Crowds remember the sacrifices of local military members

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Maurica Marcum (left) plays “Taps” during a Memorial Day service in Fort Howard as Odd Fellows North Point Lodge 4 member and Master of Ceremonies Dennis Brown shows his respect for community members killed in battle. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Marge Neal and Devin Crum -

There are many significant numbers related to this year’s Memorial Day ceremonies held in many communities across Maryland, including those in Fort Howard and Middle River.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the first official observation of Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day when it was proclaimed in 1868 by General John Logan to commemorate Union soldiers killed in the Civil War.

The nation also is observing the centennial of the end of World War I, then touted as “the war to end all wars.”

Maryland has lost many of its sons and daughters to battle over the years, according to Dana Hendrickson, director of outreach and advocacy for the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hendrickson, who spoke at Monday’s Memorial Day service at Fort Howard Veterans Park, said 1,752 Marylanders died in WWI; 6,628 in WWII; 531 in Korea; 1,046 in Vietnam; and 142 in the global war on terrorism.

There are 151 names of all the local residents who served in the armed forces listed on the WWII monument that serves as the centerpiece of the annual Fort Howard ceremony.

But perhaps the most important number to those gathered in the tiny waterfront community was nine. Two founding members of Odd Fellows North Point Lodge 4 - Leopold J.H. Rogers and Joseph B. Beyers - lost their lives in WWI while seven area residents did not return home to their families from WWII.

In a poignant segment of the ceremony, Odd Fellows Lodge 4 Grand Noble Don Chaney tolled a bell for each name read out by Master of Ceremonies and fellow lodge member Dennis Brown: Sgt. Melvin Fryer; 2nd Lt. Kauko Leino; Pvt. Ernest V. Kessler; Pvt. Joseph M. Darchicourt; Pvt. Joseph Dudek; Sgt. William A. Weis Jr.; and Pvt. James H. Hubbard.

Many speakers reminded those in attendance that Memorial Day is much more than the now-commercialized weekend that unofficially kicks off summer, inspires retail sales and gives people a day off from work and an excuse to throw a party.

“We gather here today because we know the true reason for Memorial Day,” Hendrickson said in her remarks.

She encouraged the audience to maintain the faith, honor the lessons and remember the dead.

“These are real people with real stories with real families,” Delegate Robin Grammer said of the names etched on the WWII monument. “We will always remember them.”

Will Feuer, a candidate for Board of Education who represented Delegate Ric Metzgar, spoke of everyone loving freedom but “not everyone is willing to sacrifice their lives for that freedom.”

Wars end lives and leave broken families in the wake of those deaths, he said.

“We don’t know them all but we owe them all,” Feuer said of the war dead.

Penwood Christian Church pastor Don Warner took a minute to recognize his father, Donald E. Warner Sr., whose name is on the monument.

“We call him the last man standing,” he said, choked with emotion as he talked about the sacrifices of community members. “He’ll be 92 in three months.”

Fran Taylor, who is a member of the Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site - a volunteer group that oversees the operations of the historic Todd homestead, spoke of the historical significance of North Point Road, which saw the deaths of many local militia members during the War of 1812’s Battle of North Point.

North Point Road is “a road that has witnessed celebration and a road that has witnessed sorrow; a road that has witnessed victory and, thank God, in 1814 witnessed defeat,” Taylor said. “It is a road to nowhere and a road to everywhere. It is our Star-Spangled Banner Historic Trail.”

The Odd Fellows have been holding the annual remembrance ceremony for 73 years, ever since a door-to-door collection campaign raised enough money to have the monument erected in front of the land that once was home to Fort Howard School.

The current veterans park was created when the school was torn down.

A few miles away in Middle River, Holly Hill Memorial Gardens was packed with hundreds of visitors in attendance at the annual Memorial Day ceremony surrounding the Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial.

“This is the way to celebrate Memorial Day,” said LLWVM foundation President Tony DeRuggiero, “to give honor to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, their life, for our country.”

A light mist fell during the somber ceremony, which consisted of prayers for those lost and their families, and recognition of the fallen.

