Officials break ground for new Victory Villa Elementary School

Officials break ground for new Victory Villa Elementary School
BCPS Board of Education Chair Edward Gilliss (at podium) delivered remarks to members of the Victory Villa community at the groundbreaking for the new Victory Villa Elementary building, which is being touted by officials as a “state of the art” upgrade. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

County and state officials gathered Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the site of Victory Villa Elementary in Middle River to officially break ground for the new building.

Set to open at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, construction for the new Victory Villa  school building is already ahead of schedule, with the groundbreaking taking place in the shadow of the building’s steel skeleton.

“I can’t believe the progress already being made and I am very excited for the new school to open its doors next year,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who represents the area.

Bevins was especially pleased as this is the first new school to come to her district since she took office in 2010. “This groundbreaking not only represents a new school for this area, but progress in the community,” she said.

Other officials on hand for the groundbreaking included County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Interim Superintendent Verletta White, state delegates Bob Long, Robin Grammer and Ric Metzgar (all R-6) and multiple Board of Education members, including board chair Edward Gilliss and board member Stephen Verch.

Gilliss spent his time delving into the history of the school, which initially opened in 1942 as thousands flooded into the Middle River area to work at the Glenn L. Martin factory. Originally called “The Middle River School,” it was built as a temporary school for those families who were just moving into the area. Fast forward more than 70 years and the “temporary” school was still standing.

“I think it’s time for a change, and I bet you agree with me,” said Gilliss. “This site will house a center for learning in the Middle River community, a place where children will grow and thrive while honoring the community’s history and identity.

Kamenetz noted that Victory Villa is the 83rd school since 2011 to be renovated or rebuilt, touting the success of his administration’s $1.3 billion “Schools for Our Future” initiative. The new Victory Villa building cost approximately $39 million to construct.

“It’s an historic investment,” said Kamenetz. “This is the largest single construction initiative in the history of our county, and we’re really excited about it.”

According to Kamenetz, the new facility will have central air conditioning, school-wide Wi-Fi and an updated security system. The new school will also be a “passport school,” with students taking a foreign language starting in the fourth grade. Victory Villa’s capacity will increase from 326 to 735 students, helping to alleviate overcrowding in the area.

White stated that the need to create more seats due to overcrowding was a “good problem to have,” as it meant “more families are choosing Baltimore County Public Schools.”

Those sentiments were shared by Bevins.

“Baltimore County has some of the best public schools in the region,” she said. “Part of the reason so many families from other counties move to this county is so their children can attend Baltimroe County Public Schools. When I visit these schools I see students eager to learn, the hardest working teachers and principals in the state and parents who are invested in their children’s future.”

Investment in the future was the theme of the day, with Victory Villa principal Marge Roberts all stating that the move to rebuild the school was long overdue.

“As principal I can proudly say our staff, students and families are thrilled to witness this transformation of our historical temporary schoolhouse into a 21st century learning environment,” said Roberts.

Most of White’s time at the podium was spent recounting a memory when she previously worked with Victory Villa in a supervisory roll. An older gentleman, whose wife had just passed away, showed up to the school. When asked if he had children or grandchildren at the school, he said no, but added that he returned to the elementary school because “that’s where he remembered feeling supported.”

“Schools are the hub of communities,” said White. “We have to keep that in mind, whenever we’re building a new facility, or whenever we’re supporting and maintaining our existing facilities.”

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Community leaders believe ‘big dent’ has been put in rat population

Community leaders believe ‘big dent’ has been put in rat population
Residents from many of the rat-infested communities on the east side visited the County Council in Towson last spring to press for a solution to the issue. File photo.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Marge Neal -

By all accounts, a pilot program designed to fight rat colonies in specifically targeted Baltimore County communities has been a success.

Code Enforcement employees and community leaders say the three-pronged attack of education, enforcement and extermination has significantly reduced the rat population in those neighborhoods.

“We’re getting very good feedback on the program,” Code Enforcement coordinator Adam Whitlock told the East County Times. “It seems to be working on all levels.”

The latest program differs on several levels from attempts made in the past to wipe out rats, most importantly through a strengthened oversight of the exterminators selected to do the inspections and treatment, according to Cliff O’Connell, an Essex resident and local business owner.

“Regional [Pest Control] is doing a great job,” O’Connell said of the contractor selected to do the extermination treatments. “They’re thorough and professional, they have the most recent technology and they have good record-keeping; I’m really impressed with them.”

Lynne Mitchell, president of the Eastwood Residents and Business Community Association, had high praise for Regional as well.

“They put a bar code on the gate of each property,” she said. “Their exterminators can pull up the information, see when they treated, how they treated, where they treated and if the family has pets or not,” she said in a phone interview. “They have really been the right company to do the job well.”

Mitchell said she gives credit to Whitlock and Code Enforcement Chief Lionel van Dommelen for selecting the best contractor and not necessarily the cheapest one.

Another important aspect of the renewed attack on rats was the reinstatement of a second trash pickup date each week for the participating communities.

Many years ago, in an effort to encourage more widespread recycling, Baltimore County dropped one trash pick-up day per week to offer a weekly single-stream recycling pickup. The goal was to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills and increase the amount of collected recyclables.

But in densely developed rowhouse communities with small kitchens and back yards, not much recycling is being done and trash piles up for a week before being picked up, O’Connell explained.

“I have many people tell me their kitchens are too small and they don’t have room for recycle bins,” he said. “And they only have room for so many trash cans in small yards-or they can’’t afford to buy the number of cans they need.”

The pilot program originally included nine communities, including the east side’s Berkshire, Colgate, Eastwood, Hawthorne, Holland Hills, Middlesex and West Inverness neighborhoods. The selected areas received educational materials with tips to combat infestation, as well as the added trash day and chemical exterminations.

Another four communities, North Point Village, Eastfield-Stanbrook, Charlesmont and Gray Haven, were selected to get the additional trash day only, according to Whitlock.

The original nine areas would receive two, eight-week treatment cycles and the additional trash date was budgeted for a full year, according to a statement issued by Baltimore County officials.

Now that the original nine communities have completed one eight-week treatment cycle and are in the midst of the second and final cycle, the success of the extermination spurred county officials to add treatment for the extra four communities, Whitlock said.

Baltimore County invested $770,000 in the program, including the costs of the two extermination cycles and the additional trash day for one year.

However, the success of the new program can not be attributed to just one element, Whitlock believes.

The added trash day has “obviously made a big difference,” he said, but so have the concerted efforts of the new exterminator.

“We’ve gotten into about 90 percent of the properties in these communities,” he said. “That’s huge right there. Not much can be done to fight these rats if we’re only getting into half of the properties.”

When exterminators found themselves with a locked gate or a yard with a dog in it, they left a hang tag that said “sorry we missed you” and gave the resident a specific time and date when they would return, Whitlock said. The improved communication worked and the gate was unlocked or the animal inside on the date of the return visit.

“Of the 90 percent of properties we were able to get on, about 20 percent of those needed treatment,” Whitlock said. “Of the properties treated, only about 35 percent of those needed additional treatments upon followup.”

While treatment works, it does not solve the problem, Whitlock, O’Connell and Mitchell all agreed.

“We’ve got to stop feeding the rats, it’s a people problem as much as it’s a rat problem,” O’Connell said. “There are still a lot of people with poor trash habits.”

“All rats do in their life cycle is eat and reproduce,” Whitlock said. “And they’re going to stay where they have a food source; we have to stop feeding them.”

But Mitchell believes there is still one important element missing from the attack on rodents.

“I would really like to see bulk trash pickup reinstated,” she said of the discontinued service. “People without pickup trucks have no way of getting rid of bigger items so they just set them in their yards and they become breeding grounds for rats.”

She also would like to see the county not back down on code enforcement fines.

“Residents know they can go to the hearing and get the fine thrown out,” Mitchell said. “They learn they don’t have to change their behavior and they won’t have to pay a fine.”

It’s one thing for a first-time offender to have a fine waived, she said, but repeat offenders should have to pay.

Whitlock said his department is seeing fewer infractions in the targeted communities and many residents are making an effort to properly store trash between pickups. He did not cite a difference in complaints specific to rats because the rodents are not a complaint category. But related complaints, like junk being stored in yards, discarded furniture and lack of trash cans or lids, are down.

“You’ll always have people who don’t care; there’s no way around that,” he said. “But many people are making an effort and the results show that.”

It is uncertain whether the program will be repeated next year, but O’Connell and Mitchell both said they hope it continues.

“At the very least, I would definitely recommend keeping the second trash day,” O’Connell said. “We’ve made great progress but if we stop working on the problem, that progress won’t last long.”

Mitchell said she is seeing big changes in Eastwood, one alley at a time, one block at a time.

“We are seeing a caring difference and it’s important we work together,” she said. “I believe Baltimore County is finally on the right track with this. It needs to continue.”

