverungen stated in his decision that, due to the property’s zoning, “sufficient density exists for the 150 townhomes proposed, and the Protestants’ arguments to the contrary... are not persuasive.”

When he got to the issue of Master Plan compliance, however, Beverungen came to a different conclusion.

The experts who testified on the matter - Bill Monk for the developer and Chris Jakubiak for the opponents - took opposite opinions about whether the proposal was compatibile with the Master Plan.

Monk, a land planner with Morris & Ritchie Associates, Inc., noted that the county’s Master Plan designates the area as an “employment center,” meaning that it consists of “a variety of commercial uses, predominantly employment-oriented, some with retail and housing,” according to the document itself.

He justified the use of housing on the subject site in that people could live close to their place of employment.

“The whole movement for several years has been toward mixed-use communities whereby you provide a mix of various types of land-use activities to reduce travel time for people having to commute to work and provide other services in those areas,” he said, such as retail.

Jakubiak, of Jakubiak and Associates Town Planning, took the opposite stance, however. The proposed project is not at all consistent with the Master Plan, he believed, because it does not meet any of the compatibility standards laid out in it.

He added that a solely residential use should not be in an area designated as an employment center.

Beverungen pointed out in his decision that Master Plan 2020, approved in November 2010, was the first such plan in Baltimore County to adopt a concept of transect planning, which seeks to describe permissible land uses within each of the six transects.

The document places the subject property within a “Rural Residential Zone” transect and describes the designation as consisting of “large lot single-family detached housing.”

Monk testified his belief that the designation was not appropriate inside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) which serves to concentrate development in more urban areas of the county while preserving more rural areas.

“Given the fact that we are inside the URDL, the transect, in my opinion, does not make any sense at this point in time,” he said.

He added he did not believe that portion of the Master Plan to be binding and that its purpose is simply to “provide guidance.”

“That’s the beauty of the Master Plan..., they’re not meant to concrete, they’re not meant to be static,” he said, “and the county peppers the Master Plan with all kinds of language about its conceptual nature.”

It was on that notion that Beverungen hinged his decision, however.

“While the developer correctly notes the Master Plan itself indicates it is a conceptual document, the [Baltimore County Code] provides expressly that all development must comply with the Master Plan,” the judge wrote. Citing relevant case law, he said, “it becomes a binding document when a jurisdiction (like Baltimore County) enacts legislation requiring that all development conform to such plans.”

Beverungen also pointed to language in the law which states, “As applied to zoning, the transect is not intended as a ‘guide’ but rather as a regulation.”

“Obviously, the high density townhouses proposed herein would not be in conformity with that transect designation,” he wrote. “As such, the plan is not in conformity with Master Plan 2020 and must be denied...”

Courtney Gruber, president of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association which hired McCann to oppose the project, said she was “delighted” at the decision.

“I think that the Master Plan matters and it needs to be followed,” she said. “The community feels vindicated because it fought all along against the original zoning changes, which itself violated the Master Plan.”

Gruber was referring to the 2016 county zoning cycle which saw Councilwoman Cathy Bevins rezone the subject site from mostly resource conservation and a sliver of manufacturing to a business designation at the front an unbuildable portion at the back labeled as residential. A provision in the zoning code then allowed the business portion to be developed for residential use at the same density as the adjacent residential zone.

Opponents of the project had said it would result in a “residential island in a sea of commercial” uses.

Karceski and Rosenblatt did not respond by press time to multiple requests for comment on the decision.

Gruber said she was waiting to see what the next move would be. Although an appeal had not yet been filed by the developer as of Monday afternoon, they have until May 31 to file one.

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Reinterment of Sparrows Point Trottens: ‘They are at rest now’

Reinterment of Sparrows Point Trottens: ‘They are at rest now’
Cemetery workers carefully placed the remains into the grave plots in preparation for reburial. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Marge Neal -

The mortal remains of Dr. John Trotten of Sparrows Point, his wife, Sarah Sollers Trotten, their son, James, and Sarah’s nephew, Thomas Long, were committed to their final resting place at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cemetery on May 1.

A graveside service accompanied the reinterment of the remains of the family members who died between 1804 and 1838 and were originally laid to rest on what was then a bucolic waterfront farm.

Surviving family members could never have envisioned the family plot, 100-plus years in the future, being swallowed up and surrounded by an ever-growing steel manufacturing plant. What was once no doubt a quaint, well-maintained family plot had become an overgrown, isolated patch of weeds and trees that got swampy every time it rained.

Tradepoint Atlantic, the current owner of the Sparrows Point former steel mill property, made the decision to move the graves, based upon the desire to both offer a more respectful resting place for the family members and to have the land available for building.

After following a stringent legal process to gain permission to exhume the remains and reinter them elsewhere, Tradepoint Atlantic officials selected Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk to oversee the exhumation process, bought three plots at Sacred Heart of Jesus and ordered monuments to preserve the history of the family in perpetuity.

As the vaulted remains were transported from Tradepoint to the cemetery on German Hill Road, Aaron Tomarchio, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs, described a little bit about the exhumation process.

“As we expected, there were no identifiable human remains,” he told the East County Times. “There was darkened soil at the points where we expect the bodies were originally buried, and it is that dirt that we rebury here today.”

Tradepoint officials had been told by experts that, because of the funeral practices and procedures of the time, there would be no skeletal remains and only darkened soil would indicate where the physical remains had once been.

At Sacred Heart of Jesus, four vaults were gently and respectfully placed within three graves, with John and Sarah being placed together, James in one grave and Thomas in another.

Deacon Bruce Hultquist, director of the cemetery and deacon for the St. Margaret parish, led a memorial service attended by David Klag, a descendant of the Trottens, and Fran Taylor, the president of the North Point Peninsula Council and a member of Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site.

Hultquist blessed the graves and offered Bible readings as he commended the family members to their final resting places.

Klag, a Rosedale resident, got choked up after the service when he thanked Tomarchio for the efforts made by Tradepoint on behalf of his ancestors and family.

“I really appreciate what you did here today for my family,” he said. “It was really something, really above and beyond.”

Klag is the son of the late June Trotton Klag Henneman and the nephew of Patricia Trotton Carter of Perry Hall.

Carter contacted the Times in February after it published a story about Tradepoint’s intentions to relocate the remains. She was unaware of the plans until she was referred to the article by her nephew.

Somewhere along the line, members of Carter’s branch of the Trotten family changed the spelling to Trotton, and Carter said they had also found the spelling Troughton in genealogical searches.

“I don’t know who changed it or when but we have been Trottons with ‘o-n’ for several generations,” Carter said, citing her grandfather Benjamin Trotton, who worked for the old News American newspaper.

Community discussion taking place on social media was largely against the moving of the graves and criticized Tradepoint for its decision. Tomarchio said he thought the community opinion was based upon two fallacies: that actual skeletal remains would be disturbed and that the grave sites were in good shape.

“We believe moving the remains to an actual cemetery will treat the memories of the Trottens more respectfully than where they are now,” Tomarchio said in February. “The graves are overgrown, the stones are broken and crumbling and what is left of them is unreadable.”

The graves were also on private, security-gated land not accessible to the general public.

Carter, as the oldest local surviving descendant of the Trotten family, said she was fine with the relocation but would have liked to see the remains moved to the Todd family plot at Todd’s Inheritance, due to the intermarrying of Todds and Trottens. Mary Trotten Todd, who married Thomas Jefferson Todd in 1833, according to Todd family records, is buried at the historic homestead.

“As long as things are done respectfully, I don’t have a problem with it,” she told the Times.

Carter was unable to attend the graveside service because of health issues and Klag represented the family.

Taylor said he was impressed with the attention to detail and the respect and dignity during the process.

“My biggest takeaway was how touching it was seeing that family member there and what it meant to him,” Taylor said of Klag. “He was really moved and I think it meant a lot to him.”

Klag echoed those sentiments.

“It was great and the kudos really go to Aaron and Amy and everyone else at Tradepoint who worked on this,” Klag said in a phone interview. “They really went out of the way and went way above and beyond what they had to do and my family is thankful.”

Klag witnessed the exhumation of his ancestors and accompanied them from Tradepoint to the cemetery.

“They could have just bulldozed that down there and no one would have known but they did the right thing and did much more than they had to,” he said. “It’s nice to know now that they are in their final resting place and the family can go visit anytime we want.”

Klag said he heard some of the family history when he was younger and “didn’t care.” Now that he is older, he is “very interested” in the family history and is doing his own research to augment that already done by other family members.

As Klag gazed at the monuments after the ceremony was finished, Tomarchio pointed at the markers and said, “We think these will preserve the memories of your family members forever and give you a place to come and visit. They are at rest now.”

Taylor admitted to having mixed emotions when he first heard of Tradepoint’s desire to move the graves, but those emotions changed.

“It happened upon seeing the genuine gratitude and sincere appreciation by the Trotten family member who was in attendance towards TPA for their respectful and solemn management of the ceremony,” Taylor told the Times. “It was personally a very moving experience.”

Klag and a couple of family members, including Carter, attended an open house at Todd’s Inheritance last month and he said that visit just reinvigorated his desire to uncover more family roots.

“With the Trottens being connected to the Todds, it was pretty great meeting the good folks at Todd’s Inheritance,” he said. “It kind of brings everything full circle, you know?

“The whole thing, the way it was handled, the way it was treated, the way they went over and above, it just tickles me inside that in this day and age someone would go to all this trouble. It’s very heartwarming. And we sure do appreciate it.”

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Royal Farms replacing store with bigger one in Middle River

Royal Farms replacing store with bigger one in Middle River
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Royal Farms plans to close its convenience store and gas pumps on the northeast corner of Pulaski Highway at Middle River Road and build a new and larger store with gas pumps nearby on the northwest side of the intersection.

The new store will be 4,649 square feet, according to a site plan presented to the county’s Development Review Committee on April 24. The existing store built in 1994 is 2,809 square feet.

Based in Baltimore’s Hampden area, the family-owned company is replacing many of its older locations with larger stores featuring more space for food offerings. It is also expanding into other mid-Atlantic states.

Construction at the Middle River site, which will not include a car wash, is scheduled to begin sometime in 2019, according to William Mortorff, director of commercial construction for Ratcliffe Architects which is designing stores for Royal Farms.

In 2016 the company bought 9500 - 9520 Pulaski Highway for $1.6 million, according to state property records.

The purchase did not include the vacant Gulf gas station and convenience store that remains on the  northwest corner. That property is owned by a group in New York, according to property records.

Two tenants - LeMax/Ram and L.J. Brossoit & Sons - have already moved out of one building that Royal Farms is currently using as a maintenance facility. Two other tenants in the 9520 building - Lee’s Electrical Contracting and Retro Electric Co. - are also expected to relocate.

The site plan shows access from a right-turn-only lane off westbound Pulaski Highway and a second in-and-out driveway to be shared with the neighboring Bowen & Kron excavating company.

Also located at the intersection on the other side of Pulaski Highway is the Silver Moon Diner and Carroll Motor Fuels gas station, which has been in the McKew family since 1974, originally as a Citgo station.

When Royal Farms opened its existing store in 1994, the McKews added a convenience store and later a car wash, said current co-owner Dan McKew.

So far, there has been enough demand for services to support both gas stations at the intersection, and demand is expected to grow due to new residential building in the area, he said.

But he also questioned the Royal Farms investment in an upgraded store, considering that there are four other Royal Farms stores within a two-mile radius of the intersection that could conceivably draw customers from each other.

“This market is flooded with [Royal Farms stores]… It’s like taking money from the left pocket and putting in the right pocket,” he said.

Royal Farms is on schedule to build two new stores in Dundalk - one at Wise Avenue and North Point Boulevard, and another in the planned retail area of Tradepoint Atlantic off Bethlehem Boulevard in Sparrows Point.

It is also building new stores at the northeast corner of White Marsh and Perry Hall boulevards, across from Allison Transmission on Philadelphia Road in White Marsh and on Belair Road in Fullerton on a site previously occupied by a bingo hall.