The veterans monument lists the names of some 150 soldiers from eastern Baltimore County who have perished during the course of their service in conflicts including WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq/Afghanistan. As each name was called aloud, a bell tolled and women from the Charles Evering VFW Post 6506 Auxiliary placed a white carnation on the monument in their memory.

The monument’s outer circle of stones also lists approximately 625 names of those from the area who have honorably served, according to DeRuggiero, and seven names were recently added to those stones. Those names were called as well and those individuals recognized.

LLWVM foundation member Shirley Robinson also recognized local Gold Star Mothers - those who have lost a son or daughter in combat - through the reading of a statement from local veteran Delmar Dixon.

The statement described how veterans often try to forget the horrors of war after they return home.

“But there is one person who will never forget that veteran, and that is a Gold Star Mother,” the statement read. “She will always remember the day when she received the telegram from the war department, when she received the knock of the chaplain on her door. That dreadful moment will remain in her heart for all the days of her life.”

Robinson also took a moment to pay respect to Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio, who a week prior had become the first ever female officer to be killed in the line of duty in Baltimore County, and just the 10th in BCoPD’s 144-year history.

“It was a different kind of uniform, it was a different pair of boots, it was a different gun strapped on the side of her hip,” Robinson said. “But she swore to do her duty to God, country and her community. She swore to serve and she swore to protect, and she swore to do those things with her very life.”

As musical instruments and folding chairs were packed up and as thoughts inevitably went to the remainder of the day and countless family outings planned for those many traditional Memorial Day picnics and cookouts, the words of one speaker came to mind - a reminder from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, given on the occasion of the Nov. 19, 1863, dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” read more

Hundreds gather to pay tribute to slain officer Amy Caprio

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The wind caused some problems for those looking to honor Officer Caprio, so many turned to using their cell phones. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Sunday would have been Baltimore County Police Officer Amy Caprio’s 30th birthday. She and her husband, Tim Caprio, had also been planning a Memorial Day weekend trip to celebrate their third wedding anniversary.

But instead of celebrating their love and looking forward to the years to come, the weekend was spent mourning the death of Caprio, whose life was tragically cut short on May 21 as she responded to a call for a suspicious vehicle in a Perry Hall neighborhood.

On Friday morning, Caprio was laid to rest. On Friday night, hundreds converged on Parkville High School for a candlelight vigil to honor her life.

While many are left questioning the senseless act of violence that ended a life too soon, Caprio’s mother, Debbie Sorrells, pushed a message of love and service.

“Amy chose to go into this field. She wanted to be a police officer. It was her passion, her love, her dream,” said Sorrells, fighting back tears. “She loved her work and she loved her network of family, friends and relatives, and the second family she had of police officers and firefighters.”

“I don’t even know how to begin to thank each and every one of you for all of your love, all of your support,” Sorrells added.

As the sun went down, hundreds of people at Parkville High School lit candles and held up cell phone lights. A prayer was read and the Maryland 9/11 Rolling Memorial, a 500 pound bronze bell, was struck, its echo piercing the solemn silence.

Delegates Christian Miele and Joe Cluster, both representatives of the Perry Hall and Parkville areas, offered words of solace for the community at large. Miele gave thanks to the hundreds who attended, saying “our community is strong,” while Cluster, the son of a former Baltimore County Police officer, expressed heartfelt empathy.

Residents of the Parkville and Perry Hall communities expressed their sorrow and respect for Caprio.

“I never got a chance to meet [Officer Caprio], but I’m thankful for her service,” said Jacqueline Miller, a Parkville resident. “It’s just tough to process that something like this could happen in our community.”

A nearly four-year veteran, Caprio is the 10th Baltimore County Police Department member, and first woman, to be killed in the line of duty in the department’s 144-year history.

On Friday, more than 1,000 people attended Caprio’s funeral service. Along the way on I-95, crowds gathered on overpasses, draping blue and black cloth over the fences and hanging balloons in a show of respect. The procession to the funeral home stretched more than five miles.