The program is not perfect and she hopes improvements, like the addition of bulk pickup, can be made.

“But this is the biggest dent made so far in this problem and we have to keep trying.” she said.

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Task force recommends new regional park for Kingsville

Task force recommends new regional park for Kingsville
The three parcels in question, all contiguous along Raphel Road, are (from northernmost) the Rutkowski farm, the former Mt. Vista Park and the Schmidt property which abuts Interstate 95. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A task force appointed by County Councilman David Marks (R-5) recommended last week the consolidation of several parcels of land to create a new Kingsville Regional Park.

The task force, which included area recreation council and civic organization leaders and was chaired by local resident Bill Paulshock, convened over the summer and set out to recommend a plan for the former Mount Vista Park property along Raphel Road in Kingsville. They released their list of recommendations last Monday, Oct. 9.

The task force suggested that the new facility be named Kingsville Regional Park and the existing Kingsville Park on Franklinville Road be renamed Franklinville Park. They would like the new park to have four large (110-by-65-foot) and four short (80-by-50-foot) fields and that at least one of the large fields have artificial turf. They also want ground reserved on the site for a future indoor recreation facility.

Chief among their recommendations, though, is a swap of two properties on either side of the Mount Vista Park property, one owned by the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) and the other owned by Baltimore County.

The swap, long eyed by stakeholders in the community, would see the 27-acre, county-owned Schmidt property - which sits between the Mount Vista parcel and Interstate 95 - traded for the 67-acre Rutkowski farm property on the other side of Mount Vista Park. The Rutkowski and Mount Vista parcels would then be combined into a single, 178-acre regional recreation area.

“We want to swap [the Schmidt property] with the Rutkowski farm so that the [MdTA] site is closer to the highway,” Marks told the East County Times. “It makes absolutely no sense for the Maryland Transportation Authority to have a maintenance yard in that location. It makes perfect sense to move that facility close to Interstate 95.”

He added that the MdTA site is also used for training of the agency’s police dogs, while the Schmidt property is vacant and largely unused.

The land swap idea has been around since at least March 2014 when it was pitched to the community and saw widespread support. However, the plan has stalled partly because of the county’s valuation of the two properties, according to Marks.

He said part of the problem is that the current county executive’s staff does not support a simple swap, believing the county would be giving up a more valuable property than they would get in return.

“What I’m telling people is that the land swap is the top priority,” Marks said, adding that he would be happy if they could get that done in the next two years.

“We would like a transfer to occur as soon as possible, but if that cannot happen, we want to provide a blueprint for this property for the next county executive,” he said in a statement.

About four acres of the current Mount Vista Park, a former public golf course owned by the county, is also slated for a solar farm which is supposed to be complete by the end of 2018, according to Marks. He said that piece is at the western end of the park as it exists today.

As per the recommendations, the new regional park would have more passive uses, such as trails, picnic pavillions and a small playground, in the westernmost areas.

“The easternmost area would have more active uses so that traffic and any noise is focused on the part of the park with fewer residential neighbors,” the task force’s statement read.

“The key thing to remember is that we are not proposing any lighting of the fields,” Marks told the Times, “and the recreational facility would have limited, dawn-to-dusk hours.” He added that the area, being rural, is sensitive to excessive lighting.

The task force is also opposing any extension of public water and sewer to the property.

Both Marks and Paulshock noted that the park concept would need to be done in stages due to cost, and Marks estimated that cost to be “well over” $3 million.

He noted that the cost of just one artificial turf field is at least $700,000.

“It’s a sizable expense,” Marks said, “so it would require a number of years to get done.” He added that the county would also likely expect the Perry Hall or Kingsville recreation councils - or both - to contribute to that cost in some way.

Mount Vista Park in its current form is open to the public for recreational purposes and is used by area sports teams, according to Marks.

Since being elected, the councilman has worked over the past seven years to open four new parks in Perry Hall and to renovate the current Kingsville Park.

Paulshock thanked the task force members for their work. “We have developed a consensus that will advance the idea of a regional park with community-friendly uses,” he said.

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Charter commission wraps up charter review, finalizes recommendations

Charter commission wraps up charter review, finalizes recommendations
The commission considered recommending an expansion of the County Council from seven members to nine, but could not come to a consensus on that point. File photo.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The county’s Charter Review Commission has concluded its work and is recommending extending the time for review of County Council bills from a maximum of 40 to 65 days and to put in place a formal, codified pay plan for top-level employees.

The advisory commission was expected to submit its report on Monday, Oct. 16, to the County Council, but as of late Monday, the Council had not received it. The Council will conduct its own review before possibly recommending changes for county-wide voter approval on the November 2018 ballot.

Last updated in 1990, the 51-page document outlines the basic structure of Baltimore County government, defining how it is set up and how it operates. Like the U.S. Constitution, the charter reflects the balance of powers held by the Baltimore County Executive and the County Council.

Councilman David Marks (R-5), who represents Perry Hall and Towson, initiated a resolution early this year that requires an appointed commission to review the charter every 10 years.

Formed in February, the commission met 11 times, reviewing the charter article by article with some input from citizens and community organizations from the central and northern parts of the county, including the Green Towson Alliance, the Greater Timonium Community Council and the Valleys Planning Council.

The charter currently states that if the Council takes no action on a bill after 40 days, the bill dies. Should it fail, the council member can currently start the process over by reintroducing the bill.

The commission recommended extending that time to 65 days, but it does not address the issue of last-minute amendments that can potentially significantly change the intent of a bill.

Community groups such as the Green Towson Alliance said that substantial amendments are sometimes presented publicly just before the Council takes a final vote on the bill, giving little opportunity for public input.

Commission members concluded that any changes to the amendment procedures should be done by the Council and not through the charter.

Pay plan for exempt employees

At the request of the County Council, the commission also reviewed the way top-level exempt employees are compensated.

Exempt employees include the county administrative officer, department heads, professional staff such as county attorneys and all elected officials.

The charter includes wording about the more structured compensation system for classified employees, who are paid using specific pay scales according to job type.

There is no such wording for exempt employees who are currently paid according to policies set by the county executive and approved by the Council that can vary depending on the administration in power.

This creates a gap in the way the county handles certain personnel matters, according to Council Chair Tom Quirk (D-Catonsville).

“This has led to some inconsistent and perhaps arbitrary results, particularly with respect to certain benefits afforded to some executive branch employees,” he wrote in a Sept. 19 letter to the commission. “We disagree with some of the practices that have developed over the years, and we intend to correct these issues legislatively.”

No changes for other issues

The charter commission discussed nearly a dozen other substantive issues, but there was no consensus among its members to recommend changes.

One potential change would have expanded the Council from seven to nine members. Due to population growth, the number of constituents is now about 118,000 for each council member - more than similar ratios in surrounding counties and more than state senatorial districts.

Commission members concluded that possibly adding staff to existing offices to help handle the increased workload would cost less than creating space and staff for two additional council members.

The commission decided against changing current provisions in the charter that prohibit them from holding state jobs and allow them an unlimited number of terms.

Members also opted not to change the independent position of the People’s Counsel - an office which represents the public interest in zoning matters - by requiring that the office possibly report to a department head.

Associations had requested adding a requirement for more county budget hearings to the charter, but a majority of the County Council recently voted against requiring the county executive to hold more hearings.

The charter is included in the Baltimore County Code posted at Search for “County Code.”

Minutes of the Charter Review Commission meetings and information about past charter revisions are posted at under Boards and Commissions.

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Zion UCC to celebrate roots, people with sesquicentennial events

Zion UCC to celebrate roots, people with sesquicentennial events
Many longtime church members posed around the altar decorated with produce for the annual Harvest Service. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Marge Neal -

An organization founded predominately by farmers certainly respects its roots.

So it should come as no surprise that Zion Evangelical Lutheran United Church of Christ in Essex reveres its history and celebrates longevity anniversaries with gusto.

The “chapel upon the hill,” as it is affectionately known, is preparing to officially mark its 150th anniversary with a gala banquet and special worship service this weekend, and church members are reflecting upon a heritage that has its feet in three centuries while also looking to the future.

The seed that grew into what became Zion UCC was originally planted in 1865, when several families of mostly German descent started gathering in each others’ homes to worship, according to church archivist and historian Joan Jordan.

A constitution declaring the existence of the German Lutheran Presbyterian Howards Congregation was written in October of that year, with Louis Freund, Moritz Knauff, John Rosengarn and Michael Berlett listed among the founders.

“Those four people were among the major founders of the church, and some of their direct descendants still attend our church today,” Jordan said.

Bylaws were adopted in 1866 and the name of the congregation was changed to The United German Lutheran and Reformed Church. The group continued to grow and in December 1866, Freund and Rosengarn secured a loan for $800 to buy an abandoned church and its surrounding two acres near Race Road.