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Another industrial warehouse coming to Sparrows Point

Another industrial warehouse coming to Sparrows Point
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Two companies that provide scaffolding and other temporary equipment for commercial construction projects are planning a new distribution center at the southern end of the Peninsula Expressway in Sparrows Point.

The planned warehouse on part of a wooded site across the expressway from the entrance to Reservoir Road will be shared by Aluma Systems, which has a facility on Van Demen Road near St. Helena in Dundalk, and Safway which has regional locations in Linthicum and Laurel.

A site plan presented to the county’s Development Review Committee on May 1 shows a 79,000-square-foot building to be shared by both companies, with space outside for rows of storage containers.

The plan also shows that Reservoir Road will be extended west off Peninsula Expressway to serve the new building.

The existing east side of Reservoir Road is already home to the Harley-Davidson Driving Academy and a planned Gotham Greens hydroponic greenhouse, which is expected to grow fresh herbs and vegetables for restaurants and grocers in the region.

Affiliated with the international group Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services, Aluma and Safway are among the latest companies to join the growing list of tenants leasing land from Tradepoint Atlantic, which is redeveloping the 3,000-acre former Bethlehem Steel site into a major East Coast logistics and distribution center.

Amazon and Under Armour are building large distribution centers south of Bethlehem Boulevard, and Tradepoint is also developing sections north of Bethlehem Boulevard around the end of the expressway.

Representatives of Aluma Systems and Tradepoint declined to comment about the project on Monday.

It is unclear whether Aluma Systems and Safway will use the new center to just consolidate their Maryland operations, or if they will also be expanding and creating additional jobs.

Hoping to spur job creation, the State of Maryland and Baltimore County have pledged to provide financial assistance to help upgrade and extend water, sewer and road systems at Sparrows Point so that Tradepoint can move faster to prepare land and better compete with other logistics centers on the East Coast.

No final decisions have yet been made about how much public money will be allotted for infrastructure assistance, according to Fronda Cohen, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

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League of Women Voters hosts county executive forums

League of Women Voters hosts county executive forums
Del. Pat McDonough (middle) went on the offensive early and often against his primary opponent, Al Redmer (right), during the Republican forum held April 24. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The League of Women Voters recently held two forums for the Baltimore County Executive race, one for the Democratic candidates and one for the Republican  candidates. Both events were held at Stemmers Run Middle School in Essex.

While the Democrats differed on some positions, they mostly kept things light. At the Republican forum, however, Delegate Pat McDonough wasted no time before going on the offensive, calling out his opponent Al Redmer, the state’s insurance commissioner and a former state delegate, for what he believes are conflicts of interest.

McDonough used his full two minutes allotted for an opening statement to criticize Redmer for holding onto his insurance commissioner position while running for office. He accused Redmer of essentially “running on the taxpayer’s money” and said that he should “vacate his job.”

Redmer responded to McDonough’s barbs by saying “that’s just Pat being Pat,” a phrase he uttered multiple times throughout the evening.

While McDonough was certainly on the offensive, the two candidates found themselves agreeing on a lot of the big issues.

On crime, Redmer  stated that “we cannot fix any problem in Baltimore County until we get at crime and until we get at education.” He wants to see a return to community policing as opposed to the creation of specialized units, which has been the bread and butter of the police department under current county executive Kevin Kamenetz.

For his part, McDonough stated that he would “never permit this become Baltimore City” and would implement a zero-tolerance policy. He bemoaned the rise of crime in Baltimore County and promised to fight it by implementing policing practices used in New York City.

On education, both men were critical of the direction of Baltimore County Public Schools. McDonough said he was opposed to common core, the STAT program and the appointment of Verletta White. He added that he would like to see more civics classes, drug awareness classes and job training in schools.

Redmer held many of the same views, blasting the school board for what he sees as misplaced priorities.

“We have spent millions and millions of dollars to give every kid a digital device which too often is nothing more than an electronic babysitter,” Redmer said. “At the same time, the county has failed to invest in basic infrastructure.”

While the two men shared similar ideas, their reasoning for why they should be elected differed vastly. Redmer touted his experience in executive positions in government while also playing up his relationship with Governor Larry Hogan.

For McDonough, he feels as though the county is already in a state of disrepair and needs him, lest it fall into complete disarray. “You could offer to give me this job in four years and I wouldn’t take it,” said McDonough, pushing a sense of urgency.

On the Democratic side of things, last week’s forum saw State Senator Jim Brochin, former delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr. and Kevin Marron take the stage. Notably absent from the League of Women Voters event was the only woman vying for the county executive seat, Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

Olszewski got the ball rolling, highlighting the “progressive” beliefs he is championing, including universal pre-kindergarten, free community college and raising the minimum wage.

Marron immediately rebuffed Olszewski, saying raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to those on fixed incomes.

Brochin touted his experience in Annapolis, like leading the Baltimore County Senate Delegation, as the main reason he is most qualified. He also stressed the need to work across the aisle in Baltimore County, something he did in Annapolis.

“Whether you like it or not, you have to figure out how to get along with other legislators, otherwise you won’t get anything passed,” said Brochin.

For his part, Olszewski hit on education as the most pressing concern in the county and highlighted his time spent in the classroom as an educator as what separates him. He also highlighted his time as chair of the Baltimore County House Delegation in Annapolis, saying that while he is the youngest candidate, his time in that position gave him a breadth of experience that is unmatched among his colleagues. He added that he would like to see a $2 billion investment in public education.

Brochin agreed that reinvestment in BCPS was necessary, but focused on shifting funding around. The Towson Democrat told the audience that while the STAT program might be good for older students, it is wasteful spending at the elementary level that could be better used on things like physical facilities.

While Oszewski’s attention is on education, Brochin stated his biggest priority was ending overdevelopment in the county, saying the county is “tearing up more open space than anyone can imagine.” He vowed to end “pay-to-play” practices in the county to keep space open.

“We need more parks, we need more ball fields, we need more recreation centers,” said Brochin. “If we keep developing at the pace we are, neighborhoods will be looking straight onto I-695 almost anywhere you go.”

The primary election set for June 26.

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Business association to host county executive candidate forum

Business association to host county executive candidate forum

(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Millers Island-Edgemere Business Association is set to host a candidate forum on Wednesday, May 16, to help voters get acquainted with candidates running for Baltimore County Executive.

“It’s something of great interest, especially in this district,” said MIEBA President Carl Hobson of the forum. He added that the event will be free to the public so it can benefit voters and help them to make their own choice.

The event will be held at the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Department hall, 7500 North Point Road in Edgemere, Hobson said. A brief meet and greet will begin at 6:30 p.m. with light refreshments, and the forum itself will start at 7 p.m., lasting until 10 p.m.

“When you have that many people asking questions and giving answers, we have it figured out to where that’s just a minimal amount of time for them,” Hobson said of the length of the event.

Questions to ask the candidates can be sent to MIEBA ahead of time at They will also take written questions from the crowd at the forum, he said, “and we will ask those also if we have time.”

While there are seven candidates officially filed to run for the executive office, the forum will only host five of them: Republicans Pat McDonough and Al Redmer, as well as Democrats Vicki Almond, Jim Brochin and Johnny Olszewski Jr. Hobson said the other two candidates were not included because of when the event was organized.

“We started putting this whole thing together in January before we knew about the other candidates,” he said. But the organization has commitments from  each of the aforementioned candidates that they will be there, he said.

McDonough is a state delegate representing eastern Baltimore and western Harford counties, Redmer is the state’s insurance commissioner, Almond is a county councilwoman representing northwest Baltimore County, Brochin is a state senator representing Towson and northern Baltimore County, and Olszewski is a former state delegate for southeastern Baltimore County.

Also running for the office are Democrat Kevin Marron and unaffiliated candidate Tony Solesky.

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Steelworkers memorial service honors the dead, fights for the living

Steelworkers memorial service honors the dead, fights for the living
The Rev. Kristi King of New Light Lutheran Church in Dundalk delivered the invocation for the service and prayed for the souls of those lost in industrial accidents. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Wayne Samuels gently trailed his fingertips along a name engraved in the steelworkers memorial at Heritage Park.

“I was less than 20 feet away from him when he died,” he said of Samuel Garcia, a colleague who died in an industrial accident in the 1990s at the Bethlehem Steel Sparrows Point plant.

Samuels, who retired from the plant in 2001 after a 44-year career, recalled the gruesome incident with many details too graphic to print. Garcia, a machinist, was repairing a piece of equipment when one of his gloves was snagged by the machine’s keyway (a tiny slot) and pulled him into the machine. There was nothing that could be done to help Garcia and he was dead within seconds, according to Samuels.

On Saturday, April 28 - Workers Memorial Day - Samuels was one of about 45 people who gathered to honor the memories of Garcia and 109 others who lost their lives at Sparrows Point and are memorialized on the three-section black granite monument that first graced the lawn of Steelworkers Local 9477 hall on Dundalk Avenue before being moved to Heritage Park.

“Today, on Workers Memorial Day all across the country, in any place with unions, people are doing exactly what you’re doing today,” said Ernie Grecco, the retired president of Metro Baltimore Council, AFL-CIO. “We gather today to honor those who paid the ultimate price at work and ask that you say a little prayer and remember those listed on this plaque here.”

Across the country, 150 workers die in work-related accidents every day, according to Jim Strong, the assistant director of USW District 8. More than 5,000 workers have died in work-related accidents since 2016 and 50,000 others have been exposed to chemicals and other toxins that will probably ultimately kill them, Strong told the crowd.

“We are here today to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice at their place of work and it shouldn’t have to be that way,” he said. “OSHA laws were created more than 40 years ago and those are laws that protect everyone, not just union members.”

Steve Kotula, one of the event’s masters of ceremonies and a retired steelworker, recalled the days of reactive, as opposed to proactive, safety policies at Beth Steel. Plant officials would wait until someone got injured or killed before implementing better safety policies and procedures, he said.

“Many of these names would not be on this memorial if safety plans had been implemented sooner,” Kotula said.

After better safety rules were implemented, reportable accidents - those which required a trip to the plant’s clinic, decreased drastically.

“Shops would go an entire month without a reportable accident,” he said. “The goal became to have two consecutive months without an accident, but that never happened.”

As folks gazed at the monument remembering their fallen coworkers before the ceremony began, Joe Lawrence, once a safety representative for the plant’s ironworkers, said he unfortunately was more familiar with many of the men who died than he would have preferred, simply because of his role at the plant.

He recalled two particularly gruesome accidents, one of which involved a worker falling into the pickler - a vat of hydrochloric acid - and another in which an electrical explosion fatally injured a man.

“I knew too many of them,” he said. “And I don’t like to tell of my memories because I tear up.”

Lawrence, wearing a hard hat indicative of his safety role at the plant, drew attention to the last name put on the monument on the back.

“He didn’t die at the plant, he took his own life after the plant closed,” he said of Robert A. Jennings. “Bobby was a good man, and he felt like he let his family down after he was laid off; he couldn’t get past it. That plant killed him as much as it killed any of these others.”

The memories of many of the fatal accidents still weigh heavily on the minds of those who witnessed them.

“I was there when many of these poor souls lost their lives,” Kotula said. “I saw coworkers loaded into ambulances and knew it was their last ride out of the plant.”

The Rev. Kristi King, pastor of Dundalk’s New Light Lutheran Church, in her invocation honored “those who have gone before us, those who worked at Sparrows Point and gave their lives.”

“We enjoy on this side of heaven the things their grace built,” she said.

The steelworkers and family members may have gathered to remember those lost on the job, but they remain united to care for and about each other.

Retiree Don Kellner, a Dundalk resident long known for his community pride and activism and involvement in union activities as both a worker and retiree, usually organizes the annual event but could not attend this year because he is hospitalized.

Several speakers spoke of his passion and leadership skills, and even arranged for Kellner to address the crowd by way of mobile phone.

The event was designed to remember those lost at “The Point” but ended up embracing and appreciating the survivors.

“Today, we mourn for the dead and we fight for the living,” Strong said.