“While her death is absolutely sickening, it’s nice to see this type of response,” said Nottingham resident Charles Herman. “We’re stronger than this one act of violence. But you can’t help but feel for the family and what could have been. So many lives were ruined and changed in an instant.”

Four teens were arrested in connection with the killing of Caprio. Dawnta Anthony Harris, 16, was the first of the four arrested. He has been charged with first degree murder. Harris told investigators he hit Caprio with his car after she responded to Linwen Way in Perry Hall.

Eugene Robert Genius, 17, Derrick Eugene Matthews, 16, and Darrell Jaymar Ward, 15, have all been charged with first degree murder per the felony murder law. All are being held without bail at the Baltimore County Detention Center.

Baltimore County Chief of Police Terrence Sheridan said that Caprio was “the type of officer that you want to hire” and that she had a bright career ahead of her.

“She was the kind of officer that was going to go up in this organization,” Sheridan told reporters at Franklin Square Medical Center.

Sheridan’s words were backed up by Caprio’s record on the job. In January, Caprio helped end a series of holiday package thefts, identifying and arresting two suspects who had stolen from more than 40 individuals. Included in the spree was the theft of a handmade quilt a Middle River grandmother had stitched for her granddaughter. Caprio’s work earned her Officer of the Month for the Parkville precinct. read more

County passes FY19 budget, but Republicans’ attempts at cuts rejected

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While Republicans Todd Crandell and David Marks voted to cut some items from the budget, Cathy Bevins, a Democrat, voted with the majority to kill the measures. File photo.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Council last Thursday, May 24, passed the Fiscal Year 2019 budget after using the meeting to also appoint Don Mohler, the longtime chief of staff under the late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, as the new county executive.

The nearly $3.3 billion budget, as it has done now for more than 25 years, managed to again hold the line on property and income tax rates.

“This means though, that once again, we are striving to provide our residents with the services they need and deserve, but with limited financial resources,” said Council Chairman Julian Jones in his Budget Message. “Fortunately, the county has maintained its Triple-A bond rating, which will allow us to borrow funds at the lowest interest rates for projects that are necessary to improve facilities and infrastructure, and enhance the quality of life for our residents.”

Jones continued that one area where the county has been able to leverage its bond rating and financial might to its advantage is in public education.

Indeed, the FY19 budget focuses heavily on education with roughly half of the county’s total spending going to the school system. And while none will be spent in this fiscal year, the budget anticipates another $835.5 million to be spent on capital projects in schools over the next six years.

Included in those capital projects on the east side of Baltimore County are a combined $44.6 million for an addition at Red House Run Elementary School in Rosedale and the new elementary school to be built on Ridge Road in Fullerton; $98.8 million for full rebuilds of Dundalk, Berkshire and Colgate elementary schools in Dundalk; and $103.6 million for a planned new Nottingham middle school at Nottingham Park and an addition to Pine Grove Middle School in Parkville.

In addition, Orems Elementary in Middle River will get $746,000 for a roof replacement and McCormick Elementary will get $517,000 for a chiller replacement as part of that spending.

Outside of school-related spending, Councilman David Marks said his Fifth District did not receive much capital funding in this year’s budget. However, he explained it by stating that his district has been “very fortunate” over the last seven years receiving extensive funding for things like many new parks and schools.

In District 6, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins’ aide, Jim Almon, said the budget provides funding for several projects such as $800,000 for turf fields at Overlea High School and $4.3 million for construction of the remaining planned extension of Campbell Boulevard in Middle River.

The budget also shows $5.035 million in state aid for construction of capital renovations and additions to buildings at CCBC Essex.

“The county has program funded $12,318,000 in FY2020 [for that project] and there was a prior authorization of $23,601,661 for miscellaneous capital renovations,” Almon said.

Councilman Todd Crandell’s Seventh District fared similarly to Marks’ district in that it will see a lot of school-related funding, but little else of note in the next year’s budget.

But not all was as jovial in the passage of the budget as it has been in years past.

Before the budget’s final passage, the three Republicans on the council - Marks, Crandell and Wade Kach (District 3) - attempted to cut several items from the budget by introducing amendments.

