Soldier killed in Afghanistan remembered by eastside communities

Soldier killed in Afghanistan remembered by eastside communities
The family of Sgt. Eric Houck mourned his loss at a wreath-laying ceremony at Perry Hall Elementary School on June 15. Houck, who attended Perry Hall High School, was one of three servicemen killed in an attack for which the Taliban has claimed responsibility. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Governor Larry Hogan ordered all flags at half-staff on Tuesday, June 20, in memory of Army Sgt. Eric Houck, who lost his life in the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan on June 10.

Since Houck’s death, the Perry Hall community has banded together to honor the local hero. A wreath-laying ceremony was held at Perry Hall Elementary last Thursday, June 15, while the Gunpowder VFW in Middle River held a memorial service the following Sunday. At the VFW event, Houck’s family was presented with a Gold Star flag.

“We know the fathers, the mothers that are awake at night, waiting for their loved ones to come home,” said Jack Amrhein, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association. “The people who served with him respected him, loved him, knew the kind of man he was and that his family was the most important thing to him.”

Houck, 25, leaves behind a wife and two children. His name will be added to the newly-dedicated war memorial in Towson, the first addition to the memorial since it was dedicated last year.

Two others were killed along with Houck in an attack that the Taliban has since taken responsibility for. He was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

Houck attended Joppa View Elementary School before moving on to Perry Hall Middle School. He graduated from Perry Hall High School in 2009. He married his high school sweetheart, Samantha, just three years later.

“Our hearts are filled with sorrow as we learn of the passing of Sgt. Eric M. Houck, a native of Baltimore, who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country in Afghanistan,” Hogan wrote last week. “Our sincere prayers go to his wife, Samantha, their children and all of their family and loved ones in this time of grief.”

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Diamond Point shopping center flea market on, off, on again

Diamond Point shopping center flea market on, off, on again
Mounds of trash on the Diamond Point Plaza parking lot on June 12 spurred Dundalk community leader Angel Ball to complain about the operation of the Diamond Point Flea Market. On June 19, after a weekend of market business, the lot was neat and orderly. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

The organizer of the Diamond Point Plaza flea market rode a roller coaster of emotions and bureaucratic maneuvering last week as he faced criticism about the unsanitary conditions of the shopping center’s parking lot and the subsequent revocation, then reinstatement of his outdoor sales permit.

Tony Sapanero, who rents the shopping center and lot on Eastern Avenue at Diamond Point Road from property owner Global Trading LLC, was defiant on Friday, June 16, and said he would open the market over the weekend despite the ruling because he said the letter revoking his permit was served to the wrong party.

“Right now, at this time, I have my lawyer involved and I plan to open,” he told the East County Times that day. “They told me I would get fined $100,000 if I open; that’s ridiculous.”

Sapanero luckily didn’t have to test the seriousness of that threat since Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) announced later the same day the permit had been reinstated by Code Enforcement Chief Lionel van Dommelen.

The latest round of debate about the flea market began June 12, with an online discussion about the trash problem. Dundalk community leader Angel Ball, who visited the center’s Chuck E. Cheese franchise to solicit a donation for the Heritage Fair, took to Facebook to register her concern about the mounds of trash left by market vendors.

The online discussion led to Ball and Sapanero talking on the phone. Their conversation ended with Sapanero agreeing to have his trash contractor clean the lot on Sundays after the market closes instead of on Mondays, according to both parties.

“I tell them every week to take their trash with them,” Sapanero said of his vendors. “They fill the trash cans and then leave stuff all over the ground around the cans.”

Sapanero said he “can’t be a warden” every minute the market is open, so he takes care of the problem after the fact.

“By 4:30 Monday afternoon, it’s always all cleaned up,” he said. “But I understand the problem with the trash sitting there overnight, so I agreed to start cleaning up on Sundays. I thought the problem was solved.”

Ball said she thought the problem was solved as well. Both she and Sapanero were surprised when Crandell on June 14 posted to social media a copy of the “cease and desist” letter sent by van Dommelen to Global Trading, ordering the closure of the flea market, effective immediately.

“I’m sorry for the fans of the flea market, but due to repeated violations of County Code and zoning regulations, Code Enforcement honored my request and issued an order that flea market operations must cease immediately,” Crandell wrote on Facebook.

Crandell did not respond to a Times request for an interview.

Van Dommelen told the Times on June 19 that the decision to revoke the permit was based on “repeated violations, complaints and personal observations, both by myself and others, and I decided enough was enough.”

He said he has the administrative authority to revoke the permit and that an additional hearing was not required.

Global Trading, as the land owner, has been cited by Code Enforcement several times for a variety of violations, including open dump conditions, having trash cans without tight-fitting lids and leaving storage trailers on the lot, which is a violation of the permitted use, according to van Dommelen.

The company was most recently cited in November 2016. The hearing judge, after finding the company guilty of the violations, fined Global Trading $3,000 while waiving  $1,500 of it, van Dommelen said.

On Friday, June 16, van Dommelen met with Sapanero and his lawyer and made the decision to reinstate the permit after Sapanero promised to have a contractor pick up trash on Saturdays and Sundays after the market closes each day.

One community member who would like to see flea market vendors be more respectful of the community is Sam Weaver, a local marina owner and president of the Back River Restoration Committee.

“We’ve cleaned up so many times around that area, it’s pitiful,” Weaver said of the section of Eastern Avenue near the shopping center and the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. “Nothing against the flea market, but they need to clean up after themselves.”

BRRC volunteers most recently cleaned the area April 2, according to Weaver, and said there was “no question” that much of the trash lodged against the treatment plant fence originated with the flea market.

Early Monday morning, June 19, the parking lot was spotless, with empty trash cans and clusters of portable bathrooms neatly corralled. “No dumping” signs were posted in several places.

Van Dommelen said he hopes the situation is solved once and for all. Satisfied that Sapanero realizes what’s at stake for him and his vendors, the chief said he is not inclined to ask that the remainder of the November 2016 fine be reinstated.

“But if he falls out of compliance again, I will go back and ask for the reinstatement of the remainder of the fine and issue a new citation,” van Dommelen said. “And I will tell you this: If his permit is revoked again, it won’t be reinstated.”

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Fundraiser for Governor Hogan set for Conrad’s Ruth Villa

Fundraiser for Governor Hogan set for Conrad’s Ruth Villa
Hogan was the keynote speaker for Del. Miele's Senate campaign kick-off on June 8. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On July 9, Governor Larry Hogan will hold a fundraiser at Conrad’s Ruth Villa in Middle River.

For weeks, a welcoming committee, which consists of County Councilman Todd Crandell, local marina owner Sam Weaver, area activist Karen Wynn, Buddy Redmer, Conrad's Ruth Villa owner Fred Conrad, Carl Hobson and Don Crockett, worked to make the event a reality.

“We just want to show the Governor that he has the support of Baltimore County,” said Crockett. “He’s been doing a great job in office and we want to make sure that he has another term in office.”

The event is slated to take place from 1 - 5 p.m. on July 9, with a VIP reception taking place from 1 - 2 p.m. General reception tickets are $50 apiece, while VIP tickets are $250 per couple.

Local musicians Strait Shooter will provide entertainment throughout the day.

Hogan was recently in Perry Hall to help launch Delegate Christian Miele’s (R-8) campaign for State Senate. The event brought in more than $50,000 for Miele.

Hogan is likely to bring in a whole lot more at his own event, where sponsorship ranges from $1,000 to $6,000.

“We hope that this event can be big enough that Hogan will want to keep on coming back,” said Crockett. “He’s a rock star in these parts, and we’re very much looking forward to giving him that type of welcome.

Characterizing Hogan as a rock star isn’t much of an embellishment, considering he’s one of the most popular governors in the nation despite being a Republican in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one. According to Crockett, that’s one of the big reasons why the committee is throwing their collective weight behind the incumbent.

“It’s a nasty political environment right now, but [Hogan] manages to stay above the fray,” Crockett said. “He’s proven himself to be a capable leader and he deserves a second term in office.”

While it’s unclear who Hogan will be facing in next year’s gubernatorial election, he’ll enter the race as the overwhelming favorite, barring any sort of collapse over the next year.

One potential adversary is Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. Kamenetz has not officially declared his candidacy but has been exploring the possibility. He has also been working to visit each county in Maryland in his capacity as Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) president.

In the 2014 election, Hogan claimed over 12,000 more votes in Baltimore County than Kamenetz did in their respective races.

Tickets can be purchased online at You can RSVP for the event by calling Olivia Weber at 443-333-9162.

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Victory Villa boundary recommendations approved by school board

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After months of heated debate, the Baltimore County Board of Education approved a compromise redistricting plan on June 13 that will keep all Orems Elementary students where they are, while cutting the number of transplants from Shady Springs Elementary from 129 to just over 90.

The boundary plan passed by a 7 - 4 vote and will go into effect at the start of the 2018 school year when the new Victory Villa Elementary School opens. Victory Villa, which currently hosts approximately 430 students, will see their building capacity increased to 700. The addition of seats at Victory Villa will help alleviate overcrowding in the southeast region.

Eight schools were involved in the process and no school was left with the same boundary lines, but students were not dispersed evenly. With the new boundaries, Orems, which is located in Essex within the Aero Acres community, will remain at 111 students over capacity while Middlesex Elementary will be 100 students under capacity.

An independent consulting firm, Cropper GIS out of Cleveland, was brought in to work with representatives from each of the eight schools to come up with palatable plans. At one point there were nine different boundary maps considered before the number was ultimately whittled down to two.

The favored map originally proposed shipping 64 Orems Elementary School students to Middlesex, but parents protested, arguing that Orems was built specifically for Aero Acre residents and moving students wouldn’t be fair.

Under the original plan, the Orems population would have seen an increase in minority students from 28 percent to 45 percent. The compromise brings that number down slightly to 40 percent.

Another option had been proposed by Orems parents which would have moved a small group of their students to Middlesex while accepting 25 students from Shady Springs. That option was not considered by the board.

County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area and whose office monitored the redistricting proceedings, also weighed in on the results of the process. Read her comments here.

Golden-agers to celebrate Ateaze’s golden anniversary

Golden-agers to celebrate Ateaze’s golden anniversary

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Ateaze Senior Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a gold-hued multigenerational extravaganza, and the public is invited to attend.

The center’s roots date to August 1966, when a group of Dundalk senior citizens began meeting at Dundalk Methodist Church, according to an online history. The establishment of the senior center was officially recognized in March 1967. The group was affiliated with the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks by February 1969 and transferred to the county’s Department of Aging when that agency was created in 1979, according to the online summary.

Fifty years from those humble beginnings, the group is throwing a free community party to mark its half-century of service to Dundalk-area “golden-agers.”

Housed in the former Patapsco Neck Elementary School building at 7401 Holabird Ave. in Dundalk, Ateaze has 1,050 members on the books, with daily attendance averaging 175 members, according to center director Beckie Ebert.

“We have a very active center and we want people to know that,” Ebert said in a phone interview. “We do more than bingo and knitting - we do have both of those but we offer much, much more.”

Membership is open to Baltimore County residents aged 60 and older and their spouses, regardless of age. There is no fee to join, but there are costs involved with certain activities. In addition to fun and games, the center also offers services like helping residents maneuver Medicare and Social Security application processes and informative seminars on a variety of topics. The center also offers meals to encourage socialization.

The anniversary celebration, set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 24, will include a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting and many other activities designed to thank the community for its support over the years, as well as to let prospective members take a look at the many opportunities the center offers, according to Ebert. The center’s general fund is picking up the entire tab and all activities are free to the public.

Center council members recently started a Facebook page to interact with the community at large more and to better share what’s happening at the center, according to Ebert.

The club kicked off its celebration by painting and hiding 50 golden rocks throughout the community. Jumping on the Dundalk Rocks bandwagon, center members and staff painted the rocks and hid them throughout the area. Each specially painted stone has a label on the back identifying it as an Ateaze rock, with instructions on how to claim a prize pack.

Golden rock finders can take a picture of their rock and post it to the Facebook page and then re-hide it for someone else to find, or they can take it to the celebration to claim their prize.

“We made extra prize packs so we’ll have enough to give out even if some rocks are found twice,” Ebert said.

The golden anniversary celebration will include indoor and outdoor activities for all ages. For more information, call the center at 410-887-7233.

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Liquor board fines White Marsh Greene Turtle $2,000

Liquor board fines White Marsh Greene Turtle $2,000

(Updated 6/20/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The county Board of Liquor License Commissioners recently levied a second maximum fine of $2,000 against the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille in White Marsh for allegedly serving an intoxicated person.

A police officer testified at a June 12 hearing that he responded to a call on April 30 about 2 a.m. and found a woman vomiting as she lay on her side in a booth. He said he called for an ambulance, which took the woman to the Franklin Square Medical Center in Rosedale.

The officer testified that he detected the odor of alcohol, that he had been an officer for 22 years and that he was trained in dealing with the effects of alcohol and drugs.

However, a lawyer for Greene Turtle argued that there was no direct evidence presented that indicated the woman’s nausea was the result of being overserved liquor in the establishment that night.

The owner testified that, according to staff, the woman did not appear to have been intoxicated after being served no more than three drinks over three hours. An employee also speculated that woman might have taken medication that caused her to vomit, according to staff reports in the case file.

The three-member liquor board, however, decided to impose the fine, citing the officer’s testimony as a reason for its decision. The board had previously fined the Greene Turtle $2,000 in April after an intoxicated patron was stopped by police after drinking in the establishment.

In a second case on June 12, the board dismissed an allegation of serving an intoxicated person against Dick’s Famous Halfway Inn, 8013 Philadelphia Road in Rosedale, after an officer failed to appear to testify.

In a third case, the board voted 2 to 1 to take no action on a similar charge involving an allegedly intoxicated woman on April 25 at the North Point Liquor and Bar at 1108 North Point Road in Dundalk.

The police officer who responded to the call said the woman was “clearly intoxicated” and offered her a ride home, but an employee testified that the woman and a friend with her were each served only one drink. An attorney for the bar also argued that there was no evidence to show the condition of the woman was directly related to alcohol.

A week later, on Monday, June 19, the liquor board fined the North Point Liquors store, 3838 North Point Blvd. in Dundalk, $500 for violating a board rule that prohibits customers from drinking what they purchased inside the store or on the property.

This article was updated to include information on the board's reasoning for fining the Greene Turtle, as well as information about their more recent North Point Liquors store ruling.

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Delegate Miele kicks off State Senate campaign with endorsement from Gov. Hogan

Delegate Miele kicks off State Senate campaign with endorsement from Gov. Hogan
Delegate Christian Miele (center) was joined on stage by his wife and Gov. Larry Hogan as he announced his candidacy for State Senate. The freshman Delegate is looking to take Kathy Klausmeier’s seat an Annapolis, a seat she has held since 2002. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Delegate Christian Miele put months of speculation to rest last week, officially announcing his candidacy for the District 8 State Senate seat currently occupied by Kathy Klausmeier (D).

Miele was joined by Governor Larry Hogan, Congressman Andy Harris and a slew of local officials at the launch party at Columbus Gardens in Perry Hall, which saw hundreds turn out in support of the young delegate.

“Our campaign is going to be a campaign about ideas, solutions and people - not parties or political agendas,” said Miele. “And make no mistake, it’s going to be a generational contest where you get to decide between looking back toward the past or charging ahead toward the future.”

Hogan spent his time on the stage touting economic improvement in Maryland under his administration before turning his attention to Miele.

“We’re just getting started on our effort to turn Maryland around and change Maryland for the better, but I can’t do it without good members of the Senate like the gentleman we’re here to support,” said Hogan. “There’s no question in my mind that he will do an excellent job as your next senator.”

Hogan’s endorsement of Miele comes as no surprise, considering the first-term governor has been vocal about picking up more seats in the Senate in order to put an end to the Democrats’ veto-proof majority as well as help advance Hogan’s agenda. An increase of five seats would see the Democrats lose their supermajority, and the Republican party is looking to capitalize on a successful 2014 election which saw them pick up nine legislative seats - seven in the House of Delegates and two in the Senate - plus the governor’s mansion.

Besides Klausmeier’s seat, the GOP is looking to take State Senator Jim Brochin’s seat in Towson, as well as seats in Anne Arundel, Frederick and Worcester counties.

In order for the Republican party to grab those seats, they’ll need an influx of money and excitement - and Hogan brings just that.

According to Miele, his campaign kickoff brought in approximately $50,000, more than doubling his cash on hand in a single night - and that number could climb based on pledged donations. In order for Miele to beat Klausmeier, he’ll need the donations to keep pouring in. But where Miele will really need Hogan’s help is drumming up excitement.

That is not to say that Miele isn’t excitable - quite the opposite, actually. Councilman David Marks (R-5) described Miele as a “whirlwind of energy,” and those sentiments were echoed minutes later by Hogan. But Hogan’s endorsement gives Miele instantaneous legitimacy, which could be a problem for Klausmeier considering her previous opponents haven’t had the name recognition of Miele or backing of someone as powerful as Hogan.

Since 2006, Klausmeier’s numbers have slightly improved in the district, jumping from 58.2 percent to 61.3 percent in 2014. However, Miele was the leading vote-getter in the 2014 House of Delegates race, and Hogan carried District 8 with 68 percent of the vote. Add to that Hogan’s immense popularity in the state (he currently has an approval rating of 65 percent) and Miele could have a serious shot at taking Klausmeier’s seat.

But Klausmeier, the Senate’s deputy majority leader, doesn’t seem to be fazed by Miele’s challenge.

“This is not the first time they’ve targeted me,”she told The Washington Post. “I just have to keep doing what I do. I try to be in as many places as I can be and help as many people as I can.”

Miele spent his time on stage also promising to help as many people as he can. He spoke of supporting small businesses, tax relief for seniors and state funding to alleviate overcrowding in Baltimore County Public Schools. He spoke of the need to end gerrymandering in the state, noting that “politicians shouldn’t be picking their voters; voters should be picking their politicians,” a line that received thunderous applause.

Considering the makeup of the General Assembly, Miele and those who spoke of him stressed his ability to reach across party lines and reach bipartisan agreements.

Miele running for the Senate means he will have to give up his seat in the House of Delegates. Last gubernatorial cycle, former Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. gave up his seat in the House of Delegates to take a run at the Senate, but lost to Republican candidate Johnny Ray Salling. When asked about potentially having to sit out a few years should he lose to Klausmeier, Miele wasn’t concerned.

“I don’t really think along those lines,” he told the East County Times. “We have a positive message about bringing people-driven, good-government reforms to Annapolis, and that will remain our main focus throughout the campaign. We want the citizens of northeastern Baltimore County to know that they have the power to vote for real change next November.”

The 8th District has long been one whose delegation is split among Democrats and Republicans. But Republicans are feeling reenergized after the 6th District went completely red in 2014. For many Republicans in the area, they see an 8th District takeover as the next logical step. While Delegate Eric Bromwell (D) and Klausmeier are well-liked and respected across party lines in the Baltimore County Delegation and in Annapolis (Hogan referred to Klausmeier as a “nice lady”), the Republican party thinks it’s time for a change.

Miele spoke of meeting Hogan three years ago and sign-waving on the corner of Joppa and Belair roads in Perry Hall. The two men, unknowns at the time, weren’t sure they had a real chance at winning. Now, both men are rising stars within the Republican party.

“Back then, I said to myself, ‘here’s a guy I can vote for,’” said Miele of Hogan. “Three years later, here we are.”

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Fullerton Fireworks organizers hope display doesn't go up in smoke

Fullerton Fireworks organizers hope display doesn't go up in smoke
More than just a fireworks show, the Fullerton event also features live music, along with great selections of food, beer and wine. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Marge Neal -

It seems everyone enjoys a good fireworks display.

But while the masses look forward to the pyrotechnic celebrations, few people may understand how expensive and labor intensive the productions are.

Last month, Middle River Fireworks Committee leaders announced this year’s Independence Day display is canceled, citing rising costs and a decrease in community fundraising support.

Now, organizers of the Fullerton fireworks fear they might not be far behind.

“Our display costs about $30,000 to do each year,” Fullerton Fireworks Committee Vice President Rick Swinder told the East County Times. “It’s about $1,000 a minute for our show.”

The Fullerton group has been doing the annual fireworks display for more than 50 years. Thousands of people stake out space from which to view the spectacle, but few step forward to help with the effort and corporate sponsors have become harder to come by, according to Swinder.

“We do this every year without any kind of government assistance or support,” he said. “We depend on individuals and businesses to donate and it’s just getting harder and harder to come up with the big money needed to do this every year.”

George Stover, in his second season as president of the group, stepped up and volunteered to save the fireworks display that means so much to him.

“The previous president and vice president had been doing it for so long and they were tired,” Stover said. “They couldn’t get any more help so they said if no one stepped up, it was just going to shut down.

“It just wasn’t an option after 50-some years to let these fireworks go, so I said I would do it.”

In just the first year under Stover’s leadership, the fireworks event expanded. Vendors previously sold typical fair eats, including pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers. But the committee beefed up the food offerings last year, adding Tex-Mex and pit beef. Beer and wine will be available for purchase this year, and the menu will expand again with the addition of Greek food, according to Stover.

The new leadership hopes to eventually build a day-long festival with the fireworks as the evening’s crowning glory.

“This year, we want people to come at five when the live music starts, instead of coming at 8:30 for just the fireworks,” Stover said. “Bring the family, set up a picnic on the lawn, have dinner and enjoy the day.”

He’s still working hard to recruit new volunteers, however. The event attracts between 7,000 and 10,000 people each year. Given that popularity, Stover said he doesn’t understand why it’s the same five or six people sitting around the table at monthly meetings.

Recruiting volunteers and raising money remain the two hardest tasks, Stover said. While the group is grateful for the generous support from Jerry’s Toyota, some corporate sponsors have decreased their contributions.

“Here’s the big thing - we need volunteers,” Stover said. “If they want this to continue, they need to help and they need to throw a couple bucks in the bucket.”

To help with financing this year, the group held a golf tournament June 10, at the Wetlands Golf Course in Aberdeen. The event raised about $5,000, according to Stover.

Raffle tickets are also being sold, with a bushel of crabs, five pounds of shrimp and a case of beer, all courtesy of Skipjack’s, going to the lucky winner. Tickets cost $1 each or six for $5.

The group will accept cash donations from individuals and local business owners as well. The Overlea Fullerton Business and Professional Association has placed coin jars at local businesses in the community.

To buy raffle tickets or to place a coin jar in your business or other location, contact Donna Bethke at 410-665-6551 or; or Renee Smith at 410-812-2971 or

Checks made payable to the Fullerton Fireworks Foundation can be mailed to P.O. Box 19535, Baltimore, MD 21206. Online contributions can be made through PayPal by visiting the group’s Facebook page or its website,

“What’s really sad about this is that we know people really want these fireworks and look forward to them for months,” Swinder said. “They just have no idea how expensive they are and we really hope they step up and support us so these fireworks can continue.”

If you go: The Fullerton Fireworks will be held at Fullerton Park at Belair Road and Fullerton Avenue on Tuesday, July 4. Live music kicks off at 5 p.m. Food, beer and wine will be sold. Spectators may bring their own food but outside alcohol is not permitted. Fireworks will begin as it gets dark. The rain date is July 8. In the case of postponement, the groups will notify the public via its Facebook page and website.

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As deadlines pass, Route 43 athletic field complex looking less certain

As deadlines pass, Route 43 athletic field complex looking less certain
The subject site, located on MD-43 at Tangier Drive, would feature seven fields and some buildings making up the complex. Image courtesy of Pinkard Properties.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Devin Crum -

After at least four years in the works, a proposal to build a sports complex as part of the Baltimore Crossroads development on MD Route 43 in Middle River is now looking questionable.

Organizers of the project have apparently had difficulty lining up the needed financing to move the complex along, according to Mike Caruthers, principal of Somerset Construction.

Somerset owns and controls most of the developable land along the MD-43 extension between US-40/Pulaski Highway and MD-150/Eastern Boulevard and is the master developer for the entire Baltimore Crossroads development.

The athletic complex, dubbed 43 Fields, as proposed would see six artificial turf fields, along with a smaller training turf, constructed over roughly 42 acres of land in its first phase. The fields would be lined mainly for soccer and lacrosse, but would have the potential to be used for football as well.

The second phase would consist of enclosed buidlings for indoor sports such as gymnastics, along with pools for swimming.

The complex would be marketed to sports organizations to host things like regional tournaments, with possible use by professional teams. But it would have built-in time for local school and recreation council teams to use the fields as well.

Initially presented to the community in 2013, the project was warmly received and enjoyed support from numerous community, sports and business organizations, as well as governmental bodies.

But without funding to purchase the land, the project’s developer, Pinkard Properties, has no way to move forward with the plan.

While Caruthers did not say definitely that the project is dead, he admitted at a Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce luncheon last Thursday, June 8, that he had sent Pinkard a letter of denial for the property the previous week.

“So that is, in my mind, not going to happen,” Caruthers said.

News of the project’s status came as a surprise to community members, especially since Pinkard’s executive vice president, Athan Sunderland, said in a March 1 visit to the Essex-Middle River Civic Council that he was “handicapping” himself at 95 percent certain the project would start construction this spring.

Sunderland assured, though, that he and his team are still focused on bringing the project to fruition.

“Our contract has expired, but we are working as hard as possible to make the Fields project at Crossroads a reality and are in discussions with the land owner,” he told the East County Times.

He noted that he recently received letters of support for 43 Fields from the Maryland Sports Commission, US Lacrosse and the Maryland State Youth Soccer Association.

“There’s a lot of people who want to see this thing happen,” Sunderland said. “By no means are we done working on this.”

Caruthers told the Times if the project falls through, his “plan B” for the site would be simply more of what is currently being built in the area - single-story flex buildings and office space.

“We’re out of ground for the flex,” he said. “We’ve built 400,000 square feet and it’s 97 percent leased.”

Caruthers said while he still supports the fields, he is investigating alternative uses for the site.

“We have to do something with that property that makes sense for everybody,” he said, adding that Pinkard is scheduled to close on the property in August and has until then to get the financing.

“My thing is that the fields, I think, are just good for the whole community, both Crossroads and the community at large,” he continued. “So I really hope upon hope that the fields come in.”

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CCBC captures F. Scott Black’s legacy in lights, endowment

CCBC captures F. Scott Black’s legacy in lights, endowment
F. Scott Black with the mural depicting his image. Photo credit: Rachel Rock Photography.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Marge Neal -

They say the neon lights are bright on Rossville. And there’s a new magic in the air at CCBC Essex now that F. Scott Black’s name is up in lights over the campus theater.

To honor the longtime theater arts professor, summer stock co-founder and college dean, local philanthropists Robert and Eleanor Romadka challenged the community to match their donation of $150,000 to put Black’s name on the facility to which he dedicated his 41-year professional career.

“The college has something called the Legacy program,” Bob Romadka told the East County Times. “They honor people who have served the college over a period of many years.”

Through the Legacy program, it was first suggested the theater be named after the couple, but Eleanor balked at the idea.

“Her first thought was, ‘What about Scott?’" Romadka said. “She wouldn’t feel comfortable having the theater named after us - that should be Scott.”

After much discussion, the decision was made to name the College Community Center after the Romadkas and they offered the challenge donation to “buy” the theater’s naming rights for Black.

The theater and college communities responded with gusto and the challenge, which was cast in June 2016, was met in less than a year.

“If you live long enough, anything can happen,” Black said of the honor with a laugh.

The dedication held June 7 was the culmination of a life’s work that began in 1972 when Black was hired at then-Essex Community College to develop a theater major and build the performing arts program.

“When I came here, I thought this was a place to get started, pay back some loans and get some experience before moving on with my career, possibly going to New York,” Black said. “But there was a certain spirit, a great atmosphere here and before I knew it, 10 years had gone by.”

Those 10 years morphed to more than four decades before Black retired in 2013 as the academic dean of the School of Liberal Arts.

In addition to creating a theater arts major, Black was one of three co-founders - along with Robert Stoltzfus and William Ellis - of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this summer.

Throughout his undergraduate college years, Black had been heavily involved in summer theater. With his first summer approaching at Essex, he asked his colleagues what they planned for the season. When the answer was “nothing,” Black put forth a proposal to his boss.

“They advanced me $2,000 for that first summer,” Black said. “And I was told, ‘if you fail, we won’t fire you and if you succeed, we’ll talk about the future.’”

On a shoestring budget, the three men presented a three-show offering, with “The Importance of Being Ernest;” “Celebration,” a “much lesser known” musical by the same folks who wrote “The Fantastiks,” according to Black; and a musical review called “Joyce and Rejoice,” featuring Joyce Stoner.

History tells us the men succeeded, no one was fired and funding was established for future seasons.

The dedication ceremony was attended by about 300 people, most of whom were donors, former students, colleagues and community theater actors and patrons, according to Black.

The timing created a little more stress on the veteran performer, director and producer who is directing “Arsenic and Old Lace” for Cockpit in Court.

“It’s the first time I’ve directed anything in probably 10 years, and then there was the extra pressure to have it show-ready two days ahead of time,” he said of the production. “The audience saw what would normally be one of the final dress rehearsals so we had to be ready.”

Anne Lefter, CCBC’s director of performing arts, said the naming honor was well-earned.

“Working with Scott was always an adventure,” she said. “We were always trying to find new ways to expand our horizon, asking what more could we do, what could we do better - and almost always, regardless of the request or suggestion, the answer was yes.”

If there was a singular accomplishment that defines Black’s passion as an educator, Lefter believes it is the decision to bring the Maryland Children’s Playhouse to the Essex campus.

“Scott always said the arts are a civilizing influence,” she said. “Exposure to the arts expands horizons, promotes personal growth and Scott worked hard to expand the influence and impact of the arts on all students, whether or not they planned to major in theater or make a career of it.”

The presence of the children’s theater on the campus brought about “an energy, an enthusiasm, an optimism that stretched us in unexpected ways and opened up many more educational opportunities,” according to Lefter.

With all of his accomplishments, from performing and directing to educating, from dinner theater ownership to college administration, Black also singled out the adoption of the children’s program as a pivotal accomplishment.

“One of my passions is to give children the opportunity to participate in the arts, to grow as artists,” he said. “Regardless of what they choose to do professionally, participation in the arts makes them more well-rounded and prepares them for many things, and it has been wonderful for us to be able to provide that opportunity to so many.”

There will be no mistaking who the theater is named after. At the dedication ceremony, a large portrait of Black and a bronze plaque were unveiled.

“And over the entrance to the theater, in illuminated letters, is my name,” Black said with a laugh. “So my name truly is up in lights.”

While Black said he is “deeply honored and humbled” to have The F. Scott Black Theatre named for him in recognition of his career, he is more proud of the opportunities the accompanying endowment will provide.

“The naming is great, but what is so much more important is the $300,000 endowment that will be totally dedicated to the performing arts,” he said. “That money will take care of maintenance of the theater, provide scholarships and fund new performing arts programs. That’s the real honor.”

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Hotel, specialty gas projects move ahead

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Plans are in the works to tear down a one-story office building at 8219 Town Center Drive in White Marsh and replace it with a five-story Hilton Homewood Suites hotel.

The now vacant building, located on 3.3 acres between the Avenue at White Marsh and Interstate 95, was formerly occupied by the American Cancer Society. Plans for the project were reviewed by the county’s Development Review Committee on Tuesday, June 6.

A representative of the developer, Blenheim Companies based in Newark, Del., did not return a call for comment about a timetable for construction and possible job openings.

The hotel is one of five in the works on the east side of Baltimore County.

Presently under construction is a SpringHill Suites by Marriott hotel in the Greenleigh at Crossroads mixed-use project being built off MD Route 43 in Middle River. Envisioned for the entire Greenleigh development is a mix of around 1,500 residences, plus offices and retail stores.

Two more hotels are planned near the intersection of Route 43 and Philadelphia Road in White Marsh, and another hotel is proposed near a retail center off Bethlehem Boulevard planned by Tradepoint Atlantic, which is redeveloping the former steel mill property in Sparrows Point.

The DRC also reviewed plans June 6 for a new Airgas facility to be built on an undeveloped lot at 9104 Pulaski Highway northeast of the Martin Boulevard/MD-700 intersection.

Plans presented to the DRC indicate a showroom, warehouse and storage yard. A company  spokeswoman said an existing Airgas facility will relocate to the site but did not provide further details because the project, which needs to file a more detailed development plan, is still being reviewed by the county.

Owned by the French company Air Liquide, Airgas is a nationwide specialty gas distributor that operates seven stores in Maryland, including locations in Halethorpe and Rosedale, according to its website.

The company sells gases and equipment used by welders. It also sells process chemicals, refrigerants, ammonia,  oxygen, carbon dioxide, dry ice and nitrous oxide, some of which are used in the dental and restaurant sectors.

Charter change hearing set for June 21 in Towson

Charter change hearing set for June 21 in Towson
Councilman David Marks (R-5) sponsored the legislation that created the charter review commission. File photo.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Should Baltimore County residents have more time to review and comment on County Council bills before the bills are voted into law?

And should there also be more time for public review of last-minute amendments that can change the original intent of the legislation?

These are only two of more than a dozen issues raised so far about possible changes to the Baltimore County Charter that could come before voters in the November 2018 election.

The county’s recently appointed Charter Review Commission is hosting a hearing to accept public comment on the issues Wednesday, June 21, at 6 p.m. in the County Council chambers in Towson. Speaker sign-in starts at 5:30 p.m.

The commission is set to meet again on Sept. 6 in Towson to work on its final recommendations to the County Council, which are due by the end of October.

Last updated in 1990, the 51-page county charter outlines the basic structure of county government and explains how it is set up and operates. Like the U.S. Constitution, the charter reflects a balance of powers.

For example, the county executive controls the budget and departmental operations, while the seven-member County Council controls zoning and enacts legislation.

Some county residents see the review process as a chance to create more transparency in government operations, especially in the review of high-stakes building projects, where multi-million-dollar investments can affect neighborhood property values.

The Green Towson Alliance has said it is looking for changes “that will increase transparency and open government and will protect the public interest, especially with regard to the environment, in the development process,” according to its April 27 memo to the commission.

Other constituents want more County Council control over the budget, which is generated and controlled by the County Executive. Right now the council can only cut the budget; it cannot add to it or shift money around.

Fewer than a dozen citizens have attended the review commission’s nine public meetings held so far in Towson, Perry Hall and Arbutus. Commission Chairman Ted Venetoulis, a former Baltimore County Executive, has invited visitors to comment and ask questions on an informal basis.

Among the issues raised and discussed by citizens, commission members and council attorneys is whether to change how the County Council processes its bills, which is addressed both in the charter and in the Baltimore County code.

Right now the council must act on a bill within 40 days or it dies. It can be reintroduced, but that involves starting the process again from scratch. One idea is to lengthen the span to 60 days to give communities more time to review and comment on development issues.

The Green Towson Alliance and others also want more time to comment on amendments attached to bills just before a council vote.

“On more than one occasion, we have found hard-fought legislative advances negated by last-minute amendments to legislation,” according to the GTA memo. “[A]mendments to bills should be published and subject to the same opportunity for public review and comment as the original bills.”

Some argue that such proposed changes are more appropriately handled by the County Code, which addresses legislative procedures in more detail.

The GTA has also proposed other changes, such as:

* Holding Council work sessions, where pending legislation is discussed, in the evening instead of Tuesday afternoons so that more people can attend.

* Requiring more public notice of county road work, tree trimming and other county projects that potentially affect residents.

* Adding to the charter’s Preamble a statement of citizens principles and goals for the document.

Councilman David Marks, R-5, who represents Perry Hall and Towson and initiated the bill to create the Charter Review Commission, has also raised other issues for consideration. They include:

* Increasing the size of the council from seven members to nine. Because of population growth, part-time council members now represent about 115,000 constituents each, which is more than the number represented by state delegates. Some have argued it would be cheaper to fund additional staff members to existing council member offices.

* Allowing council members to work in state or federal jobs. Marks, who once worked for the state Department of Transportation, argues that it would broaden the field of people running for the council. Others question whether if could become a problem if a council member is faced with choosing between county or state interests.

* Implementing term limits. Right now there are no limits for council members, which potentially means less turnover on the council.

Information about past charter changes, the 11 appointees to the review commission and minutes of most of its meetings are posted on the county website at under Boards and Commissions.

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Ateaze kicks off 50th anniversary celebration by hiding golden rocks

Ateaze kicks off 50th anniversary celebration by hiding golden rocks
A variety of golden rocks have been placed around Dundalk. Photo courtesy of Beckie Ebert.

(Updated 6/14/17)

- By Marge Neal -

No one can say the Ateaze Senior Center doesn’t keep up with trends.

To celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary, club members are jumping on the Dundalk Rocks bandwagon and channeling the spirit of Willy Wonka at the same time.

Fifty gold-painted rocks have been hidden throughout the community, with a label on the back identifying them as Ateaze rocks and instructions on how to claim a prize packet, according to center director Beckie Ebert.

“We heard about the Dundalk Rocks project and we wanted to participate,” Ebert said in a phone interview. “With our 50th anniversary celebration coming up, it just seemed to fit.”

All golden rock finders will receive a prize. Several extra prize packs were made in case some of the treasures are re-hidden by the original finder, Ebert said.

“They must post a photo of the rock or bring it in to claim their prize but we’re prepared if the same rock is found more than once,” Ebert said.

The Ateaze golden rock project kicked off a publicity campaign to alert the public to the center’s free golden anniversary celebration set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 24, at the center, 7401 Holabird Ave.

“We’re putting out a lot of money on our celebration so we’d like a lot of people there,” Ebert said. “We hope the rocks being found in the community gets people excited to come to our event.”

Golden rock finders can collect their prizes at the festival, according to Ebert.

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Bevins hosts STEM fair, announces winners

Bevins hosts STEM fair, announces winners
Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) held the seventh annual Sixth District STEM Fair Awards Ceremony at Parkville High School on May 31. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/14/17)

Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins held her seventh annual STEM fair on Wednesday, May 31, at Parkville High School.

The fair recognizes exceptional fourth- and fifth-grade students involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs at elementary schools in her district. The winners from the fair are as follows:

Elmwood Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Aethan Logatoc, Francis Paloma, Samantha Maramag, Chloe Edano

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Rachel Pacis, Laelah Lewis-Amis, Jolene Pham

Fullerton Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Allen Lin, Josiah Charles-Alleyne, Gavin Little
 * 2nd place: Hollie Harlow, Cole Burns, Maliyah Pringle, Andrea Green

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Mikko Persia, Cadence Scott, Angela Chen, Anthony Copes
 * 2nd place: Matthew Goad, Chloe Wilson, Ricky Owens, Owen Peer, Makenzie Munk

Glenmar Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Victor Orellena, Dillion Hopkins, Bryan Alvarez, Leon Johnson
 * 2nd place: Christian DeJesus, Mya Dixon, Talia Brown

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Makia Lewis, Adedayo Adedeji
 * 2nd place: Alvin Nwalor, Daniyal Ahmad, Scott Umberger

Halstead Academy
Fourth Grade Winners: N/A

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Brooklyn Hairston-Neverdon, Lyric Monk, Martha Onyilokwu
 * 2nd place: Sahara Charlton, Allen Walker, Anaija Watford

Hawthorne Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Madison Thompson
 * 2nd place: Kyle Morgan

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Joslyn Tharp, Emma Brooks

Martin Boulevard Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Parker Goldstraw, Landon Williams
 * 2nd place: Dylan Davis

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Karlin Fertig
​ * 2nd place: Ariana Wiggins

Oliver Beach Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Ethan Howard
 * 2nd place: Michael Amaral

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Sarah Briggs, Elise Meyers
 * 2nd place: Rhiley Baugher, Madalyn Cardarelli

Orems Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Jayden Simmons, Allison Oats, Sydney Szczepaniak, George Czyia
 * 2nd place: Wesley McNeal, Nora Karsche, Janaya Nauman, Johnny Regalado

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Luke Wanless, Denver Dettmer, Kevin Goedeke, James Mowery
 * 2nd place: Dakota Heckler, Ellie Struble, Salvador Sanchez, Baraka Kaguamba

Redhouse Run Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Ava Boyd
 * 2nd place: Collin Stark

Fifth Grade Winners: N/A

Seneca Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Josie Torsani
 * 2nd place: Jack O’Conner

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Juliana Mills
 * 2nd place: Faith Olabsisi, Excellence Aregbesola

Shady Spring Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners: N/A

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Adim Ani, Michael Muchai
 * 2nd place: Ahmad Chaudhry, Kobe Keomany, Precious Morris-Adiegwu

Victory Villa Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Chidima Emekekwue, Abby Johnson, Joceline Hernandez, Shanya Smith

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Madison Pack

Villa Cresta Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Ethan Lewis
 * 2nd place: Emily Heller

Fifth Grade Winners:
​ * 1st place: Shelly Callender
 * 2nd place: Greyson Robinette

Vincent Farm Elementary School
Fourth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Drew Noll
 * 2nd place: Franchesca Badrina

Fifth Grade Winners:
 * 1st place: Dakota Demosiuk, Sophia Clark
 * 2nd place: Sydney Huber, Magdalen Ruth, Ella Sotaski

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Immigration bill tabled by County Council

Immigration bill tabled by County Council
Although a sponsor of the initial bill, Republican Councilman David Marks (right) voted with the majority to table it. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (center), a Democrat, also voted to table the legislation. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Legislation that would have seen some Baltimore County Department of Corrections officers undergo federal training to take part in the Immigration and Customs Enforecment’s (ICE) 287(g) program was effectively killed in the Baltimore County Council on Monday night, June 5, as the council voted 5 - 2 to table the bill.

The four Democrats on the council were joined by Republican Councilman David Marks (R-5) in voting to table the legislation. County bills have a shelf life of 45 days, and the County Council will not meet again before that time is up. Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), the bill’s chief sponsor, said he plans to meet with members of the council before re-introducing the bill in the fall.

Crandell was joined by fellow Republican Wade Kach (R-3) in voting against tabling the bill. Marks, who co-sponsored the bill with Crandell and Kach, said that he voted to table the bill after “the County Council was not allowed to vote on three amendments that would have greatly strengthened this legislation.”

“Most importantly, we needed an audit to make sure that this program was actually being implemented and in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Marks.

Marks added that the program “should have focused on those with the most serious criminal offenses.”

The 287(g) program has been in existence in some form since 1996. Crandell stated at the council’s work session for the bill on May 30 that he viewed it as a “very simple way to codify our involvement with ICE.”

“It’s a matter of public safety,” Crandell added. “It’s also important to recognize what the program is not. It is not about Baltimore County police pulling people over based on racial profiling. The bill as it stands does not ask the police to do anything. It doesn’t add to overtime, it doesn’t add to anything Department of Corrections officials aren’t already doing.”

Councilman Julian Jones (D-4) questioned whether the bill served any practical purpose before reiterating Crandell’s point that the Department of Corrections already notifies ICE when they have a prisoner who is in the United States illegally.

Crandell called into question the assertion that ICE has been receiving notifications in a timely manner, but that assertion was rebuffed by Baltimore County attorney Michael Field.

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) first asked Field if Baltimore County is considered a sanctuary jurisdiction. Field responded that Baltimore County is not considered a sanctuary jurisdiction, per President Donald Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order that outlined the definition of a sanctuary jurisdiction.

“I’ve never heard of anybody accusing the county of refusing to convey information to ICE or receive information from ICE,” said Field.

Field also noted that ICE receives a daily report from Baltimore County’s Department of Corrections that outlines who is being detained and why they are being detained, as well as immigration status.

Bevins pointed out that the Baltimore City jail, which falls under the purview of Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, does not participate in the 287(g) program. The councilwoman was also quick to note that costs would fall to the county, not to the federal government.

“Passing bill 32-17 would just add a costly extra layer of federal bureaucracy on the Baltimore County Detention Center,” Bevins said in a statement. “The funds to implement this program would not come from the federal government but would rather come from Baltimore County’s budget. That is an expensive proposition considering the Department of Corrections already successfully works with ICE to enforce federal immigration laws. Additionally, if forced to participate in the 287(g) program and any and all future changes and mandates, the Department of Corrections would be put under a tremendous burden that in my opinion would not improve outcomes or make Baltimore County safer.”

When Bevins brought up the issue of cost at the work session, Crandell stated that he was happy to have the program audited after a few months to see what the cost to the county is.

At the County Council session on Monday night, Marks stated that he would like to try it as a pilot program. But he also noted Tuesday that, if the legislation had passed, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz would have oversight of the program’s implementation, as the county executive oversees the Department of Corrections.

“If you support screening for illegal immigration, do you trust Kevin Kamenetz to do it? Because I think we should have audits, accountability and oversight if this program is put in place,” Marks said.
He stated that he and his constituents “want a bill that works,” but that the proposal in its current form left some room for concern.

The bill had little chance of making it through the County Council, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans. And even if a Democrat had flipped, the bill would have still needed one more Democrat backer to override a veto from Kamenetz. Kamenetz stated multiple times leading up to the vote that he would have used a veto had the bill come across his desk.

“The Republican council bill was more about bringing [President] Donald Trump’s divisive politics to our county than doing what is best for our residents,” Kamenetz said. “I’m glad the council didn’t move forward with this legislation.”

The work session proved to be somewhat contentious, with over 50 people signed up to provide public input. Of those that spoke, approximately 60 percent were against the implementation of 287(g) while 40 percent voiced support for Crandell’s proposed bill. The public input portion of the meeting lasted nearly two hours.