As if on cue, local church bells tolled as the ceremony was coming to an end, and the living were invited to enjoy some fellowship over lunch.

And no doubt to also reminisce about their departed friends and colleagues.

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Communities explore potential for new Rosedale community center

Communities explore potential for new Rosedale community center
Wannetta Thompson (left), director of the Gardenvillage Community Center, explained the limitations of the current center in hopes that people will see the need for a better facility. Carl Jackson (right) hosted the meeting. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Rosedale resident and candidate for public office Carl Jackson hosted a community meeting last Tuesday, April 24, to gather public input on the potential for a new “inter-generational” community center for the Rosedale area.

Jackson is running for a seat in the House of Delegates, but he hosted the meeting more as a concerned citizen than a politician.

The meeting was held in the tiny Gardenvillage Community Center - comprised of two rowhomes connected inside via a doorway through their adjoining wall - partly to showcase how small it is and the need for a more substantial community center to serve the Gardenvillage, Hazelwood Park-East, Hamiltowne and Holland Hills communities.

But while some advocates have identified two sites they feel are suitable for a new community center, government red tape must be navigated and funding in tight budgets is a precious commodity.

Jackson said he remembers having a recreation center in the area where he grew up.

“And this rec. center, we got to do a lot of things. For myself, I learned how to develop photographs in a darkroom,” he said. “I learned how to shoot movies. These are some of the activities that kept me from being on the street and [kept me] doing something constructive with my time.”

He said he used to live in Holland Hills, and there he would see kids get out of school in the afternoon or in the summer months and have nothing to do except roam and play in the streets.

“I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if the kids could have somewhere to go after school where they could have a structured program or get help with their homework,” he said, adding most parents in the area work full time and would be able to know their kids are safe.

Jackson also made note of the large senior population in the area, and he would like to provide them with something to do within walking distance.

“This [would be] a community center that services our seniors and our youth,” he said.

The area’s community outreach police officer, Brian Rawleigh, gave a crime report for the area and specifically emphasized what the Baltimore County Police Department considers “Part 2” crimes - things like assault, drug violations, thefts, destruction of property and other misdemeanors. He said in his 10 years of experience working at Precinct 9/White Marsh, most of the offenses juveniles are charged with fall under Part 2 crime.

Rawleigh pointed out that assaults and “all other” Part 2 crimes (everything except drug offenses) listed in the statistics for the area continued increasing each year between 2014 and 2017.

He said what is not covered in the crime statistics, though, is safety-based incidents in the area.

“Driving through here on my patrol duties, I see kids riding bikes in the middle of the street,” Rawleigh said. “If they had someplace to be they wouldn’t be in the middle of the street where it’s dangerous, if cars aren’t paying attention and stuff like that.”

He also said a community center would be a place police officers could visit to create opportunities for positive interaction with kids.

“It gives us a chance to come to a place to get exposure to the kids or give the kids exposure to police to bridge that gap there,” he explained.

Wannetta Thompson, executive director of the Gardenvillage center, said the community association runs various programs out of the building, such as a military drill team, a step squad, a From Teens To Adults (FTTA) mentoring program, arts-and-crafts-type activities for kids and their ever-popular summer camp.

The summer camp is entering its 21st year, but it is limited to children aged 4 - 11 and can only accommodate 45 of them at a time. Thompson said they end up turning away 15 to 20 kids each year.

Additionally, the age limits mean older kids have even more limited options.

“After [they age out] there’s no place that’s nearby for the kids to go,” she said. “We need something that can help our middle school to high school children, because where do they have to go but in the streets?”

Most attendees at the meeting expressed at least a mild support for the idea, but one expressed concern that not many area kids may end up actually using the center. Another said some existing centers are not active in community engagement and so are not attractive for kids to go to.

But one other attendee pointed to Perry Hall to showcase the effectiveness and heavy usage of community and recreation centers.

“They’ve got all those rec. centers up there, and everytime they build one it fills; it’s 100 percent,” she said. “Those kids are there, they’re using those facilities, they’re playing sports, they’re in there all the time.” She added that people move into those neighborhoods because the centers make them more attractive.

Jim Almon, aide to County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins who represents the area, said there are not many “community centers” in the county as envisioned by the proposal for Rosedale. He said most are separated into recreation centers or senior centers. However, the Parkville Senior Center does have some programs for kids and younger adults.

For recreation purposes, the county’s website lists the Bengies Chase, Berkshire-Eastwood, Colgate, Essex-Stembridge, Gray Charles, Middle River, Overlea-Fullerton, Parkville, Perry Hall, Rosedale and White Marsh recreation councils as serving the Rosedale zip code. But it does not have a comprehensive list of facilities open for public use.

Additionally, the closest senior centers - Rosedale and Overlea-Fullerton - are each more than a mile away as the crow flies and across busy highways.

But Jackson pointed out two undeveloped properties along McCormick Avenue, each less than a mile from the target communities, as potential sites for a new center.

The first, an 11-acre site located at 5501 McCormick Ave. just south of McCormick Elementary School, was originally slated for low-income housing but Bevins rezoned the land to block the project.

Stephen Ferrandi, president and broker at Maryland Land Advisors, said more recently they have marketed the land for a church or similar use. He said the asking price is listed at $1.2 million.

The second property is located farther south on McCormick Avenue, across from the Church of the Anunciation, and is currently owned by Saturn Universal.

That site has already been subdivided and approved for 62 homes to be built, Ferrandi explained, and the asking price is $1.7 million. He said whether the county buys it for a community center or a developer buys it to build out the approved homes, it is his goal to get it under contract for sale this year.

But the new homes would bring more traffic and families to the area, further increasing the need for more recreational space, community members lamented.

Some residents expressed concern with the sites, chiefly that there are no sidewalks leading to them.

Ferrandi noted that sidewalks would be built at least along the property’s frontage if developed. Additionally, sidewalks exist across McCormick from the first site between Hazelwood Avenue to the north and Daybreak Terrace to the south.

Almon said that while Bevins supports a new center for the area, it has been the county’s policy to put such centers in existing county-owned facilities. He said Bevins has had discussions with the administration in recent months to begin identifying properties in the area that could possibly be used for that purpose, and this would be done instead of purchasing land and constructing a new building at a likely much higher cost.

“In doing so we will be working with the state with bond bills for renovations of these existing buildings, if needed, to be a community center,” Almon said.

He said “a few options” for potential sites under those criteria have been discussed, but he was not at liberty to disclose them yet publicly.

“But there are some options now and some facilities we believe might be open in the near future that could be utilized,” he said.

Following the meeting, Jackson hoped to attract volunteers for a committee of interested residents to help explore opportunities for a new center and advocate for the communities as to what they would like to see. He said a new community center could be tailored specifically to the Rosedale community, as others around the county have been.

“It’s just all dependent on what the community needs are,” he said.

“We can either help our children to improve and to set some goals for themselves, to have a dream for themselves, to give them something positive to do,” added Thompson, the Gardenvillage center director, “or we can continually introduce them to the street.”

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Tradepoint Atlantic industrial site goes green with hydroponics operation

Tradepoint Atlantic industrial site goes green with hydroponics operation
Photo credit: Gotham Greens and Julie McMahon.

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Gotham Greens, an expanding urban farming company that grows herbs and salad greens in water, is proposing to build a large commercial greenhouse at the end of Peninsula Expressway in Sparrows Point.

The 3.25-acre undeveloped site owned by Tradepoint Atlantic is at the southeast corner of the expressway and Reservoir Road, next to a paved parking lot used by Harley-Davidson to teach its customers how to ride motorcycles.

The project is not expected to interfere with operations at the Harley-Davidson Riding Academy, according to aid academy manager Jean Neal.

A Middle River resident, Neal said she is glad that Tradepoint’s ongoing redevelopment of the former Bethlehem Steel mill property will bring with it much-needed jobs.

“I’m always happy to see new businesses come to that area,” she said. “The area has seen a lot of struggling families since [the closings] of Western Electric, General Motors and Bethlehem Steel.”

Press contacts for Tradepoint Atlantic and Gotham Greens declined last week to discuss the proposed greenhouse.

However, records indicate the project is working its way through the development review process following the weekly meeting of Baltimore County’s Development Review Committee on April 24 in Towson.

A preliminary site plan presented at the meeting showed the outlines of a 95,702-square-foot building - covering about two acres - on an undeveloped site off Reservoir Road.

Department representatives supported granting an allowed exemption that enables development of warehouses, distribution centers and other commercial and industrial projects without having to hold public hearings.

Founded in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2009, Gotham Greens grows vegetables and herbs for restaurants, grocers, institutions and chains such as Target and Whole Foods, a company recently acquired by Amazon.

The company opened its first hydroponic greenhouse on the roof of a former bowling alley in Brooklyn in 2011, according to its website.

Three years later it opened another greenhouse in Brooklyn on top of a Whole Foods market, which was followed by a rooftop greenhouse in Queens.

In 2015 the company expanded into the Chicago market by opening a greenhouse atop a recently built Method Products factory that makes environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products.

Gotham Greens is also planning a new freestanding 105,000-square-foot greenhouse in Chicago near a  recently opened Whole Foods distribution center, according to a Feb. 7 article in the Chicago Tribune.

The $12.5 million construction project is expected to generate 70 construction jobs and 60 permanent jobs, according to the story.

Gotham Greens grows plants in climate-controlled buildings that enable it to customize nutrients for different types of plants, which range from herbs such as basil to leafy greens such as kale, lettuce and bok choy.

The growing process also recycles water, uses solar power and avoids the use of pesticides, according to the company.

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Health care advocates praise new ‘gag rule’ prohibition, push for national effort

Health care advocates praise new ‘gag rule’ prohibition, push for national effort
Sen. Klausmeier (center, teal), health care advocates and other bill sponsors attended as Gov. Hogan signed Bromwell and her bills into law. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition and other Maryland health leaders were set to hold an event Thursday, May 3, to highlight Maryland’s new law prohibiting so-called pharmacy “gag rules” and thank the lawmakers who sponsored the legislation.

State Senator Kathy Klausmeier and Delegate Eric Bromwell, both Perry Hall Democrats, each sponsored bills in this year’s General Assembly session to outlaw the practice of pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) including gag clauses in their contracts with pharmacies to keep them from telling customers about the lowest price of some drugs.

When such clauses are in effect, pharmacists are unable to tell customers if the cash price of their prescription drugs is actually lower than their insurance copay unless the customer asked, for instance.

“We think that it happens in about 40 percent of the times that you go to a pharmacy, you will essentially end up paying more if you use your [insurance] card as opposed to using cash for certain types of generic drugs,” said Prof. Gerard Anderson with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He noted that those typically affected are less-expensive generic drugs.

Klausmeier’s and Bromwell’s bills, which were identical, each passed unanimously through both the Senate and House of Delegates and were signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan. With that passage, Maryland became the 11th state to enact such a law.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Health Care For All! Coalition, called the gag rules a “really anti-consumer tactic of preventing people from knowing what their lowest prices are for drugs” and praised the legislators’ leadership in sponsoring bills to ban the practice.

PBM representatives said during bill hearings that their members in Maryland do not engage in the practice and, therefore, they did not oppose the ban.

“Well we want to make sure they don’t do it,” DeMarco told the East County Times. “We just know it’s there and we don’t want it to happen in Maryland.

“We think every state in the country and the federal government should do the same thing,” he added.

Maryland Congressmen Elijah Cummings and John Sarbanes were scheduled to join in the praise at Thursday’s event, as well as express their support for a measure to outlaw the gag rules nationally.

“This measure puts Maryland in the forefront of making prescription drugs more affordable,” said Cummings in a statement. “I urge other states and the federal government to follow Maryland’s lead so that consumers can know the least expensive way that they can purchase the drugs they need. I will continue to demand that the U.S. Congress considers legislation that will address the life-saving issue of prescription drug affordability.”

Investigating the rising drug prices over the past several years has been a top priority for Cummings, according to his press secretary.