First, the minority group tried to cut $14 million from the STAT program in county schools which seeks to supply each county school student with technological devices like laptops and tablets.

Marks questioned the efficacy of the STAT program while stating that “$14 million is roughly the cost of half of a small elementary school.”

Next, the Republicans sought to cut a $4 million increase in the county’s funding of its Section 8 housing program.

“Buried in the Fiscal Year 2019 county budget was a line item for over $4 million in increased Section 8 funding,” Crandell said in a statement. “While the reasoning for the increase was explained as being necessary to stave off higher rent costs, it could also be used to expand the program.”

Both attempted cuts failed with 3-4 votes along party lines and the funds remained in the budget.

“Additionally, during budget deliberations, I motioned for a $3 million cut in the fund that pays the $30 million commitment to create more affordable housing in Baltimore County,” Crandell said. “This too failed along party lines.”

Crandell stated that the high amount of Section 8 housing in his district when he took office was a major concern for the communities he represents, and it remains so, leading him to vote against the county’s HOME Act in 2016 which would have forced landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers.

Due to a legal settlement between the late county executive and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, that bill is required to be submitted again in the future, “and I will vote against it every single time,” Crandell said.

“I cannot allow this issue to threaten our progress,” he continued. “I will always vote against the expansion of this program and its detrimental effects to our communities.”

Marks agreed, stating that the legal settlement with HUD targets communities like Perry Hall, which he represents, and he believes an influx of Section 8 residents could destabilize the communities.

“I will continue to fight any oversaturation of Perry Hall’s neighborhoods with Section 8 housing,” he said.

In recent months, the council’s three Republicans have expressed concern that agreements and initiatives pushed by Kamenetz would push the county to - and potentially beyond - its financial limits.

Marks said this budget is balanced and maintains the fiscal solvency of the county.

“But the council is going to have to make some important and difficult decisions in the next few years” to keep it that way, he said.

He added though that the county government is still running with a budget surplus, and if a favorable county executive is elected and works well with Gov. Larry Hogan, that could mean more financial contributions for the county from the state.

More than just holding the line on taxes, Councilman Kach also proposed a one-cent decrease in the county’s property tax rate, which was similarly rejected by the Democrat majority.

The proposed decrease would have amounted to about $7 million less in annual revenue for the county, according to Marks. However, he said the cuts they proposed previously, which had amounted to nearly $30 million, would have covered the loss.

“So anyone who thinks [Republicans] are being fiscally irresponsible is mistaken,” he said. read more

Patapsco HS student helps create winning ice cream recipe

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Trey Wooten, a student at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, was part of the team that came up with the winning flavor. Courtesy photo.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Marge Neal -

A new ice cream flavor is about to hit the menu at Harford County’s Broom’s Bloom Dairy: Farmer’s Flight.

The mixed berry and green tea ice cream with honey crunches was created by Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts junior Trey Wooten and his TIC Gums Ice Cream University teammates, Jonathon Parks of Fallston High and Anthony Sulinksi of Bel Air High.

The three students were among 16 selected to participate in the program modeled after Cornell University’s Food Science 101 course, according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools. Classes were held at TIC Gums’ Texture Innovation Center in White Marsh.

TIC Gums sponsors the program’s $500 fee for each participant and also gave a home ice cream maker to each student who completed the five-week course.

“Year over year, this program has meant so much to TIC Gums and our mission to educate the public about food science,” Tim Andon, TIC business development manager and a Cornell graduate, said in the statement. “We want to make kids excited about the food industry and inspire them to ask more questions and discover a potentially unknown passion.”

Wooten is already familiar with his own passion for the food industry. He is enrolled in the culinary arts program at Sollers Point Technical High School, in addition to his regular academic program at Patapsco.

He found out about Ice Cream University by way of a flier distributed at Sollers Point, and with straight A’s and a keen interest in the culinary arts, decided to apply.

“It was originally only open to Harford County students and then when not enough students applied, they opened it to Baltimore County,” Wooten told the East County Times. “I was excited to go.”