After being refitted for heating and completing other needed repairs, the building, then called the German Lutheran Presbyterian Church, held its first worship service Jan. 21, 1867.

A booklet published in 1997 to mark the church’s 130th anniversary lists the surnames of Magsamen, Schmidt, Kroll, Krebs, Weinreich and Langenfelder among the first members of the fledgling church.

As the church prepares to wind down its year-long celebration of its 150th anniversary, members are reflecting more than usual upon their history and the relationships forged as a result of being part of the same worship family for so long.

Jordan, 71, has attended the church her entire life and counts herself as an official member since her 1960 confirmation.

Jane Anderson, who grew up in Rosedale, said she has attended the church for all of her 62 years.

After the conclusion of the annual Harvest Service held Oct. 15, Jordan rattled off other surnames well known in the community, including Winter, Krotee, Gieser and Wienecke. As church members were packing away the produce used to decorate the harvest altar, Jordan pointed to person after person, mentioning a founding or longtime member surname in their lineage.

The Harvest Service is an annual, “beautiful tradition” that honors the founding farmers as well as present-day area farmers while also being thankful for the bounty of the rich fields, Jordan believes.

“We’ve been doing the harvest program for as long as I can remember and we still have many farmers in the area and many who belong to our church,” she said.

Zion will celebrate its sesquicentennial with a gala banquet Oct. 21 and a special worship service Oct. 22 at 9:45 a.m.

Both events will connect the past with the present as guests and performers bridge the centuries in which the church has existed, Jordan said.

The Rev. Dale Krotee, a UCC minister in Camridge, Md., will deliver the keynote address at the banquet. Krotee’s mother was a Freund, according to the historian. He also is a cousin of Jordan’s, whose mother was a Krotee.

Randa “Randy” Gieser Calder, a musician and singer, is one of the entertainers scheduled to perform at the banquet.

“Randy is a direct descendant of the first minister we have a picture of,” Jordan said, referring to George Gieser, who served as the church’s pastor from 1872 - 1878.

Connections to the past are prominent throughout the small church. Perhaps the most impressive are the stained-glass windows that line both sides of the sanctuary. Each religious scene honors the memory of someone, though there are some mysteries that Jordan has been unable to solve in her extensive research.

“The most recent one is dated 1942,” she said in reference to small panes within the windows that show a name of a donor or honoree. “Of the names that we could trace, most of them were area farmers.”

But much about the windows remains unknown. For example, Jordan said it is unclear whether all the windows were made and installed at the same time, and had the donor panes added as each contributor made a donation, or if the windows were created and installed on a staggered basis as donors stepped forward.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever know,” she said, however, sounding as if she is not ready to admit defeat.

Over the years, the church has acquired land, adding a parsonage, education building and parish hall, and changed its name several times. The original church was torn down and a new one, at a cost of $4,000, was dedicated on Oct. 25, 1896, according to the 1997 booklet.

The 1896 church still stands, in a manner of speaking.

“That church is inside this one,” Jordan said of the 1896 structure. “It was made of clapboard and it was encased in stucco, and then that was encased in the brick church we have today.”

When a fire caused significant damage to the music room, steeple and other areas of the church in 1986, Jordan said her first thoughts were of that early structure encased in the current building.

While members have done an admirable job researching, documenting and publishing Zion’s considerable history, Jordan, a retired teacher, said she still has homework to do.

Much of the church’s early days were recorded in German. Jordan said the celebration committee had hoped to have three record books translated by the 150th anniversary, but time ran short.

Now she has 10 years to work on that for the 160th celebration. And she has a contact with someone at Parkville High School who she hopes will be able to do the translation.

In the meantime, she and others hope the pews will be overflowing for the special service on Sunday.

The Rev. Katie Penick will lead the service that will honor the church’s history and longevity. One element of the service will be the singing of a hymn called “Chapel Upon the Hill,” according to Anderson, the lifelong church member.

“Years ago, someone rewrote the words to an existing hymn and called it ‘Chapel Upon the Hill,’” she said. “We don’t know exactly when, but it was at least the 1930s or ‘40s,” she said.

Mention was made of the customized hymn in the 1942 history of the church, according to Jordan.

“Everyone is welcome,” Jordan said of Sunday’s service. “We’re hoping lots of former members attend and we’d like to get the word out... We’re a friendly church.”

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East side Neighborhood Heroes honored at ceremony in Towson

East side Neighborhood Heroes honored at ceremony in Towson
Anna Norris (center) received commendations from both Kamenetz (left) and Marks (right) for her volunteerism. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and members of the county council took time out of their schedules last week to honor seven “neighborhood heroes” - one for each district - at an event in Towson on Thursday, Oct. 12.

Honorees from the east side included Purnell Glenn, Miramar Landing Homeowners Association President and active environmental advocate and volunteer; Anna Norris, a Perry Hall grandmother, school puppeteer and founder of the Tender Loving Care Circle volunteers, who donate hand-made blankets and comfort items to children’s organizations; and Jean Ann Walker, a retired elementary school teacher, church volunteer and historian with the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society.

“These folks are our unsung heroes, truly impressive and folks who unselfishly devote their time and energies and expertise because they simply want to give back and keep our communities strong,” said Kamenetz.

Kamenetz highlighted the volunteer efforts undertaken in the community, from community associations to recreation programs to volunteer firefighters. “But what really impresses me more than anything else are the neighbors who look out for other neighbors,” he said.

For the Fifth District, Norris was honored for her tireless efforts to better the Perry Hall community. A retired teacher, Norris gives back to the community in multiple ways. She spends time reading at different elementary schools and at her church. She’s constantly baking for local fire departments and works with Habitat for Humanity. She founded a sewing circle of volunteers, called Tender Loving Care Circle, that make pillows, blankets and other comfort items for children in need.

“There’s no higher calling than service, and service takes many forms,” commented Councilman David Marks (R-5), adding his thanks and appreciation.

Norris said she was overwhelmed by the award. She said that one of her fondest memories comes from working at the Young School in Perry Hall, especially singing “This Little Light Of Mine.” She said the candle finger puppets she put together for the song bring a lot of joy to the young children.

“At the tender ages of three, four and five, they embrace the gifts of friendship, gentleness and kindness that are so evident in the school system,” she said. “I encourage you to take your candle and go light the world.”

Glenn was honored for his work with the Miramar Landing Homeowners Association as well as the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy. Knowing how important our waterways are, Glenn has spent a lot of time working to improve the Gunpowder watershed. His work on the “Clear Creeks” project has helped beautify the Miramar Landing community of Middle River through education, rain barrels and garden installations. When he is not educating residents about the importance of keeping the waterways clean, he is walking around the area and picking up trash and debris. He also works with various other groups and within local schools to help younger generations know the importance of a clean Chesapeake Bay.

“Glenn has done so much more than what was mentioned today,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6). She noted that he does not just work within his community but in the communities that surround Miramar Landing.

Walker was the last to be honored on the day. The lifelong Dundalk resident currently serves as president of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, though it is worth noting she has held nearly every position there since she started volunteering. She does most of the group’s outreach and led the charge to revive the annual Defender’s Day celebration. During the Christmas holiday, she puts the train garden together at the historical society.

Perhaps the biggest testament to Walker’s community involvement is the fact that five separate individuals nominated her for the award, more than any other recipient.

“Teachers never retire,” said Kamenetz. “They just keep on teaching. And Jean has used every opportunity to teach all of us about our heritage, and there’s no greater history than in the Dundalk community.”

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Seven Oaks Elementary celebrates 25th anniversary

Seven Oaks Elementary celebrates 25th anniversary
Principal Carol Wingard poses by a “memory tree.” The memory trees were set up for current and former students to preserve special moments throughout the years on paper leaves. The trees will be left up all year with new leaves added as the year goes on. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Saturday, Oct. 7, was a day of nostalgia and celebration at Seven Oaks Elementary in Perry Hall as the school celebrated 25 years of being open.

Throughout the day, more than 600 current and former students, teachers, administrators, and community members stopped by to take part in the celebration.

“It was just such a perfect day and everyone had a wonderful time sharing memories,” said Seven Oaks Principal Carol Wingard.

Wingard hit on the nostalgia of the day in her opening remarks, commenting about how the school has changed over the years.

“When I think of anniversaries, I think of the phrase ‘looking back to move forward,’” said Wingard.

She noted that things like stylized tin pencil boxes, eraser trolls, computers that utilized floppy disks and overhead projectors have been swapped out for smartboards and personal devices for the students. She joked that when overhead projectors were used, inevitably one or two students would fall asleep in the dark. “We don’t use those anymore,” she quipped.

Remarks were also given by a slew of local officials, including Community Superintendent George Roberts, Board of Education member Julie Henn, County Councilman David Marks (R-5), State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) and delegates Joe Cluster (R-8), Eric Bromwell (D-8) and Christian Miele (R-8).