Sarbanes, whose Third District reaches into parts of Parkville, Perry Hall and Nottingham, joined in the call for a national gag rule ban.

“It’s truly inspiring to see Maryland  at the forefront of state-led efforts to lower prescription drug costs,” he said in a statement. “The nation needs to follow Maryland’s lead and make life-saving medication more affordable for hardworking Americans.”

Neither Cummings nor Sarbanes has yet introduced a bill in the House of Representatives, but the U.S. Senate is currently considering two bills on the issue, according to Anderson. However, those bills are being refined, he said.

Alongside Maryland, similar bills have been enacted in Arkansas, Louisiana, Maine, Connecticut, Georgia, North Dakota, North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Virginia and Nevada. And 21 other states currently have such measures pending in their legislatures.

“We commend Senator Klausmeier and Delegate Bromwell for their leadership on this issue,” DeMarco said. “Thanks to them, Marylanders can know that they will not be kept from critically needed information about how they can best afford the drugs they need.”

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Medical marijuana store opens in Joppa, attracts dozens of visitors

Medical marijuana store opens in Joppa, attracts dozens of visitors
The new Rise dispensary in Joppa is managed by Green Thumb Industries which also has stores in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Retired electronics foreman Frank Brocato spent 31 years working at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, and now he is enjoying life just across the Baltimore-Harford county line in Joppa.

Life is good, he said, but sometimes he has trouble working around the house due to painful arthritis in his knees, shoulders and neck.

Thanks to Maryland’s new medical marijuana law, he has visited dispensaries in Dundalk, Ellicott City and Perryville, but now has found one closer to home.

“This is the closest one,” said Brocato, who stopped by the  new Rise medical marijuana dispensary at 702 Pulaski Highway in Joppa, which opened Friday, April 27.

Brocato bought 20 pills to take as needed for the arthritis pain. The packet cost $21, but he paid $18 thanks to his service in the Air Force and a discount offered to veterans.

Because of the pills and a cannabis ointment that he sometimes rubs onto his knees, he is able to move around more freely with less pain.

“It enables me to do things like cut trees and mow the lawn,” Brocato said. “I couldn’t do it otherwise.”

The new Rise retail dispensary is one of two allowed in legislative District 7, which straddles the Baltimore-Harford county line and runs from the Middle River waterfront to the Pennsylvania border.

Another facility for the district was pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission for a building on Ebenezer Road just west of Pulaski Highway in White Marsh, but it failed to win approval for a needed zoning special exception for the site from a Baltimore County administrative law judge and has not moved forward. As a result, the district’s second medical cannabis facility, Oceans Dispensary, is slated to open in a strip outside the Carroll Island Shopping Center in Middle River.

The new Joppa dispensary is managed and partly owned by Chicago-based Green Thumb Industries, which also operates stores in Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Dozens of customers visited the Rise store on opening day Friday to ask about a wide range of products ranging from pills to ointments, creams, oils and vapor cartridges.

Like most dispensaries, Rise takes only cash for products, as banks and credit cards are reluctant to get involved in transactions involving cannabis. That is because although medical marijuana is legal in Maryland and other states, it is still considered illegal by the federal government.

The Rise store in Joppa employs 10 people, including assistant manager Eric Libby, who knows firsthand the benefits of medical marijuana.

He uses it himself to relieve pain from an injured finger and said his wife benefited from it after neck surgery.

Libby said many customers come to dispensaries looking for alternatives to potentially addictive opioid drugs.

He also said they benefit from buying it in stores that are regulated by the commission.

“A lot of times people don’t really know what they’re getting,” said Libby about the health risks involved in buying marijuana illegally.

For more information, visit and the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website at

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County Executive candidates take the stage at chamber forum

County Executive candidates take the stage at chamber forum

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With primary season upon us, candidates for Baltimore County Executive have been partaking in forums across the county, in an effort to get their message out to voters. On Wednesday, April 25, area chambers of commerce collaborated to host all seven candidates at a forum in Hunt Valley.

While the event showed the different styles and ideologies of the candidates, almost all of the candidates could agree on what the biggest issues are this election - education, economic development and safety.

Hosted by business leaders and moderated by the Baltimore Business Journal, conversation naturally shifted towards economic development throughout the county. Johnny Olszewski, Jr. (D) was the first to appeal to the sensibilities of the audience, telling the crowd that “an Olszewski administration will bring all of you into the fold because I believe the strongest administration will reflect the full diversity of the county, including the business community.”

County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D) told the audience that she wanted to “make small business my priority,” referring to small business as the backbone of the economy. She promised to create a business roundtable and also pushed for redevelopment of existing areas, citing the success of Foundry Row in Owings Mills. She pointed to Route 43 as an area that could be utilized in similar fashion.

Delegate Pat McDonough (R) and Senator Jim Brochin (D) both cited their business-friendly approach in the General Assembly, with Brochin propping up past votes against tax increases like the gas tax and sales tax. He also touted his efforts to bring a Guinness brewery to Baltimore County.

McDonough cited his business rating as a delegate while noting that he, as a small business owner himself, understands the problems businesses face. He also promised to appoint the “greatest economic commission” that the county has ever seen.

Al Redmer (R), McDonough’s primary opponent, cited crime, education and congestion as his top three priorities, but tied those issues, particularly crime, into job growth.

“Our property values are affected by crime, education and congestion, and that equates directly to our revenues. We’re never going to see the job growth and economic development in Baltimore County that we should see unless we get a handle on crime and deteriorating education,” Redmer said.

Olszewski, a former educator, agreed with Redmer’s take that these issues are interrelated, telling the audience that investment in education is what “drives people, whether it’s moving to Baltimore County or from Baltimore County.”

Forums can often take a slide toward mudslinging, but last week’s event saw the candidates refrain from launching attacks against each other, opting instead to take aim at current County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Kamenetz is term-limited and currently seeking the Democratic nomination for the gubernatorial race.

“I believe we are moving in the wrong direction,” said McDonough. He told the crowd that he often asks people if the county is better off after eight years of Kamenetz in charge, and whether they are hopeful for the future. The answer, according to McDonough, is almost always one of discontent.

Brochin and Olszewski both knocked the current administration for lack of transparency, with both promising to do more to keep their constituencies informed. Almond and Redmer both contended that the culture of county government needs an overhaul, something Almond has stated repeatedly during her time on the campaign trail.

“I can assure you that the attitude and atmosphere in Baltimore County does indeed need to be different,” she said.

Brochin agreed, saying that the culture created under Kamenetz is “detrimental to business.”

Tony Solesky (R) acknowledged that his opponents had solid backgrounds and ideas but oppugned their understanding of the position.

“This is a fiduciary position,” said Solesky. He stated that the real power of the county executive is that they get to appoint department heads as well as hundreds of people to dozens of commissions.

Brochin and Kevin Marron (D) both lamented what Brochin referred to as “corporate welfare,” with Brochin citing the $43 million subsidies given to the Towson Row project and Marron calling into question the different breaks given to Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point.

Olszewski, a Dundalk native, disagreed with Marron on Tradepoint, saying that the development seen atSparrows Point is exactly what the county needs.

“I actually think what we’re doing at Tradepoint Atlantic is transformational,” said Olszewski. “It will be the economic epicenter not just of Baltimore County, but for Maryland and potentially the mid-Atlantic region. We need more of that, we need more partnerships...with our business community.”

Redmer maintained that Baltimore County would struggle to attract business as long as they do not have a long-term plan. He pointed to the underwhelming results of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure program, which promised to bring jobs to the area in 2005, as evidence of Baltimore County’s failure to enact a multi-year budget.

McDonough rebuffed Redmer’s calls for a multi-year budget, saying the one-year budget submitted annually could not be trusted. He also contended that Baltimore County could be ruined in a few years, saying that he could be offered the position four years from now and he would not take it.

On education, all agreed that trade opportunities need to be expanded in Baltimore County. That is essentially where the similarities ended, however.

McDonough stated that he would have a different approach to education than past county executives, saying he will be “fully involved in the education system.” He pledged to reduce the STAT program, which sees laptops and tablets distributed to Baltimore County Public School students, and use that money to help fund the construction of three new high schools. He also added that he would not support newly appointed BCPS Superintendent Verletta White.

Brochin somewhat agreed with McDonough’s position on White, noting that she would not have been his top choice to lead the school system. But he acknowledged that, for better or worse, the school board appointed her and, if elected, he would support her as well.

Olszewski agreed with McDonough on the STAT program, telling the audience that the “basic needs of the children” need to be met first before they get bogged down in programs like STAT. He promised that if elected he would order an audit of BCPS to figure out where there was waste and reinvest that money elsewhere.

Almond noted that the county executive does not have control over the school system, so working in close collaboration with the school board would be a top priority. She noted the difficulty in finding funding but pointed to her successful push to implement a hotel tax at the county level that will provide tourism monies as an analog for what is needed to boost education spending.

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Prince of Peace to celebrate 90 years of serving ‘all of God’s people’

Prince of Peace to celebrate 90 years of serving ‘all of God’s people’

(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church will celebrate 90 years of “serving God and God’s people” with a special worship service at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 6.

The anniversary celebration will feature guest preacher Rev. Bill Gohl, Bishop of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. All current and former members of the church are encouraged to attend.

“We are blessed to serve God and we are blessed to be in Rosedale,” Rev. Matt Fuhrman said of the Philadelphia Road church that was founded in 1928. “And it is our mission to serve all of God’s people; we welcome all people here.”

The steadfast church has witnessed many of the changes the community has experienced since the 1920s, Fuhrman said. When the church first opened, much of Rosedale was farm land, the Great Depression had not yet taken root and the thought of World War II was unfathomable.

“We have older members who remember the farming community and the trolley that went into the city,” Fuhrman said. “Now Rosedale is more of an urban community.”

The church has about 450 members “on the books” and about 180 people worship at four different services held each week, according to the pastor.

Prince of Peace, at 8212 Philadelphia Road, offers two traditional services and one contemporary service each Sunday, and they recently started an informal service with communion on Wednesday evenings.

The church gained a second pastor in July 2017 with the hiring “straight from the seminary” of Micah Krey and, in keeping with the “hallmark of Lutheran liturgy,” lay leadership is encouraged and utilized.

“We really do welcome all people here,” Fuhrman said. “We have many outreach ministries to offer something for everyone.”

On the second Saturday of each month, the church hosts a service in Tamel, an Indian language, which was the idea of two families that belong to Prince of Peace. The service draws native speakers of Tamel from across the Baltimore and Washington regions.

“Between Baltimore and Washington, there’s a Tamel service every Saturday if you know where to go,” Fuhrman said. “Prince of Peace picked up the second Saturday to fill that need.”

In keeping with serving all of God’s people, the church offers a special needs Sunday school class; child care through an in-house ministry; and opens its doors to many outside groups, including 12-step programs and a theater group that has produced 15 shows so far.

Church member Crystal Holston, who has helped organize the event and research church history, said the 90th anniversary gathering is a practice run for the centennial celebration 10 years from now.

Committee members have found old photo albums with people in them from over the years, according to Holston, and they are trying to identify as many of them as possible.

“We really do consider this a practice run for our 100th anniversary,” she said.

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Holly Hill, LLW foundation seek donations for damaged veterans memorial

Holly Hill, LLW foundation seek donations for damaged veterans memorial
The stone slab in the outer circle directly left/north of the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens was toppled by the March 2 wind storm. A top corner of the slab broke off on impact, meaning the monument could not be repaired. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The massive regional wind storm that hit the Mid-Atlantic states nearly two months ago took down trees, damaged roofs and caused widespread power outages across a 10-state area. But another, less likely victim of the wild weather was unique to eastern Baltimore County.

The “bomb cyclone” that hit the area on March 2 and produced wind gusts up to 70 mph was somehow able to topple one of the nearly 2,400-pound stone monoliths that make up the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River. The weight of the stone even bent the one-inch steel rods inside it which held it stable.

The stone that fell, positioned directly to the left - or north - of the monument’s center, had the Star Spangled Banner engraved into it, along with a well-known quote from John F. Kennedy and the names of more than 140 eastern Baltimore County residents who have honorably served in the U.S. military.