Nick Steiner, an ACLU attorney from Catonsville, voiced his opposition to the bill, claiming that such legislation is less about public safety and more about discrimination. He noted that 80 percent of those flagged by ICE in Frederick County‘s jail - one of two Maryland jurisdictions to implement the program - had committed minor offenses.

“Let’s be clear on what this bill is: It is a part of a broader political climate to target immigrants,” Steiner said.

Others, including Catonsville resident Peina Shr, expressed frustration with the County Council. She stated that those who come to America through the proper channels, as she did, have nothing to fear.

“We are against illegal immigrants,” she said. “I don’t appreciate people who come here illegally.”

Crandell echoed those sentiments.

“It’s not about deportation, it’s about due process of law,” he said. “And I’m not sure when we got to the point in our country when we said it’s ok to break the law.”

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Dundalk time capsule appears to have done some time traveling

Dundalk time capsule appears to have done some time traveling
Dan Minnick holding a menu for his former restaurant pulled from the capsule. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

Dundalk’s mysterious time capsule, with its instructions not to be opened until May 30, 2017, has been opened.

But while its contents have been duly unveiled and celebrated, much of the mystery surrounding the box and its genesis remains.

Members of the community gathered Friday, June 2, at the Sparrows Point Country Club to celebrate the centennial of the creation of downtown Dundalk and to witness the opening of the wooden box with a metal plaque attached to its top that stated, “Do not open until May 30, 2017. Contains semi-centennial celebration material.”

The 50th anniversary of the creation of downtown Dundalk was celebrated with events in 1967-68, according to newspaper clippings.

Members of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum discovered the box stashed away in a far corner of shelf storage space in the museum’s basement, according to member Shirley Gregory. It came to the society some years ago by way of the Community College of Baltimore County, which apparently had custody of it for some time, she said.

Combing through old copies of the Community Press, the Dundalk newspaper of the time, members found an article that described a copper box that would be installed in the new war memorial being built at what is now called Veterans Park but was known as Dundalk Park in 1967, according to Gregory.

The article also appealed to members of the community to submit letters containing the names and relevant military information about residents who had died in combat.

When the wood box was opened June 2, it was found to contain the copper box described in the Community Press article.

In addition to old newspaper clippings, Memorial Day parade programs and Dundalk Company brochures advertising the new homes being built in what is now known as Old Dundalk, the box contained the still-sealed letters memorializing the war dead, submitted by residents as requested by time capsule organizers at the time.

“We did not open them,” Gregory said. “We haven’t finally decided, but tentatively, the plan is to give the letters to the American Legion to open on Veterans Day.”

Curiously, the box also contained Memorial Day parade programs dated as recently as 1979, and it’s unclear whether the contents were gathered and sealed considerably after 1967 or if it was opened after being sealed to add items.

Society President Jean Walker believes someone had the box at their home and opened it at some point to add items.

“It’s still a mystery,” she said.

Historical society member Debbi Zimmerman thought the contents of the box “were a little disappointing” after all the hype leading up to the opening of the capsule.

“To me, the most interesting things were the menus from Minnick’s and the Brentwood Inn,” the 1971 Dundalk High School graduate said. “I remember going to the Brentwood after my senior prom.”

Dan Minnick, former owner of Minnick’s Restaurant and a former delegate representing Dundalk, attended the celebration and a picture of him holding the menu from his now-closed pub was posted on social media.

Historical society members will inventory the items found in the box, and are also busy planning a subsequent memory box to be sealed and opened in 2067, according to Gregory.

“We have a couple of teenagers on the committee and we’re looking for more,” she said. “That way, they will be around in 50 years to be able to tell the story of this capsule.”

They also plan to install a plaque at the museum to alert future members to the existence of the capsule to be opened 50 years from now.

“We want to leave a trail so it doesn’t get lost, so that people know about it,” Gregory said. “We think putting a plaque on the wall might be the best way to do that.”

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Sixth installment of Rockin’ on the River a wild success

Sixth installment of Rockin’ on the River a wild success
Rockin’ on the River veterans Kanye Twitty (pictured above) played a raucous set on Sunday afternoon at Rockin’ on the River in front of its largest crowd yet. Rockin’ on the River has now raised approximately $120,000 for charity over six years. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

For the sixth straight year, thousands descended upon the beautiful Conrad’s Ruth Villa to partake in Rockin’ on the River. And for the sixth straight year, the festival delivered in style.

Five bands - Rising Tide, Kanye Twitty, Awaken, Strait Shooter and Marshall Law - took the stage on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and all five acts kept the crowd moving as they worked their way through their respective sets.

For Rockin’ on the River founder Don Crockett, this year’s installment was something special.

“Somehow it just seems to get better every year,” said an elated Crockett. “This was, no question, the biggest crowd we’ve ever had. And everyone seemed to be having the time of their life.”

While Crockett was more than pleased with the performances from the acts, he was even more pleased that this year’s gathering pushed Rockin’ on the River over the $100,000 milestone with regard to money raised for local charities over the last six years. The numbers aren’t quite set yet, but Crockett said he expects the total amount to reach approximately $120,000 when all is said and done.

What started out as a festival to bring the community together for a day of fun has shifted a bit in recent years. While the music is the main draw, the effect of the festival cannot be overstated.

Last year, half of the funds raised went to the Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC), and they used that money to fund a summer internship program for environmental students. This year, a generous donor fully-funded that program, so the money the BRRC receives from Rockin’ on the River will go toward purchasing a mini excavator to help remove larger items from Back River.

“People have to understand that all that money, it’s a big shot in the arm for the BRRC,” said BRRC President Sam Weaver. “To have an event of that size with that impact, it’s so important. The people had a great time, and the big, whole $10 they spent goes to cleaning up the bay.”

This past legislative session, Delegate Bob Long had a bill passed and signed into law that will allow the Department of Natural Resources to adopt regulations for the removal of abandoned or sunken vessels. Previously, Weaver and his team were unable to do anything about those vessels, but with the passage of Long’s bill, coupled with the imminent purchase of a mini excavator, the BRRC will be able to begin to tackle the issue.

“We can’t handle that stuff with the equipment we have now,” said Weaver.

Given the charitable spirit of the day, it should come as no surprise that, yet again, there were no issues with fights or anything of that nature. Considering the spirits imbibed at the event, it’s refreshing to Crockett that he doesn’t have to worry about that.

“I’m proud of the fact that year after year we’re able to put on a family-friendly event without any incidents,” said Crockett. “Part of that is the security team, part of it is the general vibe cultivated by the bands.”

Crockett praised Rob Baier of  Starliegh Entertainment (and Kanye Twitty) for assembling a set that never fails to deliver.

“We always try to get in some new acts each year, and each year Starleigh delivers,” said Crockett. “The five acts that we had this year, from opener Rising Tide to closing act Marshall Law, really kept the energy up and kept things going.”

From classic rock hits like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to more modern hits like “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars, the bands covered all conceivable ground. And in between sets the crowd had DJ Jon Boesche of 106.5 to keep things light. Of course, there were plenty of giveaways throughout the day as well.

When asked why they attended the festival, most people the East County Times spoke with had the same response - “We don’t want to miss this party.”

While the mood of the afternoon was largely celebratory, a moment of silence was held for Jack Deckelman, a man known widely in east Baltimore County for his work on the waterways, who passed away last year.

“Jack was a great man who touched a lot of lives, and we owed it to him to show the respect he deserves,” said Crockett.

Crockett also confirmed to the East County Times that next year’s installment will take place the first weekend of June.

“I’d like to have some time off, but that’s not realistic. We’ve alerady started planning for next year,” Crockett said.

He also noted that he is looking for charities that could use a little extra funding. Last year, money from Rockin’ on the River went to charitable organizations like Shop With A Cop, the Baltimore County PAR Fund, Franklin Square and more. Charitable organizations looking for a boost can send information to All applications will be considered by the Rockin’ on the River Committee.

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Sixth District Democratic delegate candidate Mioduszewski ‘in it to win it’

Sixth District Democratic delegate candidate Mioduszewski ‘in it to win it’
Megan Ann Mioduszewski.

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Megan Ann Mioduszewski already has one “first” accomplished in her campaign to get elected to the Maryland House of Delegates next year.

The first candidate from Legislative District 6 to officially file with the Maryland State Board of Elections, Mioduszewski now has her eye set on two more firsts - to top the ballots in the 2018 primary and general elections.

The district’s three incumbent delegates - all Republicans - have each filed for reelection as well.

“I’m in this race to win it and I’m in it to stay,” the Democratic candidate told the East County Times in an interview June 2. “But I’m not in this for me or to express my views. I‘m running to make sure someone in office represents what the district needs and wants.”

Mioduszewski, 22, graduated last month from Stevenson University with a bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science. She believes her two passions - medicine and politics - will serve the Sixth District well.

With the health insurance debate on national and state stages, the Sinai Hospital employee believes she will bring a knowledge of health care issues to the local political table that others might not be able to provide.

Though young in years, Mioduszewski already has one successful political campaign to her credit. She was elected to the Democratic State Central Committee for the district in 2014. In addition to her tenure on the state central committee - she co-chairs the fairs and festival committee and pitches in on a variety of projects and efforts - she also is a member of the Heritage Parade Committee, volunteers with Gold Invite (an organization serving children with cancer) and supports local animal rescue efforts.

She is the third generation of her family to get involved in local politics, serving alongside father Mike Mioduszewski Sr. on the local central committee, and her grandfather, David “Ski” Mioduszewski, is a member of the Seventh District’s Democratic central committee.

At this early stage in the campaign, with no declared Democratic opponents, Mioduszewski is making the community rounds, attending political club and community organization meetings and neighborhood special events, mainly to listen to residents. She said she wants to hear first-hand the issues residents are most concerned about so she can research those problems and formulate a platform based upon constituent concerns and possible solutions.

She’s holding her first fundraiser later this month and she’s currently looking for a campaign manager.

“I’m still working on figuring out what this district is most concerned about,” she said. “I’ve lived here all my life and I know there are many ways we need to improve as a community but I want to hear that from our residents.”

The Dundalk native attended Bear Creek Elementary and Parkville Middle schools before graduating from Dundalk High in 2013. She also completed the allied health program at Sollers Point Technical High.

As an environmentalist, Mioduszewski said she is concerned about the amount of local dumping that feeds trash into local waterways. In the political realm, she supports term limitations and campaign finance reform.

She believes too many state legislators champion bills that are self-serving or give the perception of involving conflicts of interest and said she wants to become an elected leader who will put her constituents and their needs first.

“I know this isn’t going to be easy,” she said of the race. “I’ve already had many people tell me I’m too young and, believe it or not, I’ve had people tell me to my face that we don’t need any women to run.”

Mioduszewski said she grew up with parents who encouraged her to listen to all sides of a story to be the most informed she could be on any issue. She also learned to have thick skin and to stand up for herself.

“I’m going to give this race my all and I’ll let the negative stuff roll off my back,” she said. “I believe I have something to offer the community and I’d be honored to have the chance to work for the area I grew up in and love.”

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Baltimore County prepares for active hurricane season

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The Atlantic hurricane season is officially underway, and residents of eastern Baltimore County know just how devastating this season can be.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and other government officials stopped by the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department last Thursday, June 1, to make the public aware of the importance of emergency preparedness.

“We all remember [Hurricane] Isabel, which caused significant flooding right here in Bowleys Quarters, and along our entire Baltimore County waterfront,” Kamenetz said. “It’s still fresh in our minds, even if your house wasn’t flooded. We all experienced blackouts for days.”

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, forecasters predict a 70 percent likelihood of 11 to 17 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which five to nine could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including two to four major hurricanes. A “major hurricane” is defined by winds 111 mph or higher. An average season produces 12 named storms, of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes. So this season could be more active than normal.

Kamenetz stated that emergency personnel have the best equipment available, and the Baltimore County government agencies will be working in conjunction to help county citizens through whatever Mother Nature throws our way.

“In Baltimore County we take storm preparedness seriously and we train all year long for these emergency threats,” Kamenetz said. “We provide our first responders with the best equipment that’s available, but also the best training. We work together with neighboring jurisdictions, and when an emergency threatens us here in the county it’s all hands on deck.”

Aside from highlighting the importance of proper equipment, Kamenetz also plugged the county’s Emergency Management Twitter feed, @BACOemergency, which provides citizens with the latest storm and other updates. He also plugged the county’s new Stormfighter web page which allows people to self-report storm-related issues.

The Stormfighter page allows county officials access to real-time visual data to assist the Department of Public Works and emergency managers in responding to localized emergencies. Kamenetz noted that this type of reporting will help emergency managers figure out the scope of an issue, such as power outages or water main breaks.

Kamenetz and other officials also encouraged citizens to plan for the worst. That means stocking up on water and food, as well as making sure prescriptions are full. They also stressed checking up on neighbors, especially those who are elderly, live alone or struggle with a disability.

And, of course, it isn’t just people that need to be worried about hurricane season. All too often an emergency hits and people don’t have plans for their pets.

Besides setting aside food and water for their pets, county officials also recommend citizens put together a supply kit. Health and Human Services Director Dr. Gregory Branch urged citizens to find shelter - whether it be with friends, family or a boarding facility - for their animals before a storm hits, as many shelters won’t accept animals.

“We can keep your pets safe, but we can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to stay with them through the storm,” said Branch.

During certain small-scale emergencies, Baltimore County emergency managers do have the capability to open a “pet friendly” shelter at Eastern Technical High School in Essex. This shelter allows pet owners to bring leashed and crated dogs, cats and other pets weighing less than 80 pounds (excluding exotic pets). The animals are not allowed to intermingle with human evacuees in order to protect citizens with pet allergies or a fear of animals. They will be housed elsewhere on the school site, and pet owners will be able to visit and care for them.

A supply kit for your pet is a must if you need to take your pet to a pet-friendly shelter. The kit will help you if you need to evacuate but also in case you need to get through an emergency - such as a hurricane - which is a far more likely scenario. The kit should include:

* A leash and a carrier. A pet friendly shelter will require your animal to be leashed or crated. The pet carrier should be large enough for the animal to stand up and turn around in. You should familiarize your pet with the carrier before you need to utilize it during an emergency.

* Pet identification. Your pet should wear an identification tag, license and rabies tag.

* Contact information and a photo of you and your pet. The county’s Animal Services will require these.

* At least three days worth of food and plenty of extra water.

* Extra medications, if your pet takes them. If your pet has a special diet, discuss with your veterinarian what to pack.

*Make sure your pet’s vaccinations and medical records are written and up-to-date. Most boarding facilities require proof of current rabies and distemper vaccinations. Have documentation of medications with dosing instructions and name and phone number of the veterinarian who dispensed the drugs.

* Your pet should be licensed, as required by county law. And consider micro-chipping; you can have your pet micro-chipped at the Animal Services in Baldwin or at a veterinary hospital.

Though first responders are here to help pet owners and their animals, pet owners need to take responsibility for their animals by planning how they will care for them during an emergency.

Other recommendations from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency include:

* Stock up on newspapers, plastic bags, cleanser and disinfectants to properly handle pet waste.

* Stock up on dry pet food. This type of food is generally unpalatable and will prevent overeating.

* Get non-spill food and water bowls.

In the event of disaster or evacuation, you need to take special precautions for your livestock (including horses and other pleasure animals) and fowl. Here are some resources for farmers:

* The Center for Agro-Security and Emergency Management is a collaborative effort between University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of Agriculture to coordinate communication and education efforts for the agricultural community to insure the agricultural and food security of the state and the nation.

More information can be found online at

Martin Farm townhouse project advances

Martin Farm townhouse project advances
This concept drawing of the proposed Martin Farm plan shows the property's location along Rossville Boulevard in Rosedale immediately east of its crossing of I-95. Image courtesy of Klein Enterprises.

(Updated 6/7/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Plans for 77 townhouses known as the Martin Farm project in Rosedale generated some questions and comments but no significant opposition at a public meeting last week.

Traffic on Rossville Boulevard is already fast and heavy and adding more could be a problem, commented one woman at the community input meeting for the project on Wednesday, May 31, at the Boumi Temple which was attended by three people.

An access road to and from the 12-acre former farm at the southwest corner of Rossville and Interstate 95 would connect to the existing signalized intersection on Rossville at the entrance to the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex campus.

A study will be done to predict the expected increase in traffic, and changes can be made if necessary to the phasing and timing of the traffic light, said representatives of the developer, Klein Enterprises.

Planned for the Martin Farm site are 52 units with one-car garages and 25 units with two-car garages. The plan includes noise barriers between townhouses close to Rossville and I-95.

Klein is also developing the adjacent Overlook at Franklin Square complex of 356 high-end apartments now under construction just south of Martin Farm.

Access to the 25-acre site will be via an extension of Franklin Square Drive west across Rossville Boulevard that will also serve the existing Ridge Road Medical Center offices bordering the new apartments.

The extension, which includes a median, will bisect existing Ridge Road.

As a result, Ridge Road north of the extension will become one way going north, while Ridge Road south of the extension will continue to serve the Fuller Medical Center, the Evangel Cathedral church  and existing houses on Trumps Mill Road.

One woman at the input meeting said she is concerned about truck damage during construction.

“There are 10-wheelers sitting on Trumps Mill coming out of Deerborne,” she said. “My daughter had to move over and two tires busted.”

Klein representatives offered to help her contact a county agency about the problem.

Also in the works in the immediate area are 64 townhouses being developed by Sage Homes to complete the Point at Deerborne project off Trumps Mill Road which was interrupted by the economic recession.

Now that the community input meeting for Martin Farm is over, Klein Enterprises has 12 months to submit a detailed development plan to Baltimore County’s reviewing agencies.

That will be followed by a public hearing before a county administrative law judge who will also accept citizen input and either approve, reject or apply conditions to the development plan.

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Update: Middle River Depot tax bill paid in full

Update: Middle River Depot tax bill paid in full
The main building on the depot property has been largely unused since the current owner purchased it in 2007, despite a major redevelopment plan for the entire site on file with Baltimore County. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 6/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

After being included on Baltimore County’s list of properties with delinquent tax debts, the owner of the former Federal Depot, 2800 Eastern Blvd. in Middle River, has paid the balance.

The depot, which was purchased for $37.5 million in 2007 and has an assessed value of $9.1 million, had an unpaid tax bill of $194,210.94 for the period between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017. The owner risked the property being sold at auction if the balance remained unpaid.

However, an employee in the county’s Office of Budget and Finance said records showed the balance had been paid in full shortly after the East County Times went to press with its article on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 23. A receipt obtained by the Times showed the amount was credited on Thursday, May 25.

The depot site consists of a nearly 2 million-square-foot storage warehouse built in 1941 on roughly 51 acres of land near the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard.

Five separate properties owned by C.P. Crane LLC, which include the C.P. Crane coal-fired power plant in Bowleys Quarters, had also been included on the county’s list for unpaid taxes but have now been removed and their balances paid in full, according to county records.

The property tax bills for the C.P. Crane properties totalled $28,628.11, but records showed the bill for the smallest of the five properties was paid on May 22, while the bills for the remaining four were paid on May 25.

Also intially included but now removed from the tax sale list is the building in the 500-block of Eastern Blvd. in Essex, known as the former site of the Essex A&P grocery store and a massive fire which gutted the structure in 1957.

The building, now owned by Allentown, Pa.-based 8725 Acquisitions, LLC, currently houses the East County Times offices.

The owner had accumulated an unpaid bill of $19,480.74 on the property which is assessed a value of about $2.7 million, but county records showed that all but $235.15 had been paid on May 25. The remaining balance was still outstanding as of Wednesday, May 31.

Other notable east-side properties remaining on the tax sale list with unpaid balances after the May 26 deadline to pay include the property occupied by Silver Spring Mining Company in Perry Hall ($21,870.66), the Big Falls Inn in White Marsh ($11,264.70), Skipjacks Crab House in Fullerton ($19,957.45), the Oliver Beach Hub in Middle River ($10,338.29) and the main building of the Essex Gateway shopping center ($12,304.90) which is occupied by a ZIPS Dry Cleaners, an Easyhome Furnishings store and a 7-Eleven.

Each tax bill remained unpaid as of Thursday, June 1, and will be subject to tax sale the following day, June 2.

The owner of a property sold for taxes has six months from the date of the sale to redeem the property or a foreclosure action for nonpayment of taxes can be filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

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Fort Howard Memorial Day service remembers fallen sons 

Fort Howard Memorial Day service remembers fallen sons 
PHES students assisted with placing the wreath on the monument at the base of the school’s flag pole. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/31/17)

Perry Hall Elementary students learn history of the holiday

- By Marge Neal -

The somber tone of a bell tolled for each name called:

Sgt. Melvin Fryer.
Second Lt. Kauko Leino.
Pvt. Ernest V. Kessler.
Pvt. Joseph M. Darchicourt.
Pvt. Joseph Dudek.
Sgt. William A. Weis Jr.
Pvt. James H. Hubbard.
Leopold J. H. Rogers.
Joseph B. Beyers.

Members of the Fort Howard community and beyond gathered Monday, May 29, at Fort Howard Veterans Park to remember the seven men who made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II as well as two founding members of Independent Order of Odd Fellows North Point Lodge 4 who perished in World War I.

The lodge has held a Memorial Day service for more than 50 years, according to member Dennis Brown, who served as master of ceremonies for the somber occasion.

The Odd Fellows serve as custodian of a World War II monument that recognizes 151 community members who served in WWII and memorializes the seven men who didn’t return home to their families.

Built with donations received from a door-to-door campaign, the monument was originally installed on the campus of the old Fort Howard School. It now serves as the centerpiece in the park created after the school was torn down.

While the monument pays homage to those who served in WWII, the North Point Peninsula has a rich history when it comes to citizens defending their country, from the days of the American revolution to the current war on terrorism.

Carolyn Mroz, president of Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, reminded the crowd of the role citizen soldiers from the community played in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812.

“The War of 1812 kind of got buried in our history,” she said at the event. “We need to tell the story and we’ve started.”

The historic homestead, which volunteers have been working to restore for about 20 years, now has the first floor completely renovated and is stocked with exhibits that tell many different stories about life on the peninsula, according to Mroz.

Lodge member Joe Labuda told the story of the Maryland 400, a group of soldiers called in by George Washington when American troops were being beaten badly by the British during the Battle of Long Island.

Despite the name, there were fewer than 400 soldiers in the group and while they were able to hold back the British long enough to allow Washington’s men to retreat to Manhattan, the Maryland 400 paid the price.

“When noses were counted the next day, there were 10 men left,” Labuda said. “They weren’t all killed; about 190 were killed and the rest were taken prisoner and held on a ship in the New York harbor for the rest of the battle.”

Col. James Davis, commander of the garrison at Aberdeen Proving Ground, read the poem, “In Flanders Field” to open his remarks.

“Memorial Day is not just about backyard barbecues, the latest sale at the mall or the unofficial start of summer,” he told the crowd after reading the famous poem. “We gather to honor the ultimate sacrifices made by so many.”

After acknowledging the sacrifice of Gold Star families who have lost a loved one to conflict, he reminded the audience to leave their flags at half-staff until noon and encouraged them to participate in a moment of silence and remembrance at 3 p.m.

The National Moment of Remembrance was created by Congress in 2000. The mid-afternoon time was selected with the thought that many people would be enjoying family time or attending professional sporting events and other events, according to online records. Major League Baseball games halt for a moment of silence at 3 p.m., while hundreds of Amtrak trains blast their whistles in remembrance.

The Rev. Don Warner Jr., pastor of Edgemere’s Penwood Christian Church, delivered the invocation and benediction for the ceremony.

He noted that two men listed on the monument are still living: his father, Don Warner Sr., and Nevin Gintling. He introduced his father, who attended the event, and the audience responded with a spontaneous standing ovation.

The younger Warner, choked up with emotion, told the crowd that Gintling “is doing about as well as can be expected and he is in our thoughts and prayers.”

And while many speakers reminded the crowd about the somber reason for the holiday, after the final bell tolled for the fallen sons of Fort Howard, the crowd was invited back to the lodge for a cookout.

“I hope I told them to start cooking,” MC Brown joked. “I knew there was something else I was supposed to do.”

On Friday morning, May 26, at Perry Hall Elementary School, students and faculty gathered in front of the school to honor those who sacrificed their lives. They were joined by State Senator Kathy Klausmeier, Perry Hall Improvement Association President Jack Amrhein and others to learn about the history of the day and what the students can do to honor those who paved the way for the freedoms we cherish.

Amrhein suggested to those in attendance that they engage in Red Shirt Fridays as a way to honor those who are deployed. Red was chosen as it’s an acronym for “remember everyone deployed.”

“We need to remember those who are deployed because they sacrifice so much, sometimes including their lives,” Amrhein said. “And that’s what brings us here this weekend, remembering those...who gave their lives in service of this country.”

He noted that while the holiday brings sadness remembering those who gave up their lives, we should be happy that they lived and “gave up everything so that we could carry on with our way of life, and be happy and free everyday.”

Klausmeier echoed Amrhein’s sentiments, encouraging the students to go home and learn about those who gave their lives. She added that they should reach out to family members and neighbors who have served.

“Maybe you’ll run into [a veteran], and if you do, you can run up and give them a big hug and say ‘Thank you for your service,’” Klausmeier said.

The celebration concluded with a moment of silence as a wreath was laid at the foot of the school’s flagpole out front.

Patrick Taylor contributed to this article.

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‘Dundalk Rocks’ spreads igneous acts of kindness

‘Dundalk Rocks’ spreads igneous acts of kindness
Laura Quintano, Tiffany Lockemy and Angel Ball have gone full bore into the Dundalk Rocks trend, painting and placing the stones all around different communities. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/31/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Imagine the squeal of glee from a young child who has just found an unexpected treasure. Or the ear-to-ear smile as the little explorer holds up his or her newly found prize. Or the more subtle smile of a senior citizen who finds a gift on top of the local mailbox.

Such are the rewards for participants in a trending crafts project of painting and hiding rocks for others to find.

Following in the footsteps of similar projects across the state and nation, two Dundalk women have launched “Dundalk Rocks” as a chapter of the The Kindness Project and are inviting everyone to participate.

“I saw a Facebok page created by another group and I immediately thought, ‘I love Dundalk; we should do this for Dundalk,’” local business owner Tiffany Lockemy said. “So I called Laura [Quintano] and she said, ‘I love it.’”

Lockemy owns Zallies Boutique and Quintano owns Little Crystal Bijoux in the historic Dundalk Village Shopping Center in the heart of Old Dundalk.

Both admittedly “artistic” types, the women immediately decided to create Dundalk Rocks and started spreading a little unexpected happiness and kindness around town, one painted rock at a time.

Lockemy started a Dundalk Rocks Facebook page to get the word out about the project and has been amazed at how quickly folks have joined. In less than two weeks, the new Facebook community had grown to 861 members, as of May 30.

“We’ve been posting and sharing to the page and it just keeps growing and growing and growing,” she said.

The concept of the project is simple. Participants paint small rocks and then hide them around a particular community. The rocks can be decorated with cartoon characters, made to look like bugs, painted solid colors or be inscribed with an inspirational word or phrase.

Rock artists are asked to label the back of each rock with Dundalk Rocks Facebook, where the finder can get more information on the project.

Angel Ball, property manager of Dunmanway Apartments and a former Dundalk Citizen of the Year, jumped on the bandwagon and strong-armed her husband, Nick, to get involved as well.

“And now he’s obsessed,” she said with a laugh. “He paints rocks every chance he gets and doesn’t want to stop.”

A portion of the family’s dining room table has become a semi-permanent rock painting station, with rocks, paints and brushes stowed at one end and room for the couple and their daughter to eat meals at the other end.

A rock finder has several options open to them when they find one of the little gems, according to Ball.

“If you find a rock you absolutely love, then keep it,” she said. “But we ask that you find a rock and paint it and then hide it to spread the kindness out again.”

The person can also take a photo of the found rock and post it to the Facebook page and then re-hide the rock for someone else to discover.

In the short time that Dundalk Rocks has existed, participation has exploded out of the gate. Girl Scout troops, church groups, community organizations and individual families are all getting in on the kindness action.

Over Memorial Day weekend, picnickers, walkers, bikers and shoppers reported finding rocks decorated in patriotic themes. Two rocks, one emblazoned with the word “hope,” found their way to the base of the World War II monument at Fort Howard Veterans Park.

Folks from Essex, Middle River, Hamilton and Harford County have expressed an interest in spreading the effort to their own communities, which is just what organizers hoped for, according to Facebook conversations.

While there are no rules or regulations and participants are free to exercise their creative muscles, Dundalk Rocks organizers do ask that people use common sense when hiding rocks.

“We ask that people don’t put rocks in the grass at a park; we don’t want the lawn mowers to hit them,” Ball said.

Organizers suggest not putting rocks on private property, on cars or inside retail stores.

“And don’t put them in the middle of a step when someone could fall,” Lockemy said. “Tuck them away in a corner if you put them on steps.”

The rock painters have placed many of the small treasures in plain view, on top of posts and mailboxes, on the edges of sidewalks and tucked around trees.

As word spreads, more and more people are participating, either by finding a rock and checking the Facebook page to get more information or by being a creator and hider.

Lockemy has rocks at her shop that she will give to folks who want to participate, and paintable pond and other small rocks are available by the bag at local home supply and garden shops.

On Facebook, artists are trading information on the best types of rocks and paints to use, as well as to spread the word on paint sales.

“It really has become a community in a short time,” Lockemy said. “I’m amazed at how quickly it has grown.”

The benefits of the project seem to be endless. The painter gets to fulfill an artistic need while feeling like Santa Claus at the same time, the finder gets a little bit of joy that could very well brighten an otherwise bad day and everyone feels a little bit better about their community, the organizers believe.

“I’m much more outgoing than my husband and I’m usually the one doing things in the community but he is so into this project,” Ball said. “He was absolutely gushing when he saw a picture posted of a little boy who found a rock he painted.”

“It’s art therapy for the masses,” Quintano said.

So get hunting. It’s finders keepers - or givers. Your choice.

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County budget cuts funding for trash disposal; more trash to be landfilled

County budget cuts funding for trash disposal; more trash to be landfilled
Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh, seen here from above, is the county's ultimate assurance that it will be able to handle all of its solid waste for the next 10 years, according to the draft Executive Summary of the 2019 - 2028 Solid Waste Management Plan.

(Updated 5/31/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Council voted last Thursday, May 25, to approve the county’s $3.5 billion Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

Included in that budget was a cut of nearly $3 million to the county’s Refuse Disposal appropriation under the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Solid Waste Management (SWM).

“There were budget cuts this year to Solid Waste, but only to reduce the transfer tonnage, i.e. the refuse taken out of the county,” said DPW spokeswoman Lauren Watley in an email. “No trash haulers were cut, canceled or terminated which would result in an interruption in normally scheduled trash pickups.”

The budget allocates $33,552,236 specifically for refuse disposal in the county, which is a decrease of $2,990,255 from what was allocated for FY 2017.

SWM Bureau Chief Michael Beichler said there is always “give and take” with the budget and how waste is disposed of in the county, but that the cuts will “absolutely” affect things.

“We’ll be putting more tons in the landfill,” he said, referring to the Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh, the county’s only operating landfill.

Most of the county’s trash does not go into the landfill, and in fact, one of SWM’s key goals is to minimize the amount of material that is landfilled. This is done largely through increased recycling efforts and the county’s contract with Baltimore City to take at least 215,000 tons of trash each year to the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy facility. As a result, only 12 percent of the county’s residential trash was landfilled in 2015, according to the county government website.

But landfilling can be done at a lower cost since the county owns the site and does not have to pay to have trash hauled elsewhere for disposal. The drawback is that the landfill has a limited capacity.

According to Beichler, ESL has a remaining capacity of about 3.9 million tons, “which we are trying to increase,” he said. He calculated that the added tonnage being put into the landfill in the coming year will decrease its lifespan by 168 days.

And Watley noted that the landfill’s remaining life is now calculated at 34 years, but that it can vary greatly year to year depending on circumstances, budget and policy changes.

“More refuse will be temporarily landfilled, but the cumulative impact is less than half a year of landfill life,” she said.

Projected over ESL’s remaining 34 years, the increase could cut the landfill’s operational life by 15.6 years.

But Beichler stressed that the budget cut is only for this year and one cannot assume that the added tonnage would continue being put in the landfill year after year because the budget changes every year.

“They could decide next year to put nothing in the landfill,” he stated. “It’s a one-year adjustment.

“They decreased the life by 168 days in this budget cycle,” he continued. “If they decide to double the amount they take out next year they could add 30 years of life to it too, which they’ve done in the past.”

Other ways the county can extend the life of its landfill are to prevent as much material from being generated as possible through promotion of conservation practices like grasscycling and home composting, and recycling as much of the generated material as possible.

The county’s website notes that residents can recycle 50 percent or more of what they regularly set out for trash collection.

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Educators hope CCBC/JHU collaboration opens doors for local students

Educators hope CCBC/JHU collaboration opens doors for local students
Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/31/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Eight Community College of Baltimore County honors students are about to embark on a summer of study they won’t soon forget.

Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the students will participate in a summer course at Johns Hopkins University, where they will also experience residential living and enjoy all the amenities and resources the Hopkins campus has to offer.

“This is an amazing opportunity for our students,” Rae Rosenthal, CCBC’s honors program director, said. “They will participate in a 10-week research program while living in a beautiful new building with the latest technology and state-of-the art facilities.”

The selected students will be the inaugural beneficiaries of the three-year, $1.725 million Mellon grant that will fund the “Humanities for All” collaboration between the two schools. CCBC received $980,000 to “enrich the academic experience within the humanities,” according to a statement from the school, while Hopkins will receive $745,000.

The partnership will foster “a more dynamic learning experience and improve transfer success for students,” according to the statement.

The Humanities for All effort will also offer incentive programs to encourage students to enter CCBC’s Honors Program, which enjoys higher graduation and transfer rates than the general education program, according to school officials.

Rosenthal is hopeful the collaboration will lead to a better pathway to Hopkins for CCBC students.

“In past years, we have had students transfer to Hopkins, and some with very large scholarships,” she said. “But we have never had the red carpet rolled out to us by JHU like we’ve had from Cornell, Yale, Smith, Goucher and other highly respected schools. We’re hoping more students will apply and get the dollars they need to attend.”

Joel Schildbach, vice dean of undergraduate education for JHU’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said regardless of what happens with transfers, programs like the summer research program will show CCBC students they can succeed anywhere.

“We don’t accommodate many  transfer students because of structural and capacity issues,” he said in a phone interview. “But this program will show top CCBC students that they would very much be at home at a place like Hopkins, that they absolutely belong.”

Hopkins enjoys a high retention rate, which means few openings exist for transfer students, he said.

The collaboration between the two schools is a two-way street, according to Schildbach.

“This is meant to be a partnership and we are very committed to that,” he said. “There are very definitely benefits to both sides.”

While CCBC students will benefit from trips, guest lectures and efforts like the Mellon Scholars Program, JHU faculty will enjoy a collaborative relationship with CCBC faculty, with the opportunity for professional development between the groups of educators.

By virtue of its open door policy, CCBC accepts all students who apply. That philosophy makes for a much more diverse student population across many levels than that of Hopkins, which is a highly selective and competitive school, according to Schildbach.

“The CCBC faculty is going to provide training for our faculty to make sure they are better prepared to teach to a wide diversity of students,” he said. “This is very much a two-way street here and we’re very excited about the possibilities.”

Hopkins graduate students will have opportunities to lecture through the program, giving them much needed teaching experiences, according to Rosenthal.

During this summer’s Mellon Scholars research program, the selected students will do a “deep reading” study of a Shakespeare play. They will perform an intensive, word-by-word analysis of the selected work and present their findings in a mini-symposium at the end of the program.

Rosenthal is excited about the doors that will be opened for CCBC students, many of whom are “high-ability, hard-working, diverse, first generation students” with economic challenges that may make them automatically assume certain four-year schools are out of reach.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for our students, the college and JHU,” she said. “We’re very much looking forward to this three-year collaboration and beyond.”

Both institution presidents are enthusiastic about the new partnership.

“Thousands of CCBC students will benefit from Mellon’s recognition that the democratization of the humanities in America does indeed begin with the community college,” CCBC President Sandra Kurtinitis said in a statement.

The effort reflects “Hopkins’ sustained commitment to building bridges so that all students have access to the transformative power of higher education,” according to JHU President Ronald J. Daniels.

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DNR message to boaters: ‘Ride Inside’ or be fined

DNR message to boaters: ‘Ride Inside’ or be fined

(Updated 5/24/17)

- By Marge Neal -

As Memorial Day weekend approaches and thoughts and actions turn to outdoor activities, particularly boating, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ police division is gearing up to patrol local waters in an effort to make the summer season as safe as possible.

The tragic 2016 death of a 9-year-old boy who fell in the water while riding on the front of a boat is serving as the inspiration of a renewed effort to educate and cite boaters for practicing the popular but illegal activity of bow riding.

The Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) this week kicked off its new safety awareness campaign called “Ride Inside.” Through notices and signs at popular boat launch sites, marinas and boat rental businesses, marine law enforcement officers hope to educate boaters about the danger of letting passengers ride not only on the front of a boat, but also along the side rails and the stern, according to NRP spokeswoman Candy Thomson.

“We all realize bow-riding, or sitting along the gunnel rails or on the swim platform is like a fun day at the amusement park, but fall in and you risk not only being hit by your own boat but perhaps someone else’s,” Thomson told the East County Times. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

The risk of serious injury or even death is much higher on pontoon boats, according to Thomson.

When a passenger falls off the front of a pontoon boat, the pontoons serve as channels, with the victim being directed down the middle underneath the vessel, leading straight to the propeller. Such accidents lead to particularly gruesome injuries and deaths, she said.

Such was the case last summer when New Jersey resident Kaden Frederick, 9, was riding on the bow of a rented pontoon boat while on vacation with his family in Ocean City. Kaden fell from the boat and before anyone could even react, he had been struck by the propeller, according to news accounts of the incident.

There were numerous trained medical personnel and first-responders on other boats in the immediate area, according to Thomson, but Kaden’s injuries were so catastrophic nothing could be done to save him.

“We’re asking people to use common sense here,” Thomson said. “You wouldn’t let your kid ride on the hood of your car - why would you let them ride on the front of your boat?”

In eastern Baltimore County, with the lion’s share of the county’s 232 miles of shoreline, NRP will be working closely with the Baltimore County Police Department’s marine unit and the Coast Guard to ensure water safety this summer.

Marine law enforcement officers can board private boats at any time to perform routine safety inspections, according to Thomson. Officers check to ensure boats have a life jacket for every passenger on board, as well as flares or other visual signaling devices, a horn or whistle and a fire extinguisher, among other items.

It’s important that life jackets are readily accessible if passengers aren’t wearing them, and that flares and extinguishers are up to date and not expired.

Thomson has more than a few stories to tell about her experiences of accompanying officers who patrol local waters.

“We boarded one boat with our checklist of equipment,” she recalled. “While the boat operator eventually was able to produce the required life jackets, they certainly wouldn’t have been any help in the case of an emergency.”

The jackets were stowed in a storage cabinet below the deck, and not only were they still in the packaging they were sold in, they were still in the retail store bag from where they were bought.

The officers made the owner take the devices out of the packaging and told him the importance of having them more readily accessible.

Officers will use these on-the-water inspections to spread the word about the dangers of bow-riding, according to Thomson.

Bow-riding is a specifically listed infraction of DNR’s regulation regarding reckless and negligent operations, Thomson said. Officers will cite offenders, who will face up to a $500 fine for the first offense if cited by NRP officers and up to $5,000 if stopped and cited by the Coast Guard.

Other infractions, such as boating in a swim area, operating a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol and speeding also fall under the realm of reckless and negligent operations, Thomson said.

The past few summers have been particularly dangerous, she said. With about 180,000 registered vessels plying Maryland’s waters, popular areas can become quite crowded and, therefore, potentially more dangerous.

Last summer, 17 people died in boating accidents, while the summer of 2015 was the worst in 20 years, with 21 deaths, Thomson said.

As could be expected, the months of July, August, June, September and May, in that order, were the most dangerous in 2016, as measured by number of accidents and deaths. In 2016, a total of 163 reportable boat accidents caused nearly $3.4 million in property damage in addition to the loss of life.

“Law enforcement officers aren’t out to ruin anyone’s day,” Thomson said. “We just want to make sure they have many more boating days in the future.

“And this summer, that especially means everyone should ride inside.”

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Middle River Depot property listed for tax sale

Middle River Depot property listed for tax sale
The main building on the depot property has been largely unused since the current owner purchased it in 2007, despite a major redevelopment plan for the entire site on file with Baltimore County. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/24/17)

- By Devin Crum -

With an unpaid tax debt to Baltimore County of nearly $200,000, the former Federal Depot site in Middle River has been placed on the county’s annual list of tax sale properties.

If the balance remains unpaid by the owner, the county may auction the property to the highest bidder at its annual tax sale next month. The auction price starts at the open tax lien amount, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, and if it fails to sell at auction it will default to the county.

The total tax lien amount on the property, accrued during the period from July 2016 to June 2017, is $194,210.94.

A representative of the site’s owner, Middle River Station Development LLC, had not responded to a request for comment by press time.

But County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, said the owner, Sal Smeke, has disputed his taxes since purchasing the property a decade ago, claiming they are too high. Bevins has had several conversations with the owner regarding a planned massive redevelopment of the site.

The Depot site, 2800 Eastern Blvd. in Middle River, consists of roughly 51 acres of land and a nearly 2 million-square-foot storage warehouse built in 1941. It was previously owned by the federal government, but leased to the Glenn L. Martin Company for manufaturing of airplanes during World War II.

Although the entire property’s assessed value is listed at just over $9.1 million, according to state real property records, the current owner purchased it at auction for $37.5 million in 2007.

A development plan on file with Baltimore County shows a complete overhaul of the site to create a new shopping center dubbed Town Square at Middle River Station. The plan calls for a mixture of apartments and townhomes for more than 1,100 new residences, as well as office, retail and restaurant space, all anchored by a Walmart.

The plan also features a sports and entertainment complex, various pockets of recreational open space and a concert pavillion.

However, community members - namely members of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council - have expressed concern about this plan because, while it has stalled over the years, nearly all of those uses have been created elsewhere in the surrounding area, leading to questions of if the plan is still viable.

But according to sources who have had conversations with Smeke, he still plans to move forward with the plan on file.

According to documentation provided by Councilwoman Bevins’ office, permits for the project have been issued from the county’s Soil Conservation District, Environmental Impact Review, Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, Department of Public Works and Development Plans Review, as well as the Maryland Aviation Authority because of its proximity to Martin State Airport, the State Highway Administration and landscape and lighting permits from both the county and the Maryland Historical Trust because of its historical designation with the state.

They have also been given a demolition permit and according to Bevins, Walmart plans to break ground in June.

Walmart will be closing its Supercenter in the nearby Carroll Island Shopping Center in favor of a new Super Walmart in Middle River Station.

Other notable items listed on the county’s tax sale list are five properties owned by C.P. Crane LLC, which operates the coal-fire electrical power plant in Bowleys Quarters.

Together, the tax liens across the five properties total $28,625.11 while their assessed value combines for nearly $2.16 million. The parcels include the 10-acre site of the powerplant, as well as a nearly eight-acre plot along Keeners Road.

Real property tax bills are issued on July 1 each year, according to the county’s website.

Failure to pay in full or, if eligible, make the first semiannual payment by Sept. 30 will result in the account being considered delinquent. Interest will accrue until the taxes are paid in full. Unpaid balances due past Dec. 31 are subject to accrued interest, penalties and tax sale.

However, property taxes must exceed the threshold of $250 for non-owner occupied properties or $500 for owner occupied properties to be listed for tax sale, Kobler said.

On March 1, a Final Tax Sale Notice is mailed, allowing the property owner 30 days to pay the property taxes and accrued interest and penalties, the county’s website reads. If the owner fails to respond to this notice, the property may be sold at the annual tax sale.

Baltimore County posts properties to be sold on its website around the first of May. Properties are then advertised for four consecutive weeks in a locally circulated newspaper and on the government’s website, according to Kobler.

If a property is sold for taxes, the owner has six months from the date of the sale to redeem the property or a foreclosure action for nonpayment of taxes can be filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

For more information on the tax sale process or the complete list of county properties slated for tax sale, visit the county’s website at and search for “tax sale.”

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Hart-Miller Island opens for season, remediation continues in North Cell

Hart-Miller Island opens for season, remediation continues in North Cell
The island’s sandy beach, as seen from the observation tower, serves as a gateway to the South Cell. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/24/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The state park portions of Hart-Miller Island, including the beach, ranger station and South Cell, officially opened to the public for the summer season on May 13.

Those areas will continue to be open for public access Thursdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., through September. However, the island is currently only accessible via private boat.

According to Bob Iman, lead ranger for the park, they originally planned to open the park on Memorial Day weekend, but decided to open it two weeks early because the weather had gotten warmer. Unfortunately, the weather changed again, he said, and they will likely push the opening back to the holiday weekend for next year.

As some may remember, the island’s South Cell was opened to the public for the first time last summer after completing its transformation from a dredged material containment facility to a restored wildlife habitat with public recreational access.

The roughly 300-acre southern section of the island provides nearly eight miles of hiking and biking trails, along with ample opportunities for bird watching, breathtaking views and educational signs for visitors to learn about the island. The park also supplies a limited number of bicycles to visitors for free to encourage exploration of the area.

According to information published in this year’s Waterfront Guide, more than 60,000 people visited HMI in 2016. Of those, about 1,300 attended ranger-led interpretive programs on the island and around 1,500 enjoyed bicycle riding or hiking in the South Cell trail system.