“As a resident of the Seven Courts Drive community, I know firsthand the love that residents feel for this school,” said Marks. “I’m proud to represent this school and thank the faculty, parents and alumni for organizing this celebration.”
Following the remarks by elected officials, Barbara Ondo, who has been teaching at the school since it opened in 1992, gave an overview of the school’s history before current students performed a couple of songs for the crowd of hundreds. The students performed a trio of songs - the school song, a song entitled “Forever Friends” and another called “Memories.”

“That was my favorite part of the day,” said Wingard.

One of the biggest draws of the day was the unearthing of a time capsule that was buried in 1992. Working from an image of where it had been buried in the school’s courtyard, Wingard, along with her husband Michael and charter principal Karen Schafer, got to work digging. After digging for a bit, the crowd gathered told them to dig nearby. While doing that, a current first grade student, armed with an appropriately small shovel, went back to the original spot and started digging. Moments later, his shovel emerged from the dirt with a chunk of styrofoam on the tip.

Unfortunately, water managed to work its way into the capsule and damaged the contents inside, which included photos from 25 years ago, a cup that each student received during the school’s first year, a fabric calendar, assorted artwork, a bottle of White Out and more.

“Water kind of destroyed most of the pictures, though Ms. Ondo did a fantastic job recreating and touching up what we had,” said Wingard.

Throughout the day, those who gathered painted rocks for the school’s rock garden and added “memory leaves” to “memory trees” in the hallway by jotting down specific memories on leaves made out of construction paper. Current teachers still need to paint their own rocks, but after they do, all of the rocks will be coated by art teacher Samantha Flynn with epoxy to keep them looking fresh before they are put on display. The memory trees will be on display in the main hallway throughout the year, with the hope that more people will add their memories as the year goes on.

Of course, Wingard plans on burying a time capsule later in the year. Along with different trinkets and works of art the current students will put together, Wingard also plans to bury the contents in the 1992 time capsule to keep a running history of what life as a Seven Oaks student was like during the different eras of the school.

“This time we’ll definitely make sure we do a good job sealing it, and we’ll also add a plaque to the location so 25 years from now they aren’t guessing based off of a picture,” Wingard said with a laugh.

Wingard considered the day a success, with months of hard work from the organizing committee - which included past and present teachers, principals, teachers and more - paying off. And the hard work of the committee didn’t go unnoticed.

“Hats off to the planning committee for doing such a terrific job,” Del. Miele commented. “It was an honor to celebrate this special occassion with students, teachers and administrators, past and present.”

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Wise Avenue VFC celebrates 75 with a proud and noisy presence

Wise Avenue VFC celebrates 75 with a proud and noisy presence
State Delegate Bob Long and County Councilman Todd Crandell joined the parade, riding atop the antique Wise Avenue engine 272. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Marge Neal-

The Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company threw itself a 75th birthday party on Saturday, Oct. 7, and a whole lot of its regional first responder brothers and sisters showed up to celebrate.

Inside voices were not required; party guests were loud and enthusiastic as they liberally used their horns and sirens to announce their arrival along Wise Avenue from Grays Road to the North Point Government Center.

As early as 7:30 a.m., Wise Avenue volunteers were gathered on the front parking apron of their fire station, with gleaming modern engines and the antique Engine 272 ready to strut their stuff.

The group, founded in February 1942, has been celebrating the milestone with a variety of events throughout this year. A gala event was held at the Sparrows Point County Club last month and the annual holiday train garden will carry out the anniversary theme, according to Matt Schwartz, who served as chairman of the anniversary committee.

The parade also coincided with Fire Prevention Week. The Wise Avenue volunteers respond to as many as 100 calls a week but the company’s role has changed in those 75 years due to several trends, including fire prevention, according to company spokesman Bob Frances.

“We used to respond to calls that were about 80 percent fire-related and 20 percent medical-related,” he told the East County Times. “But with the success of fire prevention education and outreach, the instances of fires have gone way down.”

On the other hand, an aging community and the current opioid crisis contribute to an increased number of medical calls. The percentage of calls responded to today are almost the opposite, with 80 to 90 percent of calls related to medical emergencies and the rest to suspected fires, according to Frances.

“We are responding to a lot of opioid-related calls; a lot of overdoses,” he said. “A lot.”

At first glance, Saturday’s parade seemed to be moving at a fast clip. From a vantage point near the Inverness Presbyterian Church, sirens had been audible for several minutes before the first vehicle was seen cresting the hill a couple of blocks away.

But it didn’t take long to figure out that Dundalk Engine 6 had pulled out of the lineup to respond to an emergency call. The rest of the procession followed along shortly afterward at a more leisurely pace.

Many Baltimore County volunteer and career stations were represented, including Eastview, North Point-Edgemere, Lansdowne, Jacksonville, Rosedale and White Marsh. Baltimore Fire Department sent its Hook and Ladder Truck 4 and Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company was represented by Engine 315. Pennsylvania was represented by the Phoenixville Fire Department’s Engine 65. Not only did their members travel nearly 100 miles to participate, they brought Wise Avenue’s antique Engine 272 to the party.

Several antique and privately-owned engines participated as well, including Zelienople (Pa.) Engine 7, Pikesville VFC Engine 323, Baltimore County Engine 5 and Mount Gilead Engine 10.

And of course, no local parade is complete without beginning and ending escorts and traffic assistance from the Baltimore County Police Department.

“A special thank you goes out to the Baltimore County Police Department Precinct 12 for helping the parade go off without a hitch,” members wrote in a Facebook post.

When the parade disbanded at the government center, it morphed into a firefighting festival of sorts. Citizens were invited to observe demonstrations and many pieces of equipment were on display throughout the day for children to climb on and learn about. First responders participated in a firefighter challenge, which included activities like flipping a giant tire while wearing full turnout gear, hose carry and dummy drag. North Point-Edgemere firefighters carried out a vehicle extrication demonstration using Wise Avenue’s retired Utility 279, and Middle River Rescue Squad 743 performed a rescue demonstration.

Wise Avenue VFC has about 190 members on its books and about 75 of them are actively involved on a regular basis, according to Schwartz. Besides the mission of firefighting, medical assistance and fire prevention programs, the company supports many community organizations, opens its hall to area organizations and constructs its widely popular annual holiday train garden.

Frances said he was excited and humbled to see the outpouring of support for the event.

“We’ve been part of these types of celebrations ourselves before, but to be the central focus really gives us a sense of history and accomplishment,” he told the Times. “Seventy-five years is a long time and to look back to see where we came from to where we are is pretty humbling and amazing at the same time.”

The recognition of 75 years not only celebrates the current membership, but honors the “men and women who had the vision, dedication and perseverance to set this all in motion and make it work,” Frances believes.

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Nawrocki announces bid for Sixth District council seat

Nawrocki announces bid for Sixth District council seat
Middle River resident Ryan Nawrocki has declared his intent to run against Cathy Bevins for Baltimore County Council in District 6.

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The field in the race for the Sixth District County Council seat got more crowded Oct. 10 as Middle River resident Ryan Nawrocki declared his intent to run.

Nawrocki, a Republican, last ran in 2010 but lost in a close contest to current Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D).

“I’m running for County Council because eastern Baltimore County residents deserve a real voice and a different direction. For too long, we’ve had crumbling schools, a lack of focus on creating good paying jobs and a County Councilperson that hasn’t fought for the hard-working residents of our district,” Nawrocki said in a release sent out early Tuesday morning.

Nawrocki is currently working on his master’s degree in public management at Johns Hopkins, and he recently opened a communications and marketing firm. He was previously the senior director in the communications branch of the Maryland Transit Authority, and his résumé includes a role in former Governor Bob Ehrlich’s administration as well as communications director for Congressman Andy Harris.

The Middle River resident, who is vying for the Republican nomination alongside Parkville resident Glen Geelhaar and Rosedale resident Deb Sullivan, touted his résumé as unique.

“I think having a good understanding of how federal laws and state laws work is an asset,” Nawrocki told the East County Times. “Everything now is intertwined. A lot of the county’s funding comes from the state or federal level. Having learned the different ways the state agencies interact and knowing some of the key players inside of [Gov. Hogan’s] administration... I think those are important assets to bring to the area to navigate through the different processes.”

Nawrocki lamented the fact that Kamenetz and Hogan have often had heated battles in the media, with the Republican candidate noting that a good working relationship with the governor can only be beneficial to the county. Nawrocki referred to the public spats as a “disservice to the county.”

As far as what his plans are if elected, Nawrocki’s main focus is on economic issues. Nawrocki pointed to the most recent unemployment numbers for the State of Maryland, which has Baltimore County with an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent - the highest rate of any county in the Baltimore metropolitan region, which also includes Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

“I think that we’ve had a lack of a focus in this county on creating good paying jobs,” Nawrocki said, “in this area in particular but the county as a whole, and I think that’s wholly unacceptable. We have an unemployment rate like that and we have a county executive who doesn’t think it’s worth it to go after companies like Under Armour, for example.”