The first few weeks of the program were dedicated to scientific principles of foods, such as “emulsions,

overrun calculations, ice crystal formation and statistical know-how for tracking and maintaining quality,” according to the statement. Subsequent classes concentrated on flavor selection and inclusions such as nuts, chocolate and fruit and the program ended with students presenting their flavors and marketing/branding plans.

“Every week, we experimented with two different recipes,” Wooten said. “My team worked on a spicy chocolate recipe and the berry and green tea recipe but we dropped the chocolate idea when we couldn’t get the spices right.”

The three-man team tweaked the berry/green tea concoction each week until it was “just right.”

A panel of judges, which included a pastry chef, TIC Gums and Broom’s Bloom employees and other food specialists sampled each contending ice cream and judged the branding plans before declaring the winner on May 5, according to Wooten.

“I was very surprised that we won,” the student admitted. “I have anxiety and I was so nervous after the competition that I left the room for a little while and came back to find out we had won.”

Sandy Skordalas, chairperson of Patapsco’s social studies department and the school’s debate team coach, said she wasn’t surprised to hear that Wooten was on the winning team.

“I’m not familiar with his culinary skills but I can tell you he’s a great young man and very responsible,” she told the Times. “He was a great debate team member known for his ability to defend an argument; he was always well-prepared.”

Besides bragging rights (and the personal ice cream maker), the students will get to see their winning recipe mass produced and offered on the menu at the Bel Air dairy.

The winning ice cream makers are scheduled to visit Broom’s Bloom to make the first batch of the award-winning concoction on June 4, according to Janey Wolff, who oversees ice cream production at the dairy and served as a judge in the contest.

Asked if she voted for the winning entry, she said yes.

“All the judges voted for the winner, it was unanimous,” she said. “We also take in to consideration their Power Point presentations and this was the sure winner.”

The three students will make the first 2.5 gallon box of the frozen treat and then dairy workers will make several more boxes to ensure enough is available to the general public, according to Wolff.

“If everything goes according to schedule, we expect to debut the ice cream that weekend after June 4,” Wolff said. “It’s a good ice cream, you can taste each flavor and it’s just a really good combination.”

Broom’s Bloom Dairy is at 1700 S. Fountain Green Road in Bel Air. Call 410-339-2697 to check on the availability of Farmer’s Flight.

For his part, Wooten said he plans to continue experimenting with original ice cream recipes and expects to get good use out of his new ice cream maker.

“I guess my family will come to expect homemade ice cream,” he said with a chuckle. read more

Rockin’ on the River set for seventh installment

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Rob Baier (left) and his band Kanye Twitty performed at last year’s Rockin’ on the River. Baier has been a staple of the event, performing in each installment. File photo.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The seventh installment of Rockin’ on the River, the east side’s biggest concert event of the year, is set for this Sunday, June 3.

Once again being held at Conrad’s Ruth Villa in Middle River, this year’s event promises to be the best one yet, according to Don Crockett, who heads up the event each year.

“This is the best slate of bands we have put together over the last seven years,” said Crockett. “Of course everyone knows Kanye Twitty, The New Romance and Awaken by now, but this year we added two newcomers with Damn Connellys and Red Dirt Revolution. And those guys will blow your mind.”

While Damn Connellys and Red Dirt Revolution may be new to Rockin’ on the River, they certainly won’t be new to many in attendance. These two bands have been building up hype over the last few years, and Crockett is excited to bring them to Rockin’ on the River for the first time.

“The energy that the guys from Damn Connellys bring is just contagious. These guys are just wild,” said Crockett. “And Red Dirt Revolution is one of, if not the best country acts going in Maryland.”

Crockett promised that there will be music there for everyone, from pop and country to classic rock, folk and more.

This year saw the sold-out event raise ticket prices for the first time, jumping from $10 to $15 after a few sponsors dropped out. But according to Crockett, the minor price hike did not deter sales in the least.

“I had people telling me I should jack the price up to $20, but we want to keep it reasonable,” said Crockett. “We’re not trying to gouge anyone. We’re just trying to put on a fun show and raise some money for good causes in the area.”