Iman noted at the May 16 meeting of the Hart-Miller Island Citizens Oversight Committee that the state Department of Natural Resources has replaced many of the signs around the island to keep everything looking nice, which helps keep vandalism down and gives a good impression for visitors.

“The first impression is your lasting impression,” Iman said. He added that they have also been busy installing more covered benches along the trails.

New this year is the plan to install a monument in honor of the HMICOC for their dedication and committment to monitoring the formation and impact of the island since 1981. They have also served as a voice for citizens regarding what is done on the island.

The monument, which the Maryland Environmental Service’s Amanda Peñafiel described as a small, cube-like, low-lying structure, will pay special tribute to Thomas Kroen, who was one of the original appointed members of the oversight committee and chaired it for several years prior to passing away in 2015.

Peñafiel described Kroen as a major advocate for recreation and environmental education.

“It’s a shame that he was not around to see the beginning of all this that he worked toward,” she said.

She noted that the monument was not yet in place as of Tuesday morning, but it would be safe to say it will be in place in June.

“It’s going to be in the South Cell at the first trail intersection,” she explained, near where the 18-foot road meets the cross-dike road which separates the North and South cells.

The HMICOC is also exploring the establishment of a “Friends of” volunteer group for the park, which would help with simple park maintenance and operation, as well as organization of any potential events on the island.

Peñafiel also noted that the broader Friends of Maryland State Parks organization is planning to hold a 5k race on the island in fall 2018 - “because it takes that long to plan an event like that,” she said.

In the much larger North Cell, remediation is ongoing with the mammoth task of using agricultural lime to raise the pH of the water and soil.

According to Roger Williams, also of MES, they are using lime at a rate of 20 tons per acre and have completed the process on 183 of the section’s nearly 800 acres.

Water in the North Cell is highly acidic and cannot be discharged from the island until it meets certain quality standards, such as a more neutral pH. And liming is difficult in wet conditions because the heavy equipment sinks in the mud, Williams explained. They have tried using lighter trucks for the project, but those cannot carry the larger loads they need.

“We have had our growing pains with this project,” he said.

Therefore, MES has discussed and now plans to carry out a pilot program to apply the lime by air using a helicopter.

While that method has a much higher cost, it may be necessary to move progress along.

Williams said the liming is currently at a stand-still because they need to get more of the cell dry before it can resume.

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Perry Hall diner deal sparks feud between elected officials

(Updated 5/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall) announced on May 9 that the Double-T Diner at the corner of Joppa and Belair roads in Perry Hall would be closing on June 10 for approximately six months to allow for reconstruction of the corner and a new CVS pharmacy to be built on the site.

During that time, the diner will move east to a site at Belair and Brookfield roads, Marks’ announcement read.

While Marks recognized that it was not ideal, he touted the plan, which came about through negotiations with the developer, as a way to keep the diner - and the jobs that come with it - while improving the look of the intersection with the new business. He noted that CVS had the right to build at the location.

The news sparked outcry from some residents who said the area does not need yet another CVS. And that same day, State Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) took to social media to air his own grievances with the decision.

“Every time Councilman Marks ‘negotiates’ with a developer, we get more development. And now, yet another CVS is coming to Perry Hall, the CVS capital [sic] of the world!?!” Bromwell’s Facebook post read. “Perry Hall is overdeveloped and our schools are overcrowded, yet I have not found a single constituent who feels we need another CVS.”

Two days later, Marks fired back with his own post criticizing Bromwell for his lack of involvement in addressing important community issues such as slowing development, building Angel Park and dealing with overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School.

He also called Bromwell out for his vote against redistricting reform in the state and for the Home Act which critics say would “spread poverty around” the county, adding that Bromwell “popped out of hiding” to launch his criticisms.

“Maybe he felt the urge to attack. And he will attack again. He can’t help himself. I will keep working with others to improve our community...” he concluded.

When asked about the social media spat, Bromwell told the East County Times that the problems with the diner decision come from Marks having a relationship with developers.

“The point is, whoever the developer for CVS is obviously has a relationship with Councilman Marks,” he said pointing to Marks’ previous reclassification of the nearby intersection of Joppa and Harford roads to allow for a different CVS.

Marks defended the plan, however.

“When a new CVS threatened the future of the Perry Hall diner, I stepped in to save the diner and preserve 40 neighborhood jobs,” he told the Times. “Which is worse: a neighborhood diner that remains open or more Section 8 housing throughout our community, as preferred by Eric Bromwell?” he asked, pointing again to the Home Act vote.

“Councilman Marks ran on a platform of slowing development in Perry Hall,” Bromwell said. “I don’t think anyone who lives in Perry Hall can look around and say, ‘yes, development has slowed in Perry Hall.’”

But Marks countered that Bromwell was simply talking one way in the community while voting another in Annapolis.

“He acts like a campaign finance reformer, but has accepted tens of thousands of dollars from special interests over his 15 years in Annapolis,” Marks asserted. “And he didn’t seem to care about development when running in two elections with my Democratic predecessor, who zoned Perry Hall for almost all the homes that have been built over the past few years,” he said referring to former County Councilman Vince Gardina.

Marks said his record reflects his work in the community, having gotten four new parks, three new schools and protecting 2,800 acres of land from development.

Bromwell said his vote regarding redistricting reform was merely a procedural vote and did not mean as much as people might think. And he justified his support of the Home Act in that he was thinking of friends who he had grown up with who relied on housing vouchers.

He also questioned Marks’ downzoning of so much land in Perry Hall, calling it “interesting” when compared to what other Council members did.

“It’s a lot of property that would never be developed,” he said, noting some included stormwater management ponds public swimming pools or median strips. “These are things that, in my estimation, don’t need to be downzoned but it allows you to say, ‘look, I’ve downzoned more property than anybody.’

“Quantity, great,” Bromwell continued, “but I am interested in the quality of all these downzonings.”

Marks said while some of the acreage includes stormwater management areas, “we protected large public properties that could easily be sold off, and we downzoned private land like the Gerst Farm that was proposed for intense development.

“We even downzoned the land behind Eric Bromwell’s house, which now has the lowest level allowed for residential development,” Marks said. “I don’t see a stormwater pond there.”

But Bromwell suggested a need for a building moratorium in Perry Hall.

“Until we fix the process, I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” he said.

Neither elected official has indicated a desire to run for the other’s office in the next election, and this is not the first time the two have had public disagreements. But Bromwell said he will continue his advocacy.

“Part of it with me is wanting to make sure that there is an alternative voice,” he said. “I want to make sure that people are holding all of their elected officials accountable.”

Marks held that he is working for the community with their support.

“We are tackling the problems we inherited, with support from parents and community leaders of both parties,” he said, “but not Eric Bromwell.”

Edgemere student lands scholarship to CAP flight academy

Edgemere student lands scholarship to CAP flight academy
Wyatt Hartman

(Updated 5/24/17)

- By Marge Neal -

While many students are looking forward to a carefree summer of lounging and hanging out with friends, Wyatt Hartman was excited to be heading to the United Kingdom in July after winning a coveted spot in the Civil Air Patrol’s international ambassador program.

But that was before the Eastern Technical High School senior learned he also had been selected to receive a full scholarship for a residential summer aviation program that would lead to getting his pilot’s license.

Decisions, decisions.

After conferring with advisors, who told him the scholarship was a one-shot opportunity but that he could reapply to the ambassador program next year, the decision was easier to make.

He will report to Delaware State University on June 26 to participate in a self-paced course offering one-on-one ground instruction and flight training in a Piper Warrior plane.

The scholarship pays for room and board at the university, as well as instruction, materials and flight time. It’s worth up to $16,000, depending on how long it takes Wyatt to get his license. With one-on-one instruction, students control how long it takes them to complete the course.

“It lasts through July,” Wyatt said of the program in a phone interview. “Depending on how well I do, I can finish up early.”

Wyatt, who recently became an Eagle Scout, keeps himself busy. He’s a student in Eastern Tech’s business management and finance program and is looking forward to his graduation next month. While in high school, he got a head start on his college education by taking courses at the Community College of Baltimore County, where he plans to enroll full-time this fall.

“I plan to stay at CCBC with the intention of transferring to a four-year school,” he said.

He’s also looking at the Air National Guard and several federal agencies - the National Security Agency, the Department of State and Customs and Border Protection among them - for employment or internship possibilities that might help pay for his college education.

“It would be great to find something that offers help with tuition - that’s what I’m hoping for,” Hartman said. “And I think the Air National Guard has scholarships available.”

The ambitious, driven teen said he would like to pursue flying if he could be commissioned as an officer in the ANG.

Wyatt joined the Civil Air Patrol, the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, in 2011, when he was 12. He worked his way through the ranks of the youth cadet program and is now a cadet major.

Participation in CAP is a family tradition. His mother is Capt. Nadine Hartman, a member of the adult CAP squadron at Martin’s State Airport. The all-volunteer CAP organization offers support to many national and international efforts, such as emergency operations, natural disaster relief assistance, search and rescue missions and drug interdiction, according to Nadine.

The youth, or cadet, CAP program is open to youngsters from 12 until they age out at 21, and then they are welcome to apply to the adult program, she said.

Wyatt has taken advantage of the many programs and courses offered by CAP as he has moved up in the ranks.

His many highly selective accomplishments come as no surprise to former CAP cadet mentor Joe Mancini, now 23, who was involved in the youth program and served as a mentor to Wyatt when he was a new cadet.

“I can’t say enough good about Wyatt,” Mancini told the East County Times. “He has great moral character, is very driven and very capable. When I found out he’d applied for the two very selective programs, I didn’t think he’d have a problem getting into either one.”

For his part, Wyatt said he was a little surprised that he was accepted for both the international exchange program and the flight scholarship, given how competitive the process is. Both programs required applicants to have significant prerequisites fulfilled and offered a limited number of openings.

Just four students from across the country are participating in the flight academy course, and Wyatt was one of only 36 applicants offered a spot in the ambassador program.

If all goes as planned, the Edgemere resident will finish the month of July with his single-engine aircraft private pilot’s license in hand. He’ll have a few weeks to enjoy his summer break before heading back to CCBC for the fall semester.

He hopes to enjoy as many of his outdoor interests - boating, fishing, hiking and biking - as possible before school starts.

And just maybe, he’ll snag another spot to participate in the international exchange program next summer.

In any case, many of his peers, family members and CAP superiors are already proud of what he’s accomplished and how positively his actions reflect on CAP.

“I’m really proud of the work he’s done and will continue to do,” said Mancini, who now oversees the cadet program as a member of the adult squadron. “And his accomplishments reflect on the mentoring and training he’s received and makes us all feel like we’ve done our jobs.”

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Tuition, fees increasing at CCBC

(Updated 5/24/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Local students taking for-credit classes at the Community College of Baltimore County will see a $2 per-billable-hour increase in the tuition rate starting this summer, as well as fee increases starting in the fall.

Tuition for county residents will increase from $118 to $120, according to rates posted on the CCBC website.

The increase is intended to offset a decline in revenue-generating enrollment, a trend affecting community colleges around the country, said CCBC Executive Director Sandra Kurtinitis.

Demand for community college classes tends to rise during recessions and drop when economies heat up again.

“The more people that work, the less enrollment,” said Kurtinitis, who discussed CCBC’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget with the County Council on May 9.

The council is scheduled to adopt the budget on Thursday, May 25.

Also set to rise are tuition costs for out-of-county students, which will increase from $222 to $224 this summer and then to $226 per billable hour in the fall.

The biggest increases are for out-of-state students, whose rates will go from $337 to $339 this summer and then to $343 in the fall.

In the meantime, some fees will also increase, including the Activity fee, which will rise from $3 to $4 per billable hour for all students.

The per-billable-hour General Service fee will also increase by $3 for all students, going from:
* $12 to $15 for in-county students;
* $22 to $25 for out-of-county students;
* $32 to $35 for out-of-state students.

To boost enrollment, Kurtinitis said CCBC plans to expand online access to courses.

The system is also launching a pilot program this fall that will enable Woodlawn High School students to simultaneously earn credits toward graduation and toward community college credits.

The goal is to develop a similar program in a high school on the east side of the county, she said.

CCBC is also developing programs to train truck drivers, diesel mechanics, forklift operators and inventory control employees to accommodate expected growth at the Port of Baltimore and Tradepoint Atlantic’s growing list of tenants at Sparrows Point.

For a complete list of current tuition rates and fees, visit and go to Costs and Paying for College.

Governor signs bill to help solve problem of abandoned boats

Governor signs bill to help solve problem of abandoned boats
This boat, sunken in Northeast Creek which flows directly into Back River, is actually visible using Google's satellite images. Photo by Karen Wynn.

(Updated 5/23/17)

- By Devin Crum -

During the 2017 General Assembly in Annapolis, Sixth District Delegate Bob Long sponsored a bill to simplify the state’s process for removing abandoned boats from its waterways.

Long’s bill, which he said aims to solve the problem of abandoned or sunken boats that present navigational, health or environmental hazards in state waterways, particularly in Back River, passed unanimously in both houses of the legislature. It was signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan on May 4.

The Back River Restoration Committee has worked extensively over the last decade to clean up trash and other forms of pollution from Back River. But one issue they have had difficulty addressing is the removal of abandoned or sunken boats which litter the river.

Long told the East County Times that BRRC President Sam Weaver and Executive Director Karen Wynn approached him about the problem last year as well, but it came up too late in the legislative session to get a bill together to try to pass.

The delegate noted that one of the major obstacles in dealing with abandoned boats is identifying their owner.

State law requires that the owner of an abandoned vessel be notified and the boat must be kept for a certain amount of time to allow them to redeem it. But if the owner cannot be identified, the process gets held up.

“A lot of times what happens is, if someone abandons a boat, they get rid of all the serial numbers so it’s hard to identify,” Long said. He added that another problem is the state’s lengthy process spelled out in the current law which makes it difficult for anyone to address the problems.

The current law also contains a loophole whereby owners could potentially claim damages of their vessel if it was damaged in the process of being removed from the place where it was abandoned.

In testifying on behalf of the bill, Weaver, speaking as both the BRRC president and as the owner of Weaver’s Marina, stated that he and others have tried on many occasions to have derelict boats removed from waterways with no help.

“On certain occasions, we have been able to obtain titles to sunken boats to remove them at our expense, but on many other occasions we were met with too many restrictions to remove these hazards,” he said.

“Besides the obvious eyesore of these vessels,” Weaver continued, “these boats create a hazard to other watercrafts as well as continue to deteriorate and spread debris throughout our waterways.”

In addition to altering the definition of “abandoned vessel” in the law to include a sunken vessel, Long’s bill also extends liability protections for any damage to abandoned boats to any person that removes, preserves or stores the vessel on behalf of the Department of Natural Resources. It also authorizes DNR to adopt its own regulations for removing abandoned boats.

“It’s going to fix a lot of the problems that DNR has had with identifying and removal of some of these boats,” Long said. “I hope this works and fixes the problems. And if it doesn’t, we’ll try something else.”

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Board fines Middle River liquor store, dismisses two Essex cases

Board fines Middle River liquor store, dismisses two Essex cases
Beer Pump Wine and Spirits in Middle River. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/22/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor Commissioners fined one establishment, but dropped charges against two others during show-cause hearings in Towson on Monday, May 22.

Show-cause hearings are held to consider whether to suspend or revoke liquor licenses.

Beer Pump Wine and Spirits, a discount liquor store located at 3 Compass Road in Middle River, was fined $500 for violating the board’s Rule 29, which requires that liquor stores buy only from wholesalers.

It was the first violation for the store, but members opted to impose the fine based on a report by an inspector from the state Comptroller’s office claiming that a carton containing liquor had been tampered with.

Retailers in Maryland are required to buy from wholesalers only and advised to hold on to invoices to indicate their suppliers. They cannot buy liquor from or sell to other retailers.

Meanwhile, the board opted not to impose fines in two other cases involving bars in Essex.

They took no action in the case of the Breakaway Bar and Grill at 506 South Maryln Avenue, which the state inspector claimed had violated Rule 32, which prohibits refills.

Prohibited is the practice of refilling smaller one-liter bottles with liquor from 1.75-liter bottles. The rule is intended to ensure that the contents of the smaller bottle match what is shown on its label and do not actually contain a cheaper substitute from the bigger bottle.

In another case, the board dismissed an allegation that Sylvester’s Saloon, at 7326 Golden Ring Road in Essex, violated Rule 1, which prohibits selling liquor to an intoxicated person.

A bartender testified that the man was angry, but not intoxicated, when he left the bar and bumped into a car in the parking lot, precipitating a call to police officers, who went to his home two hours later.

The bar’s attorney also argued that the man could have drunk alcohol somewhere else during the two-hour time gap.

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Library system adding Chromebooks to bridge digital divide

(Updated 5/22/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Baltimore County Public Library system recently made nearly 400 Chromebook laptops available for public use at no charge and it plans to make another 200 available in the coming year.

The laptops, which can checked out for free just like books, are part of a multi-year initiative to close the gap between people who can afford to buy computers and those who cannot.

“Access to these devices will help to lessen the ‘digital divide’ by providing equal access to those that may not have the opportunity to learn and experiment with technology,” said BCPL Director Paula Miller in a statement.

Miller met last week with the County Council to talk about the proposed library budget for fiscal year 2018 which starts July 1. The council is expected to adopt the budget on Thursday, May 25.

Also in the FY 2018 budget is $240,000 for HVAC and related building upgrades at the North Point Library in Dundalk, as well as $800,000 for restroom and $200,000 for meeting room renovations system wide.

During the budget discussion, Miller also said that library branches in Title I areas will again offer free lunches this summer to children ages 18 and under through a program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ten branches participated last summer, including North Point, Essex, Rosedale and White Marsh. The lunches are provided Monday through Friday, and no registration is required.

Chromebook initiative
Funding for the first batch of 380 Chromebooks was part of a $500,000 allocation in FY 2017 through the county’s Office of Information Technology’s Enhanced Productivity Thru Technology capital project.

Another $200,000 is budgeted in FY 2018 for Phase II of the project, which includes the 200 additional devices.

The lightweight Acer laptops, which have 11.5-inch screens, can be used wherever there is a Wi-Fi connection to the internet. They don't retain information - all data is automatically lost when the laptop is closed - but they do allow patrons to store data on a flash drive or in an online cloud account.

The devices have been distributed to all 19 BCPL branches with the most active borrowing from the Essex, Pikesville, Owings Mills, Woodlawn and Catonsville branches, Miller said.

A survey of users indicates that patrons use them to check email and social media, work on school assignments, look for a job or practice their computer skills.

"It's cheaper than buying your own,” she said.

The devices can be used for up to two hours in a branch or taken out for seven days with two week-long renewals, depending on whether there is a waiting list.

Users must sign an agreement, and there is a $3 per day fine for late returns. The loss or damage charge for Chromebooks is $386, plus $30 for the charger and $17 for the zipped storage bag.

Also now available in branches are Playaway Locks, which are tablets that are pre-loaded with e-books organized by genre or theme. No internet access is required.

The library has available about 800,000 e-books, which reflect a growing percentage of its total collection of 11 million items, Miller said.

“We're currently living in both worlds,” she said about the mix of digital and print items.

Centers of Excellence
Another initiative now underway in three BCPL branches is the creation of “centers of excellence” that focus on providing materials and services about a topic unique to each branch.

The Hive in the recently renovated Hereford branch focuses on art and creative maker projects, and the branch is planning to kick off an artist-in-residence program in June.

The Co-Lab in the Randallstown branch, which is currently being renovated, will focus on computers and technology when it reopens in late June.

And in the planning stages for the Towson branch is a focus on business.

“We will not hire additional staff, but the spaces and the tools within [the centers] open up more opportunity for community engagement and free (of course) programming for BCPL customers,” wrote library spokeswoman Erica Palmisano in an email.

For more information about the system's digital devices, visit

Marijuana dispensaries eyed for White Marsh, Middle River locations

Marijuana dispensaries eyed for White Marsh, Middle River locations

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

License holders are exploring locations in White Marsh and Middle River for the sites of new medical marijuana dispensaries in eastern Baltimore County.

Representatives of one of those license holders, Chesapeake Health Sciences, visited the Monday, May 15, meeting of the Greater White Marsh Community Council to explain their plan for the White Marsh location.

Greg Rochlin, an executive for CHS, noted that their plan is to open a medical cannabis dispensary inside the building at 5512 Ebenezer Road. Formerly a Sprint mobile phone store, it is currently occupied by the Dave’s Deals pawn shop.

Rochlin said along with being a businessman, he is the board chairman at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore and a two-time cancer survivor.

He assured that the company is not looking to open a shop for recreational use of marijuana.

“We are looking to open up a strictly medical, very secure, very well-run business,” Rochlin said. “For us, this is a medical issue. We are not drug dealers.”

He acknowledged the fear some local residents may have with something new and different coming in related to drugs. But he assured that CHS will have 24-hour surveillance on the property, adequate security, and a well-lit, fenced-in parking area and entrance at the back of the building rather than the front.

Rochlin noted the back entrance will be more secure and more discrete, since they will be dealing with medicine. Patients will also need their identification and medical marijuana recommendation card to get into the building.

Rochlin and his partner, Shannon Hexter, because of their familiarity with the business, said the other dispensary operator in the area is exploring a location in the Carroll Island Shopping Center in Middle River. However, that plan is not definite, and CHS is not affiliated with that operator.

State law allows for up to two dispensaries per legislative district, so up to four additional dispensaries may come to the east side.

State Senator Jim Brochin, who has said he is running for Baltimore County Executive and who also attended the GWMCC meeting, said the Maryland legislature had been working on the medical marijuana issue for a long time. They finally passed legislation creating cultivation and dispensary licenses in 2014 and updated it in 2015.

Brochin said the state chose people who were best qualified for growing and dispensing licenses based on safety and security plans and a number of other criteria, “so at the end of the day, we didn’t lose our mission,” which he said is “to take people who are in chronic pain and agony and give them relief.”

Rochlin explained that patients, upon entering the dispensary, will meet with a consultant to discuss their issues and what products may be best for them.

“We’re going to have professionals in-house... helping to figure out what the best product for that individual is,” he said, adding that all employees will undergo background checks. But while a doctor or pharmacist will have to be on-site, not all employees must have that qualification.

Rochlin pointed out that both patients and doctors must register with the state to be able to receive or recommend medical marijuana. “So they’re going to go through some education.”

Doctors must also renew their license every two years.

Patients can also visit any dispensary in the state, he said, but through the state’s tracking system they are limited to a certain quantity per month no matter where they go.

“It’s not like you can go to our dispensary one day and go to another one the next day,” Rochlin said. “We’re all linked through the same database.”

He also said they will work with local law enforcement to address any potential security or crime issues.

Products sold at the dispensary will range from the typical marijuana flower from the plant - which can be smoked or otherwise ingested - to tinctures, pills, capsules, oils and even topical creams, according to Hexter. However, they will not include edibles because they are not included in the Maryland law.

All transactions will be done with cash, Rochlin noted, partly because insurance plans do not cover medical cannabis. But they will not keep large sums of cash on-site, he said.

Regarding the price range of their products, Rochlin said it would be difficult to nail down a definite cost to customers.

“Nobody has started growing yet in Maryland, so I don’t know what they’re going to charge us,” he said. “But we think the average is going to be somewhere from $10 - $20 per gram.”

He assured, though, that it will still be cheaper to buy the drug illegally on the street than from a dispensary, so it is unlikely anyone will sell their medical cannabis to make money second hand.

Hexter added that the monthly purchase volume limits on patients will also help to control second-hand sales.

“The reason we [passed this law],” Sen. Brochin said, “is we don’t want to criminalize the behavior of [sick people]. It’s to offer relief to people who are in pain and are suffering.”

He acknowledged that there may be unintended consequences, but assured that the relief it will provide to sick people will outweigh the negative.

The site of the White Marsh dispensary is zoned appropriately for it, Rochlin noted, but they must first obtain a Special Exception approval from Baltimore County via an administrative law judge before they can move forward.

ALJ hearings are public and residents may offer testimony prior to the decision.

Rochlin said the case is scheduled to be heard by a judge in July, however, the county’s Office of Administrative Hearings had not yet scheduled a specific date.

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Dutch delivers Meals on Wheels, fights to prevent federal cuts

Dutch delivers Meals on Wheels, fights to prevent federal cuts
Carol Bath-Stehle (left) received her Meals on Wheels delivery from Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (right). Ruppersberger is currently trying to raise awareness of the program to prevent it from being the victim of deep cuts in the federal budget. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Back in January, Overlea resident Carol Bath-Stehle tripped over a chair and broke her hip. Without the ability to move and unable to call for help, Ms. Bath-Stehle laid on the floor of her living room in agonizing pain for 15 hours.

At 11 a.m. the next day, she was saved by a Meals on Wheels volunteer who was making her weekly delivery.

Five months and one new hip later, Bath-Stehle, 75, is thankful for Meals on Wheels for more than just the sustenance they provide.

On Monday, May 15, Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) sought to bring attention to the Meals on Wheels program - and looming federal cuts - by joining with volunteers to deliver meals to those who utilize the program.

“Meals on wheels is not just about the food, which is nutritious, but it’s about providing safety,” said Ruppersberger.

Meals on Wheels, which is supported by federal funding under the Older Americans Act, serves more than 38,000 Maryland seniors.

Ruppersberger is fighting a proposal in President Donald Trump’s budget to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program - a $3 billion program started during the Ford Administration that is used by many states and cities to fund Meals on Wheels.

The President’s budget also calls for an 18 percent across-the-board cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is home to the agency that provides most of Meals on Wheels’ federal funding. That could cost Meals on Wheels in central Maryland as much as $1 million annually, or 56 percent of their budget.

“A 56 percent cut in anything is devastating, and this is a program that’s really working,” Ruppersberger said. “Taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.”

According to Stephanie Archer-Smith, executive director of Meals on Wheels for Central Maryland, the cost to feed a senior for a year is $5,000.

Ruppersberger stated that the price is worth it considering it costs approximately $5,000 for one day in the hospital. He also asserted that the program ends up saving money for the average citizen, a claim Archer-Smith said was backed up by a Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research study funded by AARP Foundation.

The study investigated the impact of meal service delivery on the health and well-being of adults 60 years of age and older and found that for those who live alone, particularly those who receive daily-deliveries, the program is incredibly beneficial. Specifically, the study found that those who lived alone but received Meels on Wheels were less likely to fall and more likely to experience improvement in mental health and self-rated health.

“Meals on wheels and this program are really important,” said Ruppersberger. “I mean, where would most of these seniors be if not for the program? This type of domestic spending is important.

“I understand people want cuts to things, I was Baltimore County Executive,” he said. “I had to balance the budget every year. But if you don’t invest in certain things, your whole country is going to have problems.”

For Bath-Stehle, she is visited Monday through Friday by set volunteers who drop off her food and do some catching up. Her daughter shops for her toiletries and other needs, but the Meals on Wheels volunteers, who average 74 years old, provide the nutrition and check-ins necessary to make sure that she, and others like her, are alright. And for people like Bath-Stahle’s daughter who are in caregiver positions, Meals on Wheels can relieve a lot of stress.

Without Meals on Wheels, Bath-Stehle’s situation could have been much worse, she said. She is thankful for their work and the company they provide, so much that she donates what she can to the program.

Ruppersberger joked that the meals looked so good he would eat one right there, for which he was quickly rebuked by Bath-Stehle.

“No! That’s mine,” she said with a smile.

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After two decades, Middle River fireworks canceled indefinitely

After two decades, Middle River fireworks canceled indefinitely
The Middle River fireworks, seen here as the backdrop for Eastern Yacht Club's flag mast, dazzled many thousands of spectators on boats and along surrounding shorelines over the last two decades. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Middle River Fireworks Extravaganza has been an Independence Day staple for the communities of Essex, Middle River and beyond for the last 19 years.

But this year, the show has been canceled with no promise of its return in the future, according to organizers.

Middle River Fireworks Committee co-chairmen Gary Blankenship and Pete Beyrodt attributed the cancellation of the event largely to rising costs and faltering community support.

The co-chairmen explained that the event had cost an average of about $30,000 per year over the last four years that they have been putting on the show, and was funded solely through community and business donations.

Prior to that, the fireworks were put on by the Marine Trades Association of Baltimore County (MTABC) which did so for the preceding 15 years, also through donations. The MRFC was formed with the two Eastern Yacht Club members, Beyrodt and Blankenship, and local business owner Barry Devore who became the new title sponsor.

During the MRFC’s time at the helm, organizers raised a total of about $160,000, 75 percent of which was pure cost, Beyrodt said. Of the net proceeds, 75 percent was donated to the event’s main beneficiary, which was the Maryland-based charity benefiting wounded veterans, Project No Person Left Behind, for the last four years.

“And the other 25 percent went back to the community in various forms,” he said, noting that they also made donations to local fire departments, community associations, the NICU at Franklin Square Hospital and local scholarships for Queen of the Chesapeake.

But the show is a tremendous undertaking, and those involved began to lose interest in continuing with the task, the co-chairmen said. With ever-increasing costs and difficulty securing donations, those involved got more discouraged.

For MRFC’s first year running the show, EYC opened the club grounds to the roughly 3,000 people who viewed the fireworks from there every year, just as MTABC had always done.

“But that proved to be a nightmare,” Blankenship stated. He added that under MTABC, they had around 20 people to manage the parking and buses bringing people in, staffing the lot at Chesapeake High School, coordinating the traffic and other related tasks. The MRFC relied upon volunteers from the yacht club to handle all of those jobs.

“The EYC members who had hosted the event all these years got to see that, at the end of the day, the public attendance generated a tremendous amount of work - cleanup and support at the front end and back end,” he explained. So the next year, in 2014, EYC said “no more” to the public.

“That made some folks unhappy,” Beyrodt acknowledged, “but the fireworks still went on.”

However, they started seeing less financial support from the community as well, he said, “because we didn’t have the reach, I guess, that the entire waterman’s association has.”

Beyrodt pointed out that the biggest source of funds and energy for the show became Devore, president of Benjer, Inc., either personally or from his business contacts, some of whom had no connection to the area.

And even without the public attendance, he said, EYC membership still felt a significant burden from the event.

The co-chairmen also chalked the lack of community support up to public misconceptions about the event. They noted many had the perception that it was simply funded and put on by the county or a swanky yacht club that can afford it, while others believed the MTABC was still in charge.

“The reality of it is, at Eastern Yacht Club, we’re a blue-collar boat club,” Beyrodt said. “We all work. It’s not the Thurston Howell III with the blue blazer stuff.”

However, the co-chairmen addressed one particular rumor regarding the event’s discontinuation: that the fireworks were funding legal defense against development on the lower Back River Neck peninsula.

“It’s so far from the truth,” Beyrodt said.

He noted that one member of the Rockaway Beach Improvement Association had involved the whole group in fundraising from that community. And for that effort, he admitted they donated a small portion of the proceeds to the RBIA.

“Whatever we did get from the community, a tremendous amount of it was because of their input,” he said.

Beyrodt said he, Blankenship and Devore are all personally disheartened that the event has “run its course.”

“It’s a tough thing, and it was really a heart-wrenching decision for Barry to say, ‘ya know, it just doesn’t feel like we can continue,’” Beyrodt commented.

Blankenship said, however, they hold out hope that someone will be able to step up and bring it back.

“We would love to see it,” he said. “And we would be willing to help anyone who would be willing to take it on.”

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Offshore wind farm could mean windfall for Tradepoint Atlantic

Offshore wind farm could mean windfall for Tradepoint Atlantic
This image, courtesy of US Wind, shows the location of the planned wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, Md.

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Marge Neal -

There are still a lot of maybes, coulds and woulds to be worked out, but Tradepoint Atlantic could be a big player in a huge, offshore wind energy project proposed for off the coast of Ocean City.

The Maryland Public Service Commission’s (PSC) recent awarding of energy credits to US Wind brings that company’s ambitious offshore wind farm proposal one step closer to reality.

If the wind energy project makes its way through its final permitting and approval processes, and US Wind agrees to all the conditions connected to the awarding of the energy credits, the opportunity exists for Tradepoint, the developer of the 3,100-acre former steel mill property in Sparrows Point, to play a major role in the fabrication and assembly of wind turbine components.

On May 11, the PSC conditionally approved the awarding of nearly 914,000 offshore renewable energy credits (ORECs) to US Wind, which will enable the company to build 62 wind turbines producing about 248 megawatts of renewable energy annually. The work is the first phase of a project that will ultimately see the construction of 187 turbines which will produce 750 megawatts of power.

Once completed, the project, slated for an area 12 to 17 miles off the coast of Ocean City, is expected to produce power for more than 500,000 homes, according to a statement issued by the company.

In its decision to award the ORECs, which can be sold to investors to subsidize the project, the PSC delivered about 30 mandates, including that the company use a port facility in the Greater Baltimore region as the “marshalling” port and one in the Ocean City area as the operations and maintenance port.

The credits will allow US Wind to be competitive and offer market-rate prices for the energy produced by the turbines. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to get approval for the project or sell the energy produced because of rates so much higher than those of more traditionally produced energy, according to Paul Rich, director of project development for US Wind.

The company must also locate a permanent operations center for the project in Maryland for the life of the project - expected to be 20 years - make significant financial investments in the construction of a Maryland steel fabrication plant (at least $51 million) and upgrades to the Tradepoint Atlantic shipyard or a comparable Maryland port facility (at least $26.4 million) and contribute $6 million to the Maryland Offshore Wind Business Development Fund.

Other requirements include the in-state creation of at least 1,298 direct development and construction period jobs and 2,282 direct operating period jobs, and to provide opportunities for minority investors and business owners.

The PSC decision also applied to a second, smaller project proposed by Skipjack Energy. Its project proposes the construction of 15 turbines 17 to 21 miles off the coast of Ocean City, capable of producing 120 megawatts of energy.

In accepting the ORECs awarded to it, Skipjack must comply with a similar list of conditions.

While wind energy company officials have toured the Tradepoint property and met with principals there, no deals have been made with either company, according to Aaron Tomarchio, vice president of corporate affairs for Tradepoint.

“We’ve been in discussions with both developers, who have visited and agree Sparrows Point is an ideal location for this project,” he said in a phone interview. “We believe we could provide the rallying point for all the components to come together for the assembly of the wind turbines.”

US Wind’s Rich said in a phone interview that, while he believes Tradepoint is a “unique property with 3,100 acres of permitted brownfields,” he emphasized his company would not be doing the manufacturing of turbine parts.

“There are two things in motion here,” he said. “Meeting our own requirements, and then those of the manufacturing and assembling of these turbines, which we do not own or control.”

Opportunities exist for steel, cable and tunnel section manufacturing, according to Rich. Turbine foundations - four-legged, latticed bases anchored to the ocean floor - will be made of steel, as will the tower sections to which the generators and blades will be attached, he said.

Concrete tunnels will house underwater cables that will carry the wind-produced energy to a power grid, according to Rich.

The companies selected for that work will make significant investments in facilities where they choose to locate, according to Rich: a minimum of $50 million for a steel fabrication plant and around $20 million for cable fabrication.

A facility like Tradepoint could become home to such facilities, which would require other upgrades. Some of these turbine components weigh up to 700 tons, so reinforcements would have to be made to piers, docks and roadways, Rich said.

And the Sparrows Point Shipyard property, owned by Barletta Industries, has previously been used by a contractor that made concrete tunnel sections for a tunnel project in Norfolk, Va.

While the production of this amount of clean, renewable energy would help satisfy Maryland’s goal of reducing its carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030, the PSC acknowledged in its order that project critics are concerned about the view from Ocean City. The turbines can reach as high as 500 feet about the water, according to Rich, which has critics concerned about the aesthetics of the resort area.

To minimize the impact on the resort’s “viewshed,” PSC has directed that the turbines be situated in the “eastern-most portion of the Maryland Wind Energy Area” that can reasonably accommodate the project, according to the commission’s order.

While no decisions have been made regarding a marshalling port, the decision will occur soon if all proposed timelines are met.

Rich said he expects construction of the turbines to begin in 2019 and energy production to begin in late 2020.

Tomarchio said that, while he does not see steel manufacturing coming back to the Sparrows Point property, he does see the possibility of it becoming “the hub for the delivery and assembly of turbine components manufactured elsewhere.”

“We see Tradepoint playing a role in some level of fabrication or gathering of the components for these turbines,” he said. “Maryland was first at the plate in this industry and is poised to become the hub for the entire eastern seaboard.”

US Wind and Skipjack both have until May 25 to accept the conditions on the ORECs and still have bureaucratic hurdles to clear before the final approval of the project.

The awarding of the ORECs is “contingent on approval by the federal government of the developers’ site assessment plans, construction and operations plans and other processes as required,” according to a PSC statement.

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Section of Broening Highway to further immortalize Henrietta Lacks

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The end of the annual General Assembly brings on a frenzy of bill signings by the governor, effectively making laws of the many bills passed by the State Senate and House of Delegates.

Senate Bill 328, which was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan on May 4, is of particular interest to the Turner Station community in Dundalk.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (Woodlawn) and cosponsored by Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (Dundalk), calls for a portion of Broening Highway to be dedicated as Henrietta Lacks Way.

“We’re very excited about it,” Turner Station activist Courtney Speed said. “Gov. Hogan gave me the pen he signed the bill with.”

Speed, the president of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, said a definite date for the dedication has not yet been set, but added her group has requested Saturday, Aug. 5.

The first Saturday in August is the date of an annual Turner Station celebration of Lacks, a woman who in death became an unwitting medical pioneer. Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31, was the source of the first human cells that were successfully cultivated in a laboratory setting. The proliferation of the HeLa cell line allowed it to be used in medical research across the globe and played a vital role in many medical advancements, including polio, HIV/AIDS and human papilloma virus vaccines, cervical cancer treatment and artificial insemination techniques.

Lacks’ contributions to medical science through the use of her cancerous cells have garnered significant high-profile national attention recently, first with the publication of author Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and the subsequent HBO film adaptation of the book, which starred Oprah Winfrey as Lacks’ daughter, Deborah.

The Lacks dedication is one of four similar recommendations being sent by the Maryland Transportation Commission to Secretary of Transportation Pete K. Rahn for his approval.

The final approval of the roadway dedication is considered a formality, according to State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar, and plans are moving forward for an early August ceremony.

The Lacks signs have been ordered and SHA employees are scouting the area to determine spots for sign placement, according to Gischlar.

“We’ll have two signs, one for each direction, and we’re scouting for areas to maximize visibility of the signs while also ensuring driver safety - making sure the signs don’t block anything for motorists,” he said.

The signs will be installed in advance and kept shrouded so local officials and community members can unveil them during the public ceremony, Gischlar said.

Stream restoration projects to give Lower Gunpowder watershed shot in the arm

Stream restoration projects to give Lower Gunpowder watershed shot in the arm
Work on the southern tributary of the stream (dark blue) begins about 600 feet east of Naygall Road, including the BGE right of way and a small portion near Springtowne Circle. Work continues downstream until the confluence with the northern tributary. The northern tributary begins at the culvert at Seven Courts and continues until it meets with the Southern Tributary and they form the main tributary. The main tributary continues to the end of the project limits at the India Avenue bridge.

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The Chesapeake Bay will be the ultimate beneficiary of two local stream restoration projects scheduled for the northeast area in Perry Hall.

The Lower Gunpowder at Proctor Lane project has been awarded to a contractor and work is scheduled to begin around June 15 when the protected fish breeding season ends, according to Eric Duce, a natural resources specialist with the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

Meadville Land Service, Inc. won the contract with a low bid of about $1.177 million, according to Duce.

The project, which involves about 2,000 linear feet of stream bed from just downstream of Pinedale Drive to Klausmier Road, will include reinforcing banks to prevent erosion and raising the stream bed to restore access to the large floodplain, Duce wrote in an email to the East County Times.

The Seven Courts stream project, which will improve about 4,500 linear feet of stream bed from the BGE right-of-way near Naygall Road to the India Avenue bridge, is getting closer to the advertisement stage, according to Duce.

Expected to cost about $2 million, the Seven Courts project will involve reinforcing banks, rebuilding the stream bed and planting native trees and plants to help absorb excess nutrients that would otherwise make their way to the Gunpowder River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

Construction on the Seven Courts project is expected to begin later this summer, Duce said.

County officials will begin the design work in fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, to connect the two projects, according to Duce.

“There will be a lot of work going on this summer,” he wrote in the email.

“Over the past two decades, Baltimore County has focused on repairing streams that were damaged by earlier development,” said County Councilman David Marks, who represents the area. “The county improved Jennifer Run in Carney, and I am please that improvements are now underway in central Perry Hall.”

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Battle Monument Elementary wins top prize in Clean Green 15 Litter Challenge

Battle Monument Elementary wins top prize in Clean Green 15 Litter Challenge
Kamenetz took time to applaud all of the volunteers who made the Clean Green 15 Challenge a success, including the men and women at Clean Bread and Cheese Creek. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/17/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Two years ago, Bear Creek brought the Clean Green Litter Challenge crown to Dundalk. After a year in Reisterstown, bragging rights have returned to Dundalk with Battle Monument Elementary recently named the Clean Green 15 Litter Challenge winner.

The win in the Clean Green 15 Litter Challenge, named for the way in which cleanups are conducted in 15 minutes, comes on the heels of Battle Monument being certified as a Maryland Green School for the first time. For their efforts in the litter challenge they received a $3,000 environmental grant, which can be used for things like installing a reading garden or rain garden, planting trees, diverting downspouts or environmental education projects.

On Wednesday, May 10, BCPS officials and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz stopped by Battle Monument to award the prize money and talk about the importance of the environmental effort. The day also served to kick off the next installment of the Clean Green 15 Litter Challenge.

Kamenetz encouraged the audience of students and faculty to think about where litter ends up. “The rain washes it into the storm drains, into our streams, and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “Litter not only looks bad in our neighborhoods, it also pollutes our waterways – and that’s bad for wildlife, fishermen, boaters and the environment.”

In total, 13 schools were honored for the hard work they did during the campaign. Aside from Battle Monument, honorees awarded prize money included Grange Elementary School ($500 grant), General John Stricker Middle School ($1,500), Perry Hall Middle School ($500) and Sparrows Point High School ($500). Other honorees, including Bear Creek, Edgemere, Colgate and Charlesmont elementary schools, received iPads for their efforts. All participating schools will have a tree planted on site.

The 2017 program resulted in more than 4,900 volunteers picking up some 4,679 bags of litter in 359 litter clean-ups around the county over the past year. In addition to litter, Clean Green 15 volunteers collected many tons of bulk trash items from parks, stream banks, schoolyards and other locations around Baltimore County. Clean-ups included schoolchildren as well as community-based volunteer activities.

One of the more active groups was Clean Bread & Cheese Creek, which held cleanups for Battle Monument, Stricker Middle and Grange, Bear Creek, Edgemere and Charlesmont elementary schools.

While the program has been running for four years, this was the first year the award ceremony was held outdoors, and those who attended couldn’t have asked for a better environment than the lush fields covered in sprouting trees that surround Battle Monument.

Kamenetz joked that it was fitting that Battle Monument’s mascot is Happy the Seagull, since cleaning littler “makes Happy and his friends happy.”

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New housing going up near Franklin Square hospital

New housing going up near Franklin Square hospital
The Overlook apartments, which are visible from I-95, are currently under construction. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 5/12/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Construction is well under way for 356 high-end apartments off Rossville Boulevard near the Franklin Square medical center in Rosedale.

Pre-leasing for the units on 25 acres, called the Overlook at Franklin Square, is expected to begin in mid-July in the clubhouse, and the first units in one of the four-story buildings will be available in mid-October.

Full build out is expected to take about a year, said Matthew Allen, director of development for Klein Enterprises, which is developing the site formerly owned by the nearby Evangel Cathedral/Life Source church.

“It’s a luxury apartment rental product, and there’s not much of this there [in the area],” he said.

Partners within Klein are also developing the nearby 12-acre former Martin Farm with 77 townhouses across Rossville Boulevard from the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex.

South of the site on Rossville Boulevard, construction has begun on 64 townhomes off Trumps Mill Road being built by Sage Homes that will complete a complex called Franklin Point at Deerborne which was interrupted by the economic recession.

“I’m excited about it,” said County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) about the Overlook project. “It’s been a long time since there have been new apartments.

“White Marsh and Middle River are designated growth areas,” said Bevins, who represents the area and initiated rezoning on the Overlook and Deerborne sites in 2012 and the Martin Farm site in 2016 to enable development. “For me, it’s about putting the best projects in there.”

Martin Farm

Concept plans for the Martin Farm townhouse complex call for 77 units, with 52 having one-car garages and 25 having two-car garages.

A community input meeting for the project is set for Wednesday, May 31, at 7 p.m. at the Boumi Temple at 5050 King Ave.

A school impact analysis will be required, and affected schools include Shady Spring Elementary, Golden Ring Middle and Overlea High School.

Noise barriers are also proposed for part of the site, which is bounded by Interstate 95 and Rossville Boulevard.

Easy access to I-95 and proximity to two large employment centers - the college and the hospital - are two of the main attractions offered by the new housing units.

“People are looking for convenience because of where they work,” Allen said.


Monthly rents at the Overlook for one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, some with dens, will likely run in the $1,300 to $2,200 range, Allen said. Outdoor parking spaces are provided, but there will be an extra cost for garage parking.

Similar in number of units, cost and interior amenities is the Arbors at Baltimore Crossroads luxury apartment complex off the developing Route 43 corridor in Middle River.