Along with economic issues, Nawrocki is also focusing on the public school system. While upgrades have been made to schools in the area, Nawrocki, a father of three young children, noted that more work needs to be done on the construction front. He also pointed to standardized test scores which show area students falling behind in both math and English, which he chalks up to a “lack of investment.”

Nawrocki’s entrance into the race represents serious intent by the Republican party to flip the Council seat from blue to red. As reported in the Dec. 15, 2016, issue of the East County Times, recent voting patterns in the Sixth District and eastern Baltimore County as a whole have the Republican party feeling hopeful.

It’s also not a stretch of the imagination to think Hogan will get behind Nawrocki, considering the Middle River resident’s work within the Hogan administration and Hogan’s endorsement of Al Redmer in his run for County Executive.

When Nawrocki and Bevins met in the 2010 election, the Democrat only won her seat by one percentage point, indicating another potentially tight race in the Sixth District.

Still, Nawrocki has a lot of work to do if he wants to unseat an incumbent who has garnered a reputation for constituent service. Bevins and her staff recently announced that they have surpassed 5,000 constituent service complaints solved since she took office.

In 2010, Nawrocki knocked on over 10,000 doors in the district, he said. He knows he’ll have to be out on the trail knocking on more doors and attending more meetings if he wants to flip the Sixth District. He’s also planning on hitting social media hard.

“Things have changed since the last time I ran,” said Nawrocki. “Social media existed but it wasn’t what it is today.”

All in all, Nawrocki’s message boils down to it being time for a change.

“I think that the past seven years we have needed a real voice in this district, and we have not had that voice. And I think it’s time we take a different direction and work together to change some of these things that are chronically underperforming, together as a district and as a county,” Nawrocki said.

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Revitalization task force applies for grant to help beautify Essex

Revitalization task force applies for grant to help beautify Essex
While some flower boxes - like this one in front of the East County Times office - have flowers and other plants in them and are well maintained, others along the Eastern Boulevard streetscape are left empty and have become an eyesore. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following a walkthrough of Essex’s main business corridor with county and state officials last month, the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force is getting their plan together for how to improve the area.

The task force, formed as a committee of the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce, has been working in recent months to address issues they have identified along the Eastern Boulevard corridor, particularly with the streetscape and the area’s aesthetics.

Those issues, identified as hindrances to new business investment and development in the area, include things like trash piling up in trash cans in front of and dumpsters behind businesses, graffiti left on buildings, dirt or mold on building façades, overgrown trees obstructing business signage and flower boxes left empty or with dead or unmaintained plants in them.

But Sharon Kihn, the chamber’s executive director, revealed at the Oct. 4 Essex-Middle River Civic Council meeting that they have applied for the third year in a row for a commercial revitalization grant through Baltimore County.

If approved, the $10,000 grant would be used to put new planters throughout the 300 - 500 blocks of Eastern Boulevard, Kihn said, and to spruce up some of the existing ones.

While some of the existing flower boxes have nice flowers and other plants in them and are maintained by business owners, others are empty or otherwise do not look nice.

“So what we talked about was fixing up those planters,” Kihn said. “Some of them have brick work on them that needs to be fixed. We also have both cement and brick planters that have benches all around them” that need to be repaired.

Additionally, they plan to cover some of the empty tree grates from removed trees with new planters or large flower pots, she said. And they are looking to install protective poles in front of some to guard against motorists hitting them where that has happened in the past.

“We will start with whatever planters we can purchase for this year,” Kihn said, adding that the Back River Restoration Committee has agreed to donate all of the new plants for the planters. “Their volunteers have offered to do all of the planting, they’re going to get the dirt and also take care of and maintain the plants, which is a huge investment.”

She stressed that all of that would not be possible with just the money from the grant.

The grant application must now go through the county’s approval process, and the chamber will not know until March if they have been approved.

“I don’t think we’ll have any problem getting this approved,” Kihn said. “It goes directly to the heart of what the grant is all about.” However, she added they are also looking into other grant sources such as from the state.

Questions remained among some community members, however, about a $10,000 gift the largely inactive Essex-Middle River Renaissance Corporation received several years ago for similar purposes.

That organization’s president, Joe DiCara, said the corporation received those funds at least four or five years ago and they were intended to help market the Essex community.

“That’s been done” with the money, he said. “And I know we made a donation to the Essex Day festival because that’s the whole reason for Essex Day.”

While DiCara did not recall how much of the money is left, he said what remains is in an account maintained by the corporation’s accountant and held that there has never been any misuse of it. He added he has spoken with Kihn and has no opposition to letting the chamber use it for the same purpose.

“I don’t think there’s any issue with allowing [Kihn] to get some of the money to do some of the things that the chamber wants to do,” DiCara said. “I just want to see Essex prosper again.”

Regarding the other issues the task force identified, member Cliff O’Connell said some property owners have removed graffiti on their buildings after being cited by county code enforcement. The task force has also delivered to the county’s Department of Public Works a list of the trees along the boulevard’s streetscape that they would like removed.

“The bigger ones that are covering the faces of buildings, we asked to get them out first, and the ones where the sidewalk was the worst” because of the roots, he said.

O’Connell added that the task force has had conversations about replacing the well-known Essex cube with something they feel would represent the area better, like items related to the waterfront.

But there is “controversy” around that idea because “a lot of people like it,” he said.

“They say a lot of people like it, but in [community meetings] if you ask how many people like the cube, out of 50 people you might have two that when you talk about tearing it down they say, ‘Oh, a lot of people like it,’” O’Connell said. “I’ve never been in a room yet where a lot of people liked it.”

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Greenleigh at Crossroads starts to grow in Middle River

Greenleigh at Crossroads starts to grow in Middle River
The luxury Berkleigh apartments now under construction at Greenleigh at Crossroads in Middle River are due to open in April. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Michael’s Cafe in Timonium plans to become the first white-tablecloth restaurant to open its doors in Greenleigh at Crossroads in Middle River, where construction in now under way on the first of 1,500 homes, townhouses and apartments.

“Having the rooftops brings the employers and retailers,” said David Murphy, a vice president with Elm Street Development based in McLean, Va.

Elm Street is developing the 200-acre site off MD Route 43 along with Somerset Construction of Bethesda and St. John Properties of Windsor Mill.

Known for its crab cakes and steaks, the family-owned Michael’s plans to open in June or July inside the building next to the Dunkin’ Donuts in Greenleigh’s existing retail center.

Co-owner Stephen Dellis said he learned more about the growth at Greenleigh through a brother who regularly commutes between his business on Belair Road and his house in Middle River.

“When we saw it, it was a no-brainer… it’s a booming area,” said Dellis, who said the restaurant will likely hire 40 to 60 employees for its second location, which will open with a menu similar to the site in Timonium.

“It’s a good opportunity,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll contribute to the area and to the other businesses.”

Also under construction or planned for the mixed-use community are apartments, more office space, a hotel and more retail stores.

“There’s a lot of buzz about Greenleigh. It’s unique,” said Murphy. He added there are no developments in Baltimore County equal in size or range of amenities.

Homebuilders Williamsburg, NV and Ryan have started work on the residential section, which Murphy said will take about 10 years to fully build out.

As of Friday, Oct. 6, a total of 45 units had been sold with 27 units under construction, and residents are expected to begin moving in by the end of November, he said.

Also under construction at Greenleigh are the luxury Berkleigh apartments being built by Somerset.

The horse shoe-shaped complex of 317 units is being built around a multi-level garage, according to Neil Greenberg, Somerset’s chief operating officer.

Studio rents will start at $1,375 per month, one-bedrooms at $1,584, two-bedrooms at $1,975 and three-bedrooms at $2,382, he explained.

Furnished short-term leases starting at three months will also be available.

“We won’t start leasing and won’t be accepting applications until we are 45 days from opening, which is currently scheduled for April 15, 2018,” he noted.

Nearby is a Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel due to open in March, as well as a recently completed three-story office building built by St. John.

Planned for the future are two more office buildings, a grocery store and 183 more apartments proposed by Somerset.

“It’s all benefiting each other,” said Murphy about the current phase of residential, commercial and retail development. “Right now everything seems to be working in concert.”

More than a decade ago, the state extended Route 43, also known as White Marsh Boulevard, an additional four miles from Pulaski Highway to Eastern Boulevard to open up the former A.V. Williams tract in hopes of luring major manufacturers to help grow the tax base in Baltimore County.

That vision never fully materialized, but commercial development has nevertheless taken place along the four-lane highway during the last 10 years.

St. John has developed flex and office buildings south of Greenleigh at Crossroads Circle with a dozen-plus office and flex buildings occupied by tenants such as the Danfoss engineering company, the county’s Crossroads Center alternative school and the Amped Up family recreational center.