Tony DeRuggerio, president of the monument’s governing foundation, said the base of that piece of the memorial is repairable, but the stone slab itself must be replaced.

“The base is okay, but what happened was the stone cracked on the top and it can’t be repaired,” he said.

DeRuggerio said he has ordered a replacement stone, but the cost for all the work needed on the monument amounts to nearly $13,000.

In addition to the replacement slab, the 144 names must be re-engraved, the cracked sidewalk where the stone hit must be repaired and the monument’s base must be re-leveled, all of which contribute to the cost, DeRuggerio said.

“The base did not get hurt, but it tilted it,” he said. “And apparently the base is not anchored to the concrete.”

He noted, though, that engraving the names will be the most costly aspect of the repair.

Unfortunately, the monument was not insured against “acts of God,” according to DeRuggerio.

“I was under the impression that Holly Hill had insurance on the stone, but not on the names,” he said. “It would always be us that would have to put the names back on if anything happened to the stones.

“But investigating it, we couldn’t find any proof of insurance with Holly Hill,” he said.

The foundation president explained that any insurance coverage provided to them through Holly Hill would only cover damage done by people. For instance, if a maintenance worker somehow hit and damaged the monument with a lawnmower, it would be covered, he said.

While the foundation must cover the cost of the new 2,360-pound granite slab on their own, they have started a GoFundMe page with the hope that the community will help to reimburse them. However, the effort which was started on April 3 had only garnered $330 toward its $20,000 goal as of Tuesday afternoon.

Holly Hill manager Dawn Quinlin had personally donated $100 to the effort, but DeRuggerio said Holly Hill had not yet agreed on any contribution.

The fundraising page can be found at by searching for “Veterans Monument Destroyed.” Checks or money orders can also be sent to Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans at 346 Oberle Ave., Essex, MD 21221. All donations are tax deductible.

The plan, according to DeRuggerio, is to have all the names from the fallen stone etched into one of the other stones in the memorial’s outer circle which do not currently have any names on them.

“And when the new stone gets in, we’ll just put it in and take the old one away,” he said.

The new engravings, he said, will be done before Memorial Day.

The Memorial Day service held at the monument is one of its most well-attended events.

However, DeRuggerio said the merchant from which he ordered the new stone may not have it ready for up to six months, meaning they may not have it until October.

In the meantime, the foundation and Holly Hill will return the damaged stone to its upright position and have it on display on Memorial Day.

“We’re hoping to have the whole thing ready before Veterans Day,” he said.

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Scholars program puts Patapsco High student one step closer to Ivy league dream

Scholars program puts Patapsco High student one step closer to Ivy league dream
Yara Daraiseh. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

It seems all things really do happen for a reason.

Nearly three weeks ago, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior Yara Daraiseh was in the running to be named the student representative on the Baltimore County Board of Education. One of two finalists for the honor, she lost the election held in a student leader forum April 6.

Last week, the aspiring lawyer found out she is one of 100 students selected nationally for the prestigious LEDA (Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America) Scholars program which kicks off with a seven-week residential mentoring session at Princeton University this summer.

“It’s almost a good thing I didn’t get elected because I would have missed the first couple of meetings,” Daraiseh told the East County Times. “And this program is going to be much more important to me in regard to my college plans.”

It has been a lifelong dream of Daraiseh’s to attend an Ivy League school. Natives of Jordan, her parents left lucrative professional careers in their homeland to move to the United States so their only child would have more opportunities for success - specifically, better education choices.

Once an agricultural engineer in Jordan, Omar Daraiseh now works two part-time jobs while attending Howard Community College, where he is studying radiology technology. Aisheh Toubat, Yara’s mother, was a high school principal in Jordan but is not certified to teach here.

“They made great sacrifices to come here, just to give me the chance to make something of myself, to do big things,” Yara said. “I have no intention of letting them down.”

Being named one of this year’s LEDA participants is a big step toward accomplishing the goals of being accepted at an Ivy league school and making her parents proud of her, she said. Her parents’ great personal sacrifices will not be wasted, if she has anything to do with it.

The LEDA Scholars program’s mission is to diversify the nation’s most selective colleges and universities by reaching out to bright, accomplished students who come from socioeconomically disadvantaged households, according to the organization’s website.

The average family income of selected students is about $35,000, according to Cristina Morais, LEDA’s senior director of development and external relations.

“Socioeconomic status is the one main stated criteria but we look at students holisitically,” she told the Times. “We’re looking for leadership potential and experience, and most of our scholars are already in leadership positions at their schools.”

LEDA strives to encourage economically disadvantaged students to dream big about the colleges they apply to and gives them the mentoring support they need for the application process and beyond, according to Morais.

The program’s seven-week course, which runs from June 16 to Aug. 4 at Princeton University, will include training in leadership and public speaking techniques while giving the students the opportunity to participate in role playing, debates and other activities designed to grow confidence and leadership abilities. All classes and programs will be led by doctorate-level professors, according to Morais.

The students will get a head start on the college experience by living in dorms, eating meals together in main dining halls and socializing together.

Afterward, mentors - including former LEDA scholars and staff members - stay in communication with participants and follow them all through their college application process and undergraduate experience, Morais said. Particular mentoring attention is showered upon freshmen to ensure they make the transition from high school to college successfully.

Daraiseh is excited about being selected for the obvious reasons, but also for reasons far more private.

She is being raised in a traditional Muslim home and has been fighting some of the home-country traditions that she finds contradictory to the sacrifices her parents made to come to the U.S.

“My parents are traditional about some things and not traditional about others,” the star student said. “The biggest thing we’ve argued about is that my parents want me to live at home and go to a school that I can commute to because in the Muslim faith, a girl doesn’t move out of the family home until she gets married.”

Many arguments that “got ugly and didn’t end well” ensued over the topic of where to attend college, with Daraiseh pointing out to her parents the irony that they moved half-way around the world to give their daughter the best of opportunities and now want to limit those opportunities to schools within 45 minutes of home.

“That doesn’t make sense to me,” she said. “What was the point of uprooting the family and giving up their careers if they are then going to put so many limitations on my choices?”

She now has her parents’ blessings to attend the Princeton program because they realize the doors that will open.

“Being accepted by LEDA has allowed me to reach a common ground with my parents,” she said. “This is making them come around to the idea of me moving away to go to college.”

Attending an Ivy League school has been a dream of Daraiseh’s since early elementary school, she said. Her life goal is to become a lawyer and Princeton, known for its top-notch law program, is her first choice, with Georgetown her second choice - at the moment.

While the straight-A student downplays her chances of being accepted at Princeton, Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s social studies department, begs to differ.

“She’s number one in her class right now,” Skordalas said. “And she’s taken as many advanced placement classes as possible - she carries a tough load of classes and she excels in them all.”

On the traditional scale, Daraiseh has a perfect 4.0 average. When weighted to take into account the rigor of advanced placement and gifted and talented courses, her cumulative grade-point average since ninth grade is 5.56 and her current, junior-year GPA is 5.63.

Acknowledging the school commitments she has made, she admitted to having a recent “meltdown” after all the stress got to her. “I’m taking five AP classes, I’m involved in after-school activities, I manage the lacrosse team, I was going through the student member of the board process and the LEDA process at the same time,” she said. “I had a meltdown but [teacher Andrew] Mininsky talked me through it.”

She refers to Skordalas and Mininsky as her “school parents” and said their mentoring has been invaluable throughout her high school years.

So thanks to the LEDA Scholars program, Daraiseh is one step closer to achieving the dream of attending an Ivy League school. The program particularly encourages participants to apply to elite schools, which tend to be less diversified and also have the bigger endowments, which translates to more resources available to students in financial need, according to Morais.

When Daraiseh comes home at the end of the summer program, she will be armed with a list of her dream schools and a network of mentors to help her through the application process.

And in addition to LEDA picking up the entire tab of the summer program, including housing, food, entertainment and transportation to and from Princeton, the organization also picks up college application fees, according to Skordalas.

“For many of these kids, the application fees alone keep them from applying to many top schools, and LEDA recognizes that,” she said. “That’s one more barrier removed for these kids who don’t have the resources at home.”

While Skordalas is confident about Daraiseh’s Ivy League chances, the student chooses to be more humble.

“I have high standards but low expectations,” she said with a broad smile. “That way, I don’t get disappointed.”

Skordalas does not believe there will be any disappointment in Daraiseh’s future.

“Remember her name,” the teacher advised. “You’re going to be hearing it a lot in the future.”

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Spring/summer midge eradication treatments begin on Back River

Spring/summer midge eradication treatments begin on Back River
The BRRC volunteered the use of their “Trash Wagon” boat to push the larvacide treatment apparatus. The Bti slurry is injected on the bottom via the boom at the front. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources resumed Monday, April 23, their combined effort to control the amount of midges in and around Back River.

Midges are non-biting, mosquito-like insects present in numbers considered to be beyond nuisance-level on and around the river due to excess nutrients in the mud on which they feed. The nutrients are believed to be a result of the last century of operation of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).

Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order early last year allocating about $330,000 to a midge eradication pilot program because of the effect the swarms of midges have had on local residents and businesses.

In September 2017, MDA and DNR, with assistance from Back River Restoration Committee volunteers, carried out the first of five scheduled treatments under the program by applying a larvacide to the river which kills the larvae of midges and other nuisance insects like mosquitoes and black flies. The larvacide consists of a naturally-occurring bacteria, known as Bti, which is only harmful to those larvae and does not affect humans or other animals or fish.

Following the treatment that began Monday, the remaining three treatments will be carried out every three to four weeks through the end of June, according to Tom Parham, director of Tidewater Ecosystem Assessment for DNR. He said the treatments take about three days each.

Midges have for years presented a nuisance for residents and business owners around the river, particularly restaurants and marinas.

“The folks around here are having issues with the adult midges sticking to boats, affecting local businesses and things like that,” Parham said.

The 260-acre treatment area encompasses roughly the entire width of the river between Weaver’s Marina in Essex and the WWTP on the other side. Parham said the area was chosen following extensive sampling of midge larvae concentrations all over Back River.

“We chose an area that had generally high concentrations of these larvae. And since this seemed to be the area that we were having the most complaints, we set the [target] right outside [Weaver’s Marina],” he said. “We know there’s midge larvae all over this place, there’s no doubt about that.”

The larvacide is injected into the water as a slurry, deposited just above the bottom where the midge larvae live, Parham explained. The larvae eat the material and become infected with the Bti bacteria.

Parham and Brian Prendergast, the mosquito control program manager for MDA, said the Bti only lasts in the water for one to two days.

“What happens is [the midge larvae] are going to feed on it pretty quickly,” Parham said. “And then, because the tide is moving it around, it may be that the material is moved down-tide.”

He noted that midge larvae only live in low-salinity water, so they would not be found closer to the mouth of the river and the Bti would have less effect there.

“The hope is, we spray this stuff and kill all of the larvae that are in the river right now,” Prendergast added, referring to the target area. “And then two or three days from now there will be more eggs that will start to hatch - those ones will survive.”

The project also includes sampling of larvae in a control area, which is not being treated, to compare and gauge the effectiveness of the treatments, Parham said. And since it is the adult midges that create the nuisance, DNR and MDA will also take samples of those present around the shorelines to figure out just how dense they are and the areas where they are impacting people most.

“Because that’s what it’s all about, really, minimizing the impact on people,” he said.

“Sometimes within the river system itself there could be a big decline,” Parham said referencing the control area. “We want to make sure we can attribute any decline to the Bti.”

In order for midges to be considered at nuisance levels under state regulations, there must be at least 500 midge larvae per square meter of the river bottom. But sampling of Back River showed many areas to have more than double that amount.

“So if there are 500 to 1,000 in that little area, you can imagine over 260 acres the concentrations we’re looking at,” Parham said.

He noted that the midge “hot spots” on the river are not all within the treatment area, and there are some areas, such as in some of the creeks, that are too shallow for the boat and treatment apparatus to get to.