The difference is that the Arbors units are in one building, and the Overlook units will be spread over eight buildings, he said. The clubhouse will include a swimming pool, fitness center, conference room, computers and pool tables.

Neither the Arbors nor Overlook discounts units as part of a workforce or affordable housing program, as Baltimore County does not require that a certain number of units be aside for that. However, the Arbors offers discounts to employees of some employers.

Allen said the Overlook expands the options for people who want to work in the Franklin Square area, as they still have the option of renting less expensive units in nearby older complexes.

“I think the older product turns into workforce housing as it ages; I think it’s already taken care of,” he said. “We’re trying to provide new, fresh choices for employees. If you want to offer growth in this area, you’ve got to offer this kind of product.”

Allen also said the Overlook project, which involves extending Franklin Square Drive into the site, will result in some changes to the existing Ridge Road, which parallels Rossville Boulevard. The intent is to improve intersection safety and allow better access to the two buildings in the adjacent Ridge Road Professional Center.

A new driveway will also be built that will lead to the rear of the nearby Evangel Cathedral/LifeSource church, he said.


Just south of the church off Trumps Mill Road is Franklin Point at Deerborne’s 64-unit townhouse project. The first six units are expected to be ready by late July, said sales manager Justin McCurdy.

The three-level units, some with walkouts, range in price from about $270,000 to more than $310,000, depending on options, according to marketing materials.

This article was updated to clarify remarks from Councilwoman Bevins and to specify when land was rezoned to allow the three projects.

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Bevins, Marks make ‘bold’ moves to address traffic issues

Bevins, Marks make ‘bold’ moves to address traffic issues
Traffic backs up heavily in the evenings approaching the intersection in White Marsh from both eastbound MD-7/Philadelphia Road (shown) and Ebenezer Road. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/10/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Council members Cathy Bevins (D-Middle River) and David Marks (R-Perry Hall) each moved on May 1 to block development near congested intersections in their districts until traffic improvements can be made.

The County Council votes each year on the county’s Basic Services Map which, among other things, shows the level of service (LOS) of traffic intersections around the county. This map is updated yearly, and the council members have the power to change the designated LOS for intersections as they see fit.

Bevins and Marks used this power to introduce amendments to the map which reclassified intersections in their districts from a LOS-C to an F (failing) and from a D to an F, respectively.

Bevins’ intersection was that of MD-7/Philadelphia Road at Cowenton Avenue, which sees about 16,000 vehicles per day, according to Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) evaluations. Her map amendment expands the commuter shed from the nearby F-rated intersection of US-40/Pulaski Highway at Ebenezer Road to include the intersection of Cowenton and MD-7.

By expanding the commuter shed, no non-industrial development can take place there until improvements are made to the subject intersection.

Currently, there is an approved plan for 300 apartments on the southwest corner of the intersection which the developer was preparing to build.

But because the developer, Keelty Homes, had not yet applied for their building permits, the move stops it in its tracks until improvements are made.

“The intersection is an absolute nightmare, especially during the rush hours of the morning and evening,” Bevins said. “This development project was approved in 2006 before I was in office, for 373 condominium units targeted to people 55 and older.

“The project recently changed to 300 apartments,” she continued. “This was done without any notice to the Council or any impact study on the schools or roads,” Bevins added, and if the apartments were built without any traffic improvements, it would be rated as failing.

“Therefore, I am being proactive in seeking improvements now before the intersection gets any worse,” she said.

Keelty declined to comment on Bevins’ action.

As part of the project, the developer must pay for a new right turn lane from Cowenton Avenue onto westbound MD-7, as well as restriping to extend the left turn lane from eastbound MD-7 onto Cowenton.

But that does not address problems of eastbound traffic backing up in the evenings, especially for those turning right onto Ebenezer Road.

Charlie Gischlar, an SHA spokesperson, said the agency is exploring a standalone concept to add a through lane on eastbound MD-7 at the intersection which would allow more traffic through per light cycle. It would also allow more traffic to turn right toward US-40. However, that concept is not currently funded for design or construction.

“It’s kind of in a planning stage right now,” Gischlar explained. “We did a big traffic study on it concurrent with the development coming through.”

He added, though, that there is a chance it could be funded in the next year or two.

Bevins said it has taken her as much as 50 minutes to travel the roughly six miles to her home from the area because of rush hour traffic. While she recognized the developer will likely challenge her on the designation, she stood by the decision.

“All I’ve done with this is delayed it,” she said. “So they have a year to make improvements and come back, and if it’s better then I’ll put it back.”

Councilman Marks made a similar move to block a supermarket from being built at the intersection of US-1/Belair Road and MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard.

“I made this change after reviewing the ratings issued by [SHA], which by the state’s calculation show the traffic to be worse,” Marks stated. “The state rates this area as having a D rating in the morning and an E rating in the evening. I have grave concerns about allowing this project to move forward here, an opinion shared by many residents of the Dunfield and Belmont communities.”

Marks also noted that there are at least four supermarkets within two miles of that intersection.

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Local legislators wrap up session with town halls, chamber of commerce session

(Updated 5/10/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With the 2017 General Assembly finished, local legislators took the last few weeks to update their constituents on how the session went.

The District 6 Delegation held two town halls - one at the Victory Villa Community Center (attended only by two reporters) and one at the North Point Library - while representatives from the Seventh and Eighth Districts addressed the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce.

While each representative had both positive and negative takeaways, all were in agreement that the session was an overall bipartisan success, with the General Assembly’s willingness to come together on tackling the rampant opioid problem receiving high praise. Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) and Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) led the charge on opioids, and both saw legislation they helped craft get signed into law.

Bromwell and Klausmeier helped lead the way on the HOPE Act, which will increase the reimbursement rate for abuse clinics, expands Drug Court programs and availability of nalaxone, and includes the implementation of a 24/7 crisis center and a statewide hotline to help those in crisis receive help.

“There probably isn’t one person in this room that hasn’t been affected by the heroin epidemic,” Klausmeier told the Chamber. “It gets worse and worse every time you open the newspaper.”

Klausmeier also touted legislation that provides $2 million for the Franklin Square surgical unit, as well as $1 million that will go to CCBC to provide grants for people who need job training.

Bromwell was also pleased with legislation that will open the door for Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to sue pharmaceutical companies for price gouging on drugs.

“This is why I got into this job 15 years ago,” said Bromwell. “It’s why I asked to be on the Health Committee and it’s what I’m still trying to do - keep down the cost of drugs, specifically for seniors.”

While Bromwell was pleased overall, he highlighted three bills he deemed bad for business, including paid sick leave and a public accommodations law that would have opened up the doors to frivolous lawsuits.

Delegates Joe Cluster (R-8) and Pat McDonough (R-7), as well as Senators J.B. Jennings (R-7) and Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), thanked Bromwell and Klausmeier for their efforts in combating the opioid problem, but noted that there is still plenty of bad legislation that makes its way onto the floor. Cluster highlighted the HOME Act, which would have required landlords who own three or more properties to accept vouchers as payment. The bill did not end up passing.

“I really believe, as a landlord myself, forcing me to take something that could potentially financially hurt me with no support... it was a really bad bill, and thankfully it died in the Senate.”

Jennings portrayed the paid sick leave bill as a “horrible bill that became bad” after it passed through his committee. He also noted that, with regard to the opioid pandemic, heroin is being cut with other, more deadly drugs that are being shipped through USPS. USPS checks packages for bombs and ammunition, but not drugs. He stated that he’d like to find a solution to that.

McDonough began his address to the Chamber by reiterating that he will not be seeking reelection to the House of Delegates, focusing instead on the soon-to-be-open Baltimore County Executive seat. He stated that Maryland’s General Assembly has “become more radical” over the years, and pointed to the proposed Sanctuary State bill as evidence, as well as expanding Frosh’s power to sue the Trump Administration.

The District 6 town halls had much of the same tone, with Salling and Delegates Robin Grammer, Ric Metzgar and Bob Long heaping praise on Hogan for his work with the budget while deriding some of the more controversial bills like paid sick leave.

The delegation fielded a lot of questions from constituents regarding development at the former Bethlehem Steel site, now owned by Tradepoint Atlantic. Some in the audience questioned the amount of tax credits and cuts Tradepoint has received.

“We, as taxpayers, don’t want to be left holding the bag,” said one member of the audience.

The delegation somewhat assuaged concerns, however, by noting that certain criteria - including average wages for new jobs - had to be met in order for Tradepoint to receive certain tax credits. The delegation also pointed out that Tradepoint was collaborating with tenants to improve the infrastructure in and around the area, with Salling pointing to the recent $30 million collaboration between Tradepoint and Host, who recently took over terminal work at the facility.

“By this time next year they’ll have over 2,500 jobs. Home ownership will go up. Businesses will improve, and other businesses will want to come,” said Salling. “[Tradepoint] is very good for our area, and everyone in the state loves to see what’s going on here.”

Grammer highlighted efforts to curb commercial traffic through Dundalk. According to Grammer, traffic leaving the ports circumvents Broening Highway to avoid being hit with a toll and end up in downtown Dundalk. Grammer was told the toll facility will be reconstructed in 2019, and when that time comes a solution will be made that will allow drivers from the Port of Baltimore and Sparrows Point to get on state highways without being tolled.

Lockheed Martin to resume sediment removal this summer

Lockheed Martin to resume sediment removal this summer
During the first season of work, a barge was used to remove contaminated sediments from lower Cow Pen Creek. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/10/17)

- By Devin Crum -

According to Lockheed Martin Corporation’s environmental remediation schedule, the second round of excavation of contaminated sediments from the waters surrounding their Middle River Complex will begin next month.

While the first round, or season, of excavation consisted of dredging in the lower portion of Cow Pen Creek and Dark Head Cove close to their shoreline, the second season will feature excavation “in the dry” of Cow Pen Creek’s upper reaches.

The first season of work was done in the lower portion of the creek during the “environmental work window” when the fish are not spawning and the vegetation are not growing, according to Tom Blackman, a project manager with Lockheed Martin. That window lasted from last October until the beginning of March.

“It’s really the dead of winter when we’re allowed to do our work in the water,” Blackman said.

Workers dredged the sediment - contaminated with industrial solvents known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are known to be carcinogenic - out of several areas, then placed a six-inch layer of sand over those areas.

The excavated sediment was combined with a product called Calciment, which creates an exothermic reaction to help dry the material before hauling to a landfill in Pennsylvania, he said.

According to Blackman, 2,000 truckloads of sediment were removed from the waterways, which equated to 36,000 cubic yards or 46,000 tons of material.

“And our samples confirmed that our cleanup goals were achieved,” he said.

Workers also repaired the steel sheet pile bulkhead around Dark Head Cove and stabilized some of the storm drains, Blackman explained, to prevent any further movement of contaminated soils into the water.

Mike Martin, a contractor for the project with Tetra Tech, noted that post-work monitoring of the water and sediments in the work areas showed concentrations of the target contaminants that were lower than their goals. As a result, a swimming or water contact advisory will not be necessary like was done for Frog Mortar Creek on the other side of Martin State Airport.

For the second season of work, teams will further excavate Cow Pen Creek where it became too shallow for the dredge to reach, according to Martin.

But rather than working in the water, the creek will be dammed off using bladder dams or sandbags to create dry space in the creek bed. They can then use standard construction equipment like excavators and dump trucks to pull the contaminated material out.

“We’ll use the dams to section off the creek as we excavate down,” Martin explained, “and then we’ll pump the creek water around the areas that are dammed off. So we’ll work in sequence down the creek as we go.”

The uppermost portion of the creek is a small, nontidal stream, he said. But the goal is to restore it to be similar to the way it looks today when work is finished.

Below that is currently a tidal flat at the top of the creek which will be made about three feet deeper. That area will also have a layer of sand placed on top.

As they did following the first season of work, Lockheed workers will be required to collect confirmation samples to ensure they have cleaned everything up satisfactorily, Martin said. They will then move into the restoration phase as they move down.

Restoration will include reconstruction of the meandering stream channel, bank stabilization, replanting of tidal marshes and re-establishing the aquatic vegetation that will be removed, according to Martin.

“These grasses will typically come back on their own, but we’re going to help them along,” he said, noting that they will seed the area with native wild celery harvested from as geographically close as possible to ensure a similar genetic population to what is there now.

“We’ll actually go out in the fall and collect the seeds, then we’re going to store them all winter,” Martin explained. “Then next spring, after the work is done, we’ll go out and broadcast these seeds.”

They will also put out some “exclosures” to protect the vegetation from geese and ducks while it matures.

After the excavation work, the project will involve in situ treatments of areas of Dark Head Cove where only lower concentrations of PCBs are present. Those treatments consist of the spreading of carbon pellets, similar to those found in water filters, which bind up the contaminants so they cannot build up in the food chain, Martin said.

“It’s added and the worms kind of work it into the sediment, and then the PCBs absorb to the carbon and it takes them out of the food chain,” he explained.

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Riverside Dems adopt Rosedale flag pole, ask for community help

Riverside Dems adopt Rosedale flag pole, ask for community help
The Rosedale flag, pictured with its pole and some surroundings for perspective of its size. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/10/17)

- By Marge Neal -

For many years, a large American flag has proudly flown from a pole at the intersection of Pulaski Highway and Chesaco Avenue in Rosedale. The Stars and Stripes greeted motorists and pedestrians alike as they carried out their local business or traveled through the neighborhood en route to other destinations.

But when the last flag became too tattered to continue flying and was retired, the pole stood empty and forlorn, missing its banner that waved as a symbol of American values. The Rosedale Flag Committee, which was the caretaker of the flag pole, disbanded, leaving no one to provide upkeep for the local landmark.

To get the flag flying again, the Riverside Democratic Club, based in Essex, stepped in and agreed to adopt the flag. The club is now looking to the community at large to embrace the effort as well.

A replacement flag costs $392, according to Riverside President Al Welsh. The club bought a new flag but is appealing to the community for donations that will be set aside to keep the flag flying for years to come.

The 25-foot by 15-foot flag takes a beating by virtue of its size, Welsh said, and needs to be replaced about twice a year. The Rosedale group used to have the flag repaired to extend its life, but even that was expensive - about $125, according to the president.

According to American Flag Code, a flag should be cleaned and mended as necessary, and should be burned in a “dignified manner” when it is “no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country.” It is considered disrespectful to fly a flag that is tattered, torn or frayed.

“I think it’s a nice thing for the club to do,” Welsh said of Riverside’s decision to assume responsibility for the pole. “You don’t see the American flag fly too much like you used to, and it’s important.”

Welsh is asking local VFW, American Legion and Vietnam veterans posts and chapters, business owners, firefighters, police officers and individual citizens to make donations to keep the Stars and Stripes flying over Rosedale.

“It’s my goal that we could get donations in and have an account just for flag money so that any time we needed to replace the flag, the money’s there,” he said. “And everyone who donates would have a piece of ownership, be proud that the flag is there because of them.”

At a recent club meeting, visitor Jim Johnson, the former Baltimore County Police Department chief who retired in January, walked up to the head table, opened his wallet and handed Welsh a $50 bill.

“I’m pleased to make the first donation,” Johnson said.

Checks made payable to the Riverside Democratic Club, with the notation “flag donation” on the memo line, can be sent to the club at P.O. Box 34238, Essex, MD 21221.

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Fishing, hunting and boating licenses now available at Essex MVA

Fishing, hunting and boating licenses now available at Essex MVA
MDOT Deputy Secretary James Ports (right) was joined by DNR Secretary Mark Belton (left) and MVA Administrator Christine Nizer (center) for a ribbon cutting at the Essex MVA. Belton described the upgraded MVA as a “one-stop-shop” for licensing. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 5/10/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

For the first time in Maryland, residents can obtain driving, boat trailer, fishing and hunting licenses at the same location.

Representatives from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) held a ribbon cutting on May 3 at the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) building in the Middlesex Shopping Center in Essex to celebrate the new collaboration.

“The collaborative effort between MDOT and DNR is a great example of the Hogan Administration’s commitment to make government services more accessible and convenient to all Maryland residents,” said Deputy Transportation Secretary James Ports.

Previously, Baltimore County residents had to get their fishing and hunting licenses in Dundalk at the North Point Government Center. Last year, the Dundalk center served 8,500 customers and sold more than 18,000 products, while the Essex MVA processed over 186,000 transactions. The vast majority of business done at the former Dundalk space centered around boating.

Stephen Schatz, Director of Communications for the DNR, stated that the Essex MVA branch was chosen since the space went through a major renovation, which opened up space and tidied up the interior, less than two years ago. The DNR setup is located at the back of the building.

Ports stated that Maryland residents were frustrated by “having to go to multiple offices to get their services completed,” and that combining the efforts made sense from a customer service standpoint. That sentiment was echoed by DNR Secretary Mark Belton, who added that “it’s been a terrific transition.”

The new DNR station in the Essex MVA building is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., while the Dundalk location has closed.

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Dance holds final student town hall at Overlea High School

Dance holds final student town hall at Overlea High School
BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance interacted with Overlea High School students individually and in groups during his last student town hall meeting. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 5/4/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance, who held his last "town hall" meeting on Tuesday, May 2, at Overlea High School, said he hopes it will not mean the end of his contact with students and their concerns as he moves to the next stage of his career.

Dance will leave BCPS on June 30. He recently resigned as superintendent after five years at the helm, citing in part family reasons.

"It was probably one of the best parts of my job," said Dance, who shortly after being hired began meeting with groups of students twice a year to hear their questions and invite them to suggest ways to improve the school system.

"It's an opportunity to hear what's working and what isn't," he said Tuesday to more than 50 students from 11 high schools in the OHS library, most of them from the east side of the county.

After about an hour of fielding a steady stream of questions, Dance also met with a  group of students from 16 middle schools.

Queries from high schoolers ran the gamut from broad questions about grading, access to computer devices and fairness issues to students’ specific situations.

Several students asked which of his initiatives were likely to continue next year.

Equal access and opportunity for a good education for every student, answered Dance, who pushed to level the playing field by instituting diversity training for teachers and staff.

"That's the world,” said Dance about the diversity of of opinions, cultures and races that students will encounter when they finish school and compete for jobs.

He also mentioned the evolving BCPS grading policy, acknowledging that some former ways of boosting grades have been eliminated, lowering grades for some students.

Dance maintained, though, that students are ill-served if they receive a good grade but have not mastered the material. Grades should reflect the degree to which students are ready to move on academically, and there are different ways that they can show that, he said.

Work is also being done to standardize the grading so it is consistent across the system, he said.

Dance said he hopes the system will continue to develop its introductory Spanish program so students are fluent in a foreign language by the time they graduate.

One student asked why elementary students got computer devices before middle and high school students under the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) program.

Dance replied that it was because the roll-out stayed with the elementary level to coincide with updates of the curriculum. All middle schools will haves devices next year, he said.

Another equity issue is access to magnet programs. In some cases there are not enough seats, not enough staffing and inconsistent opportunities for students in all parts of the county, students explained.

Additionally, one student said she felt her report of a bullying incident was not taken seriously.

Dance said the first step is to tell the principal, but students can also report incidents anonymously to administrators.

"I think bullying stops when students come into play," he said.

Dance said he has received a number of job offers but has not yet said publicly what his plans are after June 30.

Right now he is focused on making sure the accelerated schedule for installing air conditioning in remaining schools is on track, hiring principals for next year and working on summer programs, he said.

Dance said whatever comes next in is career, he wants to continue working for equal opportunity for all students and continue hearing directly about their ideas and concerns.

“I want to make sure I don't lose that contact,” he said.

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Land clearing begins for contested Essex development

Land clearing begins for contested Essex development
Workers began clearing the site Wednesday morning, April 26, to make way for an approved 180-apartment complex. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 5/3/17)

- By Devin Crum -

On Wednesday, April 26, workers began cutting down trees on a parcel of land in Essex in preparation for 180 new apartments along Back River Neck Road.

The action coincided with a “final attempt” by a different developer to get some community residents to drop their appeal of a townhome project that would replace the apartment plan.

Conor Gilligan, of Craftsmen Developers, proposed last year to modify the apartment plan, fully designed and approved for the site between Middleborough and Hyde Park roads, to one for 129 townhomes instead.

Some community members opposed the proposal and immediately filed an appeal to the county’s approval of the townhome project as a minor plan change.

Gilligan attempted to negotiate an agreement with the community members, offering to do more site work to improve aesthetics, as well as a $50,000 contribution toward a community benefit and other concessions to get them to drop their appeal.

In February, after being approached by the three local volunteer fire companies, he proposed to carve out a piece of the site for a new fire station for them following their planned merger.

And in his final attempt to come to an agreement, Gilligan offered to abide by the most current storm water management standards for his project, even though he was only being held to older ones.

Gilligan set a deadline of May 15 for the parties to come to an agreement, but told the East County Times that there is no significance to that date. He simply said he has asked multiple times for the community associations to review the proposal and make comments, “so that we can move on.”

“The issue I’m having is, I’m continuing to have meetings and I’m continuing to get support from basically the entire county with the exception of the folks down at Rockaway Beach,” he said.

Gilligan noted he has met or spoken with members of the Hyde Park, Middleborough and Rockaway Beach communities, the Essex-Middle River Civic Council and various other community leaders on and around the Back River Neck peninsula and all except Rockaway Beach have either supported it or had no comment, but preferred townhomes over apartments.

“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that the majority of that peninsula would much rather see a community that has less density and is ownership housing,” Gilligan commented.

The Rockaway Beach Improvement Association, one of the parties to the appeal, held a closed meeting of its membership on Monday, May 1, ultimately deciding to press on with their appeal.

The other parties to the appeal are the New Haven Woods Community Association and the Bauernschmidt Manor Improvement Association, according to RBIA Vice President Kevin McDonough.

“Fundamentally, we don’t view this as a choice between townhouses or apartments,” the RBIA said in a statement. “It’s a choice between following the process or skirting the process. We simply are asking for the development to follow the traditional development process instead of granting it a limited exemption.”

That choice drew criticism, though, from members of the three fire companies and other community members who see the townhomes as the lesser of two evils. And many on the peninsula as a whole feel the RBIA is acting irrationally and with a personal axe to grind because of issues they have had with other Craftsmen projects on Cape May and Turkey Point roads.

One attendee of the RBIA meeting, who asked not to be named, confirmed to the Times that RBIA President Kim Goodwin stated she would have continued on with the appeal on her own and with her own money had the association voted not to.

Goodwin contended that she did not say that and clarified her statement, saying that she would donate money to appeal the permits for the apartment project if necessary.

Goodwin also commented on social media that beginning to clear the property was a “scare tactic.”

But Gilligan affirmed that he would not pursue his project if the residents do not drop their appeal, despite the other community support.

“It just takes one person,” he said. “I don’t want to fight an appeal because I’m already dealing with them on another appeal for 17 single-family lots and it has cost me close to $100,000 and it’s held me up for going on two years.

“And I don’t think [current site owner] Hendersen Webb wants to wait two years to sell their property,” he added, commenting on how long it could take to move his project through the development process from the beginning.

The presidents of the three VFCs each expressed similar sentiments of disappointment in the RBIA decision.

Hyde Park VFD President John Alban also said Hendersen Webb has been firm that they will build the apartments if they are not able to sell to Gilligan.

“Hendersen Webb apparently has a deadline on their permits, so they’re not going to let it sit empty,” he said. “In a perfect world, we could have a park or something there. But it’s going to be developed.”

Alban said by opposing the townhomes, the residents were hurting the fire companies because they would not get the land for a new station and apartments are a higher burden on first responders.

“I’m very disappointed that this group, knowing that it would benefit the fire companies and eliminate the apartments, continues their fight,” Alban stated.

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Community groups set out to clean up county’s east side

Community groups set out to clean up county’s east side
County Councilman Todd Crandell (center) volunteered to work the hot grill on a warm day to keep participants fueled up with food and drinks, as well as to keep the event fun and flowing.

(Updated 5/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Saturday, April 29, was a big day for the environment in eastern Baltimore County, with at least three major cleanup events taking place throughout the day.

Perhaps the most hyped of those events was the Back River Restoration Committee’s cleaning of roughly a mile-long stretch of Grays Road in Dundalk, from its intersection with Wise Avenue to about the fork at Wire Mill Road. The cleanup was sponsored by Key Brewing Company, which lies at the end of Grays Road.

Grays Road along the cleanup boundaries is bordered by Sparrows Point Country Club on its west side and mostly industrial properties to the east. That lack of residential or commercial activity creates ideal conditions for illegal dumping, which had been rampant along the stretch.

While much of the garbage and other discarded items would likely make its way to Bear Creek - not Back River - by way of local streams, the area is close to the Back River watershed, according to BRRC President Sam Weaver.

On top of that, the BRRC sometimes ventures outside its own boundaries to work with other communities and organizations to build a greater environmental awareness, said Karen Wynn, BRRC’s executive director.

Prior to the cleanup event, Grays Road had been littered along its edges and in storm ditches with all manner of discarded bulk items, as well as general trash.

Volunteers on Saturday got to work late morning pulling things like mattresses, construction scrap, household appliances and electronics such as vacuum cleaners and televisions, toilets, car parts, containers of used automotive oil and, of course, tires out of the wooded areas for collection and proper disposal.

Baltimore County supplied at least four dumpsters for use during the event along with several pieces of heavy trucks and other equipment.

Two of the dumpsters were designated specifically for tires and both were filled by day’s end.

Edgemere resident Dale Grimes, who was described by others as specializing in tires, joined the other volunteers in cleaning up the area and was happy to add some tires to his lifetime collection total.

Grimes said he keeps track of every dumped tire he has collected over the last decade or so, which has amounted to 1,550 to date. However, that total will increase to 1,660 once the county picks up the pile of 110 tractor trailer tires he removed near the I-695 overpass at Trappe Road in Dundalk.

He said he got started with the effort when he was a teacher in Rosedale and trying to instill an environmental awareness in his students. He has even created his own tool he uses - an S-hook made of rebar which he uses to hook tires to more easily pull them from the brush.

Grimes noted that he also travels around to different community environmental events to help raise awareness of the damage tires can cause.

“Not only are they a form of pollution, but a big problem is that when it rains, the water sits in them and creates problems with mosquitoes,” he said.

Another volunteer, Nora Baublitz, noted that they had picked up “thousands” of drink cups thrown by the roadside. She suspected they were all from the same person since they all had that person’s “signature” - a chewed piece of gum stuck to the lid.

Although the event officially lasted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Weaver said he got started preparing for the day at 6 a.m. loading up BRRC’s supply trailer, getting things ready for refreshments and other necessary work.

“There’s a lot that goes into this behind the scenes,” he explained.

BRRC treated their volunteers to grilled burgers and hotdogs, drinks and other snacks. And because of their sponsorship, Key Brewing offered participants the chance to unwind while enjoying a variety of their own refreshing adult beverages when the work was done.

The Hawthorne Civic Association also held its annual Bein’ Green environmental cleanup event, with Lockheed Martin Corporation volunteers joining in, along Cowpen Creek and throughout the Hawthorne community in Middle River.

Cowpen Creek separates Hawthorne from LMC’s Middle River complex.

The Bein’ Green event followed Lockheed’s “Show and Tell” outreach event at Hawthorne Elementary School the day before, which sought to educate local residents and children about the environmental remediation work they have done and are planning to do in Cowpen Creek and the adjacent Dark Head Cove.

Over the winter, LMC was involved in dredging activity in Cowpen Creek to remove contaminated sediments there, as well as a bulkhead replacement in Dark Head Cove to prevent contamination on land from seeping into the water. They also have more remediation activities planned for next winter.

Tom Blackman, a project manager for LMC, said they wanted to be sure they got the correct information out to the community, and holding the event at Hawthorne Elementary was a good way to reach children in the area.

“I know as a kid seeing construction, I’d be curious of what was going on,” Blackman said.

He mentioned that parents have also told him they better understood the remediation work after seeing their children work with different demonstrations.

The Show and Tell event functioned as a sort of open forum for the community and also gave them an opportunity to learn about other environmental conservation going on in area waterways, such as oyster reef restoration efforts by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Additionally, students from Stemmers Run Middle School’s science club worked with younger children to participate in educational demonstrations.

About three dozen residents on and around the Bird River also joined with volunteers from the Bird River Restoration campaign to clean up a large amount of trash and debris that had collected around the shorelines and marshes of the upper river.

Windy and stormy weather during the winter and spring had blown a lot of trash into the area, and volunteers were able to remove many of the same materials as the Back River group which might have caused problems in the ecosystem.

See more photos from the assorted events on the East County Times' home page.

This article was updated to correct who held the Bein' Green event in Hawthorne. A previous version of this article stated that Lockheed Martin Corporation held the event, but it has been put on by the HCA since 2003, with LMC volunteers and those from associated contractors joining in later years.

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White Marsh VFC gets $75k for new station, to start building this summer

White Marsh VFC gets $75k for new station, to start building this summer
A concept rendering of how the new station is designed to look when complete. Image courtesy of WMVFC.

(Updated 5/3/17))

- By Devin Crum -

The White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company is set to receive $75,000 from the state for planning and construction of their new station.

The recently concluded General Assembly session in Annapolis saw a bond bill passed in the State Senate to grant the funds to the fire company.

The senate bill, sponsored by Eighth District Senator Kathy Klausmeier, was cross-filed with a bill in the House of Delegates which was co-sponsored by delegates Eric Bromwell, Christian Miele and Joe Cluster.

The House and Senate bills each asked for $350,000 from the state to be used by WMVFC’s Board of Directors for “acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, reconstruction, site improvement and capital equipping” of their new building, according to the bill language.

However, the House bill was given an unfavorable report by that chamber’s Appropriations Committee, according to documents on the legislature’s website. And Del. Miele said it was instead passed through a reconciliation bill between the House and Senate allocating a negotiated $75,000 from the senate only.

Miele opined that the legislature gave only a fraction of the amount asked for because they had already given $150,000 to WMVFC through a similar bond bill two years ago. That 2015 bond money also came from the State Senate.

Because the funds from the senate are given through a matching fund program, the fire company must also spend $75,000 of its own money to receive the grant.

“We still have some work to do in our capital campaign,” said WMVFC Captain Rick Blubaugh. “We continue to meet with businesses who are rising to meet the call for both monetary and in-kind donations.”

When the company ceremonially broke ground for the new station in November, Blubaugh and other company officials explained that they had raised about $30,000 from residential donations and $300,000 from businesses. This combined with the proceeds from the sale of land owned by WMVFC across the street from their current station, which amounted to approximately $800,000.

Baltimore County has also allocated $1.7 million in its budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 to help fund the new station’s construction, according to county auditors. But the budget does not specify when those funds are to be disbursed.

While Blubaugh noted the company has not physically received that funding yet, he said the county has made a “significant commitment to complete the project.”

The company thanked Sen. Klausmeier, who sponsored both bond bills passed by the senate, calling her a strong advocate for WMVFC.

Blubaugh said he expected construction on the new station to begin in July, and the bid process for the project was set to commence by the end of last month.

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Rebuilding project lifts neighborhoods, keeps seniors in homes

Rebuilding project lifts neighborhoods, keeps seniors in homes
Rebuilding Together Baltimore volunteer Greg Oates replaces floor joists in a Turner Station home. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 5/3/17)

- By Marge Neal -

With a list of repairs to be done and a stockpile of tools, building materials and supplies to do those repairs, a volunteer crew of eight Booz-Allen-Hamilton employees swept into a William Wade Court home early Saturday morning, ready to perform a makeover.

The eight men were part of a 300-volunteer effort held April 29 in Turner Station by Rebuilding Together Baltimore (RBT), a nonprofit organization that provides home repairs for low-income homeowners.

“We’re working on 10 houses today and we’re doing one more on Tuesday with a crew that couldn’t make it today,” RBT Executive Director Bonnie Bessor said. “And we’re doing about 10 community beautification projects - cleaning up around community signs, doing some landscaping, planting some trees and clearing off debris.”

At the William Wade Court home, the crew’s plans were ambitious. With just a window of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., the volunteers intended to remove paneling in the living room before prepping and painting the walls. Plans also called for rehabbing the kitchen and bathroom, including repairing floors and replacing fixtures.

“We ripped off all the paneling, removed all the nails, filled in the holes and sanded so we can paint,” volunteer Jeff Brock said, pointing to the now smooth, spackled walls. “And upstairs in the bathroom, we ripped out the toilet and sink and will replace those.”

By early afternoon, the work was on schedule with the exception of an unexpected problem discovered when the men removed some kitchen cabinets, according to team leader John Woodland.

“We discovered some significant damage to the flooring and floor joists and we couldn’t let that go,” he said over the noise of a circular saw.

Greg Oates of Ethan Improvements stepped in to replace the floor joists while the Booz-Allen-Hamilton crew continued working on other tasks.

Across the Turner Station community, crews were performing similar work, according to Bessor. Tasks completed included building a wheelchair ramp, repairing fences and light fixtures, installing grab bars and repairing the occasional roof.

“The major goal of our program is to keep seniors safely in their homes,” Bessor said. “We want to preserve wealth and keep the houses in good shape, so that the homes can be passed in good condition from one generation to the next.”

Homeowners must meet age and income requirements to be eligible for RBT programs. Many have lost spouses and are surviving on limited, fixed incomes, according to Bessor, and may find it difficult to keep up on repairs as they once were able to do.

“Our work helps stabilize neighborhoods,” she said. “There’s a lot of layers to what we’re doing - these are the community leaders, the ones keeping an eye on things, the ones who are home during the day - and we want to keep them in their homes.”

While crews spent about 10 hours on Saturday completing projects, the work began weeks ago, with recruiting, planning and shopping for supplies, according to Arielle Faulkner, community partner coordinator with RTB.

Team leader Woodland visited with the homeowner in advance of the project, inspected the house and made a list of desired repairs so he and his colleagues were prepared to jump right in Saturday morning.

Many partners make each RTB effort possible, according to Bessor. Funding comes from government grants, corporate and individual gifts and in-kind services. Major sponsors of this year’s community rebuilding project included Honeywell, which provided all the funding for roofing contractors, Lowe’s, Maryland Affordable Housing Trust and Baltimore County Department of Planning. Baltimore County provided five dump trucks with crews who carted away all the debris.

“We have a wonderful partnership with Baltimore County,” Bessor said of the local government. “We get community block grant money from the county, and they provide a lot of in-kind services.”

Of the 300 volunteers working in Turner Station on Saturday, about 60 of those pitched in on beautification projects and the rest worked on homes, according to Bessor.

She estimates the value of all the work done to be about $150,000, including supplies, man-hours and in-kind services.

And while the repairs make a big difference in the lives of individual homeowners, they also help lift the entire neighborhood, Bessor believes.

“That’s why we pick a specific neighborhood, instead of spreading projects all over the county,” she said. “We put all of our time and resources into one community so the work has the biggest impact.”

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School officials ‘bust myths’ about homework, grading policies

(Updated 5/3/17)

- By Marge Neal -

While children may have rejoiced when Baltimore County Public Schools opened this school year with the news that homework would no longer be counted toward grades, parents were less than thrilled.

Since the original announcement, the message has been tweaked and better communicated with education audiences.

At a recent Southeast Area Educational Advisory Council meeting, school system officials offered an updated explanation of some changes in philosophy regarding student grading and reporting.

The overall goal is to make sure that grades accurately reflect what students know as measured against course standards, according to Christina Byers, senior executive for curriculum operations.

In 2015, the Baltimore County Board of Education approved Policy 5210, the “heart and core” of which is to ensure that student grading is equitable, accurate, timely and specific, Byers said. In approving the policy, the school board also voted to wait a year until implementation in the 2016-17 school year, allowing time to provide training for teachers.

Byers said she and her colleagues are doing their best to communicate with parents to “bust the myths that are out there” regarding homework and other assignments that, when added to test and quiz scores, create overall grades.

For example, Byers talked of how well students have been trained to work for points. The points earned become the end goal, with students not getting the connection of why they are completing certain assignments and how they relate to the learning process.

Homework is assigned because it provides practice for lessons learned, and it offers immediate feedback as to how well the student has grasped the new material, she said.

Colleague Linda Marchineck, a coordinator of curriculum operations, agreed. “Homework really is an opportunity to strengthen classroom lessons,” she said. “Students now see its value beyond points - they have figured out if they don’t do their homework, they don’t do so well on the assessments. They’re finally making that connection.”

And students are learning there are  consequences to not doing homework - they forfeit that valuable feedback and they don’t know where they stand in regard to grasping new information.

In short, the educators said, homework is being given and it is being scored.

Another parental concern is the existence of “re-dos” in classwork. The myth exists that students get the chance to re-do an assignment or retake a test as many times as they want.

While that is not the case, Marchineck said the opportunity for students to get another chance at an assignment after receiving additional instruction and performance feedback only benefits the student.

“One of the highest levels of assessment a teacher can give is feedback,” she said. “And it’s only fair to give a child another opportunity to improve their achievement based upon that feedback.”

Another area that generated parental concern was the decision to not factor class behavior into the academic grade.

Acknowledging that effort, conduct and behavior are all important aspects of the learning process, Byers and Marchineck said the decision was made to make “conduct and learning skills” a separate measure of achievement to ensure the consistency and accuracy of grades.

A well-behaved, polite, compliant child with an average understanding of content could receive high grades that give a misleading perception of mastery of content, while a high-performing student could receive lower grades based upon poor behavior or study habits.

“With behavior and habits mixed in, it was hard to tell by the achievement grade what and where a student was lacking - was it behavior or content?” Marchineck said. “With those separated, we have a better understanding of where the students stand, and so do they and their parents.”

More information about the school system’s grading and reporting policies can be found at

Weis to open new supermarket in Fullerton Plaza this fall

Weis to open new supermarket in Fullerton Plaza this fall
An aerial view of the Fullerton Plaza shopping center, where a new Weis supermarket is set to replace a vacant former Kmart. Photo courtesy of Kimco Realty.

(Updated 5/3/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Weis Markets hopes to open one of its deluxe grocery stores along with a gas station to serve customers in redeveloping Fullerton Plaza in Parkville by Thanksgiving.

The Kmart store in the shopping center at Belair Road and Rossville Boulevard closed about 15 months ago, and Weis plans to use most of the old building for the new store.

New Weis stores typically hire about 200 people, said Jack O’Hara, vice president of legal affairs and real estate for the company.

He and other officials spoke at a hearing on Thursday, April 28, in Towson, asking for county approval for a setback variance to allow the gas station near a residential area and for a special hearing to allow fuel prices to be posted on an electronic canopy sign above the pumps.

Baltimore County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen listened to testimony and will issue a written ruling soon.

Numbering six fueling stations, the proposed gas station would be built in the middle of the existing paved parking lot, which will still have room for 816 parking spaces to serve the new store and existing smaller tenants, including a Salvo Auto Parts store.

Gas station hours would coincide with those of the store, which are likely to be 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight, O’Hara said.

Speaking for Weis, attorney Caroline Hecker of the Rosenberg, Martin, Greenberg law firm, said the store will include a deli, café, indoor sushi bar and other amenities.

“It’s a catalyst for redeveloping the center,” Hecker said about the new store, which she added is part of a $13 million investment to revitalize the shopping center.

Kimco Realty, which owns the center, is expected to plant 138 trees on the site as part of an upgrade that will also include new store facades.

Plans call for 23 evergreens along the unnamed access road connecting Belair Road and Fitch Avenue that runs along the southwest border of the shopping center.

Across the access road are homeowners represented by the Fitch Avenue Community Association, who asked that the existing chain link fence along the road be replaced with a six-foot-high wooden fence, which Kimco agreed to.

"Overall, I'm very pleased with the renovations," said Councilman David Marks (R-5), who represents the area, on Monday. "It's very bare right now," he referring to the planting of trees and shrubs.

Marks said Kimco has also committed to putting in fencing in the rear of the former K-mart store to prevent dumping into what are the headwaters of Stemmers Run. The site drains downward from Belair Road toward Linover Park.

The site falls within the Overlea Commercial Revitalization District, which will enable Kimco to apply for tax credits available for eligible reinvestment projects.

One of two neighbors who attended the hearing, Donna Willis, said she is concerned that the gas station could  lower the value of several still undeveloped residential lots in their neighborhood, including hers.

“It’s my inheritance for my grandchildren,” said Willis, whose grandfather farmed the area decades ago and whose family built some of the houses in the neighborhood.

However, Willis said she thinks upgrading the shopping center will raise property values in the long run.

Local resident Gloria Kelly mentioned high traffic volumes on Belair Road, but Beverungen noted a letter from the State Highway Administration stating that the gas station is not expected to cause a problem.

Kelly also asked if a walkable path could be created linking the nearby Catholic Charities’ Village Crossroads complex for senior citizens to the shopping center.

“You take your life in your hands if you cross Belair Road to reach the Giant [in the Putty Hill Plaza],” she said about people walking to the Giant for groceries.

This article was updated to include more details about the project and comments from Councilman David Marks.

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New Royal Farms store in the works for Dundalk

(Updated 4/27/17)

Set to replace car business that will relocate

- By Virginia Terhune -

Royal Farms plans to build a new convenience store, gas station and car wash on a site at the southwest corner of Wise Avenue and North Point Boulevard in Dundalk.

The corner, across from Pop’s Tavern, is currently home to several automotive services that include GMP Auto Care Center, Thrifty Car Sales and Tint World.

The businesses are expected to relocate farther north to a former McDonald’s site on North Point Boulevard across from Eastpoint Mall.

A spokeswoman for Royal Farms declined to comment about the new store project, which was granted a limited exemption from the county’s Development Review Committee meeting on April 25 in Towson.

The limited exemption process enables commercial projects to proceed without a community input meeting providing they meet certain criteria.

Plans presented at the meeting of department representatives showed a 5,371 square-foot combination convenience store and restaurant in one building, a car wash on one side and space for 16 gas pumps, some of which will sell diesel fuel.

Plans indicate room for 70 parking spaces on the 2.4-acre site that also includes a former Bank of America branch.

The site is zoned Business Roadside-Automotive Services, which means Royal Farms is expected to apply for a special exception from a county administrative law judge for the proposed car wash before it can apply for permits to raze the existing buildings and build the new store.

Royal Farms currently operates a store at 4015 North Point Blvd. next to one of its major competitors, Wawa. At least two people have said that store is expected to close when the new store opens, but that information has not been confirmed by Royal Farms.

Founded in 1959 and known for its take-out chicken, privately owned Royal Farms currently operates more than 160 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia, including a store at 18A Dundalk Ave. It also recently remodeled its store on Windlass Drive in Middle River.

Currently hiring, the company hosted a recruitment event on April 25 at the state’s American Jobs employment center near Eastpoint Mall.

The existing auto businesses on the Wise Avenue/North Point Boulevard corner are expected to relocate to the former McDonald’s site, which is close to other car dealerships that draw on potential customers from busy Eastern Avenue and the beltway.

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk and Essex, and the rest of the County Council rezoned the McDonald’s site to allow automotive services last August as part of the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process (CZMP) done every four years in the county.

They also rezoned more than half an acre on the new Royal Farms site on Wise Avenue to allow automotive services, according to the CZMP Log of Issues.

Norman announces candidacy; District 8 Republican slate taking shape

Norman announces candidacy; District 8 Republican slate taking shape
Norman, pictured with his wife and children, stated he wants to help Gov. Hogan push his agenda in Annapolis.

(Updated 4/26/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With filing underway for the 2018 election season, the picture in the House of Delegates’ Eighth District race is starting to take shape.

So far, former delegate Joe Boteler - who lost his seat in 2014 after redistricting moved him to District 42A - and Joe Norman, who is running for the first time, have filed to run. Delegates Joe Cluster and Christian Miele, who currently serve the district, have yet to file. All four are Republicans.

Cluster is expected to file for the House of Delegates, while Miele is “strongly considering” challenging Kathy Klausmeier for her State Senate seat, which she has held since 2002. Miele expects to make a decision in the next couple of months.

Should Miele decide to take on Klausmeier - which looks likely, according to sources - the Republican ticket in the Eighth District would be the “All Joe Ticket.” Norman mentioned that other names have been floated, but so far no one else has filed.

“We’ll see if that’s how it turns out, but that’s the way it’s looking right now,” said Norman.

Norman, a Perry Hall resident, officially announced his candidacy on April 13. The self-described “moderate Republican” told the East County Times that running for office has been on his radar for a while, and the opportunity in the Eighth District is too good to pass up this time around.

A former vice president at the Perry Hall Improvement Association, Norman has been active in the community for some time and stated that he understands the concerns of the people he’s hoping to represent.

“What’s important to me is for Maryland to be a place where my kids are going to want to raise their families,” said Norman. “The way things have been going the last 10 years with the General Assembly just moving us further and further to the left... I would be hard-pressed to advise them that this is where they should put their roots down.”

Norman said that reducing the tax burden on businesses and families would be a primary concern. He also noted that he wants to “hold spending accountable.”

“[I want to make] sure our public education system stays strong and holding the money that we spend accountable, not using money spent as the metric. Just saying we increased education spending or spending on Chesapeake Bay programs, none of that means the Bay is getting cleaner or our schools are getting better. It just means we’re spending more money.”

Professionally, Norman works in real estate with Keller-Williams. During his time working in real estate, and working with the PHIA, Norman said he learned a lot about development and education, both of which happen to be hot-button issues in the Eighth District.

“Fortunately Councilman David Marks and I share the same goals when it comes to those issues of limiting future development of our area in the northeast, getting a new middle school built - which of course was funded but we have to see through to fruition - as well as the new elementary school.”

Norman, who graduated from Salisbury University with a bachelor’s degree in Physics and Johns Hopkins with a master’s in Electrical Engineering, got into real estate after he found work in his field to be too much time behind a desk.