Expected to move to Crossroads Circle next spring from east Baltimore is the Eisai company, a Japanese pharmaceutical lab with 55 employees that makes a brain cancer drug.

On the west side of Route 43, St. John recently began grading a 20-acre site across from the existing Arbors luxury apartments built by Somerset to make way for the first three of a dozen one-story office buildings and two retail buildings.

The construction is on land owned by Florida Rock Properties of Sparks, which had originally envisioned the Windlass Run Business Park for the site.

The buildings are due to open next year and no tenants have been announced yet, said Richard Williamson, senior vice president with St. John.

Several local employees and residents said there have been accidents at the Route 43 and Crossroads Circle intersection that is presently controlled by a blinking red and yellow traffic light.

The Maryland State Highway Administration is monitoring the area for existing traffic flows and other factors through late fall before deciding when to upgrade the signal to full operational status.

“We’ve been asking for that,” Williamson said.

Farther south near Eastern Boulevard are two areas developed by  First Industrial Realty Trust on Bengies Road and Chesapeake Real Estate Group on Tangier Drive.

The nearly one dozen industrial and distribution buildings are almost fully leased with tenants such as Mary Sue Easter eggs, Breakthru Beverage liquor distributors, Mid Atlantic Port Service and two tire distribution centers.

First Industrial expects 63,000 square feet of space to become available in March at 1225 Bengies Drive when a tenant moves to another location.

The building is an asset, “featuring excellent access to labor, services, amenities, major highways and the Port of Baltimore,” said Mac McCulloch, marketing/leasing manager for First Federal.

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Council members withdraw bills dealing with parking, air cannons

Council members withdraw bills dealing with parking, air cannons
The Baltimore County Council was set to vote Monday night on bills meant to address issues with parking in the Dundalk Village Shopping Center, as well as the use of air cannons on farms near residential neighborhoods. But both bills were withdrawn before the vote. File photo.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The biggest news to come out of the Baltimore County Council’s legislative session Monday night was the body’s endorsement of incentives to entice Amazon to build a new distribution center at Sparrows Point.

The distribution center would be separate from the company’s second headquarters, for which a site has not yet been chosen and a nationwide search is underway.

The Council voted unanimously on Monday, Oct. 2, to support a $2.2 million package of incentives for the project, which would see an 855,000-square-foot distribution center built at Tradepoint Atlantic which is redeveloping the 3,100-acre former steel mill site. The new center would be in addition to the 1 million-square-foot facility at the site of the former General Motors plant on Broening Highway in Baltimore.

While neither Amazon nor Tradepoint has commented on the plans, county officials have said Amazon is in negotiations to build the facility, which would potentially bring 1,500 jobs.

The incentives package consists of conditional loans of $2 million from the state’s Department of Commerce, along with an extra 10 percent, or $200,000 kicked in by the county.

Two bills which were set to receive votes Monday were each withdrawn by their sponsors for the purpose of giving the relevant parties more time to work on a solution.

The first, introduced by Councilman Todd Crandell (R-Dundalk), was meant to address problems of larger trucks and vans parking improperly at the Dundalk Village Shopping Center.

“We have some very large vans that park in the spots that are intended for the retail customers,” Crandell said of the issue at the Council’s work session Sept. 26. He added that the vans restrict visibility for pedestrians and vehicular traffic in the area.

“It’s just sort of crunching the whole area and making an unsafe situation and taking away parking from the retailers,” Crandell said.

The vehicles at issue are those used by the Caring Hands Adult Medical Day Care, which occupies space in the shopping center, for patient transport to and from the facility.

The bill would have prohibited parking of vehicles with more than a three-quarter-ton manufacturer’s rating capacity on streets within the center, including Shipping Place, Center Place, Commerce Street, Trading Place, N. Center Place, S. Center Place and Dunmanway.

Crandell assured there is adquate parking for the vehicles in a large parking lot at the rear of the building, but they are not using it.

“I don’t think anyone would have a problem with dropping off patients at the front door,” Crandell said at the work session. “But these are left there all afternoon, all evening and are causing some safety and some visibility problems.”

On why he withdrew the bill, Crandell told the East County Times there were amendments under consideration that could have caused some unintended consequences.

“It’s better to pass a solid bill than to go back and amend it later,” he said. “So we will keep working on it.”

The second bill, introduced by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D - Middle River) and co-sponsored by Councilman David Marks (R - Perry Hall), was meant to address issues that have arisen between farmers and nearby residents over the use of air cannons to scare animals away from their crops.

The genesis of the bill was in the Bird River Beach community of Middle River, according to Bevins, who said residents along Stumpfs Road in that neighborhood are living under circumstances that are “almost unbearable.”

She said at the Sept. 26 work session that farmers adjacent to long-established residences have been firing the cannons “every three minutes - all day, all night.”

Marks pointed out that some such devices are marketed as producing a 130-decibel blast, which is equivalent to a 37 milimeter cannon or a military jet aircraft with afterburner at takeoff just 50 feet away.

Bevins said she has also heard complaints from residents across Bird River from the subject farm on the issue.

The bill as submitted would have amended county law in agricultural zones to prohibit discharging the cannons or other similar devices between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. It would have applied to the RC2 (agricultural), RC4 (watershed protection), RC20 (critical area), RC50 (critical area, agricultural), RC7 (resource preservation) and RC8 (environmental enhancement) zones.

Bevins noted at the work session, however, that she was planning to amend the bill to apply only to properties within 500 feet of a community so as not to affect those in less populated areas.

On why the bill was withdrawn, Bevins’ senior legislative advisor, Jim Almon, said it was to allow more time for the concerned parties to undergo mediation through a program offered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. But the bill was also reintroduced Monday night.

“By being reintroduced, the bill starts the 45-day life cycle over again,” Almon said. “This gives everyone more time to try mediation and come to a compromise on air cannon use without legislation.”

“I always believe in trying to mitigate any kind of issue before creating legislation,” Bevins said at the work session. ”We’re just looking for a resolution for these residents.”

The bill would again be heard at the Oct. 31 work session and voted on at the Nov. 6 legislative session if no compromise is reached, he said.

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Proposed medical marijuana dispensaries running into roadblocks

Proposed medical marijuana dispensaries running into roadblocks
A Baltimore County administrative law judge has denied a parking variance for a proposed medical cannabis dispensary at 7458 German Hill Road. Nearby are rowhouses and the Speedy Mart convenience store. State law allows the opening of more than 100 similar facilities around the state. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

One medical marijuana group is progressing in Dundalk, but a second group and others in Perry Hall and White Marsh have run into neighborhood opposition or local zoning issues in getting their establishments off the ground.

Retail dispensaries are due to open around Maryland in early December as part of a new state program that allows the sale of medical marijuana to registered users with cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, epileptic fits and other painful or debilitating conditions.

Pre-approved operators - two in each state legislative district - must secure locations and county approvals before undergoing inspections and a final vote by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

In Perry Hall, LMS Wellness, Benefit LLC already has the zoning that allows it to lease a former florist business at 4741 Ridge Road near the intersection at Perry Hall Boulevard.

However, plans have been questioned by the South Perry Hall Improvement Association, which is concerned about traffic and security at the site.

William Huber, a principle with LMS who lives in Perry Hall, said he met with the association several weeks ago and has since drafted a covenant agreement for review by its attorney.

“We’re trying to exceed [state] security regulations,” said Huber about a system of guards and cameras that will monitor a closed vestibule, waiting room, dispensary and vault.

LMS is also extending parking into the open field on the Perry Hall Boulevard side of the building to head off problems with customers parking on Ridge Road or nearby residential streets.

Huber said LMS has no plans to eventually turn the site into a methadone clinic, a concern raised by residents. He said residents are also concerned about the possibility that Maryland could one day legalize recreational marijuana.

County Councilman David Marks (R - Perry Hall) proposed legislation that would have blocked the dispensary because of its proximity to a future school location, but he pulled the bill when it failed to garner enough support. He suggested that LMS work out a covenant agreement with the association.

Another group, Blue Ridge Wellness, LLC, has plans for a dispensary in the Festival at Perry Hall shopping center on East Joppa Road which is managed by Kline Scott Visco, a commercial real estate company based in Frederick.

Edward Scott of Kline Scott Visco said earlier this year that he had the zoning to go forward and apply for building permits.

However, Marks said he added the site to the adjacent Perry Hall commercial revitalization district at a Council meeting in early September. That means Blue Ridge Wellness will need to apply to a county administrative law judge for a special exception from zoning regulations, which requires a public hearing.

“At this point, since the applicant has yet to engage me or the community, I would not support the proposal,” Marks wrote in an email on July 21. “I want there to be dialogue on these applications. That did not happen in South Perry Hall until there was a threat of legislation.”