But Prendergast emphasized that this is a pilot project.

“So we’re treating the 260 acres, and if it works then that’s kind of on the [state] legislature as to whether they want to do a larger area or not,” he said regarding the funding for additional future treatments. “But we’ve got a pretty good idea that it’s going to work.”

Parham added, “We’re not trying to control midges in the whole river. We’re just trying to show how well this works.”

Parham said there have not yet been a lot of complaints about midges this season, but there is a lot of evidence that they are beginning to be more active.

“This is usually the time when we would hear about it, right around April,” he said.

The larval “husks” could be seen Monday floating on the water’s surface after the adult midges had left the water. And stains were present on boats and the light-colored surfaces of buildings and other objects where the midges have landed.

“This is what bothers the people,” Parham said. “As they dry [on these surfaces] they stain it. Lots of times when the midges come off, they need some place to dry their wings. So you’ll see them along the shorelines.”

He shook some bushes along the shoreline at Weaver’s to stir up midges and demonstrate that they are out.

Midges are a natural part of the ecosystem in the area, acting as a food source for larger creatures like fish and birds. But the shear numbers seen around Back River create a nuisance with restaurants and business owners posting photos or videos online showing buildings that appear black because they are covered with midges.

Parham said as the weather gets warmer there will be more midges and they will grow faster. DNR will also be studying the water temperature to find out what is optimal for the bugs.

“Hopefully we’re out here before they are,” Prendergast said. “If there were already midges flying around then that would mean we’re too late.”

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‘Accidental activist’ Rowe seeks seat on Board of Education

‘Accidental activist’ Rowe seeks seat on Board of Education

(Updated 4/25/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Greater Hillendale resident Lily Rowe became an advocate for school issues in her community gradually and accidentally.

Now she has stepped up her advocacy game by quite deliberately filing to run for the Baltimore County Board of Education, representing the Sixth Councilmanic District.

“I first got involved by advocating for magnet programs,” Rowe recalled of her early days of activism. “Then I got involved when they wanted to build a salt dome near Halstead Academy, which would have caused environmental issues, and then I got involved in the air-conditioning debacle.”

The accidental activist with a “three-for-three” record accepted a three-year appointment to the Central Area Education Advisory Committee, a group that serves and advises the Board of Education on more hyper-local issues, concerns and projects.

Rowe has no shortage of ideas for how to improve the school system, with suggestions ranging from strengthening the budgetary powers of the Baltimore County Council to holding the system responsible for the physical condition of neglected and poorly maintained school buildings.

With regard to the decision-making process for new school construction and major renovations, Rowe would like to see implementation of a countywide equity plan, with a priority list established after all school buildings are rated and evaluated based upon the same list of standards and criteria.

“The schools should all be evaluated against the same checklist and then the priority list should be established,” she said. “That way, everyone would know exactly where their school stands and they could watch them move up the list as others were taken care of.”

Rowe believes the County Council should have the ability to restore budget cuts made by the county executive.

“The politics that’s involved in these decisions need to be taken out of the process,” she said. “Decisions shouldn’t be made based on favors promised or votes being chased.”

The western New York native has a degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has lived in Greater Hillendale for 12 years and has three children in Baltimore County Public Schools. Her youngest two attend Cromwell Valley Elementary Magnet School and her oldest is in middle school at Loch Raven Technical Academy.

She first got involved in school concerns because of issues in her neighborhood, but now she wants to work on bigger-picture items that affect the entire county.

She finds it “totally unacceptable” that school officials are not legally held responsible for the physical condition of school buildings.

“There is no sort of code enforcement for our schools,” she said. “Schools have mold, roaches, leaking roofs and water that no one can drink and there is no government entity charged with ensuring these problems are taken care of.”

Citing Baltimore County’s Code Enforcement division that holds residents and business owners responsible for their properties, Rowe said she would like to see a code enforcement division that could have legal recourse regarding school building issues.

“We hold businesses, renters, homeowners, day care centers and property owners accountable for code violations but not schools,” she said. “Why is that? How is that possible?”

She has witnessed “pregnant teachers passing out and students puking in buckets” because of excessive heat in schools without air conditioning. She is embarrassed by the recent, highly publicized corruption cases of former Superintendent Dallas Dance and Robert J. Barrett, a former executive officer in the school system’s community and government relations office. Dance was sentenced last week to six months in jail for perjury and Barrett, as a result of a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to a felony charge of filing a false tax return resulting from him allegedly taking bribes from contractors.

“I’m really tired of seeing the lack of ethics and transparency that has become the norm for this board and school system,” Rowe said. “For the past five or six years, the Board of Education has whittled down a lot of its responsibilities by making policies as minimal as possible and turning over most of the responsibility to the superintendent - and that’s just unacceptable.”

Rowe uses the phrase “It’s a hot mess” often in describing the condition of the school system. Early last week, before the school board voted to appoint interim superintendent Verletta White as the permanent successor to Dance, Rowe was not happy with the search process - or lack thereof.

In one night, the board voted to both hire a consulting firm to conduct the search for a permanent superintendent, and tabled a last minute motion to appoint White as the permanent replacement.

“This current board has had 13 months to carry out this search and they waited until  11 weeks out, when they don’t have the time to carry out perhaps the most important decision they will ever make.”

Rowe said she has nothing against White, but believes the decision should not have been simply “Verletta White or not Verletta White."

“We should allow people to apply for this job and then choose the best person for the job,” she said. “Maybe that would  have been White, but maybe not.”

Rowe was also concerned the search process was put off so long that all of this year’s top candidates would have already been offered positions. And, she believes, the high-profile corruption, coupled with a new board being seated in December, might have discouraged top candidates from applying in the first place.

When the board voted to appoint White as the permanent top administrator, Rowe believes that gives the perception of yet another no-bid contract being awarded.

“I feel that, just like any contract, it should have been competitive,” she said of the process. “I don’t think it’s fair to have a position of this caliber and not open it up to everyone who was interested in the job.”

Even if it was too late to do a national search and board members preferred to promote someone from in-house, all qualified employees should have had the chance to apply, Rowe believes.

“The board shirked its responsibility by just handing the job to White,” Rowe said. “Maybe she would have been the person hired after a search, but the process needed to be carried out and candidates needed to be vetted and compared to each other and that didn’t happen.”

Rowe, who said she is a “very part-time travel agent,” said she already devotes 20-30 hours a week advocating for the school system, and has been maintaining that schedule for four or five years.

She has been spending the bulk of that time “working to get bad ideas killed” and looks forward to sitting on the board and being able to advocate for good ideas and positive change.

“There is plenty of room for improvement across a broad spectrum to make our schools better for our children and more comfortable and safe for our children,” she said. “And I want to be part of that process.”

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Former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance sentenced to six months for perjury

Former BCPS superintendent Dallas Dance sentenced to six months for perjury

(Updated 4/20/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Former Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Dallas Dance will serve six months at Baltimore County Detention Center, Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Cox ruled on Friday morning, April 20.

Dance was sentenced to five years with all but six months suspended, as well as 700 hours of community service and two years probation. He pleaded guilty on March 8 to four counts of perjury for failing to disclose income for consulting work he did with SUPES Academy, a now-defunct Chicago-based company that trained school administrators.

In his first public statement about the charges, Dance told the court that he was “embarrassed” and “truly remorseful.”

“I’m ashamed of myself,” said Dance. “That’s the remorse I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.”

Dance was not sentenced to the 18 months in jail Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt sought, but the six-month jail sentence pleased the prosecution.

“We are gratified there was a period of incarceration,” said Davitt. “That sends a message to the community. When you are in a position of trust, abuse of that trust is harmful and very serious.”

Defense attorney Andrew Graham argued that jail time for Dance would be unnecessary, saying the disgraced former superintendent had already been punished enough. Graham also noted that by pleading guilty, Dance had accepted responsibility for his actions.

In the lead up to her sentencing decision, Cox said that aside from acting as punishment and future deterrent for an individual, the court also had a duty to send a statement to public officials at large.

“There’s a public nature to what we do,” said Cox.

She also contended that Dance had numerous opportunities to come clean. Graham tried to frame Dance’s guilty plea as the move of an honest man while asserting that a man as busy as Dance simply made a mistake on a few forms. But Cox shot down that argument, saying that if Dance had his mea-culpa moment before a lengthy investigation had been launched, “we might not be here today.”

That sentiment was echoed earlier in Friday’s sentencing hearing when Davitt gave his opening remarks. Davitt argued that Dance had multiple ethics hearings and addendums made to forms he filed during his time as superintendent, and the statement of facts laid out by prosecutors showed not a forgetful person but someone who was actively trying to conceal what he was doing.

“This was a continuing course of conduct of deliberate deceit,” said Davitt. “If the course of conduct stopped anywhere along the way, we wouldn’t be here. This case is not about a lapse of judgment.”

Davitt contended that Dance had done “immeasurable harm” to BCPS on different levels, but emphasized the harm it did to children who had previously looked up to Dance as a role model.

“Teachers inherit that disillusionment,” said Davitt. “This was such an egregious betrayal of trust... the state feels it merits a strong response.”

During his response, Graham stated that if Dance were to serve jail time, it would be unduly punishing Dance’s 8-year-old son and his ailing, elderly parents. He added that Dance having to appear in court on his 37th birthday added to the “tragedy.”

Graham said prosecutors were also being inconsistent, citing current BCPS superintendent Verletta White’s failure to disclose payment.

White began serving as interim superintendent after Dance’s resignation in summer 2017 and was voted to a full term on Tuesday evening, April 17 by the board of education.

“She did exactly the same thing,” said Graham. “How can the state take totally inconsistent positions?”

The school board’s ethics panel found White to be in violation of the ethics code earlier this year for failure to disclose consulting fees. The panel added, however, that the form was “confusing and unclear,” and opted to close the case as long as White amended her disclosure form and ceased working with a consulting firm from which she had accepted funds, as well as not engage in any consulting activities while serving as interim superintendent.

Six witnesses testified on Dance’s behalf, and Cox had been presented with 69 letters from supporters calling for leniency. Graham also highlighted the myriad accolades and accomplishments throughout Dance’s career, as well as the number of lives he touched, especially students.

But Cox remained unmoved, telling Graham that “it’s not whether the good outweighs the bad.”

Davitt brought up current board member and former Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden as well as former superintendent Dr. Robert Dubel to express why Dance should serve time in jail.

Dubel lamented that the “squeaky clean record” of the school system was tarnished, while Hayden remarked that “the kids are the bottom line,” and an example needed to be set.

“The example we set goes directly to the kids,” said Hayden. “This trust was taken as an issue that wasn’t important to Dallas Dance.”

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Excitement for new northeast-area school grows as principal holds information sessions

Excitement for new northeast-area school grows as principal holds information sessions
Charlene Behnke, principal of the new elementary school in the northeast area, hosted the first of four meet-and-greets for parents, students and staff on Monday night at Perry Hall Elementary School. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Dozens of parents showed up to Perry Hall Elementary on Monday night for the first installment in a series of meet-and-greets with the principal of the new Northeast-area elementary school, Charlene Behnke. The new school is slated to open in September.

The excitement was palpable from the outset of the meeting, with Behnke explaining the importance of parents meeting with the incoming staff over a cup of coffee.

“I believe it is important that the people that are teaching your children are people you would be comfortable to sit down and have a cup of coffee with. These are good people that I’ve hired,” said Behnke.

She quipped that she had already met with the staff over coffee, doing most of her hiring at Dunkin Donuts in Perry Hall. But with a new school opening, Behnke felt that parents should be afforded the same opportunity, and sooner rather than later.

Of the 20 or so future staffers present, almost all come from area schools like Joppa View, Vincent Farm and Seneca elementary schools. Quite a few have a history with Behnke while others will be working with her for the first time. But whether a familiar face or a new one, there were a few common threads that ran through the hiring process - wanting to take part in a new endeavor as well as wanting to push the limits of instruction.