“I prefer to be outside, talking to people,” said Norman.

Should the ticket end up with Norman, Cluster and Boteler, any concerns about inexperience would certainly be quelled. While Cluster only has a year under his belt in the General Assembly - he took the place of his father, John Cluster, who resigned last year to take a position in the Hogan administration - he has spent several years working with the Maryland Republican Party.

Boteler previously served in Annapolis from 2003 - 2015. The Maryland State Board of Elections site has him registered for an address in Perry Hall, rumored to be his son’s house. The Times reached out to Boteler for comment but had not heard back by press time.

During his time in the General Assembly, Boteler served on multiple committees, including the Health and Government Operations Committee, Ways and Means and Environmental Matters Committee. From 2007 - 2010 he served as the deputy minority whip for the House of Delegates.

On education, Boteler was vocal in his opposition to the Common Core curriculum, while he supported elections for school board positions. On economic issues, he often advocated for reducing regulations and the tax burden on businesses while opposing minimum wage increases.

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County accelerates funding for Berkshire, Colgate construction

County accelerates funding for Berkshire, Colgate construction
Berkshire and Colgate elementary schools, both in Dundalk, will have their funding and construction accelerated by two and three years, respectively.

(Updated 4/26/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Two Dundalk elementary schools - Berkshire and Colgate - received word Tuesday, April 25, that they would have their funding accelerated for replacement schools, moving up the deadline for each school’s opening by two and three years respectively.

Berkshire was previously scheduled to receive funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and open in 2022, while Colgate was set to receive funding in FY20 and open in 2023. Now, both schools are scheduled to open in 2020 with funds allocated in the FY18 budget.

The two schools had their funding accelerated after the Baltimore County Board of Education declined to vote on funding for a new Dulaney High School, according to Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

Besides Berkshire and Colgate, a press release sent out by the county also noted that Bedford Elementary in Pikesville and Chadwick Elementary in Catonsville all will have their funding accelerated as well.

“With every school that we complete, we are one step closer to finishing the work we started in 2011,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in the release. “With our $1.3 billion Schools for our Future program, we are in the final stages of building 16 new schools, 12 additions and [seven] comprehensive renovations. I am very proud of this historic progress.”

Both Berkshire and Colgate are in dire need of new facilities. Colgate was originally constructed in 1924, with additions made in 1966. It has a capacity of 319 with a current enrollment of 432. Berkshire was constructed in 1954 with additions made in 1987. Like Colgate, it is well over capacity, with 511 students for 428 seats.

The replacement facilities for Berkshire and Colgate coincide with the Kamenetz administration’s plan to replace Dundalk Elementary, which received funding in the FY17 budget. Dundalk Elementary was constructed in 1925 and is approximately 100 students over capacity. Funding for the new school was approved in the FY17 capital budget.

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SHA proposes, then quashes concept for improving ‘the Kingsville intersection’

SHA proposes, then quashes concept for improving ‘the Kingsville intersection’
The red lines over this satellite image show what the Kingsville intersection could have looked like when the "improvements" were made.

(Updated 4/26/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following community complaints about traffic problems on Kingsville’s main thoroughfare, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) proposed drastic changes to “the Kingsville intersection” to try to address the issues.

The subject intersection - US-1/Belair Road at Bradshaw Road and Sunshine Avenue - experiences heavy traffic, and residents have complained extensively about the signals not working properly, as well as traffic collisions there, according to SHA traffic engineer Donald Distance.

“So we’re trying to come up with ideas that can make it better,” Distance said at a community input meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

Distance noted that the intersection functions at a Level of Service (LOS)-F during the morning rush hour and a LOS-E during the afternoon rush hour.

Essentially, he said, the intersection is always either failing or “next to failing” during peak periods.

Therefore, SHA has come up with a concept proposal that would see Bradshaw Road rerouted slightly to be perpendicular to US-1 where they meet instead of the sharp angle that currently exists, which is bad for sight distance when turning, Distance explained.

Sunshine Avenue would be similarly rerouted to meet US-1 north of its current location, and the existing section beyond that point would be closed off into a cul-de-sac.

Distance noted that part of the reasoning for this was to create two traffic lights for the two roads - instead of one - with “a lot of spacing in between.”

Likewise, Jerusalem Road north of Bradshaw Road near the Kingsville intersection would be closed and made into a cul-de-sac. The section of Jerusalem Road between US-1 and Bradshaw Road which creates “the Kingsville triangle” would become one-way exiting US-1 with a right-turn-only onto Bradshaw.

These changes, SHA engineers believe, would bring the intersection up to a LOS-C in the morning and LOS-B in the afternoon.

Distance admitted to the crowd before formally presenting the proposal that he knew it would be unpopular, citing comments he had already heard from residents. But he stressed that the concept was preliminary, “for conversation only” and not yet approved or funded.

“We’re not sure if we’re going to be able to afford to purchase the right of way,” he said, which they would need in order to reroute the two roadways.

In response to resident comments, Distance pointed out that SHA has already maximized what they can do with the timing of the traffic light.

He called the intersection as a whole a “problem child,” noting that the amount of right of way available to work with is also limited because of the historic church and cemetary which cannot be disturbed.

Because the proposal was strictly preliminary in nature and clearly disliked by those in attendance, Distance said if community members voted it down by a majority show of hands, it would be scrapped.

Predictably, nearly every resident in the room raised their hand in opposition.

“Ok, this is going to get scrapped; this is done,” Distance said following the vote.

He said SHA traffic engineers would go back and do an analysis of the intersection using left-turn arrows for the traffic signal to turn left off of US-1 onto Sunshine Avenue and Bradshaw Road. They will also perform added engineering analysis of the intersection as a whole.

One positive, though, was that at least they have started the conversation regarding what can be done, Distance said.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, lamented that one of the reasons they have traffic problems there is because of overdevelopment to the north in Harford County.

“And I don’t ever want to see Kingsville looking like Bel Air,” Marks said at the meeting.

“I will do everything I can to keep Kingsville country, and part of that involves building a transportation system sensitive to a rural community,” he told the East County Times. “I believe the State Highway Administration should focus on signalization and other improvements at the Kingsville triangle, not disruptive changes.”

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Sparrows Point High, Battle Monument named Maryland Green Schools

Sparrows Point High, Battle Monument named Maryland Green Schools
Sparrows Point High School was one of two schools on the east side named as a Maryland Green School. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 4/26/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

A certain well-known frog is known for singing that “it’s not easy being green.”

It’s not easy to be named a Maryland Green School either, but two local schools believe the hard work required to receive the distinction is worth the effort.

Battle Monument School in Dundalk received the honor for the first time and Sparrows Point High School in Edgemere was recertified after first receiving the designation four years ago.

The designation, awarded by the Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education, is given to schools that demonstrate “a continuous effort to integrate sustainable environmental practices, environmental education curriculum, professional development and community engagement into the culture of the school,” according to a statement from Baltimore County Public Schools.

“It’s a two-year process,” Battle Monument resource teacher Diana Stansburge said of her school’s application process. “We had to incorporate green initiatives like recycling and planting, build community partnerships and teach the kids about saving our environment.”

Battle Monument, a dedicated special needs school, is the first public special education school in Baltimore County to receive the distinction, and just the second in Maryland, according to Stansburge.

Completing the requirements for the Green Schools program “created a unique challenge for our students,” Stansburge said.

Children at the school have a wide variety of physical and developmental disabilities and behavioral issues, so activities and programs had to be adapted to meet the abilities of students.

Many of the activities done to achieve the Green Schools status tied in perfectly with social studies and science curricula, according to Stansburge.

“In social studies, we learn about habitat, community and volunteerism,” she said. “And in science, we study many things very specific to Maryland.”

Battle Monument students built more than 100 bluebird houses, with four of those placed on their campus while the rest will be distributed to schools across the county. Sollers Point Technical School students cut the wood and Battle Monument students performed all the assembly.

Students are now making “seed bombs” that will be placed in the school’s “no mow zone,” an area that is being allowed to grow naturally in an effort to create habitat and attract birds.

Being recertified as a Green School is a natural fit for Sparrows Point High, a water-oriented school that is home to the Sparrows Point Educational Center in Environmental Studies (SPECIES), a countywide magnet program, according to program coordinator Kevin Peiser.

“Our kids come here in the first place because they already have an interest in science and the environment,” he said. “We’re lucky here because we’re on the water; many other schools wish they could teach environmental science the way we are able to do here.”

The process for recertification was labor intensive and time-consuming, Peiser said.  Noting the tasks that have to be fulfilled, including training for teachers and students, providing hands-on field experiences for students and preparing lessons for the classroom, Peiser said the process involved “months of collecting data” for the application.

The magnet coordinator said he would be amazed if there are more environmentally aware students anywhere in Baltimore County than at Sparrows Point, and he believes participating in programs like that of Green Schools prepare them for life after high school.

“When they’re finished here, they have an impressive resume, with many high-level science and math classes and lots of practical, hands-on experiences,” he said. “And many of our students go on to study environmental sciences in college.”

Eight other Baltimore County schools were also named Green Schools. All designated schools will participate in the Maryland Green Schools Youth Summit on May 18, at Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis.

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Venturing Crew dual mission: Environmental cleanups, outdoor adventures

Venturing Crew dual mission: Environmental cleanups, outdoor adventures
A recent Venturing Crew trip included kayaking and canoeing on Back River. Photo courtesy of Dan Albright.

(Updated 4/26/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

Area teenagers and young adults looking to combine a love for outdoor activities with a desire to learn about and help eliminate environmental issues are in luck.

The Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC) recently created Venturing Crew 726, a co-ed program offered through Boy Scouts of America. Open to boys and girls ages 14-20, Venturing crews allow youngsters to “get involved in more high-adventure activities than they’d get through the regular Scouting program,” according to Dan Albright, crew advisor for Crew 726.

“We’re still in the early stages of the group and its projects,” said Karen Wynn, executive director of the BRRC. “We have 13 members; they’ve held a few activities and are working on several other projects and plans.”

Venturing crews are “kid-driven,” Wynn said.

“The kids pick the projects they want to work on, they vote, they make the decisions,” she said. “They elect their own officers and run their meetings.”

The new group will have the best of two worlds, Albright believes.

Because the group is chartered by BRRC, it will be aquatics-based but will also hold more traditional outdoors activities like camping and hiking.

“Our members attended the last general meeting of BRRC, and we plan to help them with cleanups and education, but we will also do some more of the traditional Boy Scout activities,” he said. “For example, we have an overnight camping trip planned for the first weekend in May. And we recently spent a day canoeing and kayaking.”

BRRC leaders and Albright are coordinating with the Coastal Conservation Association to make arrangements for crew members to make concrete reef balls that will be deployed to local tributaries and the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to create additional oyster habitats.

While the details of the project are still being worked out, the plans call for the CCA to visit with its self-contained mobile lab that carries all the molds and materials needed to make the reef balls, according to Wynn. Once the concrete balls are completely cured, arrangements will be made to drop them in selected places to become oyster beds.

The group also plans to help out with a BRRC cleanup scheduled for April 29 along Grays Road in Dundalk. Volunteers will clean the storm drain ditches along the road of the industrial area, which is off Wise Avenue.

New members are welcome to join Crew 726. The group meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at Weaver Marine Services, 730 Riverside Drive in Essex. Monthly membership dues are $5 ($60 annually) and members also pay for individual activities in which they participate, according to Albright.

The group also holds various fundraisers to help underwrite activities, and crew members can participate in fundraisers with proceeds of their sales applied directly to their activity costs, according to Wynn.

“Right now, the kids are selling camp cards through Boy Scouts, with $2.50 going to Boy Scouts and $2.50 going to the crew or the kids that sell them,” she said.

Camp cards offer discounts at a variety of businesses, including Bass Pro Shops, The Greene Turtle, Jiffy Lube, Wendy’s and Royal Farms.

For more information about the group, visit its Facebook page (Venturing Crew 726), its website ( or call Albright, 443-324-6518.

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Perry Hall restaurant/bar fined $500

Liquor board dismisses two other cases

(Updated 4/25/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Lib’s Grill in Perry Hall was fined, and cases against two other establishments were dismissed after hearings before the county Board of Liquor Commissioners on Monday, April 24, in Towson.

The three-member board had scheduled three show-cause hearings to review allegations about serving liquor to intoxicated persons.

Lib’s Grill, at 5009 Honeygo Center Drive, was fined $500 based on a police report indicating that a 23-year-old patron had been drinking for several hours during happy hour on Feb. 22.

A police officer stopped him at Rexis and Cowenton avenues at about 8 p.m. and administered a blood alcohol breath test. The patron registered a .16 blood alcohol level, which is above the legal limit of .08, according to the police report.

The patron told the officer that he had left Lib’s Grill about 10 minutes before being stopped, the report said, and his attorney confirmed via email that it was the only place his client had been drinking that night.

Because it was the establishment’s first offense, the board imposed a fine of $500. The maximum fine for selling to intoxicated persons is $2,000.

In two other cases, the board dismissed allegations of serving intoxicated persons because there was not enough testimony or evidence to hold the bars responsible.

In one case involving Scoozzi’s bar and restaurant, at 7625 German Hill Road in Dundalk, a 27-year-old patron testified Monday that she visited the bar for an hour during the evening of March 3 and had one beer. Managers testified that she did not appear to be intoxicated.

However, the patron also testified that she had been drinking at a friend’s house that night. She was stopped by police at about 4:30 a.m. on March 4 and given a blood alcohol breath test, registering .13, according to the police report.

In the third case, the board dismissed allegations against the Bird River Inn, at 10529 Bird River Road in Middle River. Representatives did not appear as scheduled on Monday and the case was not heard because the alleged intoxicated patron called the board to say that he had also been drinking somewhere else that day.

Hearing dates and board decisions can be found at by searching for “liquor board.”

County to re-dredge Bird River to improve navigation, safety for boaters

County to re-dredge Bird River to improve navigation, safety for boaters

(Updated 4/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins gathered with area community leaders on Thursday, April 20, on the Bird River waterfront to officially announce that the waterway’s boating navigation channel will be re-dredged.

Funding included by Kamenetz in the county’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget topped off the estimated $4.5 million needed to dredge the river. According to county officials, design and permitting for the project will begin in the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, and the dredging is anticipated to begin in 2019.

Baltimore County will fund 55 percent of the project cost, officials said, with the remaining 45 percent provided through grants from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Waterway Improvement Fund. The fund is replenished primarily by the excise tax paid to the state when a boat is purchased and titled in Maryland.

Kamenetz noted that the upper reaches of the Bird River have silted in with at least two feet of sediment since the channel was last dredged in 2002 - 2003.

“So it obviously makes it challenging for people to actually get their boats out or even back to shore, depending on the tides,” he stated. “Our research has shown that we need to get this done now.”

The project will restore the boating channels in sections of Bird River and Railroad Creek to the previously permitted design depths, removing approximately 50,000 cubic yards of material from 26,650 linear feet of the channel. The material will then be placed at the Baltimore County dredge material containment facility adjacent to Bowerman Road near the Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh.

The county executive pointed out that Councilwoman Bevins, who represents the communities around the Bird River - and who he called the county’s “biggest waterfront cheerleader” - had been pushing for the dredging for the last couple of years.

“This would not have happened without her tenacity,” he said.

Bevins said the dredging project is a tremendous environmental initiative which will improve recreation on the river for county residents, from boating to fishing and crabbing.

“And yes, [also for] jet-ski enthusiasts like myself,” said Bevins, who noted that she also lives further down the shoreline on the Gunpowder River, which is tidally linked to the Bird River.

“The healthier this river is, the healthier the Gunpowder’s going to be, which leads all the way to the Chesapeake Bay,” she continued.

Bevins added that property owners along the waterfront pay more in property taxes and should be able to make use of it.

She used the opportunity to also tout County Council Resolution 28-17, which recently passed the council and directs the county Planning Board to look into how to make development projects approved more than 10 years ago but not yet built abide by the newest environmental standards, “so we’re not standing here in another 10 years dredging this river again because of the fill,” she said.

The Planning Board’s recommendations on the topic are due back to the council in September.

The dredging announcement was made at the waterfront home of Peter and Janet Terry, who for years have had trouble being able to use their boat except at high tide. They have emphasized as well that some on the upper river cannot even use a kayak there at low tide.

Additionally, according to Peter, the dredging project will not completely solve their problem. Since the boating channel is closer to the far side of the river from their home, they will still have difficulty getting their boat out.

The county is offering to dredge additional spur channels from the main channel to piers or boat ramps at the homeowners’ expense, which would be paid through 10-year, interest-free loans for qualified individuals.

The county offered the same deal during the last round of dredging, Peter said, but because the distance from their pier to the channel is so great, the additional cost amounted to about $70,000.

“So then we’d have been left paying $7,000 extra with our taxes for 10 years for something that is no longer usable after two or three because of the sedimentation,” he said.

As a result, he said they would try to push for a secondary channel closer to the river’s southern shoreline to better serve those residents.

Janet noted that she has lived on the river most of her life. She has seen it silt in more and more over the decades, she said - the effects of mining, farming and increased development throughout the watershed, which reaches westward to about Harford Road in Parkville.

She emphasized that development in particular, by way of increased impervious surface and storm water runoff, is the largest source of pollution entering the river and the bay.

“This is what I’ve seen in my lifetime - a river that was vibrant, that was skiable, we could take an inboard boat from one end to the other,” Janet said. “In my lifetime that’s no longer possible.

“We’ll never get the river back the way it was,” she continued, “but we can enjoy it now that we can have access to some deeper water.”

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Republican councilmen announce legislative package taking aim at illegal immigration

Republican councilmen announce legislative package taking aim at illegal immigration
Republican County Council members David Marks (left), Todd Crandell and Wade Kach announced two public safety measures that will be introduced to the council on May 1. They will need at least two Democrats to vote with them in order to have a veto-proof majority. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 4/19/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The three Republican members of the Baltimore County Council announced Tuesday, April 18, that they are preparing legislation that would see the Baltimore County Department of Corrections (DOC) collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as require businesses county-wide to verify the immigration status of prospective employees.

The announcement came less than two weeks after County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced an executive order instructing county law enforcement not to inquire about immigration status or hold detainees past their release dates at the request of federal deportation agents unless those agents have presented a judicial order.

“It’s a shame what has happened in the county since the county executive issued his executive order,” said Councilman Wade Kach (R-3). “We have a population more stressed than ever because you have a situation where people in the county are concerned after seeing news reports of people in this country illegally committing horrible crimes. And then on the other side of the coin you have people of different nationalities in this county concerned about retribution.”

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), joined by Kach and Councilman David Marks (R-5), announced he is submitting legislation through which the DOC would utilize a section of the The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996. The section “authorizes the director of ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions, provided that the local law enforcement officers receive appropriate training and function under the supervision of ICE officers,” according to ICE’s website.

“Essentially what this proposed legislation would do, should it pass, it would deputize department of corrections officers to perform various functions of federal immigration statutes,” said Crandell. “What this would do is basically send a message that if you are in this country illegally, and are convicted of a crime and sentenced to incarceration at the Baltimore County Detention Center, that you would be subject to federal immigration statutes.”

The other measure, proposed by Kach, would require all businesses in the county to use E-Verify, an internet-based system that allows businesses to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. According to Kach, E-Verify is correct approximately 96 percent of the time. And should you be a business owner who is being investigated for hiring illegal immigrants, you would simply need to show that you searched the E-Verify system to avoid penalty.

The Republican trio maintained that not only are these proposed measures good for public safety, they are also good for businesses and citizens looking for employment.

Democratic members of the council were made aware of their counterparts’ intentions Monday night, though specifics of the bills were not discussed.

While Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the east side’s District 6, declined to comment on the bills without seeing them first, she noted, “I want to be proactive to find out what our Department of Corrections already has in place. I don’t want to react to comments made on a federal website.”

In order for these measures to pass with a veto-proof majority, two Democrats would have to sign on. Crandell stated that the Republicans on the County Council decided to unveil their intention two weeks before it will be submitted so that the other members of the council - and citizens of Baltimore County - will have time to mull over the legislation.

Kach and Crandell balked at the idea that the legislation was presented in response to Kamenetz’s Executive Order or to the Trump administration’s threats to withhold federal funding for jurisdictions providing “sanctuary.” Crandell told reporters he had been looking into the measure since he read recently in the media about other counties, including Frederick and Harford, utilizing the program.

Kamenetz released a statement following the announcement simply reaffirming his executive order.

The councilmen stated that they wanted to be proactive and noted that they currently would not be aware of crimes committed by illegal immigrants in Baltimore County due to lack of disclosure. But their aim is to stop trouble before it starts.

“We were all just horrified by what happened in Montgomery County,” said Crandell, referencing the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by two illegal immigrants. “If we can do anything possible to prohibit that from happening in Baltimore County I think it’s incumbent upon us as elected representatives to do that.”

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Brochin takes message of campaign finance reform on the road

Brochin takes message of campaign finance reform on the road
Senator Jim Brochin, who represents Towson and northern Baltimore County, when he announced his bill to restrict campaign donations from developers back in January. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 4/19/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

State Senator Jim Brochin has two campaign messages that could resonate well with Baltimore County voters, if the recent response from Riverside Democratic Club members is any indication.

Brochin, who is stumping around the beltway as he prepares to officially launch his candidacy for county executive this fall, talked to Riverside members on April 13 about his desire to put an end to pay-to-play politics in Baltimore County.

He’s particularly interested in stopping the influence of land developers’ campaign contributions and crafted state legislation during the recently concluded General Assembly that would have created a window of time during which developers could not contribute to any elected leaders who might have occasion to vote on issues involving the developers’ plans.

While public opinion greatly favored the bill, it failed to get out of committee, mostly because of singular opposition from building and development lobbying, according to Brochin.

“It got killed 6-2 in committee,” he told club members.

Brochin vowed to reintroduce similar legislation next year and said he would not let the issue drop.

“These developers shouldn’t be stuffing the politicians’ jackets and pants and pocketbooks and purses with cash to get what they want,” he said.

Noting that the pay-to-play system has been around since the days of Dale Anderson and Spiro Agnew - both disgraced former Baltimore County executives - Brochin believes that “massive campaign finance reform is needed to take developer money out of the equation.”

Brochin’s effort to introduce campaign finance reform was met with approval by those in attendance at the club meeting.

One member said he doesn’t believe the proposal goes far enough. He approved of the three-year window before any decisions were made concerning a particular developer but asked what happens after a decision is made; what’s to stop the developer from making a huge donation after a decision goes in his favor?

Brochin said he agrees but said the effort has to start somewhere. The more stringent an initial bill is, the harder it will be to get anything approved, he said. It’s important to get some sort of reform on the books and then modifications can be made, he said.

“Some of the things going on in Towson right now are repugnant,” he said of development proposals. “Something has to be done.”

He specifically noted the proposed sale of the North Point Government Center in Dundalk and the building of a Royal Farms store at the intersection of York Road and Bosley Avenue in Towson as projects that communities were vehemently opposed to but went through despite that opposition.

Brochin was accompanied by former Baltimore County Police Department Chief Jim Johnson, who was thanked by club President Al Welsh for his 38 and a half years of service to the citizens of Baltimore County.

Several club members applauded when Brochin said, “If I’m elected county executive, Jim Johnson is my chief of police.”

Johnson, a Kenwood High School graduate who worked his way from patrolman to chief, retired January 31 after County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced he was going “in a different direction” with police department leadership and named Terrence B. Sheridan to succeed Johnson. Sheridan previously served as the county’s police chief from 1996 to 2007 before being named superintendent of the Maryland State Police.

Riverside’s response to Brochin’s message about campaign finance reform and his choice of police leadership supports the senator’s belief that county residents are tired of politics as usual.

“The chief did an outstanding job and it would be an honor to have him serve as my chief of police,” Brochin said in a phone interview of Johnson. “And pay-to-play politics is pervasive across the county. I hear from people all the time who tell me, ‘I don’t understand - my entire community association was against this [project], why did it pass?’”

Brochin believes rank and file citizens are “treated like dirt” in the current political system and their needs take a back seat to big corporate interests.

“Someone needs to step in and do something about it, and of the three people running for executive, I’m the only one to do it,” he said.

Former 6th District State Delegate John Olszewski Jr. and current Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (2nd District) have announced their intentions to run for executive.

Brochin believes this election cycle is a “once in a generation opportunity” for citizens to take county government out of the control of big money.

“I mean this from the bottom of my heart - this could be our last chance to get our county back,” he said at the meeting.

Another hot topic in Baltimore County and the state is the idea of creating sanctuary jurisdictions that offer protection to illegal immigrants.

“I’m with the Senate president on this - I don’t think Maryland should be a sanctuary state and I don’t think Baltimore County should be a sanctuary county,”  Brochin told the Times. “I disagree with the county executive on this.”

Brochin said that once an individual is arrested and charged with a crime, law enforcement officials should have the right to do a complete background check, including checking to see if there is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer on the individual and to verify that the person is in the country legally.

“I agree with not being able to just grab someone off the street or approach someone and randomly ask to see papers,” Brochin said. “But once someone is arrested, it gets into public safety. If you have held up a liquor store or committed a sexual assault and you’re here illegally, we should have the right to deport you.”

The 15-year state senator believes so strongly about the need to clean up the way Baltimore County does business that he is giving up his senate seat to pursue the executive’s office.

“It’s understood that you can only become the Baltimore County executive with big money and developer money,” he said. “I’m going to fly in the face of that - I’m going to run a grassroots campaign with small donations from the people who want their county back, who want their needs treated as equally as anyone else’s.”

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Proposed budget heavy on education spending, public safety

Proposed budget heavy on education spending, public safety
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz delivered his budget to the County Council for approval last week. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 4/19/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Keeping in line with recent years, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 is heavy on education and public safety spending.

With a total operating budget of $3.15 billion, 60.4 percent of it, or $1.9 billion, will be going towards education in the county’s public school system, the community college system and public libraries. The budget accelerates funding for the construction of three elementary schools in Dundalk, an elementary school and middle school in the Perry Hall area, an addition to Pine Grove Middle School in Parkville and funding for a new health center and technology building at CCBC Essex.

“One of my top priorities since being elected has been to reduce school overcrowding,” said Councilman David Marks, (R-5). “We lowered development on thousands of acres of land, preserved green space and pushed for two new elementary schools. I am delighted that the Fiscal Year 2018 budget includes funding to advance a new middle school in the Perry Hall area. As a Perry Hall parent, I know that we desperately need a new middle school, and I thank those advocates who have been working with us over the past year on this issue.”

Similar sentiments were offered by Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), whose district will see three replacement schools being built for Berkshire, Colgate and Dundalk elementaries.

“I’m very pleased that we’ll be moving forward with construction on these three elementary schools,” he said.

Aside from education spending, public safety upgrades are receiving a lot of attention in the 2018 budget. Funding is included for a new $27 million computer-aided dispatch and emergency communications system, as well as $4.39 million for the body camera roll out, including funding for additional evidence technicians in the state’s attorney’s office.

Once again, the budget does not raise property or income taxes for county residents.

A large majority of the county’s budget comes from property and income taxes. The property tax rate has remained unchanged for 29 years, with a rate of $1.10 per $100 of assessed value, while the local income tax rate remains at 2.83 percent for 25 years running.

Other items in the budget include $500,000 for improvements to Double Rock Park, funding for an indoor turf field replacement at the Northeast Regional Recreation Center, funding for new trails at Marshy Point Nature Center and funding for an artificial turf field at Perry Hall High School.

The Eastern Family Resource Center is receiving $1.2 million in funding to help combat homelessness in the county. The new shelter will open later this year with expanded health services, shelter beds for men and women, and resources for people in need. The expansion for the center will double the number of transitional housing beds for women and children who need shelter.

“Women and children who need shelter often are victims of domestic violence and need a safe place to stay for weeks before they secure permanent housing,” Kamenetz stated.

Countywide, Kamenetz is committing $470 million for water and sewer system upgrades and maintenance to go along with $38 million for road resurfacing projects.

Elsewhere, $10.4 million has been set aside for recreation, with $4.5 million dedicated to more than 90 maintenance and refurbishment projects throughout the county. Projects include resurfacing 31 tennis and multi-purpose courts and refurbishing 43 ball diamonds.

“We speak up for our priorities and what we stand for. That’s why we protect lives, build schools, expand job training and open new parks and animal service centers,” Kamenetz told the County Council. “We plan ahead and budget conservatively, so we can invest in what’s important to the people who live and do business here.”

A public input hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. in the Historic Courthouse in Towson.

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At long last, Todd’s Inheritance is ready for its public debut

At long last, Todd’s Inheritance is ready for its public debut
Carolyn Mroz stands with an exhibit featured inside the Todd house for the open house this weekend. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 4/19/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Volunteers who have been laboring in the trenches for nearly 20 years will finally get to show off the fruit of that labor April 22 when Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site opens its doors to the public for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“This truly has been a labor love,” Carolyn Mroz, president of the group, said recently while showing off the historic house at 9000 North Point Road in Edgemere. “It’s been a long haul, and there’s still much to be done, but we’re proud of how far we’ve come.”

What is known today as Todd’s Inheritance began as a land grant from the King of England to Thomas Todd in the 1660s, according to historical markers and written histories of the land. The original house was built in about 1664.

The house, with its sweeping waterfront views, played an integral role in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812. Citizen soldiers, two of whom were Todd family members, were lookouts and sounded alarms when they saw British soldiers approaching.

When the defeated British troops made their way back down the peninsula in retreat after being turned back at Hampstead Hill, they burned the Todd home in retaliation. It’s estimated that the bulk of the current house was rebuilt around 1816, with a second wing added in the 1890s, according to Larry Leone, a Todd’s Inheritance board member.

The homestead was owned by the Todd family for more than 300 years until it was sold in 1975 to Elmer Cook, an area resident and Baltimore County school teacher. What once was a 1,000-acre estate is now a four-acre plot surrounded by state parkland, some of which is leased to farmers who grow corn and soy beans.

The house had fallen into disrepair by the time the Maryland Department of Natural Resources acquired the property in 2000. Now officially part of North Point State Park, the estate is leased for $1 a year to the group charged with restoring the building and grounds.

Board member Leone credits Cook with a decision that may have saved the structure.

“Elmer paid big money to put a slate roof on this house,” Leone said last fall when he invited the East County Times to tour the property. “If he hadn’t done that, this house wouldn’t even be here.”

The project has been stalled several times for economic reasons, according to Mroz. And much of the early work was structural and not visible to local residents who pass by the house.

“There were times when it might not have looked like anything was being done, and people wondered where the money was going, but we spent $250,000 on foundation and other structural work,” Leone said. “It wouldn’t have made any sense to do other improvements on top of a collapsing foundation.

An expensive and time-consuming archeological dig was held on the lawn closest to the house before any other work or excavations could be done, according to Leone.

The exterior was restored, new windows were installed and front and back porches were replaced. Security systems have been installed and a wheelchair lift will allow access for individuals with disabilities.

When visitors tour the Todd house, they will be met with an eclectic mix of features spanning at least three centuries, from building materials and techniques from the 1800s to electronic advances and modern fixtures of the 21st century. The current house sits on the foundation of the original structure, and charred floor joists were discovered when the foundation work was done, according to Mroz.

At first view, the entrance hallway looks as if it is only half-finished, with exposed floor joists and pipes visible through a portion of open ceiling, and a portion of exposed brick and plastered wall is visible in the hallway. But those areas that look like incomplete work are in fact exhibits, according to Mroz.

“We deliberately left that portion of the ceiling open to show the progression of materials and building techniques,” she said. “Look at those pipes, they range from iron to copper, and those are hand-hewn floor boards.”

Instead of walling off the back of a fireplace, the preservationists decided to enclose it with a large plastic window, allowing visitors to view what Mroz believes are handmade bricks stacked in a haphazard manner and held together with sloppily applied mortar.

“I’m sure they made these bricks and did this work themselves; I doubt they paid anyone to do this work,” she said.

In addition to the construction of the house itself, visitors will initially enjoy three main exhibits. The entrance hallway will pay homage to the Todd family heritage, while one room will honor the history of the North Point peninsula and another will tell the story of the Battle of North Point and its role in the War of 1812.

Exhibits will change throughout the year to keep the experience fresh for return visitors, Mroz said.

A third room on the first floor will serve as a meeting and special events room and another will be the gift shop.

The second floor has been closed off and will be renovated in a future phase of restoration work, according to Leone and Mroz.

The April 22 open house will include small group tours; exhibits of historical artifacts, including tools, housewares and personal use items; and performances by interpretive re-enactors.

Alan Gephardt and Sonia Socha are scheduled to portray Francis Scott Key and his wife, Polly Tayloe Lloyd Key, and other re-enactors will represent soldiers, sailors and Royal Marines of the War of 1812 period, Mroz said.

History buffs will also enjoy a walk through the Todd family cemetery, which is tucked in a corner of the backyard.

The house will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the ribbon-cutting ceremony set for 1 p.m.

The cost for the open house is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens and free for children under 15. Annual family memberships, which allow unlimited access to the house and scheduled special events, cost $30.

After the open house, Todd’s Inheritance will be available for special group tours by request, Mroz said. School, history, senior and similar groups are welcome to arrange small group tours. The preservation group will also plan special events, and plans to get additional work done over the summer in time for Defenders Day in September.

“We’ve had so many fits and starts, problems and unknowns, but this board has hung in there because this truly was a labor of love for us,” Mroz said. “We’ve taken this task very seriously, and we were determined to see it done.”

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East side council members announce budget priorities; county announces rec funding

East side council members announce budget priorities; county announces rec funding
The upper reaches of the Bird River, pictured here in satellite image, has been filled in by sediment pollution and is now largely unnavigable by boat except during high tide. Photo courtesy of Google.

(Updated 4/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Prior to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s planned budget message on Thursday, April 13, County Council members David Marks and Cathy Bevins released lists of projects they hoped would be funded in their districts.

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-Dundalk) declined to comment on his budget priorities until after the budget release Thursday.

Kamenetz also announced $10.5 million for recreation projects in the county Monday, April 10, which he plans to fund in this year’s budget.

Bevins (D-Middle River) asked for millions of dollars for environmental and recreation projects in her district, including dredging of the Bird River in White Marsh, maintenance of effort funding for the environmentally focused Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, improvements to Double Rock Park in Parkville and an artificial turf field for Overlea High School.

Baltimore County has already appropriated $2 million to the Bird River dredging project over the last two fiscal years, added to a total of $1.74 million from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and Bevins simply requested that the county ensure its commitment to the $4 million project.

“Dredging the Bird River will provide many environmental, commercial and recreational benefits to the Bird River and the residents of eastern Baltimore County,” she wrote in a letter to Kamenetz.

Bevins also asked for the county to maintain its level of funding to the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy and its Clear Creeks Project. In recent years, the GVC has worked extensively in the watersheds of the Middle, Bird and tidal Gunpowder rivers to improve water quality through planting trees, installing rain barrels, planting rain gardens and bayscape gardens, and encouraging other Bay-wise practices to control stormwater runoff.

The East County Times reported on March 22 that GVC had lost about a third of its funding from Baltimore County, and the councilwoman asked that this year’s budget restore that funding to its previous levels.

“This reduction in funding will have a significant impact on the efforts and outcomes the GVC will be able to make,” Bevins wrote to Kamenetz. “As the county faces the challenge to meet the TMDL/WIP [also known as ‘pollution diet’] requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure the health of the Chesapeake Bay, it is imperative that the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy retain its $90,000 funding from Baltimore County.”

Additionally, Bevins requested a funding match from the county for improvements to Double Rock Park to go with a $250,000 bond bill passed by the state legislature, as well as a new artificial turf field at Overlea High School.

OHS is currently in the midst of a multi-million dollar renovation that will “bring the school into the 21st Century,” Bevins said, noting that its existing fields are heavily used by the athletic department by way of its football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams.

Councilman Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, also asked for an artificial turf field in his district at Perry Hall High School, along with funding to either to design a new middle school to serve the northeast, or to purchase land for a new middle school in Perry Hall.

“Those same priorities have been shared by numerous parents and community leaders as we deal with overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School,” Marks said regarding the school funding.

“Other conversations I have had with the county executive’s staff have indicated my support for a new turf field at Perry Hall High School, since more than $240,000 has been raised from parents and through the state legislature for this project,” he told the Times.

Kamenetz’s announcement Monday included his intention to fund the turf field at PHHS, as well as the Double Rock Park improvements and several other maintenance and refurbishment projects throughout the county. However, a turf field for OHS was not included in the announcement.

"Last fall, I joined parents at Perry Hall High School in kicking off the fundraising drive for a new Perry Hall High School artificial turf field. I am excited to announce that the new county budget will include funding to complete this project," Marks commented. "Many thanks to our state legislators for providing a match, and the parents who worked with our office since last fall."

“Our ongoing investment in turf fields all over the county is about access and opportunity. They are used three to five times as much as traditional natural grass fields,” Kamenetz’s statement read. “These fields are literally used from morning to night and are not affected by the weather. Their availability allows thousands more to participate in our recreation programs.”

The county executive has allocated a total of $800,000 for the PHHS field, which includes more than $90,000 raised by community members and $150,000 from the state, according to county spokesperson Ellen Kobler.

And Double Rock Park received a $500,000 allocation, which Kobler said includes the state bond bill and $250,000 from the county as a mixture of financial expenditures and in-kind contributions such as work performed or materials needed.

A total of $3.15 million will also be spent on refurbishing baseball diamonds and fields, resurfacing multi-purpose and tennis courts and repairing backstops and safety fences at sites around the county, according to the recreation announcement, some of which are on the east side.

The budget will also accommodate the second phase of erosion control at Kingsville Park in Marks’ district, costing $500,000, according to the announcement.

“The commitment to continue our progress is really a great example of how local government works,” the county executive noted. “The County Council, our state delegation and community advocates all come together in support of these initiatives.”

And on Tuesday, April 11, Kamenetz announced design funding for a new northeast middle school on the site of Nottingham Park - which is owned by the county’s school system - fulfilling Marks’ wish list.

For more information on that announcement, see the article on it by Patrick Taylor above. This article was updated to include comments from Councilman Marks regarding the PHHS artificial turf field.

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Boxing gloves are out for county’s next round against rats

Boxing gloves are out for county’s next round against rats
Residents from many of the rat-infested communities on the east side visited the County Council in Towson last spring to press for a solution to the issue. File photo.

(Updated 4/11/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Baltimore County officials are ready to start their next war against the county’s growing rat population.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced last Thursday, April 6, the creation of an enhanced rat eradication program that will be carried out in nine targeted communities, all but two of which are on the county’s east side.

The three-pronged pilot program is planned for Berkshire, Colgate, Eastwood, Hawthorne, Hillendale, Holland Hills, Middlesex, Riverview and West Inverness, pending Baltimore County Council approval, according to a statement from county officials.

The proposal is scheduled to be discussed at the council’s April 25 work session and voted on at its May 1 legislative session.

Essex resident and business owner Cliff O’Connell, who worked with other community leaders from across the county to craft a new rat attack plan, said he is pleased with the end product and appreciates the efforts of Kamenetz and 7th District County Councilman Todd Crandell to make it happen.

“We’ve been working on this for a year,” O’Connell said of the leaders that dubbed themselves the CoreGroup. “We saw this as a huge problem in many communities and we contacted Kevin and Todd and Code Enforcement and they worked with us - they really listened and got their people together to work on it.”

Baltimore County has made concerted efforts to address a burgeoning rat population in the past, but the new program adds an element CoreGroup members hope makes all the difference - a second trash pickup day per week.

It also will fix what O’Connell saw as a major fault in the last targeted eradication effort - the lack of accountability on the exterminators’ part.

“The last time, there was no oversight of the exterminators,” he said. “We had problems with them not doing what they were supposed to be doing.”

The targeted neighborhoods will receive the services of professional, licensed exterminators who will administer rat poison in burrows for eight weeks, with follow-up treatment as necessary, according to Code Enforcement Chief Lionel van Dommelen.

Home Paramount Pest Control and Regional Pest Management won a competitive bid process to administer the treatment, according to the statement, at a cost of $170,000.

Hand-in-hand with that chemical attack, homes in the selected areas will have two trash pickups per week, in addition to the regular, weekly single-stream recycling pickup. The extra trash date is expected to cost $600,000 annually, according to county officials.

The plan will also increase community education programs and provide printed materials with helpful hints for residents to help combat the rodents. Communities will be encouraged to schedule clean-up days, for which the county will provide large trash bins.

The educational component will also include door-to-door campaigns carried out by exterminators, Code Enforement inspectors and community leaders trained to help spread the word about rat abatement best practices, according to Crandell.

“There’s not a lot government can do if we don’t change the behaviors in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We can spend a ton of money but that won’t accomplish much if people don’t fix what’s attracting the rats in the first place.”

Code Enforcement’s van Dommelen agreed with that assessment: “It’s very hard to exterminate the rats when people are feeding them and it’s kind of surprising that so many people still don’t know what attracts them.”

Inspectors can sweep neighborhoods and leave citations for things like high grass and weeds, improperly stored trash and pet feces not cleaned up, van Dommelen said. The sweeps result in a temporary improvement before people slide back to their old habits, making it difficult to curb the rat population.

Crandell and van Dommelen said they have heard often from residents that they believe the rat population spiked considerably when the county eliminated one trash pickup day per week across the county.

“I’ve been asking to reinstitute that second trash day since I’ve been in office,” Crandell said. “I think there is a correlation there.”

While recognizing that anecdotal belief, van Dommelen said an evaluation of the program’s results will help determine on a more scientific basis if the second trash day makes a difference.

Pointing to the targeted neighborhoods in the pilot program, Crandell said all are rowhome communities in densely developed, tight neighborhoods with small backyards.

“You have multiple generations living in houses that were built in the 1950s to accommodate a family of four or five,” he said. “You have more people living in these houses than they were designed for, and more people produce more trash. And then there’s nowhere to put it - the backyards are only so big, with not a lot of room for trash cans.”

Dave Patro, president of the North Point Village Civic Association, is disappointed his rowhome community wasn’t selected for the new program and hopes the effort is successful so it can expand to more neighborhoods.

Patro said he’s concerned that his community got excluded because of “some toes [he] may have stepped on” while working with the Core Group. His neighbors have been working diligently to reduce the rodent population that he calls a “rat army” and hopes that politics didn’t play a role in the selection of pilot neighborhoods.

“This is an epidemic and it’s still growing,” Patro said. “I’m concerned that the progress that has been made will be lost if we have to wait until after the pilot program is completed to get more help in our neighborhood.”

Code Enforcement officials will not ignore neighborhoods not on the list, according to van Dommelen. Existing efforts to rub out rats will run “parallel” with the pilot program, he said.

Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said that all county residents will still be able to call Code Enforcement for help and guidance with a problem.

“It is ultimately the responsibility of homeowners to take care of their own property, but the previous elements of rat eradication are still in place, “ she said. “Residents certainly can call Code Enforcement for technical assistance.”

A start date for the program has not yet been announced, according to van Dommelen and Kobler, who noted the need for County Council approval before contracts can be awarded.

But noting the county’s cooperation with crafting the program, O’Connell believes that approval is a formality.

“From what I understand, this is ready to go,” he said. “I’m hoping it’s in place by the end of spring.”

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Kamenetz announces funds for new Perry Hall area middle school, Pine Grove addition

Kamenetz announces funds for new Perry Hall area middle school, Pine Grove addition
Councilman David Marks, School Board member Julie Henn and other advocates and stakeholders gathered in February to push for a new middle school in the Perry Hall area. File photo.

(Updated 4/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After a lengthy battle for funding, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced on Tuesday, April 11, that his budget, to presented to the County Council on Thursday afternoon, includes $7 million in planning and design funding for a new 1,500-seat middle school for the Perry Hall area and a 200-300 seat addition at Pine Grove Middle School to relieve overcrowding in the northeast area.

“I have been reviewing this issue for over a year. Superintendent Dance and his team proposed a solution for the Perry Hall area, and I am delighted to include funding for these projects in my budget proposal,” said Kamenetz.

The news was music to Councilman David Marks’s ears. Marks has been fighting for several years to get overcrowding relief at Perry Hall Middle School.

“This is the culmination of many years of work by parents and community leaders who pushed for relief at our schools,” Marks said. “Construction of a new middle school has been my top priority, and I am delighted that this project is moving forward.”

Construction on the projects is slated to begin in 2019 with the new school and addition set to open in 2021, according to the county’s press release.

A location for the new middle school has not been set, but both Marks and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) noted that the school system already owns Nottingham Park, and the 35-acre plot of land would be perfect for a new school.

“I’ve been talking with Dr. Dance and the county executive about funding projects to address this issue, and adding 1,700 middle school seats in the northeast area is great news,” Bevins said in the release sent out by Kamenetz’s office. “It would make real sense to build the new school on the Nottingham property that the school system already owns.”

"I also represent a portion of Perry Hall," Bevins explained, and other students who live in her district attend Perry Hall schools. "I advocated for the new school, as well as David, and it's really exciting."

Although the school would serve the northeast, the site is located in Bevins’ district.

Marks previously floated the idea of utilizing Nottingham Park to parents at a Northeast Area Education Advisory Council meeting last year. Back on Feb. 21, he sent a letter to Kamenetz pleading for help with overcrowding and the construction of a new middle school, either through utilizing the Nottingham property or purchasing a new plot of land.

While Marks expressed some concern about how using the Nottingham site would take away a potential location for a new high school, he was thrilled that a plan for middle school overcrowding relief is in the works.