Scott did not reply to several requests for comment about current plans for the Festival site.

In Dundalk, CGX Life Sciences operating as GreenMart LLC, has also run into delays over its proposed dispensary at 7458 German Hill Road near the Speedy Mart convenience store.

A county administrative law judge in July denied the company’s requests for landscaping and parking variances. GreenMart appealed to the county’s three-member Board of Appeals, which has scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, Oct. 18, in Towson.

The group resolved the landscaping requirements by getting a waiver from the county Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

It also took steps to deal with the parking issue by scaling down the plan to operate on the first floor only of its two-story building, thereby reducing the number of required spaces, according to file documents.

However, still outstanding before the Board of Appeals is requested relief for parking in a buffer strip between the building and a neighborhood park.

Elsewhere in Dundalk, Charm City Medicus expects to substantially finish renovating its leased building at 717 North Point Blvd. by the end of October. The building is in a commercial area near Eastpoint Mall.

President and CEO Bryan Hill said more than 100 people have inquired about 10 to 15 open jobs at the dispensary that include administrative and inventory control positions.

Hill said he plans to invite neighbors to tour the building, which will include initial check-in procedures, a waiting room with TVs and educational information, a secured display and sales area, a vault and three security systems.

“It’s like a jewelry store operation,” said Hill, who will also be serving as government relations director with the newly formed Maryland Medical Dispensary Association trade group during the General Assembly session in Annapolis this winter.

Like GreenMart in Dundalk, Chesapeake Health Sciences had also appealed the denial of a requested special exception that would allow a dispensary at 5512 Ebenezer Road in White Marsh, just west of Pulaski Highway.

A hearing set for Sept. 14 before the Board of Appeals was cancelled and had not yet been rescheduled as of Tuesday, Oct. 3.

Also pending is the location of the second dispensary in legislative District 7, which stretches from Middle River into Harford County and up to the Pennsylvania line.

Earlier this year, Meshow LLC, which had looked at space in the Carroll Island shopping center in Middle River, was in the process of securing a site off Pulaski Highway in Joppatowne in Harford County.

Managing member Paul Michaud, a retired banker who presently lives in Monkton, did not return several requests for comment about the status of the search for a location.

For a list of pre-approved investor groups, customer registration requirements and other industry information, visit

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Bevins requests update on status of Gunpowder River train bridge

Bevins requests update on status of Gunpowder River train bridge
Residents living around the bridge have grown increasingly concerned about things like crumbling and spalling concrete at several places along the span. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins sent a letter to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen late last month expressing concern about the condition of the Amtrak train bridge across the Gunpowder River.

The bridge, which directly connects Chase in Bevins’ district with Joppa in Harford County, has been a source of concern for surrounding communities for many years, she said.

“I have listened to those in the community and monitored the bridge’s condition and it is my belief that the time has come for there to be significant improvements made to the bridge,” Bevins wrote in her letter to Van Hollen.

The bridge was originally built in 1913 and spans approximately one mile across the Gunpowder River. It is part of the Northeast Rail Corridor and services five rail lines, including Amtrak and the MARC train.

The Northeast Rail Corridor connects four of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the country and not only serves thousands of commuters, but also provides substantial economic activity to Baltimore County, Maryland and the region, Bevins pointed out.

In her letter, Bevins requested information on the date and results of the bridge’s last inspection and asked Van Hollen to leverage his position as a U.S. Senator and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to advocate for the bridge’s inspection.

The date of the bridge’s last inspection was Sept. 1, 2016, according to Chelsea Kopta, spokesperson for Amtrak which owns the bridge. She held that there are no structural repairs required on the bridge at this time and there are currently no plans for future work on the bridge.

Kopta stressed that Amtrak inspects the bridge in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration requirements and Amtrak’s Bridge Management Policy.

“Amtrak is aware of the conditions of the Gunpowder River Bridge and the spalling concrete to the underside in some locations,” she said. “The present condition does not affect the load carrying capacity of the bridge.”

Bevins’ senior advisor, Jim Almon, said the issue has been brought to her by members and leaders of area community associations, including Bird River Beach, Bowerman-Loreley Beach, Oliver Beach, Harewood Park and the Essex-Middle River Civic Council.

“Also, she just noticed it because she lives right there, that it sort of doesn’t look very strong or sturdy,” Almon said.

Bevins claimed in her letter that the bridge’s deterioration has already resulted increasted maintenance costs and an increased risk to those who use it or pass under it on the water.

However, Kopta asserted that Amtrak has not seen an increase in maintenance costs for the bridge.

In her letter, Bevins mentioned the apparent consideration for a $550 million replacement of the bridge as part of the federal capital budget.

But Almon noted that the funding would have to be voted on by Congress and there is currently no money dedicated for design or construction of the project. Additionally, unfunded costs of the replacement currently sit at $145 million, according to the Northeast Corridor Capital Investment Plan for Fiscal Years 2018 - 2022.

Sen. Van Hollen’s office sent its own letter to acting FRA administrator Heath Hall on Monday, Oct. 2, seeking information on the availability of federal funding for the bridge’s replacement, as well as answers to Bevins’ questions regarding its inspection.

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Parkville woman wins writing prize for ‘unnerving’ story

Parkville woman wins writing prize for ‘unnerving’ story
Carolyn Eichhorn. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

When Parkville resident Carolyn Eichhorn entered the Baltimore County Public Library system’s spooky story contest last year, the author admits to playing it a little too much on the safe side.

“That didn’t turn out too well because I never heard back,” she said in a phone interview. “So I pushed it a bit more this year.”

That “pushing” paid off with a third-place win in the library system’s Tales of the Dead Short Horror Story Contest. Her prize is a T-shirt and two tickets to this weekend’s fall fundraiser, “A Toast Among Ghosts.”

“It’s not really a ghost story, but it is unnerving,” Eichhorn said of her winning entry titled “Close Neighbors.”

Contestants were told to keep their entries to less than 3,000 words. The submitted stories were judged by a panel that included librarians and published authors, according to a statement from BCPL. Judging criteria included originality, fear factor and quality of writing.

The writing contest is held in conjunction with the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library’s annual fall fundraiser. This is the third year for the Halloween-related event and the second year for the writing contest, according to Erica Palmisano, a spokeswoman for BCPL.

“It really is a lot of fun,” Palmisano said of the event, which allows participants to get an after-hours view of the Reisterstown branch as well as guided tours of the nearby historic Reisterstown Community Cemetery, which dates to 1764. “We’ll have a ghost story fire pit and folks from the cemetery will take groups on tours and talk about some of the people buried there.”

All of the contest winners will read their stories around the fire, according to Palmisano. Timonium resident Gary R. Beard won first place in the adult division for his entry, “A Sinister Charm;” Christine Stake of Cockeysville placed second for “Captured;” and 10-year-old Hailey Schap of Fallston claimed the under-21 title for “The People of Sails.”

Eichhorn said she is excited to attend the event and read her story.

This is the second spooky story contest in which the longtime writer has placed. She won the 2015 Plant Hall Spooky Story Contest held by the University of Tampa, where she earned her master’s degree in creative writing. The contest is named for a historic building on the campus that started out as a hotel in 1891 and became the home of the university in 1933, according to an online history of the school.

“It’s very ornate, very beautiful,” Eichhorn said of the building she described as Moorish. “It’s quite inspirational if you’re looking to write spooky or scary ghost stories.”

For the BCPL contest, Eichhorn said she wrote her winning entry over the course of a weekend.

Eichhorn teaches creative writing and literature at Walden University, an online college, and works in the school’s administrative office in Baltimore. She has had several short writing pieces published and is currently shopping a finished novel to several literary agents. The murder mystery is the first of a planned series featuring a professional ghostwriter as the protagonist who finds herself involved in an investigation after the celebrity chef who hired her to write a memoir is killed.

“One agent who read a synopsis and 25 pages asked to read the complete manuscript,” Eichhorn said of her publishing process. “So that’s very encouraging, but we’ll see.”

She also keeps her writing chops in shape with a blog called Grounds for Suspicion ( Her most recent entry is a charming essay about a performance poet she happened upon while visiting Ashville, N.C.

In the meantime, Eichhorn looks forward to the Toast Among Ghosts event and the opportunity to read her “unnerving”  story as well as hear the other winning entries.

The library fundraiser is set for 7 - 10 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Reisterstown branch, 21 Cockeys Mill Road in Reisterstown. General admission tickets cost $20 and VIP tickets, which include a commemorative glass and two drink tickets, cost $40. In addition to the activities mentioned, the event will also include performances by Edgar Allan Poe and John Reister (founder of Reisterstown) impersonators. Live music will be provided by the Ampersand String Band and Eli August and the Abandoned Buildings.

Local vendors will sell beer, wine and food.