The bulk of the donations have historically gone to organizations that work on the water, like the Back River Restoration Committee, while the remainder is divvied out to different charities throughout the rest of the year. In years past, donations have been made to Shop with a Cop and to provide books for children at Franklin Square Medical Center.

“We do like to keep things focused on the water, because without that we wouldn’t even have a Rockin’ on the River,” said Crockett. “If we spend so much time enjoying everything our waterways have to offer, it only makes sense to give back and make sure they are healthy.”

Gates for Rockin’ on the River open at 11 a.m. and things kick off at noon, running until 5:30 p.m. The event will be emceed by DJ Jon Boesche, and DJ Big George will also be in attendance.

This year, 2,700 people bought tickets for Rockin’ on the River, with tickets selling out in less than two weeks. No tickets will be sold at the door.

“These things fly fast,” said Crockett. “It’s amazing, you talk to people and they view this weekend as a holiday.”

As always, food and alcoholic beverages will be offered for sale. No outside alcoholic beverages, food, pets or coolers are allowed on the premises. This applies also to those entering the premises from boats.

While politicians have almost always attended, Crockett wanted to emphasize that no campaign literature is allowed to be given out at Rockin’ on the River. “Everyone needs to leave their R’s, D’s and I’s at the door,” Crockett said.

This year there will also be a table set aside for the Marine Trades Association to raise funds for their annual fireworks display.

Crockett said he is looking forward to this year’s installment, offering thanks to those who have made the event the juggernaut it is.

“I just want to say thank you to Rob Baier, Sam Weaver and Fred Conrad, all of whom make this event possible,” said Crockett. “And the same goes for our wonderful group of sponsors and the fans who buy the tickets each year.” read more

New Light Lutheran to offer street-side prayer to busy commuters

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Rev. Kristi King (left) joined other participants for the first drive-thru prayer event on May 3. Courtesy photo.
(Updated 5/30/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Taking a page from the “Ashes to Go” book, a Dundalk minister has decided to break down the physical walls of the church a little more by offering “drive-through” prayer during the months of June and July.

Ashes to Go is a national movement that provides the disposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday on street corners and in parking lots in an effort to provide church services to an increasingly busy population.

“We didn’t know what to expect the first time we offered Ashes to Go,” the Rev. Kristi King, pastor of Dundalk’s New Light Lutheran Church, told the East County Times. “In addition to offering ashes, we asked people if there was anything we could pray for.”

King said those private moments with local residents who opened up and asked for prayer were “holy moments” that made her question why such an outreach service was offered only once a year.

The pastor and church members put their heads together and came up with the idea of offering drive-through prayer services during the summer months when vacation plans and other family commitments can mean a drop in church attendance.

But while formal church attendance decreases, the need for spiritual guidance and advice remains constant, King believes.

The first drive-through offering was held May 3, to coincide with National Day of Prayer, according to King, and about 25 people stopped for a few minutes of prayer and spiritual contemplation.

Local residents and commuters can next avail themselves to mobile prayer on June 7, with sessions from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Church members will stand at the corner of  Dundalk and Pine avenues with signs directing drivers to the church’s parking lot at that corner.

“We encourage people to pull into the parking lot as opposed to just pulling off to the side of the road so we can spend a few minutes with them without being hurried or worried about traffic behind them,” King said. “The prayer encounters are not long, but we want people to get as much time as they feel they need.”

King said she is humbled with people trusting her by opening up with some of the most intimate or painful things going on in their lives.

“Life tends to stay on the surface and people say they’re OK when asked,” King said. “But when you dig a little and people begin to trust you, they’ll share the things that are causing them concern.”

A five-minute encounter during a mobile prayer service might be just the thing to get someone over an emotional hump, and King said she and New Light members are honored to provide that service.

“We’re all carrying around so much inside of us, and we want to tell people, ‘You are not alone, we’re here for you if you need us,’” King said. “God is present here in the midst and we’re all here in this together, so let’s pray together.”