“The bottom line is this advances the process and it’s a win for Perry Hall,” said Marks. “I want to thank my colleague Cathy Bevins for her strong support of this initiative, as well as School Board member Julie Henn.”

BCPS is in the midst of a $1.3 billion school construction program to address rising enrollment and aging infrastructure. Perry Hall Middle School is projected to reach more than 125 percent capacity by 2024.

“We are extremely appreciative the county executive has addressed our need for middle school seats. By focusing on a comprehensive solution, we can now work to bring relief to several of our middle schools that are at capacity or scheduled to be within the upcoming years,” said Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Baltimore County Public School Superintendent.

Combined with the reopening of Victory Villa Elementary, as well as another elementary school slated for construction in the Honeygo area near Joppa and Chapel Roads, a lot is being done to address school overcrowding in the Fifth and Sixth Districts. Construction contracts for the new Honeygo elementary school recently received approval and the school is set to open in 2018.

“By any standard, this is remarkable progress,” said Kamenetz. “Our students and teachers deserve no less.”

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Green Turtle in White Marsh fined $2,000

(Updated 4/10/17)

No action taken against three other bars

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Baltimore County liquor board fined the Green Turtle bar and restaurant at White Marsh Mall $2,000 on Monday after concluding the business had sold liquor to an intoxicated patron who, by his own admission, said he had been drinking there before being cited by police for driving under the influence.

The board also considered similar allegations of selling to intoxicated persons against three other establishments but took no action after hearings on Monday, April 10, in Towson.

The incident at the Green Turtle took place on Jan. 26, when a county police officer observed a man driving slowly around the parking lot near the Macy's store at the mall, according to the citation filed in District Court.

The patron testified on Monday that he had been drinking at the Green Turtle from about 9 p.m. to midnight and that he felt "OK' when he left.

However, the police officer, who was not at the hearing, stated in his incident report that he observed the patron leaving the parking lot, swerving and changing lanes as he made his way slowly along Honeygo Boulevard and in and out of two business parks before turning onto White Marsh Boulevard.

The report states that the patron was driving 10 to 35 miles per hour - well below the speed limit - and that another car had to avoid hitting him from behind.

The patron, who did not take a blood alcohol breath test, smelled of alcohol and failed three field sobriety tests, according to the police report.

In his defense, the Green Turtle licensee said videos taken from 12:30 - 2 a.m. failed to show anyone carrying open containers out of the restaurant or anything out of the ordinary inside.

The licensee's lawyer also argued that there was no evidence the patron was intoxicated while in the Green Turtle and the patron could have had more to drink outside the business between the time he left at midnight and the time the officer stopped him at 1 a.m.

Liquor Board chairman Charles Klein and member Leslie Pittler voted to impose the fine, and member Robert Page voted to dismiss.

"You can't ignore that he was driving around the parking lot in a pretty dangerous fashion," Pittler said.

No action taken

Also appearing before the board on Monday were licensees of the Della Rose's Avenue Tavern on Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh, and the Poplar Inn and North Point Inn in Dundalk.

On Jan. 13, a police officer responded after 1 a.m. to a call from a White Marsh Mall security guard who said a group of intoxicated people had congregated behind the movie theater, and that some had left Della Rose's while others went back in.

But by the time the officer arrived, the people had gone.

The security guard was not present Monday, and the board concluded that without that testimony there was nothing to confirm the restaurant had served intoxicated people.

The licensee also said his managers were not aware of any problems inside the restaurant that night.

A patron from Dundalk testified Monday that on Feb. 5, she stopped at the Poplar Inn in the early evening and had two hard cider drinks before drinking later at a clubhouse in Chase.

According to police, the patron was arrested for driving under the influence after she left the clubhouse and got into an accident around 1:30 a.m. near Bengie's Drive-in on Eastern Boulevard.

Police said the patron had twice the legal blood alcohol limit, but the board concluded it was not a result of stopping earlier at the Poplar Inn.

A male patron testified Monday that on Feb. 13, he and a cousin stopped at the North Point Inn to play some pool. He said he had a mixed drink, a shot and a beer. A witness also testified that the patron objected to something another man said in the bar and that the patron became angry and verbally aggressive.

The bartender testified that she asked the patron and his friends to leave and when they came back, she locked the doors and called police.

The officer who responded said the patron was "very, very intoxicated" and not responding to requests to leave the premises.

The board concluded that the bartender had done the right thing by asking the patron to leave and took no action.

It also dismissed a complaint about loud music at the North Point Inn after the officer testified that he heard nothing out of the ordinary when he responded to the call.

For more about liquor board hearings and dispositions, visit and search for Board of Liquor License Commissioners.

Charter group digs into land-use issues, Board of Appeals

Charter group digs into land-use issues, Board of Appeals
Bevins addressed the commission during its meeting at the Perry Hall library. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 4/10/17)

Next public meeting to focus on county budget

- By Virginia Terhune -

The group charged with reviewing Baltimore County’s charter document met for the first and only time on the east side - at the Perry Hall library - on Wednesday, April 5. On the agenda were land-use issues and the county’s quasi-judicial Board of Appeals.

Cases before the Board of Appeals have become increasingly complex with the result that the County Council has chosen to appoint to the board more lawyers with the expertise to evaluate zoning, environmental and other technical issues.

One question posed during the meeting was, should the county charter require that all seven members of the board be lawyers? The recently formed Charter Review Commission discussed the board’s qualifications and other issues at last Wednesday’s meeting.

The Board of Appeals reviews administrative orders issued by county departments and issues involving zoning, development, licensing, county code violations, retiree benefits and animal hearings.

County Council members David Marks (R-5),who spearheaded the commission’s creation, and Cathy Bevins (D-6) attended part of the meeting.

Years ago, the Board of Appeals included some members with no land-use experience who were advised by a lawyer assigned to help guide them.

But in recent years, land-use cases have gotten more complex because of expanded stormwater and other environmental regulations, said Tom Bostwick, one of two attorneys who serve the County Council.

“The [degree of] sophistication is greater,” said commission member and land-use attorney John Gontrum, adding that development plan cases “can go on for days.”

There can be a lot at stake in the county approval process for developers, who invest money into site plans and permits, and for neighbors whose property values and quality of life are affected by building projects.

Other issues raised during the Perry Hall discussion included:

* Is the Board of Appeals able to keep up with the caseload? The commission plans to invite the chairman to a meeting to talk about operations.

* Currently, the charter states that not more than five of the seven Board of Appeals members can be from one political party. Does that matter?

* Some cases are heard by the board de novo, which means the parties present the original case all over again. Other cases are heard on the record, meaning they are reviewed to see if proper legal procedures were followed.

Each of the seven Council members appoint a member to the Board, and members serve three-year terms. They are paid $18,000 - $21,000 per year for serving part-time on three-member review panels.

Properly written findings by the panels are important because the opinions can be legally challenged on appeal to a higher court. Appeals can cost the parties involved considerable time and money to resolve.

Land-use and code enforcement decisions by the two administrative law judges in the county’s Office of Administrative Hearings, for example, can be appealed to the Board, whose decisions can in turn be appealed to the Baltimore County Circuit Court.

One local example is the continuing battle over the North Point Government Center in Dundalk, which started with an appeal of a development plan that made its way up the ladder to the court of Special Appeals in Annapolis.

The issue is currently before the state’s three-member Board of Public Works in Annapolis, which has not acted on the issue. Governor Larry Hogan, a BPW member, has said he wants the developer to meet with opponents to work out a revised development plan.

The county charter explains the framework of local government, including administrative functions of the county executive and county departments, as well as the law-making functions of the County Council.

After the Charter Review Commission completes its review of the document’s 12 articles, members will then discuss questions and issues raised during the process.

In October, the commission will send its recommendations to the County Council, which will do its own review before presenting proposed charter updates to Baltimore County voters.

Resident comments

About half a dozen county residents attended the Perry Hall meeting.

Regarding land-use issues, community activist Mike Pierce from Kingsville said in recent years the County Council, whose power is defined in Article II,  has been pushing through zoning and development bills designed to benefit specific property owners, which he believes violates the state constitution.

He said the bills define the property but do not name who would benefit from the change.

Pierce suggested that the charter include a requirement that such bills be subject to a review and public hearing by the county’s Planning Board, giving the public more input into the decision.

Pierce also said other land-use changes are defined so broadly that the public doesn’t know which property owners would be directly affected.

“I think all this needs a better look,” he said.

Commission chairman Ted Venetoulis, a former Baltimore County Executive, said such changes might better be addressed  through legislative changes by the County Council rather than by the county charter.

Timonium community leader Eric Rockel referred to an earlier discussion about the Council’s practice of taking about 30 days to process a legislative bill. Rockel argued that more time is needed to allow public input on proposed changes and last-minute amendments.

The next Charter Review Commission meeting will be Wednesday, April 19, from 7 - 9 p.m. at the Arbutus library. The discussion will focus on Article VII, Budgetary and Fiscal Procedures.

The meetings are public, and visitors are invited to ask questions and express opinions.

A copy of the charter, list of commission members and minutes of previous meetings are posted Click on Boards and Commissions/Learn More.

Information about the procedures and decisions of the Board of Appeals can be found at

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Orems Elementary parents left disappointed after Victory Villa boundary meeting

Orems Elementary parents left disappointed after Victory Villa boundary meeting
Parents and students from Orems Elementary showed up en masse to express their disapproval with potential boundary changes that could see the school move up to 130 students to Middlesex Elementary when the new Victory Villa Elementary opens next year.

(Updated 4/5/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Parents and children predominantly representing Orems Elementary packed the Middle River Middle School cafeteria last Tuesday, March 28, hoping to voice their concern about potential boundary changes that would affect seven elementary schools in the northeast area, as well as Hawthorne Elementary in the southeast.

With Victory Villa Elementary set to open the 2018-19 school year in a new building with a capacity for over 700 students - almost double the size of the previous building - students from Glenmar, Hawthorne, Martin Boulevard, Middlesex, Orems, Shady Spring, Victory Villa and Vincent Farm Elementary will be redistricted to help alleviate overcrowding in the area’s schools. Of the seven schools involved in the process, only Hawthorne (86.5 percent full) is below 100 percent capacity. Three schools - Glenmar, Victory Villa and Vincent Farm - currently sit at or above 123 percent, while Shady Spring’s enrollment sits at a whopping 131 percent.

Hundreds showed up to the meeting hoping to publicly voice their concerns to the committee tasked with drawing the boundary lines, but were outraged when Matthew Cropper, president of Cropper GSI which is leading the independent study, told concerned parents the evening was simply meant for them to learn more about the process and provide feedback through an online survey.

“Can any of these people ask you questions or is it one way?” questioned Valerie McDonough, who was at the meeting representing her husband, State Delegate Pat McDonough. Others shouted they had already looked over the materials posted on the county school system’s website.

“What we’re going to do at this point... is continue with the established process,” said Community Superintendent George Roberts, temporarily quelling the situation.

Things didn’t stay calm for long, however, as Cropper was soon surrounded by approximately 20 irate parents complaining about lack of input.

Orems Elementary PTA President Natalie Van Buskirk, who is also part of the committee studying the issue, told the East County Times that while the evening wasn’t meant to be a public forum, she understands the frustration expressed by the parents.

“They’ve done their due diligence going on the website and spending hours going through the data,” said Van Buskirk. “After that meeting I think a lot of people were upset that they didn’t get to express their opinion. But we, the committee, did communicate that the meeting was pretty much just a session where they would be looking at the data, trying to analyze the data and then take that survey. But again I know there were a lot of community members that were there that were upset.”

Among those upset by the proposed boundary changes - which would see upwards of 130 Orems students being rezoned to attend Middlesex Elementary - was Bob Driscoll, who leads the Aero Acres Civic Improvement Association.

“Orems Elementary was built specifically for the children in the Aero Acres community,” said Driscoll. “We feel like they’re moving our kids unjustly, no reason at all, except for diversity.”

Van Buskirk contradicted the claim that students were being moved for purposes of diversity, saying that there is no racial or economic motive behind the boundary proposal.

“The committee’s own goal is to keep communities together,” said Van Buskirk.

The committee studying the boundary issue is comprised of Cropper and four representatives from each of the eight schools involved in the process. The four representatives include each school’s principal, a teacher and two parents. Principals do not have a vote.

The committee started the process with three proposed maps. At their next meeting, that number was increased to nine before being whittled down to the four options that were presented Tuesday night. Information from each of the committee meetings previously held can be found at A final recommendation will be made to the Baltimore County Board of Education on May 9.

According to Van Buskirk, the response to the online survey filled out by parents has been strong enough that the committee may end up considering other options based on the data provided. A committee meeting has been scheduled for April 20 so committee members can evaluate the data and decide if a new proposal is necessary.

She also echoed some of the sentiments expressed by Driscoll and others.

“Two of the options, they cut right down the middle of Aero Acres,” Van Buskirk said. “There would be children that have literally been going to school together since pre-k, since kindergarten, and they’re going to be living right across the street from each other and going to different schools.”

Besides students from Orems being moved to Middlesex, anywhere from 93 - 120 students would be moved from Shady Spring Elementary to Orems. For many, the solution doesn’t make a lot of logistical sense.

Orems and Shady Spring are more than three miles from each other, while every student currently attending Orems resides within a mile of the school. Students who end up rezoned to Middlesex would also have to travel a longer distance to school.

Van Buskirk cited both cost and safety concerns about the potential bussing arrangements.

“I’m surprised Shady Spring hasn’t spoken up,” she said. “They will be bussing 130 unbuckled students across a six-lane, 55-mile-per-hour highway where there have been numerous accidents.”

Earlier this year the Board of Education approved a motion that would see $1 million added to the transportation budget to reduce the student-to-seat ratio from 3:1 down to 2:1. Van Buskirk thinks additional money would need to be added if any of the currently proposed boundary changes gets approved.

According to Cropper, the committee has to take into consideration the following objectives: Reduce overcrowding; utilize added capacity at VV; support diversity that reflects community; maintain continuity of neighborhoods; impact of transportation and pedestrian patterns; minimizing number of times any individual students are reassigned; efficient use of capacity in affected schools; long-term enrollment and capacity trends; location of feeder school boundaries; and phasing in boundary changes by grade level for high schools.

Cropper told the parents that the process can be incredibly tricky because the committee doesn’t want to get bogged down by a single objective. Rather, the objectives need to be considered as a whole.

“I know that this is going to affect the eight schools in the study,” Van Buskirk stated. “One of the main concerns is keeping a community intact. With these options it’s not keeping the community together.”

She added that there is a chance Orems could opt out of the study, citing a school in the southwest area that opted out of a boundary process a few years back, but noted that it is not likely that will happen.

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Business community bands together to benefit children with cancer

Business community bands together to benefit children with cancer
Linda Felts helping to deliver the Play-Doh with her nephew, Cole. Photo courtesy of Gold In Fight.

(Updated 4/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

On March 15, the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Oncology unit declared war - Play-Doh war!

A competition between nurses, patients and families asked for donations of Play-Doh for the hospital’s children’s center, with the unit that collected the most cans of Doh winning the challenge.

Beth Wheeler, a member of the Gold In Fight organization which seeks to make life easier for children with cancer and their families, joined the challenge on behalf of the Pediatric Oncology unit, posting a notice to the organization’s Facebook a week later as a final push for donations.

Little did she know the campaign would soon explode into a massive torrent of donations.

Linda Felts, a Middle River resident and friend of Wheeler’s, had been trying to think of ways to help her nephew, who had been diagnosed with leukemia shortly after Christmas. She saw the post and quickly shared it to her own page, then to the page of the real estate firm she works for, Cummings and Co., explaining that it would be a great way to give back.

The company has six offices, including one in Perry Hall, Felts said, and she offered the office who gave the most Doh a prize of a catered lunch. She noted that she thought she might get “a few hundred” cans of Play-Doh from the challenge.

“Well, none of them want the lunch,” Felts said. “But my phone started blowing up Thursday; it was amazing the support I got with these agents.”

By Friday morning, Felts realized that John Kantorski, head of the Perry Hall office, had re-posted the original post to his own Facebook page as well, along with a link to Amazon where people could go directly to buy cases of Play-Doh. He offered anyone who donated a chance to be in a drawing for Orioles and Iron Birds tickets.

Another agent in the company subsequently offered that whoever collected the most Doh would be treated to dinner. And before Felts knew it, the campaign had gone fully viral.

“I was just amazed,” Felts said.” By Tuesday we had over 2,000 containers of Play-Doh,” she said of just her office.

The bulk of the donations were collected over a four-day period following the original post and delivered to Johns Hopkins Hospital on the following Monday, March 27. In all, Cummings collected a total of 6,644 cans of Play-Doh to the hospital on behalf of the Pediatric Oncology unit, with more than 4,000 of them coming from the Perry Hall office alone.

The Pediatric Oncology unit’s totals were expected to exceed 10,000 total cans.

According to Felts, the donations came from all over, including contractors and vendors that the offices work with, as well as family and friends of everyone involved.

“It blew us away,” she said. “They just all stepped up to the plate.”

Wheeler noted that Gold In Fight had arranged for a moving company to donate their labor and deliver the cases of Doh to the hospital free of charge. But many of the agents from Felts’ company were adamant that they wanted to help deliver it themselves.

“And doing it is where you really feel it,” Wheeler said, “because that’s where you can really change people.”

She called it a “powerful” gesture on the part of the agents.

“It was just a huge success,” Felts added. “A lot of Play-Doh.”

The two women noted that this was the first time Johns Hopkins had attempted such a donation drive for Play-Doh. And it was so successful that the nurses and staff actually asked them not to bring any more since they now had enough to last at least the next two years.

While the official totals were not set to be revealed until Tuesday afternoon, Wheeler felt comfortable stating that the total would be “well over” 30,000 cans of Play-Doh collected for the entire hospital.

Felts said she learned from her nephew that Play-Doh is actually therapeutic for the pediatric cancer patients.

“He said that when he gets his treatments, and some nurses are naturally rougher than other nurses... and he says that playing with the Play-Doh while he’s getting his treatments keeps his mind focused not on what the nurses are doing to him,” Felts said.

“I thought they were playing with the Play-Doh, but they’re actually using it in therapeutic ways,” she said. “And you don’t realize, a simple thing like Play-Doh - they can’t use it over and over again because as soon as it’s opened it’s contaminated with germs, so it’s theirs.”

Wheeler said she is now working on putting together gift bags for each patient with things that most people do not realize that they need, like lip balm, hard candies for the sores in their mouth, blankets, decks of cards, puzzles, money for hospital parking and even Order Up gift cards or gas cards. The bags will be for the kids and the parents, she said, and she has compiled these specific items through speaking with them to find out what they need.

“I think I have a pretty good list now of things I’d like to put in there for every time I go up,” she said.

In addition to helping with smaller bills, Gold In Fight tries to take the kids on trips and activities, such as to a Baltimore Blast game where they got to kick the opening balls, Wheeler said. The organization also has an event coming up at Port Discovery to allow the kids to get out and interact with each other.

And members are always willing to make personal drop-offs of supplies like food or batteries for toys to the families in the hospital, she said.

Additionally, they work to support the children emotionally just by being there for them. And they try to “make dreams come true,” Wheeler said, like having Blast players come to meet them at the hospital.

Because many of the children come from outside the state or even abroad and do not always have a care giver with them at all times, Gold In Fight seeks to help them by bringing dinner, gifts around the holidays and many other necessities and comforts, according to Wheeler.

And some parents cannot keep working because of having to travel to and from the hospital and possibly also take care of other children at home, Wheeler said.

“Some parents are single. So what do you do when you’re the single parent of this child and you have a child at home,” she said, describing one of the families she has been helping. ”It just breaks my heart. That’s why I do what I do.”

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Neighbors express concerns over Pulaski Crossing’s 150 proposed new townhomes

(Updated 4/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Neighbors in the vicinity of a proposed new townhome development in White Marsh expressed mainly opposition at a public hearing on the project Tuesday, March 28.

The project, dubbed Pulaski Crossing, would see 150 new residences built on an approximately eight-acre property along US-40/Pulaski Highway, known as the former site of the Pulaski Drive-in.

A large portion of the property was recently rezoned through the 2016 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, changing the resource conservation zone toward the rear of the property to a residential one that allows for townhouses and adding a business zone at the front.

This allowed the entire parcel to be used for housing because of Baltimore County policy which allows business zones adjacent to residential ones to be used residentially.

According to David Karceski, land use attorney for the project, the homes would range from 22 - 24 feet wide and have a starting price point of $280,000 - $290,000.

Karceski also stated the project would provide about an acre more open space than required by the county. But he stated at a prior public meeting that the excess was due to a change in county policy which allows environmentally constrained areas of a site to count toward a project’s open space requirement.

The forested areas at the back of the property, which are held in forest conservation easements by the county and cannot be disturbed, will be included in the site’s passive open space acreage, he said at the previous meeting.

However, nearby residents fear the project could place added pressure on schools and traffic infrastructure in an area that already has problems with both. They also have concerns that it does not fit with the county’s Master Plan.

Some expressed concerns about current traffic in the area during rush hour and wondered how it will be with around 300 new vehicles on the road with this new development.

“I’m going to have to move,” said one man who lives near the site. “I won’t be able to get out onto Route 40.”

Karceski admitted a traffic study has not yet been done for the plan, but assured that the county will require one which will also have to be approved by the state since US-40 is under the jurisdiction of Maryland’s State Highway Administration.

According to Patrick Williams, a project manager with the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, it has not yet been determined whether the developer would have to contribute to improvements to the nearby intersection of Pulaski Highway at Ebenezer Road, which is classified as failing.

It is typical that developers seeking to build within the traffic-shed of a failing intersection are required to contribute to improvements of that intersection.

Many attendees also aired concerns about schools in the area already being overcrowded and that 150 new homes would only add to that problem.

Baltimore County does plan to build new elementary schools to alleviate the overcrowding present at that level. But school enrollment projections show the overcrowding will move up to the middle school level in the next few years leading to severe overcrowding in some schools.

The county currently has no plans for new middle or high schools in the area. And Pulaski Crossing is not included in those projections because the plan did not yet exist.

Karceski noted, though, that they will have to submit a school impact study to the county which will show if they believe this plan will result in overcrowding of more than 115 percent in the schools that would serve the development, as per county regulations.

And being in close proximity to the heavily sediment-polluted Bird River, storm water management (SWM) and sediment controls are also a concern.

The site already has in place two SWM ponds intended to be used for a different project proposed for the site - a Carmax facility - which Pulaski Crossing’s engineers say showed about double the impervious surface they plan to have.

According to John Motsco, an engineer for the project, the plan is to use those ponds for the new project. But their SWM plan must be approved by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. He said the “fine details” had not been worked out yet, but the project would be subject to the newest SWM standards which went into effect in 2009.

“The current intention is to use what was designed for the Carmax to the maximum extent we can and re-use the existing facility,” Motsco said. However, he told the East County Times that the ponds were designed using the 2000 SWM standards.

Residents of the nearby Loreley Beach-Bowerman community also have taken issue with the plan as a Baltimore County Master Plan conflict and said it is unfitting for the area.

The site is surrounded by land zoned for commercial and industrial uses, they contend, and the Master Plan designated the site for resource conservation at its rear and business uses up front closer to the highway.

“The Master Plan calls for an employment center along this section of Route 40 recognizing the need to support the jobs and employment prospects for the area,” wrote Loreley Beach-Bowerman Community Association President Courtney Gruber in a statement to the Times. “Commercial development makes perfect sense since the property fronts Route 40 and is in this heavy commercialized corridor.

“To introduce an isolated townhouse project next to this highway is insane, especially when schools in the area are so overcrowded and school buses will need to compete with trucks to get to the proposed townhouses,” Gruber’s statement continued.

Chris Jakubiak, a community planner and consultant hired by LBBCA, said the plan “would isolate a townhouse project among heavily commercial and industrial areas without supporting residential amenities.” He added that it would become an “island” of residential housing with no access to anything except by car.

“This [site] is totally inappropriate for a residential development,” another attendee said, mentioning additional traffic concerns related to entering and exiting the site due to existing lines of site.

“There is absolutely not another townhouse or residential development until you get to Joppatown and for four miles down Pulaski Highway,” he continued. “There isn’t another community that exits onto the backup for Interstate 95.”

BdRRC hopes to use mobile app to better Bird River water quality

BdRRC hopes to use mobile app to better Bird River water quality
A report map in the app showing locations of different logged issues.

(Updated 4/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

At its spring meeting on Thursday, March 30, leadership of the Bird River Restoration Campaign (BdRRC) updated the community on issues currently facing its namesake river and some things that have happened since they last met in the fall.

But they also sought to inform those in attendance about a new mobile application which the organization hopes will help raise awareness of water quality issues the river is facing.

The Bird River is widely recognized as one of the most, if not the most sediment-polluted river in the Chesapeake Bay. Increased residential and commercial development in the watershed has resulted in at least a five-fold increase in the amount of paved surfaces over the last 20 years, according to studies done by Baltimore County, causing an increase in polluted stormwater runoff flowing into the river and the bay.

As a result, the polluted runoff has carried with it not just massive amounts of sediment which has filled in the river and made it unnavigable in its upper reaches, but also high levels of nutrients and human and animal waste.

The nutrients can contribute to algae blooms which cause fish kills, and the waste can cause high levels of bacteria which can be harmful to humans if ingested or it gets into an open wound while swimming.

In the last year, the Bird River has experienced a major fish kill caused by an algae bloom and extremely high levels of fecal bacteria present after rain storms.

However, John Dawes, executive director of Chesapeake Commons software development, introduced a free mobile application for iPhone and Android smart phones which could begin to change the conditions present in the river with enough local participation.

BdRRC hopes to be able to use the app for citizens to report local issues related to the Bird River and to help clean up trash and sediment issues.

More than just a tool on your phone, Dawes said the app was actually developed as a web and mobile community similar to other social networks.

“More or less, it allows you to share your observations while you’re out on the river,” he said.

He noted that members like to use it for reporting the “good, bad and the ugly” and trying to establish a community of reports and citizen volunteers that can work on both a local and national scale to help improve water quality issues.

Dawes said the app, which is also available at, can be specifically useful by helping citizens to report problems such as sediment issues, trash or other pollution.

Users can create a report by describing and photographing the issue, attaching a geo-tag to it so others can find it and even bringing it to a particular group’s attention for quick action on more localized issues, he explained. For instance, reports shared with Friends of Bird River will go straight to the BdRRC leadership.

In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Dawes gave several examples of how advocacy groups are using the app to meet their goals.

For example, and organization called Stream Link Education leverages the system to track where they plant riparian forest buffers, particularly along the Monocacy River in Frederick County. They also organize and lead tree plantings with local community members, organizations and businesses. And with the help of volunteers, they plant native trees and shrubs within the area known as the riparian zone - the land that extends from the banks of a stream.

Additionally, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin uses the system to identify algal blooms with the mission of protecting and enhancing the waters and related resources of the Potomac River Basin through science, regional cooperation and education. The group operates across state lines in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia to protect the “Nation’s River” which plays an important role in the lives of more than 6 million people.

Elsewhere around the country, the Mountain Watershed group is using Water Reporter to document the beauty of the Youghiogheny River in western Pennsylvania, Dawes pointed out, and the Choctowatchee Riverkeeper down in Alabama uses it to be a watchdog for sediment issues, similar to BdRRC.

“We’re hoping that eventually we can pull maybe even county government and other organizations in,” Dawes said.

With each report, the GPS location can provide turn-by-turn directions to the location for those who want to help out. Users can also log in with their account and discuss issues featured in the reports.

“It helps create that dialogue of specific things that can happen and get you moving towards improvement,” Dawes said.

And after an activity is completed, the report for it can then be closed out to show that an issue has been resolved.

“So if we’re working together as a team to fix this stuff, we’ve got a nice framework for being able to capture all that data,” Dawes commented.

He also said that, although he sits at a computer writing code every day, he and his team are inspired to be able to get this technology into the hands of people who are out trying to fix these problems.

“So hopefully you guys can use it, give it a shot, and we can use this data to really improve our local waterways,” he said.

Dawes also pointed out that since the BdRRC meeting, there have already been a “handful” of reports logged on the app in the Bird River group and discussions between members.

He noted that nearly 2,000 reports have been logged nationwide so far through the app by its more than 1,000 members. And an additional 30 members had signed up to use it following the BdRRC meeting.

Also discussed at the meeting was a new environmental curriculum in Baltimore County Public Schools which consists of a yearlong course in Earth and environmental science for ninth grade students.

According to Joe Davis, a teacher naturalist in BCPS’ Office of Science, the course includes a unit focusing specifically on Maryland’s hydrosphere.

“What we have done is charged the schools to involve every ninth grader in a study, not of just the Chesapeake Bay and those broad issues, but actually what’s happening in their own local tributaries,” Davis explained.

He added that the program uses Small Watershed Action Plans (SWAPs) as anchored documents in place of textbooks to allow students to look at data, other types of information and maps developed by the scientific community and use it to investigate what is going on in their own communities in terms of water quality.

SWAPs are studies produced by county government which identify characteristics of a watershed, ongoing or potential issues there and possible actions citizens or organizations can take to improve water quality in the subject waterway.

Through the program, students monitor water quality in local streams for the year, so if they see an issue they can report it, Davis said. So high schools such as Perry Hall, Overlea, Kenwood or Eastern Tech, which have students living in the Bird River watershed, will be tuned in to those issues.

And in reference to the concept of being a pest to get attention for water quality issues to get results, Davis joked that ninth grade students can be great pests.

“If you want to get something changed, you get a bunch of ninth graders fired up about an issue and [you’ll get results],” Davis noted.

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Marshy Point Nature Center to host 15th annual Spring Festival

Marshy Point Nature Center to host 15th annual Spring Festival
The event, for which fair weather is expected, will feature canoeing along Dundee Creek, as well as many other fun activities for the whole family. Photo courtesy of Ben Porter.

(Updated 4/5/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Marshy Point Nature Center, nestled on the Dundee and Saltpeter creeks in Middle River, is one of Baltimore County’s hidden gems, according to Ben Porter, a naturalist at the center.

Owned and operated by the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, Marshy Point offers a variety of activities and special events, nature classes, water exploration and many resident critters, including a barred owl and many reptiles.

To show off the facility and bring attention to the coming warm weather, the center will hold its 15th annual Spring Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 15.

“The festival showcases the amazing natural features that people might not know exist right here in their backyard,” Porter said. “We get to show off the county’s only waterfront nature center, and it’s right here in eastern Baltimore County.”

The event, with free parking and admission, will include many participatory and interactive activities, including canoeing, crafts, games and activities specifically designed for children, Chesapeake Bay retriever demonstrations on land and water, traditional boat building demonstrations, colonial re-enactors, live music, decoy carvers and talks about the center’s resident wildlife.

“And we’ll have lots of vendors and food for sale,” Porter said.

Center staff members are also excited about hosting the second year of their osprey/Dundee Creek camera, according to Porter. Last year, when the camera was launched, viewers were able to watch ospreys build a nest, lay eggs, and then babies hatching and eventually fledging at the end of the season.

“The birds have returned so we’re looking forward to watching them again this year,” Porter said. “And this year, we have a new feature - we have a microphone out there now.”

While Baltimore County owns the property and provides employees who manage the center, many of the extras are provided by the Marshy Point Nature Center Council, a volunteer organization that runs like the county’s many community recreation councils.

“They’re sort of our ‘Friends of Marshy Point’ group,” Porter said. “They provide assistance around the center and raise money that buys most of our resident animals, center exhibits and that sort of thing.”

All donations made on the day and proceeds from food sales will benefit the center and its council.

“We seem to be building year after year - the festival has really grown in popularity,” Porter said. “We’ve had up to 2,000 people here on the day - we’re looking forward to seeing everyone.”

The center is at 7130 Marshy Point Road in Middle River. For more information about the festival or other center offerings, call 410-887-2817.

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Vacant home, Java Act bills heard by county’s Senate delegation

(Updated 4/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County’s Senate Delegation in Annapolis was scheduled to vote on a pair of bills sponsored by Delegate Robin Grammer (R-Essex) last Friday, March 24, which deal with how to handle vacant homes and removing the sunset on the Java Act.

The committee later voted on March 29 to give the latter bill a favorable recommendation by a 6 - 1 margin. Only Sen. Delores Kelley voted against the measure, and Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam was not present.

Grammer continued to advocate at the Friday hearing for House Bill 220, which seeks to help communities deal with the blight of vacant homes by requiring Baltimore County to devise a process of certifying them as vacant. That way the homes can move through the foreclosure process and go back to market rather than sitting idle.

Vacant homes, Grammer said, can become magnets for rats, illegal dumping and squatters who sometimes use drugs inside or damage the homes by stealing copper piping or wiring. Any flooding in vacant rowhomes can also pose a hazard to adjacent properties.

“I’d like to say this problem is unique, but this is actually typical in a lot of our more dense neighborhoods,” he told the delegation. “In any area with rowhomes we see scores and scores of these properties, and the problem is we have no legal recourse that allows us to take action on these properties.”

Grammer’s bill would require the county to issue or deny a certificate of vacancy for a property within 14 days of a request to do so. If the certificate is issued, the property could then move into the state’s judicial foreclosure process and be brought up to code and back on the market more quickly.

But Baltimore County has opposed the bill, noting that the county has no process for certifying a property as vacant because the Fourth Amendment prevents them from going inside without a court order or an emergency situation.

“So we would have no way to determine whether or not a property is vacant,” said Ethan Hunt who spoke on behalf of the county. “Just because it looks vacant or is in disrepair does not necessarily mean that it is vacant.”

Hunt pointed out that lenders foreclosing on properties also sometimes do not file a new deed right away so they can avoid paying the transfer tax until the home is resold.

Senator Bobby Zirkin (D-Owings Mills) also criticized the 14-day period to issue the certificate, expressing concerns that it was not enough time for a resident or property owner to respond.

“So a letter is sent, let’s say Johnny Ray owns a piece of property,” Zirkin supposed. “Johnny Ray isn’t there but doesn’t want you issuing one of these certificates. So you send a letter to Baltimore County and they have to serve him with it?

“Is there a service process you have to do? Because typically in a legal context you have 30 days to answer a civil suit,” Zirkin affirmed. “So you have to serve Johnny Ray” to give him an opportunity to contest it.

But Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Woodlawn Democrat, defended the bill, noting that she plans to support it.

“I’ve had numerous people in Woodlawn, Windsor Mill, that have called me, they’re living next to boarded-up houses with all kinds of problems and nothing has been able to be done,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “At least we’re making an effort to begin to address the problem.”

She and Grammer said they were open to an amendment increasing the vacancy certification period to 30 days, as was Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Towson).

Because of the shorter period, Brochin told the Times he had concerns about residents’ homes being declared vacant if they were in the hospital or taking care of a sick relative for an extended period. He said he could potentially support the bill if it were amended to 30 days, however.

“I think the content [of the bill] is workable,” Brochin said. “If I can get that 30-day amendment on there, I will probably support the bill.”

But Zirkin still had concerns that the bill should be “more solid.”

“Baltimore County isn’t allowed to walk into somebody’s house, even if it’s a really ugly sight and you have rats coming out,” Zirkin said. “Getting a court order would make it legal.”

The bill was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on March 29.

Grammer’s other bill heard by the delegation Friday seeks to remove the sunset on the Java Act, which passed in the legislature last year. That bill protected a program - allowing special needs students at Patapsco High School in Dundalk to gain social and business experience while working in a coffee shop - from being banned by the state Department of Education because the sale of caffeine is prohibited in schools.

The program has since spread to Chesapeake High School in Essex and six other high schools in the county and has been widely successful, Grammer said.

“The good thing is these special needs kids run this and they have the greatest opportunity to interact with people like never before,” Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk) commented. “And the parents see the interaction and it’s been a very big benefit for these kids.”

Both bills passed the House of Delegates with unanimous votes before moving into the Senate.

This article was updated to include the voting results for the Java Act bill in the Baltimore County Senate Delegation.

Citizen heroes honored at annual Commendations Ceremony

Citizen heroes honored at annual Commendations Ceremony
Courtney Patterson (left) received the Citizen’s Medal of Honor for showing heroic bravery and saving her younger sister (right) from drowning in a pool. Patterson was one three Baltimore County citizens honored with the Citizen’s Medal of Honor. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 3/29/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. That was evident at the Baltimore County Fire Department’s Commendations Ceremony, last Thursday, March 23, as citizens and firefighters from around the county received special honors for acts of bravery committed during 2016.

The youngest award winner of the night was 9-year-old Courtney Patterson of White Marsh, who was honored with the Citizen’s Medal of Honor - the department’s highest citizen honor - for saving her little sister from drowning in the deep end of a pool last summer.

“For those that are honored tonight, they didn’t take action... in order to get an award,” said Fire Chief John Hohman. “You did it to save someone’s life, because it was the right thing to do.”

That assertion was confirmed by Patterson after the ceremony. “I turned around and I saw a splash and I went underwater and I saw my sister,” said Patterson. She stated she was “really happy” her little sister wasn’t hurt.

Others honored at the event, attended by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, as well as County Council members Cathy Bevins and Todd Crandell, included two White Marsh Volunteer Fire EMTs who sprung into action when they noticed a driver along US 40/Pulaski Highway had gone into cardiac arrest. Anna Duranske and Rob Powell stopped to assist, using a defibrillator to help the driver in need. For their efforts they received a unit citation. A unit citation is awarded to members of a unit for exceptional achievment that sets them apart from others.

Kamenetz stated that he was “honored to recognize civilians who have shown bravery and members of the Fire Service who have performed above and beyond what the job requires.”

The ceremony, headed by the fire department’s commendations board, is held annually at Loch Raven High School.

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Home Act passed in Maryland House but could face more opposition in Senate

(Updated 3/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following two nearly complete party-line votes in committee and on the House floor in Annapolis, the 2017 Home Act advanced out of the House of Delegates and over to the State Senate on March 17.

The bill, sponsored by Delegate Steve Lafferty (D-Towson), would make it illegal throughout Maryland to discriminate against renters based on their source of income and is aimed particularly at those using federal Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly known as Section 8.

The bill would apply to rental housing consisting of seven or more contiguous units owned or managed by the same person. It also requires that 15 percent of any such housing be made available for those using housing vouchers to pay their rent.

The Home Act passed through the House Environment and Transportation Committee via a 16-8 vote, with all the committee’s Democrats and just one Republican voting in favor. The lone Republican vote in favor was Del. Robert Flanagan of Howard County, according to state documents.

On the House floor, the bill advanced with an 88-53 vote and only three Democrats voting in opposition. All House Republicans opposed the bill, and the dissenting Democrats were delegates Ned Carey of Anne Arundel County, Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County and C.T. Wilson of Charles County.

Eastern Baltimore County Republicans Robin Grammer and Kathy Szeliga offered a combined four amendments to the bill on the House floor, but all of which were rejected.

Grammer, who offered three of the amendments, told the East County Times that they were an effort to tailor the bill more closely to the arguments in support of it.

His first amendment would have removed the requirement in the bill that 15 percent of units in a complex be offered for affordable housing since supporters have argued that a goal of the bill is to decentralize the amount of housing voucher holders in any one area, Grammer said. He felt that requiring a percentage is counter-intuitive to de-concentration of the vouchers.

The second would have allowed landlords to deny prospective tenants who have been convicted of a crime or who currently have criminal charges against them.

“The second amendment would have essentially protected landlords from having to take on someone who is known or suspected to be a criminal,” Grammer explained.

And his third would have narrowed the scope of the bill to apply only to those voucher holders who are elderly, disabled, veterans or are on fixed incomes.

“Essentially, it would have limited the bill to what the purported purpose was - help people who need help,” he said, noting that supporters have stated that those groups would most benefit from the measure.

“So essentially what I was trying to do was limit the bill down and basically adhere to the talking points that have been used for justification of the bill,” Grammer maintained. “Unfortunately, they killed all three amendments and the bill itself is actually more egregious than the one put forward at the [Baltimore] County Council.”

Last summer, the County Council considered a bill which simply would have added “source of income” to the law in the list of characteristics landlords cannot use to discriminate against prospective tenants. That bill failed, gaining the support of only one council member.

Szeliga’s amendment would have made the law inapplicable in jurisdictions that have already rejected it at the local level, i.e. Baltimore County.

Delegate Eric Bromwell, a Perry Hall Democrat and the only east-side delegate who voted for the bill, did not respond by press time to a request for comment as to why he supported the measure.

Grammer said since the House vote, he has begun to rally opposition in the Senate and ask constituents to express opposition to their state senators.

“We’re really hoping the Senate can fight this,” he commented.

“We did peel off a couple Democrats [in the House],” Grammer stated. “I think they really saw the bill as a bad bill,” which he said he believes leans in the opposition’s favor.

“For better or for worse, the Senate is known for killing bills. Good bills, bad bills - they kill more bills than the House does,” the delegate said.

Grammer said he sees the Home Act as an ideological measure, but the Republican party “does not want to see people’s property rights stolen.

“We don’t believe that forcing Section 8 into communities on a zipcode-by-zipcode basis is the right thing to do,” he said. “What we really need to be focusing on is bringing jobs back to Maryland [such as at Sparrows Point] so that we don’t have to have a welfare program for taxpayers to subsidize the [housing] of other people.”

After the House vote, the bill moved over to the state Senate and into the chamber’s Judicial Proceedings Committee.

Senator James Brochin, a Towson Democrat who sits on that committee, told the Times that he also opposes the bill and agreed that it is a property rights issue.

Brochin is also rumored to be planning a run for Baltimore County Executive next year.

“I don’t think we should be forcing people to have a contract with the federal government,” Brochin said, adding his concern that a landlord could be forced to accept a tenant who then damages the property and leaves, and the owner is left with no recourse because the housing department will not tell them where the tenant moved to.

“There is nothing in that bill that is workable,” the senator said.

Sponsors, family hope ‘Janet’s Law’ better informs patients

Sponsors, family hope ‘Janet’s Law’ better informs patients
Janet Hannan.

(Updated 3/29/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

When Perry Hall resident Janet Hannan spoke of plans to have some elective cosmetic surgery in 2005 in advance of a son’s wedding, her family thought she was kidding.

“The wedding was going to be a shining moment for her youngest son and she wanted to look as good as she could,” son Bryan Hannan said of his brother’s ceremony. “We thought she was joking about it but as the date got closer, she told us she scheduled the surgery.”

Instead of that “shining moment,” the wedding took place with the cloud of a lost family member looming over it following Janet’s death three days after the surgical procedures.

Hannan, 58, elected to have thigh liposuction, a tummy tuck and a hernia repair performed by Oscar M. Ramirez, M.D., who owned and operated Esthetique Internationale, a medical office and ambulatory surgical center in Timonium.

Though the family was told the procedure would not be a lengthy process, Janet was in surgery for about 10 hours, according to her son and Maryland Board of Physicians online records. Ramirez made the decision to keep her overnight in the surgical center and then sent her home the next morning in a private ambulance before family members could make arrangements to pick her up, according to her son.

“She got home with a catheter still inserted and she was wearing compression stockings,” Bryan said. “She did not look like she should have been discharged from medical care in that condition.”

Janet was weak and couldn’t climb stairs so she slept downstairs in her den area with her husband, Michael, alongside her.

“Saturday morning, my dad got up to go to the bathroom and when he came back, he noticed her chest wasn’t moving,” Bryan said. “He started CPR and called 911 and [emergency responders] pronounced her dead.”

Because Janet was young and healthy, the family asked for an autopsy. The results said her death was caused by cardiac arrythmia, and also noted her body weight was 152, a detail that astounded her family.

“At her pre-op physical exam, five days before the surgery, her weight was 118,” Bryan Hannan said. “Three days after the surgery, it’s 152?”

Family members would later learn from medical experts that the sudden weight gain was caused by improper fluid management during surgery, which also placed additional burden on her heart, according to her son.

The Hannan family contacted an attorney to pursue a medical malpractice suit against Ramirez and were shocked to discover the doctor did not carry medical liability insurance, commonly referred to as malpractice insurance.

“At one point he had Johns Hopkins Hospital and GBMC privileges and malpractice insurance, but he let it lapse because of the cost,” Bryan said.

Maryland does not require medical liability insurance by law, but in practice, doctors are required to carry the insurance to obtain hospital privileges and participate in health plans, according to an online analysis of a bill before the General Assembly, dubbed “Janet’s Law,” sponsored by Delegate Christian Miele (R-Perry Hall).

At least seven states (Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) require all physicians to carry minimum levels of liabilty insurance, according to the American Medical Association.

At least five states (Alaska, Florida, Montana, Ohio and Oregon) require doctors and similar providers to notify patients if they do not carry malpractice insurance, according to the bill’s analysis.

The Hannans started legal action against Ramirez in early 2006, close to the one-year anniversary of Janet’s death. It was during this process that lawyers discovered the surgeon didn’t carry any liability insurance, but the family decided to continue its lawsuit.

Ramirez first offered $50,000 to settle the case, an offer the family refused, Bryan said. In 2008, an out-of-court settlement in excess of $400,000 was reached.

When Ramirez made no effort to pay, the family filed a motion to enforce the settlement.

“Within 30 days of filing that motion, he filed for bankruptcy, closed his practice here and opened a new practice in Florida,” Bryan said. “It took us six years to get his medical license suspended and he’s still fighting that; he appealed that as recently as 2014.”

That appeal was not successful, according to Maryland Board of Physicians records, and Ramirez is no longer licensed to practice medicine in Maryland.

With court options exhausted and a financial settlement vacated by way of bankruptcy, the Hannans decided to pursue the issue legislatively, with the hope of enacting laws that would bring light to the existence of such policies.