“[Monday] night for the first time we got a chance to see some of the teachers at the new school, and I like the idea that these teachers are coming from the area,” said Ben Boehl, a candidate for the House of Delegates in District 8 and a parent to three children eligible to attend the new elementary school. He added that two of his children will have current teachers moving with them, which could help make the transition to a new school easier.

“The one thing that makes it easier is it’s a new school for everybody,” said Boehl. “This is pretty cool though because we’re creating a new school. Of course there’s a little concern but there’s definitely more excitement.”

Behnke, who has worked in Baltimore County Public Schools for 27 years this July, made sure she had tenured staffers for some of the more delicate elementary school positions, including school nurse, counselor and speech pathology. She has also taken a rather unique step in seeking two physical education teachers, citing the importance of physical activity.

While parents were afforded the opportunity to meet new instructors, not every teacher has officially been approved by human resources, and those who have been approved have not been assigned to a class yet. Quite a few teachers in attendance Monday will have to wait until the school officially finds out what their enrollment will be. But to Behnke, those teachers showing up to interact with parents spoke volumes.

“This is the level of commitment and excitement these teachers have,” said Behnke.

There are still other issues to be ironed out, according to Behnke. Start and end times have not been decided yet, and the furniture will not be moved into the new school until late August, leaving little time for teachers to get acclimated. As of press time, the school’s name had also not yet been approved, though a stakeholder vote decided on the name Honeygo Elementary. The name needs to be approved by the school board, which met on Tuesday night.

For now, Behnke wants to hear ideas from the community.

“We want to be very clear at the get go before anyone walks in the doors, what is it the community wants from this new school,” asked Behnke. “What will make you proud?”

One area of concern was what clubs would be available at the new school. Some parents expressed concern that what is offered in their children’s current school would not be offered at the new school. And considering some children have to wait until they’re old enough for certain clubs, parents want to make sure they have the opportunity to partake in things like LEGO club or Speed Stacking.

Behnke recited a lengthy list of clubs that her staff members had suggested, but noted that implementing all of them in the first year might be a challenge.

“Some of the clubs that exist at Perry Hall Elementary seem like they’ll exist at Honeygo, which is certainly a good thing,” said Boehl.

Of course, the school will also need an official mascot. While the decision will be left up to the students, the choices will be between an eagle, a fox or a bear. Behnke said she approached people with knowledge of the land the school was built on and asked what animals were often seen. She was told eagles and foxes. But considering the name of the school has “honey” at the forefront, the addition of a bear as an option just made sense.

And for those who voted for “Honeygo Run” to be the name of the school, Behnke added that she would like to see the school’s slogan become something along the lines of “Honeygo on the run,” as a play on both the energy of the school and the fact that it sits on Honeygo Run.

Two other input sessions will be held, with one taking place on April 24 at Joppa View Elementary School, and one on April 26 at Gunpowder Elementary School. Both sessions will start at 6:30 p.m.

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Volunteers help to restore shorelines in east-side county parks; more needed

Volunteers help to restore shorelines in east-side county parks; more needed
About 85 people helped to plant the restored shoreline around Inverness Park, and more volunteers are needed to do the same work for Cox's Point Park. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Roughly 70 volunteers joined with environmental workers Friday, April 13, and Saturday, April 14, to help restore the shoreline of Dundalk’s Inverness Park by capping off construction work with the planting of native vegetation.

But still more volunteers are needed for another planting project next month.

A total of about 85 people installed about 14,000 plants over the two days. But between planning, permitting, design and construction, Watershed Restoration Program Director David Riter said it had taken nearly three years to get to that point.

The project encompassed 1,700 linear feet of shoreline in the park, according to Riter, and construction took place between November 2017 and March 15 this year. The $1.1 million cost of the project was funded through the county’s now-repealed Stormwater Remediation Fee, also known as the Rain Tax.

Riter explained at a Back River Restoration Committee meeting on Tuesday, April 10, that, as part of the Watershed Restoration Program, shoreline restoration projects aim to stabilize eroding shorelines.

“This helps to reduce nutrients and sediments getting into the waterways and improve habitat for aquatic and terrestrial animals,” he said.

Baltimore County uses a hybrid living shoreline approach, he said, which involves both structural and non-structural techniques.

Examples of structural techniques include using rocks and boulders to create breakwaters, jetties, groins or sills. Non-structural features include sand and plants installed on the shoreline.

Part of the construction at Inverness Park involved the construction of sills, which allow the low shoreline areas to become inundated with water at high tide while making sure the land does not erode away when the tide recedes, according to Riter.

“We had erosion problems here and we had large stands of invasive species,” he said, such as phragmites. “That stuff is not ideal for habitat.

“The plants that we have selected are specific to the types of elevation that we’ve designed for,” he said.

The crowd planted low-marsh grasses that like to get wet in the areas closest to the water, followed by a thin strip of high-marsh area that will get wet more irregularly, Riter explained. He added that a contractor was slated to come back Monday to plant another 225 trees and shrubs in the upland buffer area outside the sand fence.

The county partnered with the National Aquarium in Baltimore for the planting, and the aquarium’s role was mostly to help organize volunteers, according to aquarium conservation aide Sean Myers.

“We wanted to do a community outreach component so you get the buy-in,” Riter told the East County Times. “There were a lot of people that wanted to participate somehow with the project and planting is a great way to do it. I went to the aquarium because they’re the experts at coordinating this kind of stuff.”

The county also recently completed construction for a similar project at Cox’s Point Park in Essex and will begin construction for yet another at Watersedge Park in Dundalk this fall.

The 11-acre Cox’s Point Park, Riter said, is a popular park characterized as having “significant” erosion of its shoreline behind some undersized stone breakwaters.

He said there has also been some “hardening” of the shoreline from slag deposits, along with invasive species like phragmites and Japanese knotweed.

The Cox’s Point project consisted of 2,200 linear feet of shoreline, along which about two feet of soil was removed to get rid of as much of the invasive species’ root material as possible, along with any slag at the surface.

The county then installed enlarged and reconfigured breakwaters, designed to handle a 25-year storm, before placing 5,000 cubic yards of sand along the shoreline. Again with the help of volunteers, they will plant the shoreline with around 26,000 plants across four days in May. The planting will create about 1.7 acres of marsh area, Riter said.

A sand fence has already been installed around the shoreline at Cox’s Point which will function to keep people from walking through and trampling the area after it has been planted. But there are access points to the water included, plus a new ADA-compliant pier for people to use.

The construction cost of the Essex project stands at about $1.26 million, Riter said.

Following the planting, workers will install a goose fence to keep water fowl from pulling up the plugs, and a contractor will plant trees and shrubs in the upland areas. The areas will also be monitored by the county to see how the plants are coming along and if the shoreline is improving. They will also complete invasive species suppression as needed until the native species take hold.

The plantings at Cox’s Point Park will take place over the course of May 11, 12, 18 and 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day. Anyone wishing to help with the effort is encouraged to pre-register through the National Aquarium by calling 410-576-1014, emailing or visiting

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Eastside administrators up for Principal of Year award

Eastside administrators up for Principal of Year award
Kandice Taylor (left) and Drue Whitney. Courtesy photos.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Marge Neal -

In her eight years as a secondary school principal, Kandice Taylor has become known as a team-oriented leader who specializes in building up people and improving achievement data.

As a result of her hard work, the Deer Park Magnet Middle School principal is one of six finalists for Baltimore County’s Principal of the Year honors. The Middle River resident is joined by three other school leaders with east-side roots: Red House Run Elementary’s Drue Whitney, Eastern Technical High’s C. Michelle Anderson and Cathy Thomas, a former Logan Elementary School assistant principal who now occupies the big desk at Cromwell Valley Elementary Regional Magnet School. The remaining finalists are Deborah Magness, in her 10th year as principal at Cockeysville Middle, and Renee Jenkins, principal at Deer Park Elementary.

In addition to naming a Teacher of the Year, Baltimore County Public Schools also honors its top elementary and secondary school principals. While the teacher honor has existed for many years, this is just the sixth year for the principal awards and only the third year that top administrators are honored in each of the two education levels, according to a statement from the school system.

Taylor is familiar to many east-side faculty, students and parents, having previously served as principal at Kenwood High (2014-16) and Golden Ring Middle (2010-14) schools.

The competition was advertised internally throughout the school system, according to Taylor.

“It was advertised and my staff took it upon themselves to nominate me,” Taylor told the East County Times. “They didn’t tell me they were doing it; I would have tried to talk them out of it if they had.”

The nomination process is a multi-tiered effort, according to online application instructions. The initial phase involves recommendations from students, teachers, parents, colleagues and/or community members in support of a particular principal.

After the Principal of the Year Selection Committee reviews all nominations, to make sure they are complete, nominated principals are notified of their candidacy and are invited to submit a principal’s application for the award.

The finalists were notified last week of their competition status, and winners will be announced April 25 during an event at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

While saying she was “clueless” about her staff and school community coordinating the nomination, Taylor said she is humbled that her school would think enough of her leadership to pursue such an effort.

“This is actually pretty awesome,” she said of being a finalist. “I don’t like the attention but it is humbling and it does feel good to know that people believe I’m doing a good job.”

Throughout her eight-year tenure as a principal, Taylor said it has always been her goal to build up people and community; to build capacity, competence and confidence, as opposed to just creating initiatives for the sake of creating initiatives.

At Golden Ring Middle, Taylor was the one to lead the school through a state-mandated restructuring that resulted from too many consecutive years of sub-standard student achievement as measured by standardized testing.

“We worked hard, our data and achievement improved and we worked our way out of the restructuring,” Taylor said.

At Kenwood, Taylor was at the helm during efforts to improve college-related standardized test scores, as well as to improve the school’s culture of equity with regard to race, student expectations and achievement and discipline, she said.

“And we worked on acknowledging our biases and working to eliminate those biases,” Taylor said. “You can never totally make biases go away, but acknowledging them, talking about them and working on them is a start.”

Now in her second year at Deer Park in Randallstown, Taylor said she has concentrated on working on the school’s culture climate, working to instill confidence in both staff and students.

“I want to show our students we have a vision for them, and to equip them with the tools needed to achieve those visions,” Taylor said. “We are not perfect by any shape or form, but we strive to be a little better today than we were yesterday.”

Red House Run’s Whitney is excited for the honor but more excited for her school community.

“Being nominated was a total surprise to me and it feels good to be nominated by staff, parents and students,” Whitney said. “But it isn’t just me; we have this really wonderful school community that will do anything for the sake of student achievement.”

Whitney believes what sets Red House Run apart is the intensive web of trusting and meaningful relationships between different community populations: among faculty and staff; teachers and students; teachers and parents; and staff and the principal.

“Those relationships are the coolest thing about our school and what makes everything else possible,” she said. “And I give my teachers the power to be leaders because they are all so talented in their own right - it’s the right thing to do and the students benefit.”

Reading Specialist Christine Leppert said Whitney  encourages and supports teacher-led initiatives and is a “big proponent” of professional development, which arms the educators with the latest research and best practices to ensure student achievement.

“She keeps us competitive and current with the latest research,” Leppert said of Whitney. “She’s definitely a ‘teaching first’ leader.”

While Whitney strives to ensure students develop to the best of their ability, she also follows that path with regard to her staff, according to Leppert.

“Drue has groomed a lot of leaders here,” she said. “Lots of teachers have become assistant principals and assistant principals have become principals. And many teachers have become better teachers, developing to their capacity under her leadership.”

Alison Brown, the mother of a Red House Run fourth grader, had no shortage of compliments in describing the enthusiastic administrator.

“She embodies leading with heart,” Brown said of Whitney. “We tend to throw that phrase around a lot, but I see it every day with every child. She is patient with everyone, her leadership is visionary and she just gets it.”

Whitney is “awesome,” “very empathetic” and in tune with all of the students’ needs and abilities, according to Brown.

“I really hope she wins because she really deserves it,” Brown said. “I’m sure everyone says that about their favorite principal but she really does deserve it.”

Both administrators interviewed were humble about the role of their contributions to their school communities and instead chose to shine the light on creative, dedicated, talented staffs.