For more information about the mobile prayer ministry or any other New Light program, call King at 410-284-6840. read more

Rebuilding Together gives peace of mind to homeowners

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Inside John Kaiser’s home on Dunbar Road, Rebuilding Together volunteers prepare to install a new section of ceiling while outside, other volunteers replace a porch landing. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Library system recognizes ETHS students for constructing Little Free Libraries

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This prototype LFL design was conceived and built by ETHS senior Teddy Ziolkowski. However, the final design was slightly modified, having an A-frame roof and painted with BCPL colors. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two solar-panel projects moving forward near Kingsville

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An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.
(Updated 5/23/18)

Hearing on possible changes to solar regs set for June 7 

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo courtesy of the Fullerton Fireworks Foundation Facebook page.
(Updated 5/23/18)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hogan signs school board transparency bill into law

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HB 76 was sponsored by Del. Robin Grammer, a Republican who represents the Sixth legislative district (Dundalk, Essex and parts of Rosedale).
(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McMillion, Washington square off in school board race debate

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Washington (standing) spoke about how he has "skin in this game" with the BOE race since his children attend BCPS. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/23/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tradepoint Atlantic buys Sparrows Point shipyard for $33.5 million

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The former Bethlehem Steel shipyard, then operating as BB Metals, won a naval ship-breaking contract to dismantle the USNS Range Sentinel at the shipyard in 2012. In its prime, the Sentinel saw action in World War II. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chesapeake Realty Partners proposes luxury apartments in White Marsh

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As proposed, the project would consist of one- and two-bedroom units and "high-end" amenities such as a club house, recreational open space in the center of the site and some covered parking. Image courtesy of Chesapeak Realty Partners.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education, crime, small business are District 8 candidate priorities

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Norma Secoura (left) addresses the crowd while Carl Jackson, Kevin Leary, Joe Cluster, Ben Boehl, Christian Miele and Eric Bromwell wait for their turn. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bhandari positions himself as the education candidate in District 8

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Supporters, fellow candidates and elected officials joined Bhandari to cut the ribbon on his campaign headquarters in Perry Hall. Photo courtesy of Harry Bhandari.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

East County Times brings home three awards from MDDC contest

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ECT Editor Devin Crum brought home first- and second-place awards for Growth and Land Use and State Government reporting, respectively.
(Updated 5/16/18)

- By ECT staff -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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While Dundalk Elementary students and faculty were in high spirits at the ground breaking ceremony for the new school, BCPS higher-ups and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz were still reeling from the decision to block the full appointment of Verletta White. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The subject site in the center, previously cleared and graded for a Carmax project, is almost completely surrounded by commercial uses and single-family detached housing. Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cemetery workers carefully placed the remains into the grave plots in preparation for reburial. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klag echoed those sentiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Royal Farms replacing store with bigger one in Middle River

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Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another industrial warehouse coming to Sparrows Point

Image courtesy of Google.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

League of Women Voters hosts county executive forums

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Del. Pat McDonough (middle) went on the offensive early and often against his primary opponent, Al Redmer (right), during the Republican forum held April 24. Photo by Patrick Taylor.
(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The primary election is set for June 26. read more

Business association to host county executive candidate forum

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(Updated 5/9/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelworkers memorial service honors the dead, fights for the living

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The Rev. Kristi King of New Light Lutheran Church in Dundalk delivered the invocation for the service and prayed for the souls of those lost in industrial accidents. Photo by Marge Neal.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communities explore potential for new Rosedale community center

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Wannetta Thompson (left), director of the Gardenvillage Community Center, explained the limitations of the current center in hopes that people will see the need for a better facility. Carl Jackson (right) hosted the meeting. Photo by Devin Crum.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tradepoint Atlantic industrial site goes green with hydroponics operation

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Photo credit: Gotham Greens and Julie McMahon.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sen. Klausmeier (center, teal), health care advocates and other bill sponsors attended as Gov. Hogan signed Bromwell and her bills into law. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medical marijuana store opens in Joppa, attracts dozens of visitors

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The new Rise dispensary in Joppa is managed by Green Thumb Industries which also has stores in Bethesda and Silver Spring. Photo by Virginia Terhune.
(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County Executive candidates take the stage at chamber forum

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(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Updated 5/2/18)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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