The family originally hoped for a law requiring doctors to carry the malpractice insurance, but that proposal met with “fierce opposition, obviously, from the medical profession,” according to Del. Miele, who sponsored House Bill 957.

Officially titled “State Board of Physicians - Medical Professional Liability Insurance Coverage - Publication,” but known as “Janet’s Law,” the house bill and its sister bill in the Senate, SB195, would require practitioners to disclose the insurance information.

If passed, the bill would require doctors to give a disclosure form to each patient upon their initial visit with them, and to reissue the form if a patient elects to have a surgical procedure performed, according to Miele.

“The bill would also require doctors to post the information somewhere conspicuous in the office and would also require them to provide the information for online profiles through the State Board’s website,” he said.

Each bill passed its respective chamber unanimously, according to online records. But amendments were made along the way, Hannan said, and now the two chambers will attempt to reconcile the differences.

The Hannan family would still prefer to see malpractice insurance mandated legislatively, but realizes the uphill battle they would face against the medical profession and its lobbyists, who say the insurance costs are too high.

In Maryland, insurance premiums vary according to medical specialty, with a low average annual rate of $9,952 for an ophthalmologist who performs no surgery to the highest average annual rate of $108,304 being charged to obstetricians and gynecologists who perform major surgery, according to online data provided by Arthur J. Gallagher and Co., an insurance broker.

The cost of protective insurance should be a routine cost of doing business as a doctor, Bryan believes.

“How can you say the cost of that insurance is more burdensome than someone losing their life, someone losing their loved one,” he asked. “It makes no sense. And these doctors shouldn’t be able to go from state to state, leaving this trail of carnage.”

If the bill passes and doctors are required to openly divulge whether they have liability insurance, Bryan and Miele will consider that a good start.

“It’s hard for a patient to make an informed decision without access to that kind of information,” Miele said. “This bill will create better access to that information.”

“What we proposed just kept getting watered down and watered down and what ends up becoming law might not even resemble Janet’s Law when it’s all done,” Bryan said. “But it’s better than nothing and at least lets people know this insurance isn’t required by law and they need to ask about it. But we won’t give up on making the insurance mandatory.”

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Rockin’ on the River ticket sale kicks off with guest bartender night

Rockin’ on the River ticket sale kicks off with guest bartender night

(Updated 3/29/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Rockin’ on the River is set for June 4 at Conrad’s Ruth Villa in Bowleys Quarters, and tickets for the annual festival will be on sale beginning on Friday, March 31, at the Back River Restoration Committee’s Guest Bartender Night fundraiser held at the RiverWatch Restaurant in Essex. The event begins at 6 p.m.

The sixth installment of Rockin’ on the River promises to be the biggest one yet, with a fifth band added to the bill this year. The bands performing include Kanye Twitty, Awaken, Strait Shooter, Marhsall Law and Rising Tide. And for the sixth straight year, tickets will be $10.

The event has become a staple in eastern Baltimore County, with thousands turning out each year to take in the sounds of local artists at one of the area’s pristine locations in Conrad’s. But what those who attend might not know is that they’re doing more than supporting local bands when they show up.

“Very few realize that they are helping save the Chesapeake Bay and other worthwhile causes with the cost of their admission,” said Sam Weaver, who heads up the BRRC.

According to Weaver, half of the proceeds from last year’s event went to the BRRC for cleanup and restoration projects. The money raised for the organization last year made it possible for the group to hire six environmental students to work as interns over the summer to learn about the waterways and engage in cleanups. The interns assisted in pulling 170,000 pounds of trash and debris from Back River over the summer.

And the charity doesn’t stop there. Rockin’ on the River co-Chairs Don Crockett and Rob Baier, along with Weaver, have given tens of thousands of dollars to other charities around the area. Money raised from Rockin’ on the River has gone to the Middleborough and Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Departments, multiple scholarship programs, the Franklin Square Wellness-Literacy Program, the Eastside Family Emergency Shelter, “Shop With A Cop,” the Baltimore County PAR Fund and a whole lot more. More information about organizations that benefited from donated funds can be found on

“Every dollar we get goes back into the community,” said Weaver.

Rockin’ on the River tends to sell out quickly, with Crockett and Weaver cautioning that tickets may sell out on Friday night.

“We have about 3,000 tickets and I’ve already had about 4,000 people asking me about them,” said Crockett.

Besides providing the chance to purchase tickets for the festival, the BRRC Guest Bartender night will also have a DJ, guest bartenders, laydowns, raffles, a silent auction and appearances from the bands appearing at this year’s installment. Benefits from this event will also benefit the BRRC.

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

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homicides, violent crime on the rise in Baltimore County

Homicides, violent crime on the rise in Baltimore County

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

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 3/22/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever the energetic fundraiser, Jarkiewicz said it is not too late to contribute this year. Donations can be made online at

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

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Environmental group loses county funding due to policy change

(Updated 3/27/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A spokesperson for the county confirmed that the county wished to be more equitable with the grant funding it gives to community groups like GVC, noting that some funding was shifted to other groups such as Blue Water Baltimore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was updated to add comments from a Baltimore County spokesperson.

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

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

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Potential county executive candidates courting east-side voters

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

Almond began by speaking about the importance of community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hogan proposes new treatment plan for midges in Back River

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council members propose directive for grandfathered development plans

(Updated 3/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County Council requires new rat-free certification to demolish buildings

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

(Updated 3/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Developer contribution bill fails before county Senate delegation

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

(Updated 3/7/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Edgemere community has questions about Shiloh Baptist community center

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

(Updated 3/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chair massage fundraiser to honor memory of CCBC student

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

(Updated 3/7/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about the chair massage event, call 443-840-1598 or send an email to

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Enrollment projection paints grim picture for northeast schools

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Brochin, supporters defend developer contributions bill before Senate committee

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

(Updated 3/2/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Foreclosure bill progresses in House, faces uncertain reception in Senate

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Edgemere church seeks state aid for completion of community center

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community concerned about merging, relocation of Essex VFCs

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 3/1/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opponents boycott meeting with developer on Fort Howard

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

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three Essex volunteer fire companies to merge, relocate

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

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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County councilman finds fault with Charter Review Commission picks

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

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 2/22/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grammer reintroduces bill to help deal with vacant homes

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

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Middle River volunteers looking to better serve community with new site

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

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FeBREWary: Tasting craft beers in the name of economic development

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

(Updated 2/15/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Residents, officials clash over ‘law enforcement’ proposal

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

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is a cry for help,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the amusement park closed in 1947, the land was bought by Bethlehem Steel. Through his affiliation with the company, Mr. Takos was permitted to access the land and continued to fish the waters and hunt on the land. He organized and led hunting expeditions for company executives, and his wife Mamie would cook the bounty when the men returned home from the outings, according to Anthony Takos.

Mr. Takos, who lived in Edgemere, maintained his love for the old amusement park land and helped persuade the state to buy it when Bethlehem Steel sold the property in the late 1980s.

The honorary ranger loved the entire park, but restoring the grand old fountain was a pet project, according to Park Ranger Sara Rinta.

“Steve was instrumental in restoring the fountain here,” she said. “After it was restored, he painted it, he located the original fountainhead and he landscaped around it.”

According to local lore, Takos tracked the fountainhead to a guy who had it stored in his garage, Rinta said, and Takos was able to return it to its rightful home.

While Mr. Takos almost single-handedly restored the beloved fountain, there’s a greater link in his legacy, according to Ranger Bob Iman, a park service area manager whose territory includes North Point.

“Steve was instrumental in influencing the state and the DNR in creating the right kind of park for this community,” Iman said. “He insisted the park didn’t become too developed and to keep it natural; there were many things being considered for this land and the community wanted it kept as natural as possible and Steve fought for that.”

As a result, the park, with its many trails, is popular with birders, nature photographers, hikers, bicyclists and picnickers, Iman said. The passive design gives the park its own identity and gives people a reason to visit the park over others nearby, he said.

In a surprise ceremony to honor Mr. Takos’ longtime service to the park, its visitor’s center was renamed the Takos Visitors Center in celebration of his 80th birthday in 2003, according to his son.

“How they kept that a surprise I’ll never know, but he sure was surprised when he went in there,” Anthony Takos said.

Outside of his volunteer park service, Mr. Takos was a member of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore’s Greektown.

He enjoyed any activity outdoors and particularly enjoyed hunting and fishing, according to Shifflett.

“He used to catch minnows and sell them to the bait shop, and he used the money to return to Greece every summer,” she recalled. “I would go with him to fish a lot, and he always had a station wagon that smelled like peppermint and minnows.”

Mr. Takos was also active in local recreation programs, helping to umpire and coach youth baseball and basketball games and run Friday night youth dances, according to his son.

“He supported everything we did but he would never watch me wrestle because he was afraid I’d get hurt,” Anthony Takos recalled with a laugh. “Even though he was a boxer, he couldn’t watch me wrestle.”

In addition to his son and granddaughter, Mr. Takos is survived by his son Steve Takos Jr., four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and bother Michael Takos.

In accordance with Mr. Takos’ wishes, no funeral services were held. The family plans to hold a memorial service at North Point State Park sometime this spring.

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North Point Peninsula communities again grappling with crime increase

North Point Peninsula communities again grappling with crime increase

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following a string of burglaries and other crimes in and around Edgemere in January 2016, residents were up in arms and turned out in record numbers for that month’s North Point Peninsula Council (NPC) meeting to discuss the issue.

At the end of the meeting, attendees vowed to organize, communicate better with each other and keep a watchful eye on their neighborhoods to get a handle on the problems.

But prior to the NPC’s meeting last Thursday, Feb. 2, the area had again experienced a spike in recent crime, most notably in the form of thefts and burglaries. And though the turnout for the meeting was not quite what it was a year ago, residents were determined to act more definitively to prevent these problems in the future.

Officer Russ Shipley, the area’s community liaison officer from the Baltimore County Police Department reported that there had been at total of 254 calls for police service in the Edgemere area through the month of January leading to 56 police reports being written.

Nearly half of the calls - 106 - were assistance requests which include checking on neighbors or family members, medical calls, civil or domestic issues or assisting other law enforcement agencies with missing or wanted persons.

Twenty-eight calls were traffic related, including traffic stops, traffic accidents and parking complaints; 12 were disturbance calls or noise complaints; 13 were domestic incidents or spousal assault cases; and another nine were calls regarding sick or injured subjects, which include requesting police help with unruly patients.

Shipley noted there is not a lot police can do to prevent noise or domestic issues; they just respond, deal with them appropriately and move on.

There were also 21 calls for suspicious subjects or vehicles in the area, which Shipley stressed he would like to see more of.

“I wouldn’t care if that number was 100 calls for service,” he said. That tells me that you in the community see something that doesn’t look right... you pick up the phone, call 911 because you think they might be up to something.

“I urge you, make that number 100, 200, I don’t care,” he said.

Additionally, Shipley reported that police responded last month to two calls for narcotics, three for burglary and three more for theft from motor vehicles.

Both narcotics calls were police-initiated via traffic stops, he said, and arrests were made in both cases.

Regarding the burglaries, two were committed by the same suspect who was arrested and charged with both, Shipley explained. And the third was committed by someone known to the victim - their neighbor.

Shipley also attributed the thefts and burglaries to likely drug problems.

“The heroin epidemic in this country... is out of control,” he said. “These people that have this problem, they do anything they can to take care of their habit. Whether that means breaking into houses, stealing from you, stealing from their parents, stealing from anybody to do what they need to do.”

The officer added that prescription drug abuse is not as big of a problem in Edgemere, specifically, but heroin is a major issue.

NPC’s vice president, Tim Stadler, who is also a sergeant with BCoPD assigned to Edgemere on the midnight shift, said police have been working to address the spike in crime, though residents may not have necessarily noticed an increase in police presence.

He explained that the North Point precinct is divided into three squads: the lower end, which consists mainly of Old Dundalk; the upper end which includes the Eastpoint, Colgate and Berkshire neighborhoods; and the Edgemere squad.

Edgemere encompasses the whole North Point peninsula down to Fort Howard, which is mainly rural. But the beat also includes the neighborhoods of North Point Village, West Inverness and Gray Haven, Stadler said, adding that they typically only have three to four officers working that entire area on the midnight shift.

“So historically, you probably haven’t seen many police cars driving around at 2 o’clock in the morning on Lodge Forest [Drive] because, for the most part, the more serious crimes have been North Point Village or West Inverness,” Stadler commented. “So we kind of stay focused on that area.”

But with Edgemere’s rise in crime the last few months, Stadler said he has made others in the department aware of it.

“And based on that we’ve focused more resources to this area during the high crime times,” he said, noting that officers have been patrolling the area a lot more in recent weeks.

Stadler emphasized, though, that residents must call the police with issues rather than just posting about it on social media.

“I see a lot of that where people want to complain on Facebook about it but they don’t call the police,” he said. “If you want to see more police cars down here, the commanders need to see more calls coming in.”

Stadler and Shipley stressed that if residents see something suspicious, the best option is to call police. And Shipley added that calling 911 is the fastest way to get service, rather than calling the precinct.

Calling the precinct directly will not necessarily be logged with crime stats for the area, the two noted, and if the stats aren’t there to suggest the need, the necessary resources will not be allocated.

Additionally, they said, the police cannot address the problems if they do not know about them, and police statistics cannot reflect true crime numbers if people do not call police to report them.

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Gift of boots warms more than just the feet

Gift of boots warms more than just the feet
Recipients tried on and showed off their new winter boots. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Marge Neal 

Sometimes, “a shoe is more than just a shoe,” according to Major Gene Hogg, area commander of the Salvation Army of Central Maryland.

Something as simple as a shoe, or in this case, a pair of boots, can be a vote of confidence, a morale booster and a reminder that someone cares as well as a shield against the elements.

On Saturday, Feb. 4, the gifts of footwear were all those things when officials from the Toyota car company gave 200 pairs of Bogs insulated boots and 200 pairs of Moosejaw socks to members of the Salvation Army’s three area Boys and Girls Clubs who gathered at the Middle River club.

The gifts were made as part of the Toyota “Walk in My Boots” initiative that has provided footwear to club members twice, according to John Ridgeway, corporate manager of Toyota Financial Services. The car group uses the boots program to kick off the annual Motor Trend International Auto Show that runs Feb. 9 - 12 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

“We always enjoy giving to the community,” Ridgeway told the crowd gathered for the event that included a fellowship meal. “We do this day-to-day and I tell my folks all the time, it’s not about making better leaders, it’s about making better people.”

Ridgeway, who works in Owings Mills, said the company strives to help communities where its workers live, with an emphasis on education, safety, food, housing and the arts.

In just the second year, Toyota’s campaign has distributed more than 600 pairs of boots and donated $45,000 in cash to the Baltimore area as well as through sister programs in Detroit and Chicago, according to Ridgeway.

“While many programs give out coats, we thought it was just as important to protect the feet,” he said. “So we hope these boots warm your feet, warm your heart and warm your soul.”

Hogg grew up in humble circumstances and shared his story with the crowd. He told of having an alcoholic father and a period of homelessness when he and his family lived in a car.

When people are struggling to put food on the table and pay the rent and other bills, a gift like that of the boots is special and leaves a lasting memory. When Hogg was about 7, he was given a G.I. Joe action figure as a gift when his family was in a dismal place in life. That someone cared enough to give him that toy that he came to cherish stuck with him throughout his life.

“I’m 54 now and the impact that simple gift had on me stays with me to this day,” he said.

That lasting impression that someone cares plays a role in Toyota’s desire to support its neighboring communities, according to Ridgeway, who hopes the recipients wear their new boots in good health and with warm feet accompanied by an equally warm heart and soul.

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Hogan’s State of the State highlights legislative agenda

Hogan’s State of the State highlights legislative agenda
Hogan (top center) delivered an upbeat message of strength and bipartisanship while focusing solely on state policy. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 2/8/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Governor Larry Hogan’s State of the State address to the General Assembly  started off much like his previous two addresses - with calls for bipartisanship.

Hogan was silent on a lot of issues of national concern - immigration and the Affordable Care Act among others - and used his 30 minutes as a rallying call for his legislative agenda, which includes tackling the heroin and opioid crisis, limiting pollution overflow from the Conowingo Dam, a bipartisan solution to paid sick leave and a call for the repeal of the “Road Kill Bill.”

“This much-needed progress is strongly supported by an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said of the 1,073 transportation projects under construction across the state. “We risk eliminating much of that progress... so I ask again today, on behalf of the people of Maryland: please do not stand in the way of these critical transportation projects.”

Hogan’s contention that 66 of the 73 highest priority projects would be stopped if the bill isn’t repealed by Feb. 10 was rebuked after the speech by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. According to Hogan, Baltimore County would see all of its major projects halted - including the widening of I-695 - under the new project scoring guidelines. Kamenetz noted that the bill “simply requires the Governor to provide an advisory scoring process, letting the public understand how decisions are made when road projects are funded” and referred to warnings of halted projects as “scare tactics.”

Aside from the Road Kill Bill, however, Hogan’s address was largely positive and bipartisan.

On the issue of heroin and opioid abuse, Hogan noted that over the last two years legislators in Annapolis have been committed to tackling drug abuse issues, and that he plans to continue working to provide a solution to a problem that is “tearing apart families and communities.”

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6), who was recently appointed to the Health and Government Operations Committee, stated that “local collaboration” is needed to tackle the issue and noted that there will be a town hall event in the not-too-distant future to help figure out solutions.

“We must commit to doing whatever it takes to address this crisis, and no state can do it alone,” said Hogan. “Nearly all of my fellow governors of both parties have joined with me in asking the federal government to finally get engaged in this national crisis.

This issue has plenty of bipartisan support, with State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) taking the reins on the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force and the Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders. Before the legislative session began, Klausmeier wrote to the secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene asking him to seek all available funding from the federal government. Maryland would be eligible for $10 million.

Highlighting the recent reports of the improved health of the Chesapeake Bay, Hogan stated that his administration is “finally seeking innovative and cost-effective solutions to reduce the sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous pollution which flows down the Susquehana River, through the Conowingo Dam” and into the bay.

A cleaner bay could have a potentially big economic impact on eastern Baltimore County considering the bay and the waterways that lead to it play a pivotal role in the local economy.

One issue discussed in the address that may ruffle some feathers is paid sick leave. Local legislators informed the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce before the legislative session began that the bill would likely be coming, much to the chagrin of local business owners.

Hogan noted that those without the benefit “are sometimes faced with hard choices about their health and welfare” while smaller businesses also would have a hard time providing paid sick leave.

He called for a compromise that would require larger companies - those with 50 or more employees - to provide paid sick leave while smaller companies would get tax incentives for providing additional benefits.

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‘Para-gone’: Communities reflect on folding of outlet mall project

‘Para-gone’: Communities reflect on folding of outlet mall project
This artist's rendition shows a concept of how the outlet mall might have looked once built. The future of the property remains uncertain.

(Updated 2/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The news that the outlet mall planned for White Marsh would no longer move forward and the owners are considering selling the site brought mixed feelings for many in the community who had been following the issue.

Word came out in mid-January that Paragon Outlet Partners LLC had vacated their offices in Baltimore, with some former employees saying the company no longer exists. Paragon’s parent company, The Lightstone Group, also confirmed they are moving away from outlet mall projects and are considering selling the White Marsh property which was slated for the outlets.

The outlet mall plan had garnered significant opposition from the community. But many were won over when Paragon agreed to build a traffic ramp to access eastbound MD-43 to mitigate traffic, and to abide by the most current environmental and storm water management regulations. A voter referendum related to the project passed last year with nearly 59 percent of the vote.

At the Wednesday, Feb. 1, meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, the group’s president, Bob Bendler, kicked off conversation on the topic by noting that the news was “bad news, but not the worst news.”

Where there used to be one 83-acre site along MD-7/Philadelphia Road in White Marsh, owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, there are now two since roughly 50 acres were sold to Paragon for their project. The remainder was retained by COPT.

The zoning was changed for both sites individually through the 2016 rezoning process to allow for commercial uses.

There had been a planned unit development (PUD) approved for the initial entire site which included 1,250 new homes. But according to County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, and Tom Peddicord, legal counsel for the Baltimore County Council, the new zoning now takes precedence and the PUD - which did not offer traffic mitigation or abide by current environmental standards - can no longer go forward.

Additionally, any new project approved for the site would be subject to current environmental and storm water regulations, rather than outdated ones. And the new zoning does not explicitly allow for residential uses.

“In many senses, that’s a victory, I believe, for the communities,” Bendler said. “So there were some positives in all this. And now that it’s not going to happen, there’s still some residual positive.”

However, the EMRCC also reflected on what was lost when the project fell through, including the aforementioned ramp, which Paragon had agreed to build to the tune of nearly $9 million.

The ramp would have carried traffic from MD-7 to eastbound MD-43, allowing it to bypass the congested intersections of MD-7 at Ebenezer Road and US-40/Pulaski Highway at Ebenezer Road.

Although some had criticized the ramp as impossible or inadequate, Maryland State Highway Administration spokesman Charlie Gischlar confirmed the ramp had been fully designed and approved to move forward.

“Now all we have to do is find the wherewithal to get it done without Paragon,” Bendler commented.

Bevins indicated to the East County Times that she will try to get any future developer of the site to contribute to such a ramp, depending on the size of their project, “because if a much smaller development goes in there, that ramp may not be needed,” she said.

“Anybody that’s looking at that property, I’m going to work with them - just like I did Paragon - to get the best project that I can get there and get the same things we got before for the community,” Bevins said.

The councilwoman told the Times she has already had meetings with others interested in the property, and she has let each know that building or contributing to the ramp is what would make any project more acceptable to her.

Also lost were traffic improvements to the intersection of US-40 at Ebenezer Road, which is classified as “failing.”

According to county development regulations, any developer seeking to build in the traffic-shed of a failing intersection must contribute to improvements there. However, Paragon was set to be a major - if not the sole - contributor to those improvements.

The outlet mall’s folding even had a significant effect on the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, which was set to receive a “six-figure” donation from Paragon for their new station to be built just across the street from the site.

Although the donation was only a verbal agreement and an exact figure had not yet been agreed upon, according to WMVFC spokesman Tyler Rivers, that donation will now not be coming through.

Despite this, station Captain Rick Blubaugh said their planned move will continue.

“Since the project has been withdrawn, we are actively working to fill the budget gap that now exists,” he said. He encouraged anyone interested in donating to visit their website at or call 410-335-5112.

WMVFC had also been looking forward to the traffic ramp, which would have allowed them to more quickly reach the eastern portions of their service area while avoiding congestion at the aforementioned intersections as well as the train crossing on Ebenezer Road.

“We look forward to any future developer continuing the work for a ramp for access to eastbound [MD-]43 to increase our access to the community,” Blubaugh stated.

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County residents support ban on developer contributions

County residents support ban on developer contributions
Members of Baltimore County’s senate committee, including Senators J.B. Jennings (left), Kathy Klausmeier, Jim Brochin and Johnny Ray Salling, heard testimony in the State House’s “Red Room” Friday, Jan. 27, regarding Brochin’s bill to restrict political donations from developers. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Residents from all over Baltimore County, including several from the east side, gathered in Annapolis last Friday, Jan. 27, to air their grievances about the influence developers have on local politics.

State Senators representing the county held the meeting to hear public testimony for and against a bill introduced in the General Assembly which seeks to “strip money from the system” of how land use decisions are made.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jim Brochin (D-Towson, north county), says that developers or their “agents” seeking any kind of project approval, zoning change, zoning variance, master plan change or any other such approvals cannot have given a campaign donation to the county executive or County Council members in the preceeding three years.

No fines or criminal penalties are attached to violations of the law; the contributions would simply have to be returned if they were within the three-year timeframe.

Brochin said at the meeting that the issue has been a source of frustration for many residents who feel their voices are not being heard in government because they are being blocked out by developers’ political donations.

But this bill would take the money out of the development process, ensuring that only the best projects and ideas move forward, he said.

During his introduction, Brochin spoke in reference to the Towson Gateway planned unit development (PUD) - now known as Towson Station - which involves the county’s sale of the Towson fire station property to a developer to build a retail shopping center and gas station, despite heavy opposition.

The property is not zoned to allow a gas station, but the PUD process provides flexibility in zoning in exchange for a community benefit and makes it possible. PUDs also must be intiated with the passing of a County Council resolution.

Public input meetings for Towson Station saw near-total community opposition, but the project was allowed to begin the process anyway when the County Council passed the PUD resolution for it.

“The average citizen didn’t feel like they had any say at all because developer contributions [influenced the decision],” Brochin said.

He noted that fellow Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-Dundalk), also a sponsor of the bill, had a similar situation in his district - referring to the North Point Government Center - and it continues to be a problem all around the county.

Regarding Towson Station, Green Towson Alliance member Beth Miller testified that Fifth District Councilman David Marks was not going to introduce the PUD resolution, and the developer relayed that information to County Executive Kevin Kamentez.

According to Miller, Kamenetz then responded to Marks with a statement that he would withhold $8 million in county funds from the Fifth District if the PUD did not go through.

“If this isn’t developer influence that’s undue, I don’t know what is,” she said.

Ellen Kobler, a spokesperson for Kamenetz, denied this, stating Marks was simply advised that if the PUD was not approved to allow the sale of the property, it would leave an $8 million hole in the county budget which was planned to pay for a new Towson fire station and contribute toward school construction projects.

“What was said was that if the money for the sale of the project did not come in, then that’s real money  that was going to be used for projects and that there would end up being some projects that couldn’t be done,” Kobler said.

However, while Marks said there were many reasons why he submitted the PUD resolution, he confirmed that the county executive “clearly threatened” to withhold the funds from his district if the review process did not begin.

“There were other reasons, but the possibility of losing $8 million for my district was always in my head,” Marks commented.

Sparrows Point resident Russell Donnelly testified that the North Point Government Center project was another example of things that should not be happening because the vocal community overwhelmingly opposed it. But the plan passed through and was approved by the county anyway.

And Allen Robertson, who lives in Bowleys Quarters, explained that new laws were passed to specifically allow a project in that area to be approved, seemingly because of developer contributions and despite community opposition.

He testified that he would like to see the bill go further, imposing fines or other penalties for violations in order to have a greater effect.

Josh Greenfeld, vice president of Government Affairs for the Maryland Building Industry Association, was the only person at the meeting to testify against the bill. He conveyed the MBIA’s opposition to it on the grounds that there is “little to no evidence” of undue influence by developers in elected officials in Baltimore County and the legislation is, therefore, unwarranted.

“I think that much of the testimony here goes to the fact that many of these projects take five, 10, 15, 20 years or never happen at all,” he said, adding that they get appealed, are spoken about in community meetings and are debated in the halls of county government.

“I believe if the County Council believed that there was an issue here, they might come and ask for it rather than a top-down imposition to control the land [use] process at the state,” Greenfeld stated.

He also claimed that the bill is “blatantly and facially unconstitutional” because it singles out one type of business and says they cannot give campaign contributions, which he called a form of political free speech. He added that he does not believe the bill would pass the “strict scrutiny” standard of law.

But Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore, Harford counties) refuted that argument because when the state legislature legalized slot machines in 2007, it added in that casinos could not donate to legislators.

Similarly, Brochin noted that his bill is modeled almost verbatim after a Prince George’s County law which passed in 1992 and has been on the books for 25 years.

Greenfeld said he did not believe either statute had ever truly been challenged.

“These things will be in effect as long as they are unchallenged,” he said.

When asked by Salling, Greenfeld also said he has never seen any “bribes” of elected officials by developers during his experience in state and Baltimore County local politics.

But Salling responded that there has been “a lot of influence” in his district with respect to at least one development project.

“I believe there’s a lot of people and influence that have gone the wrong way with it, and it’s a serious problem now,” the Dundalk senator said.

If passed, the law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2019, after the next elections for Baltimore County Executive and County Council.

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Controversial Home Act resurfaces in state legislature

(Updated 2/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

After failing to pass in the Maryland General Assembly and being rejected by the Baltimore County Council in 2016, a Baltimore County state delegate has again introduced the Home Act in this year’s General Assembly session in Annapolis.

The new bill, essentially the same as the one that went before the County Council last summer, would prevent landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants on the basis of how they intend to pay their rent. It would add “source of income” to the list of protected characteristics in the law for housing.

Additionally, it would not take away a property owner’s right to scrutinize applicants based on other, non-discriminatory aspects such as their ability to pay, credit history or criminal history.

The bill is chiefly aimed at those with federal Housing Choice Vouchers, commonly known as “Section 8.” And although the bill’s sponsor, Towson Delegate Steve Lafferty, did not respond to requests for comment, the stated purpose of the legislation is to give voucher holders more access to economic opportunity in more affluent areas that do not currently accept vouchers, as well as to de-concentrate poverty in the areas where many residents currently use the vouchers.

Penalties for violating the law would include up to a year in prison, up to a $1,000 fine or both.

Fred Weimert Sr., a retired minister in the Towson area and head of Baltimore County Communities for the Homeless, said the housing market is one of the greatest problems people face today.

“Many people do not have enough money to afford a house,” he said. “This is an act that helps make housing possible for people who do not have enough money.”

Weimert said it would be a good thing to not have people with vouchers concentrated in only a few areas of the county, such as the southwest and southeast.

“It would be good for them to be [spread out] all over Baltimore County and all over the state. We’re talking very few people,” he said.

Baltimore County has approximately 6,600 families using vouchers for its more than 200,000 housing units.

While it is a new year and technically a new bill, it is already running up against the same criticisms - and some of the same critics - that it saw before the County Council.

Not all those representing the east side had responded as to whether or not they would support the bill. But all those who did - including Sixth District Delegates Bob Long, Ric Metzgar and Robin Grammer; Seventh District Delegate Pat McDonough; Eighth District Delegates Joe Cluster and Christian Miele; and Seventh District State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, all Republicans - responded in opposition.

Long, a real estate broker who represents Essex and Dundalk in the legislature, believes the focus should be on attracting good jobs for residents so that people can afford to own their homes.

“We need to spend more time on creating new jobs,” he said. “We spend a lot of time on stuff that we shouldn’t be dealing with and we’re not spending enough time on what we need to deal with.

Grammer said he understands the arguments for the initiative. “But as someone who was born and raised and lived my entire life in eastern Baltimore County, the only thing that I’ve seen come from Section 8 is the damage that transient people have done to our communities.

“There’s no way that I could ever vote for that bill,” he said, adding that he is not sure what will happen with it this year.

Some critics have expressed doubt that the requirement would have the desired effect of spreading out the voucher holders. And the County Council representatives on the lower east side, where more than half of the county’s voucher holders currently reside, worried that they could actually see more in their districts because some landlords do not currently accept them and property values are lower. Therefore, residents could get “more home for their voucher,” Dundalk Councilman Todd Crandell said during the summer.

Others want to see property owners retain their rights to decide who they are willing to rent to and whether or not they are willing to enter into a contract with the federal government.

Del. Cluster said as an owner of several rental properties, he does not want the government telling him who he should rent to.

“I understand what the bill is trying to do, but it shouldn’t be government that’s out there telling the individual citizen what they should and shouldn’t do,” he said.

Weimert contended, though, that with the voucher program, landlords actually have more leverage over problem tenants because they could lose their voucher.

He recognized that that there are problems associated with the program, however.

"I think it might be good if the county supervised people with vouchers better and gave them more supportive help," he commented, adding that he would also like to see landlords have more access to tenants using vouchers to discuss any issues.

McDonough, perhaps the initiative’s most ardent critic, said he has filed two bills of his own in the legislature in response to Lafferty’s Home Act.

He said the first would create a commission in Baltimore County to study the impact of Section 8 housing on county neighborhoods. He noted that it is specifically in response to what he said has been a 30 percent increase in poverty in the county over the last 10 years, as well as increased crime issues and the cost of education.

The second bill would mandate that any nonprofit organizaton receiving public money to manage funding or services related to Section 8 housing must provide information about that organization’s leadership to provide transparency to taxpayers and reveal any potential conflicts of interest.

McDonough referred to an award of $19 million to one organization which sought to move voucher holders to areas like Monkton or Kingsville to allow them to live in a better environment. Allegedly, there is another $46 billion in the pipeline for similar projects, he said.

“I don’t know who these people are,” the delegate said. “Are they connected to the county executive? Is there a conflict of interest? We’re giving them a lot of money to do something we don’t like to begin with.

“But even if we liked what they were doing, all I hear from liberals and down here in Annapolis is ‘disclosure and transparency,’” McDonough said.

Weimert lamented that there is such a stigma about the voucher holders, often along racial lines, but 30 percent of those with vouchers are senior citizens.

"When I talk to my neighbors, I'm frequently told that 'that young man over there is Section 8,' and it's normally because he's African-American," he said. "And I want to tell them I know of only one or two people that are single males that end up with a voucher."

Weimert added that people often think that minorities or any problem neighbors are voucher holders.

"I don't think most people even have a clue who is a Section 8 family," he said.

He was saddened that the loudest opposition has come from the areas where vouchers are most concentrated.

“If people are spread around the county better, you won’t have the [problems with] concentrations of poverty,” he said.

However, McDonough took solace in President Donald Trump and Housing Secretary Ben Carson now being in charge of public housing and Section 8.

“I think you’re going to see some changes,” he said. “You may see this program of moving people out to Kingsville go down the toilet.”

This article was updated to add Del. Christian Miele (R-8) as among the elected officials who oppose the Home Act bill.

No relief for overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School

No relief for overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School
Without relief, Perry Hall Middle School is projected to reach nearly 125 percent capacity by 2024.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Back in October, Councilman David Marks (R-5) and Julie Henn, then the head of the Northeast Area Education Advisory Council (NEAC), informed a group of parents that Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) had promised overcrowding relief at Perry Hall Middle School. But with the recently proposed budget, no help is in sight for the middle school.

“Last fall, Superintendent Dance committed to me that funding would be in place to address the severe overcrowding at Perry Hall Middle School,” said Marks. “Now, there is suddenly no funding in the proposed capital budget to begin this process.”

At the NEAC meeting in October, Marks and Henn, now a member of the county’s Board of Education, told the group of parents that relief would either come about through an addition to Pine Grove Middle School or the construction of a completely new middle school/high school campus that would be built at Nottingham Park. But neither plan is included in the new budget.

“As the father of two children who attend Perry Hall schools, one of whom is at the middle school, I know firsthand the problems this overcrowding creates,” said Marks. “It isn’t enough to promise solutions at some later date. We need help now.”

In a letter Dance sent to the Board of Education, he denied ever promising relief for Perry Hall Middle School.

“I met with a couple of members of the County Council, one being Councilman Marks, on Sept. 28, 2016, to review our FY18 capital budget request,” Dance wrote. “From that meeting, it was clear that AC and high school renovations were the priority. We acknowledged projected overcrowding; however, all sides agreed that we needed to review our 10-year enrollment projections (slated to be released in late February) before recommending any future project(s) to relieve overcrowding at the middle and high school level.

“The system has never promised funding for secondary (middle or high) seats in FY18,” the letter continued. “What we have said and continue to say is that we will begin conversations this summer with our entire community on ways to alleviate overcrowding at the secondary level as we can’t look at middle/high seats just by school alone.”

At the start of the year, three new trailers were installed to alleviate crowding in the school. It has been rumored that up to five more trailers will be installed, but Mychael Dickerson, chief communications officer for BCPS, stated that a decision has not been made at this time.

Marks commented that he was “appalled” by the decision not to provide relief for the school, which started the year at 110 percent capacity. According to BCPS projections, the capacity for PHMS is expected to reach 124.7 percent in 2024, but those projections are on the conservative side.

Christine Hagan, who heads up the Perry Hall Middle School PTSA, expressed her frustration at the lack of relief, saying that parents just wanted to know that they were heard. In a letter sent out to parents recently, Hagan called on parents to express their opinions to Dance and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

“Things are likely to get worse before they get better, and while we wait for the official release of revised population projections for our school, it is apparent we are growing quicker than anticipated,” Hagan said.

Speaking with the East County Times, Hagan also noted that pressure needs to come from parents who have children in the feeder elementary schools.

“The issue with the middle school is that we’re not going to be the ones to see or reap the benefits. You’re only there three years, and you’re really advocating for the following students,” said Hagan. “With that in mind, it’s parents with children in the pipeline who need to be seen and heard. The PTAs of feeder schools really need to fight the battle.”

The county has maintained that in order to properly deal with overcrowding, they need to address it at the elementary level before working their way up to middle and high schools.

Marks expressed frustration at the lack of relief, citing the County Council’s efforts to reduce overcrowding by downzoning thousands of acres in 2016.

“Now it is time for the School Board and the County Executive to step up by starting the process for either a new middle school or an addition at an adjacent middle school,” said Marks. “We need to move now.”

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Mother searches for answers in death of 3-year-old boy

Mother searches for answers in death of 3-year-old boy
Cameron Blake, 3, was found unconscious at his Essex home and rushed to the hospital where he later died.

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Three-year-old Cameron Blake’s death has left his mother, Adrianne, looking for answers. Last week, Cameron was taken off life support at Johns Hopkins after fighting for his life for four days.

“I said that I was going to fight for him as long as he was willing to fight for himself,” said a teary-eyed Blake. “And when it became apparent that he didn’t have any fight left in him, I decided to take him off life support.”

Cameron was found in the Glenwood Road apartments in Essex on Friday, Jan. 20, suffering from cardiac arrest. He was rushed to Franklin Square before being transferred to Hopkins. Doctors discovered Cameron had been badly beaten, suffering from fractured ribs among other injuries.

“These are physical abuse injuries we’re talking about,” said Baltimore County Police spokesperson Elise Armacost. “This case elevated to a criminal investigation shortly after [he was taken to the hospital].”

Authorities have been tight-lipped about the investigation until they hear back from the Medical Examiner, and so far no suspects have been named.

Sifting through Maryland Case Search, however, provides a trove of information regarding the years-long battle for custody and protection.

For the last two years, Blake and Cameron’s father, a man identified by court records as Delonte Mack, have each levied child abuse claims against one another. At the time of Cameron’s death, Mack was sole custodian of the child after he had filed abuse charges against Blake. Blake failed to appear for certain mandated court classes, and after Cameron had gone through the adjudication process he was given to Mack.

But Blake maintains that the case was a farce, an action taken by Mack to get in between Blake and Cameron.

“He’s intimidating, and he always tries to get in between people and play them off of each other,” said Blake.

Before Mack received custody, Blake had twice filed protective orders and abuse cases against him. Both of the cases were deemed “unsubstantiated” and closed. Blake told the East County Times that in at least one of the cases, Baltimore City Child Protective Service (CPS) workers had never managed to make contact with Mack.

That claim was verified by sources, requesting anonymity due to the nature of the case, within Baltimore City and Baltimore County’s Department of Social Services.

The Times reached out to Katherine Morris, communications director for Maryland’s Department of Human Relations, to find out what protocol is for CPS when they can’t locate a person accused of abuse. Morris gave a response detailing typical protocol but did not respond to a question about whether or not a case should be closed before contact is made with the accused.

But according to attorney Mitchell Mirviss, vice president of Policy for Advocates for Children and Youth, cases shouldn’t be closed without making contact with the accused.

“You call other contact people and make a full court press to try to find the parent,” said Mirviss. “They have the staff to be able to do that. People don’t disappear.”

Mirviss couldn’t comment on the specifics of the case, but noted that this isn’t the only example of a child “falling through the cracks.”

“The breakdown comes on multiple levels,” said Mirviss. “There would be a breakdown in the failure to monitor. There’s a breakdown regarding the protective services investigation in what may be inadequate attempts to contact the father. It’s a pattern that we have seen that when a parent goes missing there isn’t very strong follow up to try to locate that parent even though there are individuals who do keep in contact with the parent.”

The lack of communication doesn’t just stem from CPS. Last summer Mack was arrested on multiple assault charges. News of the arrest never made its way to the Family Preservation worker working on the case. Mack was slated to appear in court on Jan. 23 but failed to appear. He has since been located and is in custody for failure to appear. He could not be reached for comment.

“When I told the worker about his arrest, that was news to her,” said Blake. “So while he was locked up last summer for a couple days, who was looking after my son?”

Regarding her own abuse charges, Blake maintained her innocence. She admitted that she used a belt to discipline her son on two occasions, but not in the days leading up Mack filing against her. When a CPS worker asked Cameron how he got bruises, he told the worker “Mommy beat me with a belt.”

But Blake emphasized that Cameron didn’t really have a strong grasp of time, citing an instance when Cameron claimed that Blake cut his genitals. He was referring to his circumcision at birth, but couldn’t grasp the concept of time.

So far no suspects have been named. Blake said she isn’t sure who beat her son, but she hopes to get answers soon. One thing she is sure of is that she’ll keep fighting.

“I won’t be fighting just for Cameron, but for every child going through this,” she said. “I’ve already decided, this is going to be my fight.”

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Critical Area study finds fault with county variances; Baltimore County proud of proactive work

(Updated 2/1/17)

- By Marge Neal -

A recent study appears to paint a negative picture of Baltimore County’s stewards of the Chesapeake Bay’s critical area buffer.

But others say the report doesn’t offer a complete picture of the process that landowners go through to get approval to build new structures or improve or add onto existing structures on watershed land.

At issue is a study conducted by the University of Maryland Carey Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic. The group of law professors and students looked at all critical area variance requests submitted to six counties - including Baltimore County - from 2012 to 2014 and the end results of those requests.

The researchers found that a high percentage of the variance requests - ranging from 89 to 100 percent - were granted in the counties studied.

In Baltimore County, for example, 35 variances were requested by property owners during the studied time period. Of those, 33 were approved, including two after-the-fact requests, one was partially approved and one was denied, according to the study.

The high percentage of variance approvals is troubling to Alison Prost, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who issued a strongly worded statement regarding the study and the perceived leadership failure on the part of state officials and the Maryland Critical Area Commission.

“Even as Maryland is considering weakening the state’s Critical Area Act law to make the shoreline law more friendly to business, this study raises concerns that the law has already been severely compromised,” she said in the statement. “Clearly, the questions raised by this report should worry every Marylander who thought our most ecologically sensitive shoreline areas were being protected.

“The report clearly shows a lack of accountability and transparency on the part of local governments. It also suggests a lack of leadership on behalf of Maryland and the Critical Area Commission, both of which seem lax in overseeing local government actions,” Prost said.

The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protections Program “seeks to protect the bays and their tributaries by limiting development in shoreline areas,” according to the study’s executive summary. It restricts development within the critical area, defined as all land in the bay watersheds within 1,000 feet of tidal influence. The program also prohibits disturbances in the critical area buffer, defined as a “minimum 100-foot strip of land that runs adjacent to all tidal waters, tidal wetlands and tributary streams.”

There are three categories of land within the critical area: intensely developed areas, limited development areas and resource conservation areas.

Construction within the critical area is forbidden except in instances where the owner can meet a list of criteria established by state and local programs. For example, if a landowner can prove that a denial of a variance request will result in an unwarranted hardship, a variance can be approved.

Lot coverage through construction and paving is generally limited to 15 to 25 percent of a parcel of land.

The legal clinic studied the variance requests filed from 2012 - 2014 in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Kent, Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Worcester counties. In five of the counties, most landowners filed for permission to build new houses, additions to existing houses, decks, patios, garages and similar structures. In Kent County, many of the requests sought to install septic systems.

In addition to being troubled by the high percentage of variances approved, the study’s researchers also found fault with critical area enforcement. Because of inconsistencies in the amount of enforcement information available, the law clinic was “unable to draw any significant conclusions within or among the counties regarding the effectiveness of critical area enforcement.”

But the researchers did find critical area violations in all of the studied jurisdictions, with Anne Arundel and St. Mary’s having a “relatively high” number of violations and Kent and Queen Anne’s with a “relatively low” number.

Variance requests filed in Baltimore County mostly involved “grandfathered” properties and most pertained to land in limited development areas. Thirty-one requests were for variances within the 100-foot buffer, three were for property in the expanded buffer and one was a request to exceed the maximum-permitted lot coverage, according to the study.

Kate Charbonneau, executive director of the Maryland Critical Area Commission, believes looking simply at the number of variances requested and approved might be misleading and unfair to local jurisdictions that “work hard at trying to reduce the number of variance requests on the front end.”

Local planning, zoning and permits employees work “proactively” with property owners to develop plans for land that mesh the owner’s building desires with critical area compliance, she said.

“In the variance process, there is difficulty in balancing what is good for the environment while also protecting the property rights of the landowner,” Charbonneau said.

Vince Gardina, director of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, said his staff members review all plans and requests for building permits within the critical area.

“We try to be accommodating,” he said. “We try to allow the property owner to make the most use of the land while minimizing the impact on the critical area.”

With more than 200 miles of waterfront in Baltimore County, there are relatively few variance requests filed, according to Gardina.

One problem with Baltimore County’s waterfront is that it was subdivided into “very small lots” decades ago, resulting in small - by today’s standards - homes. When owners want to rebuild or improve, there’s little room to work with and they often request to cover more than the coverage limit.

He cited one property owner who filed a request during the study time period who asked permission to raze the existing house and replace it with a new house with an attached deck and a swimming pool.

“With many of these requests, if we were to apply the law literally, most owners could not build anything on the properties, or just a very small home that might not fit their needs,” Gardina said.

In working with the property owner, county officials approved the house and deck but denied the pool, with conditions that had to be met by the owner. He had to plant trees to mitigate the disturbance of land within the critical area, he had to sign an environmental agreement and allow the county to review all plans as the project progressed and he was required to install signs in the critical buffer identifying it as such with instructions to not disturb.