But Leppert, in her ninth year at Red House Run, said she contemplated transferring to a new school that will open within walking distance of her Perry Hall home.

“But then I decided I am perfectly happy where I am and this is where I am needed,” she said of the Rosedale school. “It’s a pleasure to work here and Drue is the major reason for that.”

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BRRC disposes of abandoned boats, returns to Grays Road for second cleanup

BRRC disposes of abandoned boats, returns to Grays Road for second cleanup
An abandoned boat, found in the water off of Chesaco Road in Rosedale, was broken up and disposed of on March 14. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Back River Restoration Committee continued its crusade against trash Saturday, April 14, in order to clean up the Back River watershed.

Saturday’s event was the BRRC’s second official cleanup of Grays Road in Dundalk, which runs alongside Sparrows Point Country Club but is a mostly industrial area. Key Brewing Company, located at the end of Grays Road, sponsored the cleanup just as they did last year, providing food and drinks - the hydrating kind - to all who volunteered their time to come clean the area.

Although the organization’s last cleanup on Grays Road was nearly a year ago, the trash load was much lighter, so the lower turnout was not such a big deal. Still, some 80-plus volunteers dotted the road’s entire stretch, from its genesis at Wise Avenue to its terminus near Key Brewing.

BRRC President Sam Weaver said the amount of trash seen during Saturday’s cleanup was “nothing like” it was last year.

In 2017, the group and its volunteers collected six 30-yard dumpsters full of trash and more than 150 tires from the area, which they had never cleaned before, according to Weaver.

BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn said this year they hauled in a total of about eight tons of garbage in just two dumpsters, along with 41 tires and a dump truck full of scrap metal.

The difference, Weaver said, was largely due to last year being the first time they had cleaned the area.

“Last year there was all kinds of mattresses, TVs, all that,” he said. He added that BRRC has also been back several times in the interim to pick up such bulk items so that they would not accumulate.

The Back River watershed covers approximately 55 square miles, stretching as far away as Towson, which makes it appropriate that even Parkville resident and scout leader Anibal Gonzalez brought the members of Scout Troop 740 out to help with the Dundalk cleanup.

Gonzalez, who noted his connection to the event through one of the owners of Key Brewing, said the items they find and amount of material collected during such cleanups is amazing. But he appreciated the opportunity to get the scouts out helping the community.

“It’s good for them to get out and do this stuff,” he said.

“This is important,” Gonzalez said, remarking about what they were also doing for the environment. “Anything that doesn’t get into the water is a good thing.”

Speaking of things getting into the water, especially those that stay for years and years, BRRC has made it a point to try to pull abandoned boats from waterways whenever possible.

Back on March 14, Weaver arranged for a total of five abandoned boats, dragged from their resting places in the Back River mud, to be broken up and disposed of properly.

Barry Devore, owner of Benjer Dumpsters, donated the use of his equipment that day, operated by his son Josh, to yank the boats from the water, break them up and put them into dumpsters for disposal rather than slowly breaking apart and polluting the river.

The boats amounted to a total of 29,000 pounds of material, according to Weaver.

“Those boats were all sunken for years way up above the [I-695] bridge, and some others are downstream,” he said. He added that the gas tanks and any other fluid containers from the boats were pumped out, and the major heavy metal components - such as motors - were taken for recycling.

The BRRC has removed more than 3 million pounds of trash and about 6,000 tires from the river and its watershed since 2011.

The bulk of that comes from the 900-foot, county-funded trash boom on the river. The previous average of 45,000 pounds of trash per month collected at the boom has decreased in recent years, Weaver said, due to increased cleanup efforts upstream.

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After denial, Nawrocki admits existence of past protective orders

After denial, Nawrocki admits existence of past protective orders
Photo courtesy of MDOT YouTube.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Following repeated denials that he had ever had a legal protective order against him, Ryan Nawrocki, a Rebublican candidate for Baltimore County Council in the Sixth District, took to his campaign website to explain that the situation stemmed from a child custody dispute.

His statement notes that he and his wife are high school sweethearts and “hit a bump in the road” when they were young, leading them to split up. He and the child’s mother - now his wife - both then filed for custody of the child.

“In the custody agreement process, under the mutual advice of our lawyers, we had a consent agreement drafted that detailed custody arrangements and support,” Nawrocki wrote. “We were also both legally advised at the time by our attorneys to file reciprocal protective orders to gain a leg up in our custody process.”

The candidate maintained in his statement that there was never any domestic violence which led to the orders.

However, a form contained within the county circuit court’s file on the custody dispute titled Master’s Settlement Conference Checklist, dated Aug. 29, 2008, lists several questions to gather pertinent details of the case.

The first question on the form asks, “Is there a current or recent D.V. [domestic violence] Protective Order,” for which the “yes” area is checked with a note above it that reads “07.”

An image posted on the internet, which purports to show case information regarding the incident, shows Nov. 16, 2007, as the court filing date for an incident and initial court order listing a series of orders as a result of the case. It lists the case type as “Domestic Violence.”

Prior to releasing his statement, Nawrocki called the image a fake and said he did not know why “yes” was checked on the form.

As of press time he had not responded to requests for additional comment following his statement.

Documents from the child custody case, on file with the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, make at least five references to the relevant protective orders and their associated case numbers from the county’s district court.

For instance, a complaint for custody filed with the court by Lauren Ellison - now Lauren Nawrocki - on March 31, 2008, mentions that “On November 20, 2007, the parties [Nawrocki and Ellison] appeared in the District Court of Maryland for Baltimore County in Case Numbers SP1854-07 and SP1956-07 for a reciprocal Protective Order hearing.”

Although abbreviated in the document, the latter case number appears to be the same as the one that appears on the aforementioned internet image posted online. The case number on the image is 0804-SP01956-2007.

District Court officials have confirmed the existence of the case file under that case number, that it is a domestic violence case, and that the name Ryan Nawrocki is attached to it. However, the record is shielded and cannot be viewed by the public.

Nawrocki, in his statement, blamed the domestic violence allegations on “dirty campaign tricks” from Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent councilwoman whom he would face if he makes it through the Republican primary.

Bevins has denied any involvement in the matter.

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Commentary: No need to correct the record - let’s just set it straight

Commentary: No need to correct the record - let’s just set it straight
Charles "Buzz" Beeler (left) and Ryan Nawrocki (right) have teamed up to take down this reporter's credibility.

(Updated 4/18/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The events of the past week have led me to the conclusion that I made a mistake - one that a journalist should never make and for which I have to come clean.

The mistake I made was allowing a certain candidate for public office, along with an internet blogger, to shift the focus from the candidate’s past to my own.

In the course of my research and coverage of the candidates running for County Council in the Sixth District, I uncovered and reported on a potential dark spot in Ryan Nawrocki’s past: what appears to be a domestic violence incident between him and his now-wife.

After repeated denials that a protective order ever existed between the two, Nawrocki admitted in a post to his campaign’s website that they did have a reciprocal protective order between them 10 years ago before they were married. In his explanation, though, he maintained that it was not the result of domestic violence.

I’m glad he finally came clean, although I still question his account of the situation.

But in retaliation for the first article I wrote on Nawrocki, which was published on March 8 and showed that he misused his state-issued credit card while working at MTA, he dug up what at first glance looks to be a blemish on my journalistic ethics and credibility. He has quietly told people since then that I am in the pocket of Cathy Bevins, the Democrat incumbent county councilwoman who will face Nawrocki in the general election should he win the Republican primary.

Following my article last week, which ran on the front page of the East County Times, Nawrocki contacted former community blogger Charles “Buzz” Beeler, who now runs his own blog site, to write his own hatchet piece on the situation. Beeler’s blog attempts to fully discredit me while tearing apart my article.

But Beeler only further proved his own propensity for getting things wrong and twisting the facts.

After trying to make me look incompetent and saying the information in my article was unsubstantiated, he twisted my own statements and said I published the article before I had the necessary documentation.

To be clear, everything in my April 12 article was confirmed and substantiated before going to press. What Beeler mixed up was that I came across more documentation on Wednesday - after going to press - for a new article, which I published on our website Thursday afternoon. I spoke to Nawrocki for both articles.

Beeler also focused on the damning evidence against me which Nawrocki came across: a search in the Maryland State Board of Elections’ database of campaign contributions which shows I gave $40 to Bevins’ campaign in 2016. The two have since cited the ethics standards of the New York Times and the Society of Professional Journalists to highlight my “serious breach” in ethics. Nawrocki and his wife have also contacted ECT’s management numerous times calling for me to be sacked as a result.

Now, unlike Nawrocki, I will not try to claim that the screenshot Beeler published of the MSBE search result is a fake (Nawrocki claims an image posted online showing a Maryland Judiciary Case Search bearing his name from a 2007 domestic violence incident is a forgery). The search is real, and the state’s documents do say that. They are simply incorrect.

I have never contributed any money to Cathy Bevins’ campaign. And as of this writing I have in my possession a statement from Bevins’ campaign organization explaining the error.

I attended a campaign fundraiser for Bevins on Nov. 3, 2016, in preparation for an article published about six weeks later (I had to wait for the release of local voting statistics from the 2016 election to add to the article). I attended that event, as I’ve attended countless other events for local politicians, as a guest and was not charged the ticket price.

From the statement: “Mr. Crum received a complimentary ticket as he was a member of the press… Mr. Crum was not required to pay the $40 ticket fee to enter the event, nor did he pay the $40 fee.”

The statement notes that volunteers at the front desk mistakenly filed my ticket with those which were paid for in cash, and the campaign treasurer recorded it as such. But Bevins and her treasurer have informed the Times and me of their intent to file an addendum to that campaign finance report to correct the error.

I am actually grateful to Nawrocki for pointing it out so it can be fixed. This is proof that something wrong will stay wrong until someone brings it to light.

The MSBE search also turns up a second result - a $40 contribution to Republican Delegate Robin Grammer’s campaign in 2014 - which Nawrocki and Beeler have tried to use to establish a pattern for my actions.

Full disclosure, Grammer had a raffle going during his campaign that year and I was interested in the prize, so I bought a ticket. It may not be the smartest thing I’ve ever done as a journalist, but it certainly has no bearing on the work I do.

That contribution was in the previous election cycle, and I have not reported on Grammer’s or his challengers’ campaigns. Plus, any mathematician will tell you that one point on a graph does not establish a pattern.

It appears to me the true irony here is that Nawrocki and Beeler have teamed up to do exactly what they have accused me of doing: working together to discredit and defeat the candidate’s opponent.

He may not agree, but I’ve given Nawrocki a fair shake all along. He gave me tips about things to look into on Bevins as well; it just happened to be that none of them bore fruit. Nevertheless, I printed Nawrocki’s claims with an explanation of why they were unfounded.

Beeler reported on Nawrocki’s claims too, but instead of recognizing that there was nothing there (a domestic violence claim against Bevins from 2011 was dismissed by the courts due to lack of evidence), he sensationalized it as he is known to do.

I also suspect, as Nawrocki has suggested, that Bevins arranged for those protesters to show up at his campaign event on April 5. Bevins has at least a small connection to the protesters through different groups and they all - the councilwoman included - admitted as much. But Bevins denied organizing it and I can’t prove that she did, so I didn’t print it.

What I can prove is that a sealed case file with the same case number as the one published in the online image exists in the county district court in Towson. Court clerks have confirmed the name on that case file is Nawrocki’s and that it is a domestic violence case.

But Nawrocki has refused to answer questions about that case file.

Additionally, case files do not get sealed by the courts unless the parties involved request it. So what is in that file and why was it sealed?

Nawrocki may find my pursuit of the truth too “aggressive,” but that’s what good journalists do. And I will continue to ask tough questions of all candidates  as needed because voters deserve to know the answers.

This is not the first time I’ve been attacked for writing something that someone did not like. As I continue my career in this field, I’m sure it won’t be the last. But the factual nature of my entire body of work during my career stands on its own.

The reputations of those attacking me, on the other hand... well, they stand on their own too.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the East County Times.

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