“We sell out at 400 tickets and the event has sold out each year we’ve had it,” Palmisano said. “We still have a good amount of tickets available but people should act fast to get them.”

Tickets can be purchased online at

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Local volunteer companies receive grants for equipment upgrades

Local volunteer companies receive grants for equipment upgrades
The yellow communication line connects to audio equipment in the diver’s gear to provide a constant line of communication, as well as a rope to help direct the diver. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced on Monday, Oct. 2, that two local volunteer fire companies were among a record number that applied for and received Volunteer Fire Assistance Grants in 2017.

The Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department and the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company each received $3,000 in grant funding to purchase necessary upgrades for their equipment which will help them do their job.

The grants are part of a record $102,548 provided by DNR to 45 volunteer fire departments in 17 counties across the state. It is the most funding they have distributed in state history.

“Volunteer Fire Assistance Grants allow us to support our first responders, hardworking men and women who risk their own lives and safety to protect our state’s citizens, communities and natural resources,” said Maryland Fire Supervisor Monte Mitchell in a statement. “These grants pay for equipment and training and improve volunteer firefighting efforts by our local partners.”

The DNR statement noted that fire companies and departments use the grant funds for a variety of materials and services such as dry hydrant pressurized systems that enable access to nearby water sources in areas without hydrants, repairs to fire boats used to battle blazes best accessed by water and coveralls that offer safe yet lightweight protection to reduce heat-related fatigue and injury.

The White Marsh company plans to use their grant to cover half of the estimated $6,000 cost of upgrading their brush truck, according to Anna Lucente-Hoffmann, senior communications manager for DNR.

“Their plan includes a winch for their brush truck and then additional equipment for their brush truck,” Lucente-Hoffmann said. That additional equipment includes nozzles, hooks, fire extinguisher brackets, a foam eductor - which sprays a foam fire suppressant - and a fire hose.

But the vast majority of their grant would be used toward the winch, she said, which is a main component.

The Bowleys Quarters department plans to use their funds to contribute to upgrades estimated at more than $12,000, according to DNR.

Lucente-Hoffman said their plan includes replacement of an outdated fire pump, which is what they use to pump water to the fire. That will consist of approximately 90 percent of the cost of their project, she said.

The remainder of their upgrades consist of purchasing a foam suppression system and a vinyl cover, Lucente-Hoffmann said.

Similarly, the Middle River Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company last month purchased and demonstrated the use of new equipment to aid communication between divers and the surface during rescue operations.

MRVFR purchased a state-of-the-art Ocean Technology Systems hard-wired communications pack using a $3,000 BGE Public Safety Grant they received in January. They demonstrated the use of the new equipment on Sept. 13 during a training dive at the Wilson Point Men’s Club pool.

MRVFR’s dive team is the only dive rescue team for all of Baltimore County and also provides mutual aid assistance to Baltimore City, Harford County and occasionally other counties around the state.

“As you might imagine, the visibility as you descend just several feet into the water is essentially zero,” said company member Jack Amrhein in a statement. “With the diver having no sight or navigational knowledge of his surroundings and the land-based tender not being able to see the diver below the surface, the danger and stress levels can be quite high. This new equipment allows the diver to have voice communication to help make their search more efficient as well as greatly enhancing the safety.”

Company Lieutenant Charlie Wilkinson said the system is “like and open phone line” between the diver and the tender at the surface. He noted that divers used to communicate with the surface only through a series of rope tugs, and previous wireless systems were unreliable.

Divers say they find it reassuring to have the hard-wire communication, Wilkinson explained, adding that the person at the surface is also able to tell if the diver is stressed or working too hard.

One diver gave an example of the comfortability the new equipment provided during a situation he had on a call while searching underneath a boat at Hart-Miller Island.

“I was pointed in the wrong direction and the guy at the surface was able to tell me exactly how to correct myself,” he said, rather than giving him what could have been unclear signals some other way. He said it made for a more efficient search.

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Treat yourself to tricks, ghosts, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night

Treat yourself to tricks, ghosts, ghouls and other things that go bump in the night
A homemade Mr. Potato Head decoration with interchangeable Halloween features has delighted passersby in Edgemere in years past. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

From recreation councils to local pubs, restaurants and institutions, more and more folks are getting in on the business of scaring their customers half to death.

And if the scarier haunted houses and similar attractions are not your thing, many organizations, including the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, the Maryland Science Center and even local churches have tame, kid- and family-friendly activities to help celebrate the Halloween season.

Here’s a sampling of local and a little farther away Halloween and fall seasonal attractions to keep you busy this Halloween season.

Cox’s Point Haunted Mansion
The 49th annual Cox’s Point Haunted Mansion will open at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13 at Cox’s Point Park, 820 Riverside Drive in Essex. Sponsored by the Essex-Stembridge Recreation Council since 1968, the event is the country’s oldest nonprofit haunted house, according to organizers. General admission is $10 per person. The Haunted Mansion will be open every Friday and Saturday from 7 - 11 p.m. through Oct. 28. With interactive and “in your face” scares, the haunted production is not recommended for small children. For more information, call 410-887-0255 or visit

Bennett’s Curse: The Ultimate Fear Experience 2017
Bennett’s Curse, 7578A Eastpoint Mall (next to Shoppers World in the former DSW Shoe Warehouse), is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 6 - 8; Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 29; Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 30 and 31; and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 4. General admission is $25 in advance, Speed Pass is $35 in advance and the VIP Experience costs $40 in advance. All tickets cost an additional $5 if purchased at the gate. Group discounts are available. Bennett’s Curse is ranked one of the country’s scariest halloween attractions as rated by The Travel Channel, according to the group’s Facebook page. Organizers say their haunted house “continues to raise the bar when it comes to executing mind-numbing horror.” The event is not recommended for children younger than 10. For more information, visit

The Haunted Dungeons of Fort Howard
Sponsored by the Edgemere-Sparrows Point Recreation Council, the Haunted Dungeons take advantage of creepy indoor military installations and outdoor wooded trails at Fort Howard Park, 9500 North Point Road in Fort Howard, to produce a Halloween experience that is “the most fun you will ever have... being scared,” according to the group’s Facebook page. The Dungeons will be open Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 29. Tickets cost $15. Tours begin at dusk and the park closes when it reaches group capacity. For more information, visit or call 443-216-9001.

Halloween at Todd’s Inheritance
Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, 9000 North Point Road in Edgemere, will host trick-or-treating for the kids and house tours for the adults from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 28 and 29. Admission is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens; and free for children under 15. Annual family memberships, which allow unlimited access to the house and scheduled special events, cost $30.

Family Fall Festival
The Dundalk Renaissance Corp. will hold its annual Family Fall Festival from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, in Veterans Park on Shipping Place in downtown Dundalk. The event will include scarecrow making, pumpkin decorating, music, kids’ activities, vendors, a costume contest for canines and kids and trick-or-treating at Main Street businesses. Costume contest prizes will be awarded in best by age category, best overall and best creative costume. The event is free, but food will be sold. For more information, contact Chris at

Valley of the Haunted
Valley of the Haunted, 4722 Mellow Road in White Hall, features a 1.2-mile walking trail through the woods crawling with ghosts, zombies and other scary creatures. The attraction is open Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 15, 16, 22, 23, 29 and 30. Valley of the Haunted offers free on-site parking, haunted hayrides, live bands and food and drinks for sale. For young children, Little Haunts Sundays are held from 2 - 5 p.m. Regular tickets start at $12 in advance and cost $20 at the gate. Little Haunts tickets cost $5 each. Proceeds benefit the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County. For more information, visit

Take the entire family to ZooBooo! at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for a day of trick-or-treating, games, costume contests, live entertainment, kid-friendly food and special Halloween treats for the animals. ZooBooo! will be held from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday, Oct. 27 - 29. The event is free with paid admission to the zoo.

Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival
The Great Halloween Lantern Parade and Festival will be held Saturday, Oct. 28, with the crowd gathering at the Patterson Park Pulaski Monument. The event will include a costume contest, lantern making, hayrides, yoga, live music and crafts market, local food trucks and a beer garden. All are welcome to dress in costume, bring a lantern and march in the parade. The festival begins at 3:30 p.m., the parade lineup begins at 6:30 and the parade kicks off at 7. For more information, visit

Spooky Science
The Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor will host Spooky Science from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. “Creepy chemistry and mysterious science combine to provide a hauntingly good time,” according to the organization’s website. Kids can make “gooey, glowing slime, launch creepy catapults, see our mad scientists in a creepy interactive demonstration and even watch us chuck pumpkins off of the roof.” Activities are free with paid admission and completely free for members.

Funtober is a website that lists many Halloween-related events, including costume contests for youngsters and pub crawls for adults. To check out the listings, visit

There is no shortage of Halloween events. Many churches and community organizations offer community parties and trunk-or-treat events. With just a little bit of research, you can celebrate Halloween for most of the month.

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