“We try really hard to work with property owners but we don’t have a lot of tolerance for those who violate the law,” he said. “We will issue citations to those who violate the law, and those citations can lead to hearings and fines if the owner doesn’t correct the violation within the allowed time.”

For example, a property owner in Dundalk recently filed for a variance for an already-constructed 33-foot by 57-foot concrete patio built within the 100-foot buffer. The request was denied. Barring a successful appeal of the ruling, the owner will be required to tear up the patio and restore the land to its original condition.

Granting a variance is not an arbitrary decision, according to Baltimore County Councilman David Marks (R-Fifth District), who sits on the state’s Critical Area Commission.

Variance requests are heard and decided upon by administrative law judges, he said.

“There is a judicial standard that should be applied to variance requests,” he said. “Either those standards are met or they are not and that leads to a decision.”

Marks said he believes that what the counties do should be looked at by the Critical Area Commission, and that is a belief shared by Charbonneau.

“The counties can propose changes to their own programs through their own zoning processes,” she said. “And we encourage them to work in coordination with the commission to best balance the rights of landowners with the environmental needs of the bay area.”

The commission doesn’t endorse a one-size-fits-all approach to critical area enforcement, according to Charbonneau.

“Our chairman is more interested in having the local jurisdictions work on these issues - for them to have a customized approach and make individual changes in their programs in recognition of the individual needs of the counties.”

As a result of the study’s findings, the researchers’ recommendations include fine-tuning the definitions and scope of the variance criteria via the General Assembly; having local jurisdictions defer to the Critical Area Commission when it opposes a variance request; increased promotion of the regulation that prohibits pools in the critical area buffer and those that address lot coverage; and increasing the transparency, accountability and reporting, including uniform record-keeping of inspection and enforcement information.

The entire study is available online at

BPW releases $5 million in deferred construction funds as county school air conditioning situation improves

BPW releases $5 million in deferred construction funds as county school air conditioning situation improves
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance pleads his case for school construction funding to the BPW at the annual "begathon" Wednesday in Annapolis. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/26/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The Board of Public Works voted unanimously to release $5 million in school construction funds back to Baltimore County a year after voting to defer $10 million for what they perceived to be foot-dragging on the issue of school air conditioning.

Governor Larry Hogan and State Comptroller Peter Franchot heaped praise upon Superintendent Dallas Dance and Baltimore County for forward funding $83 million in anticipated state funds to complete school air conditioning projects earlier than originally planned.

But Franchot’s praise was short-lived as he expressed skepticism about Baltimore County’s ability to complete the 21 projects slated to be finished by August while also noting that 13 schools will still be without air conditioning.

“I appreciate the work you’ve done, but the fact is that there are 8,400 students, 561 teachers and 320 classrooms left without climate control year after year after year,” Franchot told Dance. “I started this issue six years ago and there was a solution right in front of everyone’s nose then - put portable air conditioning units in.”

Franchot stated that children having to go multiple years without climate control in their classroom is inhumane and told Dance that if he wanted the other $5 million in funds he’d have to figure out a solution for the short-term.

“To get the other funding, you’ve got to produce a plan to bring immediate relief to these thousands of kids. You’ve got to produce a plan to bring immediate relief to these thousands of kids,” said Franchot.

Dance attempted to quell Franchot’s skepticism on the county’s plan by telling him that Baltimore County is currently ahead of schedule by two or three weeks and under budget for their ongoing projects. However, he admitted that he didn’t have an answer for how to provide immediate relief to schools that will be left without air conditioning for at least a few more years.

Hogan and Franchot advised Dance that he should look to Baltimore City for a solution.

Baltimore City Public Schools also had funds deferred last year for lack of air conditioning in schools, though their deferred funds amounted only to $5 million. But at the annual “begathon” - a gathering of superintendents in which they petition the BPW for funds - in Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 25, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises told the board that the city school system will use portable air units and split-unit systems that provide both air conditioning and heating. For their efforts, the BPW released all $5 million in deferred funding.

State Treasurer Nancy Kopp stated that withholding the money “was a mistake in the first place.”

Santelises told the board that in order to provide funding for the units, the school system would have to delay some roof projects and fire safety updates, but noted that no students would be in unsafe buildings.

Hogan and Franchot both noted that the board will be reconvening in May to discuss the remaining 25 percent of school construction funds - approximately $120 million - and that, should Dance come back with a short-term answer to air conditioning, the remaining deferred funds would be released.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released a statement thanking the board for recognizing the improvements made. But when pressed by the East County Times on whether the administration would consider using the $5 million in newly released funding for portable units in order to unlock the remaining $5 million in deferred funds, a spokesperson said the county executive had “no comment.”

Dance was in Annapolis to ask for funding for construction projects, including the new Victory Villa and Dundalk elementary schools, the new northeast elementary school and the renovation of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, among others.

The superintendent noted that the air conditioning initiative has taken a long time because the school system is also trying to figure out overcrowding issues, and the schools left without air conditioning after next year are ones that are either undergoing renovations or getting completely new buildings.

Kenwood High School is slated to have air conditioning installed by 2018, while Patapsco will have to wait until renovations are complete in 2019. Dundalk, Berkshire and Colgate elementary schools will all have to wait until their new buildings are complete in 2019, 2020 and 2021, respectively.

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Hogan touts economic growth in visit to Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce

Hogan touts economic growth in visit to Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce
Gov. Larry Hogan (third from left) presents an award to Tradepoint Atlantic CEO Michael Moore at the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and awards ceremony. Tradepoint was given an award for economic impact.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards dinner usually generates a lot of excitement in eastern Baltimore County, and this year was no exception with Governor Larry Hogan tapped as the keynote speaker.

Hogan, a Republican, started off his address by thanking residents of the east side for getting him elected three years ago.

“It’s particularly great to be back on the east side [of the county],” said Hogan. “We surprised a lot of people in that race a couple of years ago... and there’s no place that had more to do with me becoming governor than the huge victory we got on the east side of Baltimore County.”

The governor spent much of his speech comparing his first two years in office to former Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration, deriding increases in taxes and business regulations.

“In the years just before I took office, the state had increased taxes 43 times in a row, taking $10 billion more out of the pockets of struggling Maryland families and small businesses,” said Hogan. “And the result was devastating on our economy. Businesses, jobs and tax payers were fleeing our state in droves.”

According to Hogan, Maryland lost 8,000 businesses and 100,000 jobs during the O’Malley administration. He compared that to the 70,000 private sector jobs added since he took office in 2015 and noted that he had cut taxes, tolls and over a hundred business regulations since taking office.

Given that the east side was home to Bethlehem Steel and the Glenn L. Martin plant, Hogan spoke at length about his administration’s success with regard to increasing the number of manufacturing jobs. Hogan told the Chamber that during O’Malley’s two terms, the state had lost almost 20 percent of manufacturing jobs, nearing almost 30,000. But, again, things have changed since Hogan was sworn in.

“Over the last two years we’ve had an incredible resurgence in manufacturing in Maryland,” said Hogan. “We’ve created more manufacturing jobs than all of the other states in the mid-Atlantic region combined. That’s pretty good. We went from one of the worst in the country to No. 4 in the nation in the rate of manufacturing job growth.”

But while Hogan spent much of the night touting his administration’s economic impact, he also touched on the controversial Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act, or the “road kill” bill as Republicans have taken to calling it. The bill requires that road projects must be ranked and any funding for a project not deemed to be priority will be cut unless the governor provide in writing a “rational basis for the decision.”

“Contrary to what some of my friends across the aisle have been saying, the reality is that these new regulations take effect on Feb. 10 and under these new requirements with this bill, 66 of the state’s top 73 transportation priority projects simply will not be able to move forward,” Hogan told the group.

According to Hogan, all of Baltimore County’s top priority transportation projects would have their funding cut. This includes the widening of I-695.

“I don’t have to tell any of you in this room that relieving congestion and moving forward on improving our transportation infrastructure is absolutely critical to economic development,” Hogan said.

The evening also provided local business owners the chance to speak with Gov. Hogan about more local issues of importance. Sam Weaver, president of the Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC) told The East County Times he discussed the issue of midges with Hogan. Midges have become an issue on the east side, and it hass negatively impacted businesses. Weaver maintains that the issue needs to be dealt with before it gets out of hand. According to Weaver and Hogan, there were plenty of local politicians and business leaders broaching the topic with Hogan.

“I’ve heard more about midges recently than I ever have before, that’s for sure,” Hogan joked.

And, of course, there were plenty of awards and honors given throughout the night. Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson, who recently announced his retirement, was honored by the County Council while Richardson Farms, Cliff’s Hi-Tech, Jim Jennings Transmissions, the BRRC and Tradepoint Atlantic were all honored by the Chamber for “setting the standards for excellence and innovation with their business practices and community involvement.”

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Salt levels may have contributed to December fish kill, MDE says

Salt levels may have contributed to December fish kill, MDE says
Dead fish recently began washing up on the shorelines of the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, causing some concern about a resurgence of the recent fish kill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A fish kill update issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment suggests unusually high salinity levels may have been a factor in the deaths of roughly 10,000 fish in the Bird and Gunpowder Rivers of eastern Baltimore County.

According to MDE, initial laboratory test results are consistent with the department’s preliminary finding that the fish kill, which began on Dec. 19 and lasted until the first week of January, was likely caused by toxins produced by the saltwater algae known as Karlodinium veneficum.

Karlodinium is typically found in waters with higher salinity such as in the larger Chesapeake Bay, and the MDE report stated that blooms of the algae had been seen as far north as Cecil County’s Northeast River in November. However, drought conditions in December caused higher salinity in the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, combined with fairly high water temperatures due to the warm fall weather, both of which may have bolstered the algae’s growth.

A cold front then swept through the area just before the fish kill, MDE found. The change to colder temperatures can cause the algae to die, and in dying it can release toxins that damage the gills and cause respiratory distress.

Nine fish species were affected by the event, including yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, black crappie, gizzard shad, channel catfish and spottail shiner - all freshwater varieties. No saltwater fish were involved.

Early last week, residents along affected shorelines began noticing more dead fish washing up and some feared a resurgence of the fish kill. But MDE has no documentation of a second fish kill, according to a spokesperson, who said the new fish being seen were likely decomposing remnants of the December event.

MDE Communications and Outreach Manager Adrienne Diaczok explained that the bodies of fish that died sometimes take a period of time to surface, and cold weather has preserved them for an extended period.

“It is possible some of the fish died more recently as a result of the latent effects of the water conditions that we preliminarily believe caused the kill,” Diaczok said. “But we don’t believe those conditions exist at this time and we believe the vast majority of the fish most recently seen died in the late 2016 event.”

Some in the community have questioned MDE’s estimate of the number of fish dead, instead suggesting it was actually as many as 100,000 or more.

But while MDE officials initially reported only 6,000 dead, they have not wavered from their adjusted figure.

“Our investigators employ a statistical analysis based on shoreline observations and extrapolations, which resulted in the 10,000 estimate,” Diaczok explained. “It is possible that the number might be slightly higher because there were some areas we were not able to get to for observation and there were fish that surfaced later, but the increase would likely be in a range of a few thousand.”

Dan Doerfer, environmental advocate with the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, sought to address the root of the problem at the organization’s Jan. 4 meeting. There he noted that Karlodinium algae blooms are becoming more of a problem around the world due to nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus washing into local waterways.

“The reason for having algae blooms still comes back to the fact that there’s too many nutrients going into the local streams and those waters,” he said. “And when the weather changes this late in the season and those algae die off after blooming, that’s what causes the fish kills.”

Karlodinium veneficum was the same algae responsible for the November 2015 Middle River fish kill which affected an estimated 200,000 fish.

“It’s a worldwide problem,” Doerfer said. “And unless we get storm water under control where the nutrients are being restricted… we’re going to continue to see the problem.”

He commented that it is “more important than ever” for developers to meet the most current standards for storm water controls in their projects, since many nutrients come from storm water runoff. He added that he is “a little nervous” with all of the development planned for the Middle River and White Marsh areas.

EMRCC President Bob Bendler said residents also cannot blame the nutrient levels in the Bird, Gunpowder or Middle rivers on Pennsylvania or New York by way of the Susquehanna River, which drains into the bay.

“The Susquehanna brings down a tremendous amount of pollution, but it doesn’t come into Middle River or the Gunpowder. It comes from our yards,” he said, noting that many residents in the watersheds of those rivers over-fertilize their lawns and gardens, leading to much of the nutrient pollution.

Bendler expressed at the meeting an interest in gathering together community members, business owners, developers and environmental advocates so they can interact and be educated about the issues and what they each can do to help.

“Two fish kills ought to be enough to get our attention to try to do something bigger,” he said.

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County exploring new type of facility for management of recycling, solid waste

County exploring new type of facility for management of recycling, solid waste
Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh, seen here from above, is the county's ultimate assurance that it will be able to handle all of its solid waste for the next 10 years, according to the draft Executive Summary of the 2019 - 2028 Solid Waste Management Plan.

(Updated 1/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

On Monday, Jan. 23, the Baltimore County Bureau of Solid Waste Management (SWM) began its “listening tour” at the Perry Hall library to garner public input on its 2019 - 2028 solid waste management plan, hosting its first of five meetings on the topic.

One thing in particular the bureau seeks public input on is the concept of using a High-Diversion Material Recycling Facility (HDMRF) for trash disposal in the county. This is an approach to collection and processing that would see all materials - trash, recycling and yard waste - put out for collection together for a single pick-up per week.

SWM spokesman Charlie Reighart said this method is “not at all common” in the U.S. But SWM Bureau Chief Michael Beichler noted it has gained traction in Europe and is beginning to emerge in California.

Using the HDMRF, 100 percent of the recyclables disposed of in the county would have the opportunity to be captured and recycled, according to Beichler.

The county currently only captures about 20 percent of refuse as recycling and is able to send just 12 percent to market for sale.

“I’ve always felt that at least 50 percent of what’s in the total stream is recyclable,” Beichler said. He added that SWM has found an operator who says they can guarantee a rate of about 52 percent recovery of recyclables.

“That’s a quantum leap far beyond anything anywhere,” he said.

According to Beichler, the county has evolved and adapted its solid waste program, changing to different methods roughly every 10 years, and have looked at models from around the country and the world to determine what would work best here.

“The key part is, what can we do at a Baltimore County price?” he said.

Beichler anticipates that the added cost of the HDMRF would be offset or exceeded by being able to recover more recyclables for sale.

The county has sent out a Request For Proposal for the concept, but has not gone beyond that stage.

Recycling tends to net the county about $62 per ton, while disposal of waste at the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy facility in Baltimore City costs the county about $65 per ton.

Baltimore County has a contract with the facility to deliver at least 215,000 tons of trash per year for incineration, which is good at least through 2021.

“That’s the majority of the trash we generate,” Reighart said.

Similarly, transfer of trash to disposal sites outside Maryland costs the county about $64 per ton. The county has budgeted for transfer of 50,000 tons in FY 2017.

“So if you’ve got a recyclable item, and you’ve got a choice between putting it out in the recycling or the trash..., the swing is about $126 - $127 a ton,” Reighart said. “The decisions that residents make are being borne by all of the county residents, whether you recycle or not.”

According to Beichler, the bureau handles about 900,000 tons of trash and 80,000 tons of recycling per year from about 322,000 residences, for which they provide roughly 43 million pick-ups per year. And through all that, they only receive approximately 7,000 complaints per year, he said, contributing to their 88 percent satisfaction rate from residents.

Reighart, explained the goals of the solid waste program as promoting waste prevention, which helps with pollution prevention and disposal cost minimization; increasing and encouraging recycling; resource recovery, which includes incinerating waste to produce energy; and decreasing the amount and toxicity of solid waste.

Commercial waste comprises more than half of what is generated in the county as a whole, according to Reighart.

“We really don’t have any control over that under the current situation,” he said, noting that the private sector “does its own thing,” moving material to where it makes sense to move it.

The county does, however, encourage increased commercial recycling which can be more cost-effective for businesses.

On the residential side, the bureau works toward waste minimization through encouragement of grasscycling - think, “cut it high and let it lie” - and composting of organic materials, and publishing their Reuse Directory, which lists organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army that accept donations of items residents find no longer useful but have not run out of useful life. The directory is available online and in hard copy and is published every two years.

Residential collections are handled by 39 private collectors, and the county’s adoption of single-stream recycling made it much easier for residents to participate, Reighart said.

Yard materials are also collected between April and mid-December in about 70 percent of the county. According to Reighart, they are not collected the rest of the year or in the other 30 percent of the county because not enough material is generated to make it cost-effective.

“It’s more important for us to be cost-effective because you’re all taxpayers in the county,” he said.

The three residential drop-off centers will also take an unlimited amount of material from county residents for free.

“Nobody else does it quite the way we do it, and it seems to work,” Reighart commented.

He also noted that the cost-effectiveness of Baltimore County’s program is consistently on par with or better than other counties around the state.

Reighart said that, overall, the county is in “pretty good shape” when it comes to solid waste management. “We’re not in a bad spot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get better,” he said.

SWM will hold additional public input meetings regarding the solid waste plan around the county, including at the North Point Library on Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 p.m.

Other meetings will be held at the Arbutus Library on Monday, Jan. 30; at the Cockeysville Library on Monday, Feb. 6; and at the Pikesville Library on Thursday Feb. 9. All meetings will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

Copies of the 2019-2028 plan’s draft Executive Summary are available on the county’s website, in the office of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson (County Office Building) and at every branch of the Baltimore County Public Library system.

Persons may also submit written comments about the plan to Steven A. Walsh, P.E., Director, Department of Public Works, 111 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Md. 21204. Written comments must be received by March 2.

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Almond visits Riverside Democrats as she mulls county executive run

Almond visits Riverside Democrats as she mulls county executive run
Second District County Councilwoman Vicki Almond.

(Updated 1/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

While we may have just finished up with an election cycle, another is on the horizon. With term-limited Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz leaving office and reportedly eyeing a run for governor, his seat will be up for grabs. There’s plenty of speculation about who will contend for the seat, but one name is all but certain: Vicki Almond.

Almond, a Democratic councilwoman from Reisterstown, told the Riverside Democratic Club of Essex last week that she’s “strongly looking to make a run for county executive.”

Members of the club told Almond that they have felt ignored by the Kamenetz administration during his two terms in office. They cited the sale of the North Point Government Center and lack of speed on school air conditioning installation, as well as a Republican sweep of the souteast area in the 2014 election, as reasons for displeasure.

Almond told the group that, stylistically, her approach to management is much different than Kamenetz’s.

“My style certainly is different,” Almond said. “It’s about bringing together the best and brightest people we can find and let them run their departments, let them be creative, let them bring ideas to the table.

“Do I know everything there is to know about budget, about public works, about environment? No, and I won’t stand here and tell you that I do,” she continued. “But I’m a good judge of people. I can bring on the best and the brightest and let them do their jobs, encourage them to do their jobs.”

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who introduced Almond to the Riverside Democratic Club, vouched for Almond’s leadership and noted that she frequently manages to find palatable compromises.

“There’s a word in our vocabulary that hasn’t been in other people’s, and that’s ‘compromise,’” Bevins said. “This job is about compromise. And if you’re someone who has a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, that’s just not a way to govern. And I can tell you that Vicki doesn’t govern that way.”

Almond billed herself as a someone who listens to what communities want. She cited a development project in her district that called for 250 homes to be built. The plan infuriated members of the surrounding community and eventually the number was whittled down to about 130 homes. She also got the developer to make improvements that often go overlooked when dealing with developers, such as new signage for schools.

Bevins also recalled that millionaire developer Howard Brown dumped a lot of money into the campaigns of Almond’s opponents, whom they viewed as more development-friendly. Bevins went through a similar situation with developer David Cordish.

“They didn’t get their way and they didn’t like it,” said Bevins. “They put a lot of money into a lot of opponents to run against us; they didn’t get what they wanted.”

The group told Almond that historically, Democratic clubs on the east side tend to endorse members of the community that have been visible in volunteer efforts. “If you build a relationship with the community, the community will support you,” said one member.

“That’s why I’m here 18 months before the election,” Almond told the group. “I want to form relationships on the east side.”

Almond told the group that she got involved in Parent Teacher Associations when her children were in school, and from there she began volunteering. She’s worked on a campaign with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger and worked as chief of staff for Senator Bobby Zirkin among others.

In her first race for a seat on the council, Almond faced stiff competition, including three women and a relative of Ruppersberger’s. She pointed to her entrenched relationships in her area through years of service as the reason for her victory.

After spending six years on the Baltimore County Council and seeing how things work at the state and federal level, she said she could only imagine working at the local level.

“I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a politician - though you do have to have some of that in you,” said Almond. “I have been a public servant for so many years, and part of being a public servant is listening. I don’t know more than you do about your community and I won’t pretend to, but I need to learn and I need you folks to help me learn that. And that’s truly important to me. Running a county will be a whole lot different than a district, so I have to learn and be a part of every single part of Baltimore County.”

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Brochin submits bill to restrict developer campaign donations

Brochin submits bill to restrict developer campaign donations
Senator Jim Brochin, who represents Towson and northern Baltimore County, when he announced his bill to restrict campaign donations from developers back in January. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

State Senator Jim Brochin (D-42) announced on Monday, Jan. 16, a bill he submitted to the state legislature in Annapolis which would prohibit what he sees as “pay-to-play” political contributions from developers in Baltimore County.

The legislation says that developers or their “agents” seeking a zoning change, a zoning variance, a planned unit development (PUD) approval or any Master Plan change may not have contributed funds to the county executive’s or any County Council member’s election campaign in the preceding three years. If the developer seeking approval had contributed money to any of them, that person would have to return those funds.

The bill, Brochin said, is modeled after a Prince George’s County law which passed in 1992. And he said he spoke with someone in the Maryland Building Industry Association who told him they no longer make political donations in that jurisdiction.

“Development is based on its merits, and it’s not a pay-to-play system there,” he said. “We’re trying to get rid of a system that’s frustrating all of us.”

Brochin said that system was exemplified by the county’s sale of the Towson fire station to build a Royal Farms, as well as the sale of the North Point Government Center in Dundalk to a private developer with connections to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.

Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), who represents Dundalk, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Brochin noted that the Frederick County delegation is also currently working on a similar initiative for their jurisdiction.

“Almost every jurisdiction sees there’s a problem,” the senator said. “For some reason, the [Baltimore County] Council people now and the county executive don’t think there’s a problem.”

He acknowledged that the problem precedes the current county executive and County Council members and that his bill will not fix everything.

“This is an institutional problem in Baltimore County and somebody has to say enough is enough,” Brochin said.

He said the system has been frustrating to the community members who do not feel like they are being heard when it comes to development because the developers pay for their prime access to the decision makers.

“Where does the power rest, with the developers and big money or with the people?” Brochin asked. “There is no doubt in my mind that the developers have the key to Baltimore County right now.”

However, some saw the move as politically motivated because Brochin is widely viewed as a candidate for Baltimore County Executive in 2018.

Several County Council members were less than enthused with the criticisms that came with the announcement and returned fire with jabs at Brochin’s own acceptance of political donations.

“Any reader of the East County Times knows that I have regularly opposed developers when I disagreed with their projects, and that we downzoned thousands of acres of land to lighten school overcrowding and preserve green space,” said Councilman David Marks (R-5) who represents Towson and Perry Hall. “But the larger issue is that, by statute, the County Council already does not accept contributions when rezoning property.”

Marks was referring to the law that bars council members from taking political contributions during the yearlong Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

“I look forward to Senator Brochin introducing legislation at the state level that applies restrictions to the Judicial Proceedings Committee on which he sits, a body whose members have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from trial lawyers and special interests,” Marks said.

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk, said he found it ironic that the General Assembly would target the Baltimore County Council when some of its own members are facing campaign finance violations and accusations of conflicts of interest.

“I don’t care if this legislation passes or not,” Crandell stated. “My decisions are based on what is best for our district, period. This is and will always be the only determining factor.”

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who represents Middle River and White Marsh, came under fire in 2015 when she introduced a bill to ease the path for the Paragon outlet mall in White Marsh and state campaign finance records revealed that she had taken a combined $5,000 from Paragon executives prior to her last election in 2014.

Bevins was adamant, however, that the campaign donations did not influence her decision to submit the bill.

“It doesn’t influence me,” she said at the time. “I’ve said ‘no’ many times to people who have contributed to my campaign.”

Bevins did not comment for this article, but she has also faced campaign opposition from developers who supported opposing candidates they saw as more sympathetic to them.

She told the Riverside Democratic Club in Essex on Jan. 12 about her run-ins with billionaire developer David Cordish, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into an opponent’s campaign after a zoning decision she made to allow redevelopment of a dilapidated property in Middle River threatened one of his shopping centers nearby.

Common Cause Maryland, a government watchdog group, released a statement in support of Brochin’s legislation after analyzing spending on local campaigns around the state. The group found that developers are consistently the interest group investing the most in these campaigns - “because they have the most invested in the outcomes,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, CCM’s executive director.

“Focusing on developer dollars at the county level makes sense - land use decisions are the most consistent policy our councils make, second only to the county budget in importance,” she said.

The bill will be heard simultaneously in the Baltimore County delegation and the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in Annapolis, and Brochin’s office will give advance notice of the date of those hearings for those interested in testifying.

If passed, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2019.

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State will not fund Back River midge treatments without county money

(Updated 1/17/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The State of Maryland has backed away from a plan to fund larvicidal midge treatments this year on Back River, saying its share of the money will not be available without participation from Baltimore County.

Last fall, Governor Larry Hogan and other state officials extended an offer to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to evenly split an estimated $1.3 million cost for several applications of midge larvicide on the river to help alleviate the issues caused by midges.

Midges - non-biting, mosquito-like insects - are present in such numbers in and around Back River that they pose a swarming nuisance to businesses and residents in the area. The larvicide treatments would have killed midge larvae in the water at the points where their numbers are highest.

Kamenetz, by way of county Environmental Protection and Sustainability Director Vince Gardina, promptly rejected Hogan’s offer, claiming the waterway to be state jurisdiction and, therefore, state responsibility. He also called into question the state’s cost estimate, saying it was too low to do the job adequately.

Following the rejection, State Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7) helped organize a so-called “midge summit” in late October between state and county officials and the leadership of the Back River Restoration Committee, which has advocated for the treatments.

According to BRRC President Sam Weaver, his understanding after the midge summit was that the state had agreed to put forth its half of the funding regardless of if the county would participate. That way they could still fund some of the treatments and see how far those funds would go.

But Weaver said he recently found out from another state official, who was not involved in any decision making on the issue, that the funding of midge treatments on Back River is now “completely dead.”

He said he had to find out from this state official because he was the only one who would return Weaver’s calls about it. He added that he got no response from officials in the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which was to be the source of the funding, nor from the governor’s office. And he said the two state senators involved were not aware of the issue.

“I’ve been told the money is available,” Weaver said, “but somebody’s got to put their stamp on it.

“I can’t believe they sat there with 18 people in that room and said what they said and now all of a sudden it’s all in the toilet,” he said, referencing the midge summit.

But MDA spokesman Jason Schellhardt said in order for the state funding to move forward they would need the county to agree to participate in the program.

“It’s always been a we-need-them-to-participate kind of deal,” Schellhardt said, adding that the state did not agree to put up its half of the funding without county involvement. “I was in that meeting and I don’t think that was ever said.

“It’s always been the kind of deal where we’re willing to work with the county on this but we need their participation for our funding to work,” he added.

But Jennings and Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), the other state senator involved, each said they were unaware that the state’s money was contingent on the county chipping in.

“This is news to me,” Jennings said. “It was my assumption with what the governor said at the Board of Public Works press conference [when he announced the offer]… that the state was still at least going to put up half to do half the treatments and do what they could to lessen the severity of what’s taking place down there.”

Jennings also said he recalled state representatives specifically stating in the midge meeting that they would fund their half of the treatments regardless of the county’s involvement.

“I rehashed it several times - because I chaired that meeting - that it would be taken care of,” he said.

Likewise, Salling said he was not previously told that state funding would not come through without the county agreeing to put up the other half. He and Jennings would be sending a letter to Hogan to see if they will get the funding, “which we were promised,” he said.

Salling also recalled state representatives at the midge meeting agreeing to come through with their half of the funding with or without the county’s.

“That’s why we were there; they did say that,” he asserted. “We’re going to try to find out through the governor’s office where we’re at because we thought we were getting the finances.”

The state’s half of the funds would have covered two or three larvicide applications, according to Salling.

Additionally, Salling is planning to introduce another funding bill in the state legislature to allocate money for the treatments through the state budget. He introduced a similar bill last year which passed the State Senate but stalled in the House of Delegates.

“We’re seeing if we can get the funding and if we can get the help,” Salling said. “We’re trying to go through the state to get the applications done to take care of the problem that we’ve had for years now.”

He said he has support for the bill from other senators on both sides of the aisle.

Days Cove landfill preparing to discharge treated leachate from treatment plant

Days Cove landfill preparing to discharge treated leachate from treatment plant
An aerial view of the Days Cove Rubble Landfill showing its proximity to the former quarry to the north and Days Cove to the east. The treated leachate will be discharged toward the north of the property.

(Updated 1/16/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Days Cove Rubble Landfill in White Marsh expects to have its newly-constructed leachate treatment plant up and running within the next month so they can begin discharging the treated liquid directly from the facility, according to company officials.

Darren Hunt, manager of the Days Cove Reclamation Company which operates the landfill, said the treatment plant is still in “start-up mode” and engineers continue to inspect and calibrate the equipment in anticipation of the plant’s opening.

“We’re getting close, but we’re still not to the point where we’re ready to discharge,” Hunt said. And when they are ready, they will still have to go through a sampling protocol and submit the data to the Maryland Department of the Environment to be sure it meets the discharge requirements.

The leachate is currently trucked to the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dundalk for treatment at that facility.

Leachate - the liquid that first enters the landfill as rain and eventually permeates through to the bottom - is collected and will be treated by the treatment plant on the landfill property. The treated leachate will then be discharged from the plant via a two-inch underground line to an open storm water collection pond on the property.

As per their permit, the plant will discharge roughly 13,000 gallons of treated leachate per day, which, Hunt said, “is like leaving a garden hose running.”

Hunt assured that the leachate will be cleaned and treated by the plant to the same standards as drinking water.

“So the water that’s coming out of this treatment plant will not be discharged unless it’s the same water that’s coming, technically, through the tap at your house because it’s the same standards with the same limits,” he said.

He noted that the leachate being treated and discharged is strictly from the rubble landfill - separate from the adjacent Eastern Sanitary Landfill used for general trash from the county - and said their leachate is “fairly benign to begin with” as compared to the garbage landfill.

Due to their solid waste permit from MDE, most of the materials handled at the rubble landfill are construction materials like stone, gravel, brick and wood, which is the only organic material they deal with. Metals and plastics can be recycled and are not landfilled.

Should the collection pond fill up with treated leachate or during a rain event, the water would spill over into a drainage ditch allowing it to freely infiltrate into the ground in a wooded area on the site, according to Hunt. And the point where the water would enter the woods is about 1,000 yards from the nearest shoreline, he said.

Hunt said that, according to MDE which wrote their discharge permit, any water discharged by the plant will infiltrate into the ground before it has any chance to reach surface water. Additionally, much of the water would simply evaporate from the collection pond in the summer and it would not discharge at all in warm, dry weather.

“It potentially could reach this pond in the winter months when everything is saturated or frozen,” Hunt said. “But the chances of that are highly unlikely.”

The “pond” he referred to is the former Campbell quarry next to the landfill which has a small link to the waters of Days Cove and, therefore, to the tidal Gunpowder and Bird rivers.

“I keep hearing [rumors] that we’re discharging directly to the Bird River, and that’s just not the case,” Hunt said.

He conceded that the discharge could potentially reach the river through ground water. “But there’s no pipe dumping treated leachate into Bird River,” he said.

The rubble landfill is estimated to remain open for eight more years, Hunt said, at which time it will be closed and capped. The amount of leachate needing to be treated will then decrease over time because the cap will prevent new rain infiltration. However, it can take up to 10 years for all of the moisture to fully permeate through.

“Once you close out the landfill, you cap everything off with the closure material… there are two five-year monitoring plans that are part of our permit, which basically ends the landfill,” Hunt explained.

The first five-year period consists of ground water sampling, erosion control and leachate treatment, he said.

“So at the end of that five-year period, if you’re not generating any leachate and you have no environmental issues, then the landfill closes out,” Hunt said.

If it continues to produce leachate, the landfill will be closed at the point during the second five-year period when the leachate ceases.

Following the closure of the rubble landfill, the area will be converted back into a state park for use by the public. It is slated to include walking trails, a swimming area in the former quarry and wildlife habitat creation. Work on the park would begin with the closure of the landfill in 2025.

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County to hold hearings regarding 10-year solid waste plan

(Updated 1/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Beginning Monday, Jan. 23, the Baltimore County Department of Public Works will hold public discussions to solicit community input on the development of their next 10-year Solid Waste Management Plan.

The plan, which will cover the period from 2019 to 2028, will lay out how the county will handle its solid waste during that time and explains how it will achieve its goals for solid waste management.

Five public meetings will be held around the county, including at the Perry Hall Library, 9685 Honeygo Blvd., on Monday, Jan. 23, and at the North Point Library, 1716 Merritt Blvd. in Dundalk, on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Other meetings will be held at the Arbutus Library, 855 Sulphur Spring Road, on Monday, Jan. 30; at the Cockeysville Library, 9833 Greenside Drive, on Monday, Feb. 6; and at the Pikesville Library, 1301 Reisterstown Road, on Thursday Feb. 9. All meetings will run from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

No snow dates are scheduled, and if Baltimore County Public Libraries are closed due to inclement weather, the meeting on that date will be canceled.

According to the draft Executive Summary of the new plan, the county’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management (SWM) believes its existing solid waste and recycling infrastructure to be adequate at least through 2028.

Therefore, DPW believes implementation of the plan would extend the life of the county’s only operating landfill - located in White Marsh and which is already more than half full - by preventing waste and increasing recycling, improve the cost-effectiveness of the county’s solid waste management and recycling program, and enhance resident satisfaction with the program.

Goals for the program under the plan, according to the Executive Summary, are to promote waste prevention, increase recycling, increase resource recovery and decrease the quantity and toxicity of solid waste requiring landfilling.

Baltimore County accepts all of Harford County’s single stream recyclables for sorting at its Central Acceptance Facility in Cockeysville as the result of an August 2013 agreement. It also accepts 135,000 tons of Harford’s trash per year at the Eastern Sanitary Landfill (ESL) in White Marsh under the agreement, but all of that material is then transferred out of the county to disposal sites owned or used by Waste Management, Inc.

The county also has one major out-of-county outlet for its own residential trash. The solid waste bureau has a contract with Baltimore City through 2021 - with three remaining five-year renewal options - to take 215,000 tons of trash per year to the Wheelabrator Baltimore waste-to-energy facility.

The county has also made “significant strides” in growing its residential recycling program under the current Solid Waste Management Plan, according to the summary, increasing recycled tonnage from 36,167 in 2009 to 54,310 in 2015.

“In addition, Baltimore County opened its own single stream materials recovery facility (MRF) in November 2013, which enabled the county to retain the value of collected recyclables and maximize the financial benefits of its recycling program,” the summary states.

From its opening through November 2016, 156,000 tons of recyclables were sold from the MRF, generating gross revenues of $20.1 million and avoiding $9.9 million in trash disposal costs, the summary said.

The summary also points out that, while recycling tonnages have remained constant since 2011, residential trash tonnages have decreased over the same period - “a promising trend,” it adds.

As it stands, the county’s only guaranteed outlet for trash after 2021 is the ESL. But SWM is committed to securing adequate replacement capacity before the long-term waste-to-energy contract expires, according to the summary, assuring the county a high degree of solid waste management independence.

As of January 2016, the landfill had an estimated remaining trash capacity of about 10.4 million cubic yards, according to the ESL Solid Waste Management Facility Tonnage Report for 2015. This means that nearly 5 million tons of trash could still be landfilled there, and the report estimated that the ESL would not reach capacity until the year 2053.

“The bottom line is that, for the most part, ESL’s longevity will continue to be a function of choices the county and its citizens make,” the summary stated. “Recycling materials that would otherwise become ‘waste’ is each resident’s responsibility, for fiscal as well as environmental reasons.”

Copies of the 2019-2028 plan’s draft Executive Summary are available on the county’s website, in the office of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management at 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson (County Office Building) and at every branch of the Baltimore County Public Library system.

Persons may also submit written comments about the plan to Steven A. Walsh, P.E., Director, Department of Public Works, 111 West Chesapeake Ave., Towson, Md. 21204. Written comments must be received by March 2.

After several false starts, Shaw’s Discovery looking at fall occupancy

After several false starts, Shaw’s Discovery looking at fall occupancy
The older plan depicted above remains mostly unchanged by the current proposal. However, the new plan will feature five single homes instead of the one shown here. Image courtesy of Hoehn Landscape Architecture.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Marge Neal -

If Mother Nature is cooperative, new residents may be able to call Shaw’s Discovery home by this fall.

“At this point, the only thing that will slow this process down will be the weather,” developer Mark Sapperstein said in a phone interview Jan. 6. “As long as we don’t get any wet, mucky weather with extended rain or snow that makes it hard to move equipment, we’ll be good to go.”

The 143-unit housing development slated for the Bauer Farm land in Edgemere includes five single-family homes and 138 townhouses. The units will be built to run parallel with the existing Willow Road and along the waterfront, according to Sapperstein.

The developer was scheduled to give a project update at the Jan. 5 meeting of the North Point Peninsula Council (NPC), but inclement weather canceled the gathering. In giving an update to the East County Times, Sapperstein said he hoped to reschedule for the February or March NPC meeting.

Crews are now clearing out for road sections and working on sediment and erosion control and storm water management elements, according to Sapperstein.

“That’s what I call earth work, and that will take us into spring - about two to three months,” he said. “After that, we’ll do the pipe work for water and sewer and other utilities and then we’ll be ready to start building the first group of houses.”

Plans call for the single-family units to be built first and then individual groups of five or six townhouses at a time. Sapperstein’s original design called for four-cornered “villa” town homes but he has since opted to build the more traditional rows of houses. The project is being built by NV Homes.

In response to some community conversations taking place on social media that are spreading false information, Sapperstein said the development will not include any “Section 8” housing.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “There will be no subsidized housing.”

Sapperstein deferred to NV when asked about estimated list prices, but noted the houses will cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” In 2007, when the planned unit development, or PUD, was first approved by Baltimore County officials, Sapperstein estimated the homes would sell in the range of $450,000 to $750,000.

NV officials did not respond to requests for information and the project is not yet listed on the company’s website.

While buildings will be concentrated along Willow Road and the shoreline, most of the interior of the parcel will be left undeveloped. A portion of former farmland has already been reforested. The only additional clearing that will occur will be for the creation of community walking paths. A public boat ramp with trailer parking is planned, as well as three proposed piers for the use of Shaw’s Discovery residents only. The community boat facility is a “public benefit” negotiated as part of the PUD planning process. Developers who create PUDs are allowed to work outside of current zoning limitations in exchange for allowing public input during planning stages and providing amenities that benefit the general public.

Bauer’s Farm Road, now a private road, will be improved and widened to meet public road standards, Sapperstein said. The public will use the road to access the boat ramp and walking paths. At the point the road curves left toward the new houses, a landscaped turnaround will end at a gatehouse entrance to the private community. A gate will also be placed at the entrance of the new road off North Point Road near Willow.

The project has been stalled several times. When Sapperstein first acquired the land - nearly 200 acres - for $2.85 million in 2004, he inherited a landfill contaminated with toxins, including heavy metals. The developer estimates he spent about $3 million on that remediation and when he was ready to start building, the market for such luxury housing had plummeted because of the recession.

Sapperstein is now confident the economy is healthy enough to make the project a success.

“I’ve sold all of the lots and all I have to do is perform,” he said, referencing the “earth work” needed to prepare the land for building. “I would think the first residents could move in by fall.”

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Bromwell, Kamenetz announce Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative

Bromwell, Kamenetz announce Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative
Delegate Eric Bromwell (at podium) led the fight in Maryland to keep pharmaceutical costs from skyrocketing while providing transparency for citizens. File photo.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) and Senator Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) joined Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and state Attorney General Brian Frosh to announce a Prescription Drug Affordability Initiative on Tuesday, Jan. 10, outside the State House in Annapolis.

The initiative, which has the support of dozens of  medical and citizen groups around the state including the AARP and NAACP, consists of two proposed bills - one that calls for drug corporations to explain the high cost of drugs as well as notify the public before substantial price increases, and another that gives the attorney general the authority to take legal action to stop prescription drug price gouging.

Bromwell, who is now the vice chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, is the lead sponsor of the House bill aiming to bring about transparency.

“I first ran for the House of Delegates when I was 24 years old and the first mailers and walk pieces I have from back when I first ran said that I wanted increased access to affordable health insurance and prescription drugs for all Marylanders,” said Bromwell. “Fifteen years later I’m happy to be standing before you fighting the good fight.”

Kamenetz, who grew up working at his family’s pharmacy in Overlea in the 1970’s, said he’s seen how increasing drug prices have affected people looking to get prescriptions filled.

“I watched the anguish as our customers were unable to afford prescriptions, and they had to make choices as to what they could pay for and what they could not,” he said.

Kamenetz went on to say that he still sees that anguish today, as senior citizens around Baltimore County struggle to pay for prescriptions. He also noted that high drug prices have placed a burden on local governments who provide prescription drug benefits.

“We’re also an employer of 25,000 employees, and we give our county employees a prescription drug benefit,” he said. “I’ve seen over the last 10 years the price of prescription drugs that we have to pay out of our budget has doubled.”

The county executive stated that allowing the attorney general to take legal action to avoid price gouging while forcing drug companies to be transparent is the right move.

Frosh stated that over the last several years, prices for generic drugs have increased dramatically. Citing a 2014 survey of pharmacists related to 25 generic drugs, prices increased by 600 to 2,000 percent in some instances. Frosh maintained that the reason for the increase in costs wasn’t due to manufacturing, but rather back-room dealing by companies to avoid competition.

Frosh alleged that companies are divvying up the market and allowing costs to skyrocket by not competing. He pointed to a slew of generic drugs that have been available for decades whose costs have skyrocketed for no reason.

One such drug, the officials said, is Daraprim, the price of which rose from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet. The price of Naloxone, a drug popular among first responders for its ability to reverse the effects of an overdose, jumped from $1 a decade ago to $40 today. Every police officer in Baltimore County now carries Naloxone, costing the county $14,000 annually.

“This kind of hedgefund behavior has threatened the health and the lives of working families across the country,” Frosh said. “It’s affected our ability to deliver healthcare, it’s squeezed the budgets of hospitals and it’s cost state and local governments hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Frosh maintained that high costs threaten the entire health care system and asserted that price gouging will be a thing of the past in Maryland.

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MTA’s transit revamp nearly complete; customer input still sought

MTA’s transit revamp nearly complete; customer input still sought
This map shows the proposed new route for the MTA’s 120 line linking White Marsh with Johns Hopkins Hospital. The route elicited enormous public response during the workshops over the last year.

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Marge Neal -

A long and complex process to revamp the Maryland Transit Administration’s public transportation system, known as Baltimore Link, is coming down the home stretch.

And if the number of people who gave public testimony recently about the proposal is any indication, the proposal meets with customer acceptance, officials believe.

A public hearing held at the White Marsh library on Monday, Jan. 9, attracted few people and only two residents offered testimony.

After holding two rounds of community workshops from October 2015 to September 2016, in which residents were invited to offer comments and suggestions regarding current service across all transportation modes offered by MTA - bus, light rail, MARC commuter trains, Metro subway and Mobility - a proposal that presents more efficient, logical routes and better links between those modes was created.

The final phase of customer input is underway with a series of public hearings that allow for one last gathering of comments before finalizing the plan. The proposed service changes will take place on June 18, according to Kevin Quinn, MTA’s director of planning and programming.

MTA serves about 380,000 riders per day across all transit modes, with 250,000 of those daily customers riding buses, according to Quinn.

“Clearly the majority of our riders are using buses, and buses are our least efficient system,” he said. Because many routes go through downtown Baltimore, with a four-street area that he compared to the skinny center of an hourglass, it is not uncommon for buses to be behind schedule.

Recognizing that MTA started as a bus company which added other modes of transportation over the years, company officials recognized that the modes were not efficiently integrated.

“Most of our routes and the current system are at least 50 years old, and a lot has changed in 50 years,” Quinn said, noting that many communities look vastly different than they did 10 years ago, let alone in the 1960s, with new housing patterns and employment hubs.

“We need to better reflect the region, we need to better connect to other modes and we need to be more reliable,” Quinn said.

To that end, officials studied both the growth and death of employment centers and living areas, the length and complexity of existing routes and the relationships of different modes to create a plan that would achieve the objectives.

The result, MTA hopes, is an adjusted transportation plan that offers shorter, more manageable and efficient routes that will have a much better chance of staying on schedule; routes that are scheduled to better connect with different modes; and routes that better meet the needs and locations of customers.

For example, Quinn said, he and his colleagues looked at long routes that traveled from Catonsville into downtown Baltimore and then on to White Marsh. They discovered that few, if any, people travel the entire length of the 40-mile route. Because the line travels through the downtown bottleneck and from one side of Baltimore County to the other, it experiences many opportunities to be thrown off schedule. When a line gets jammed up in one area, that  causes a ripple effect throughout the rest of the route, according to Quinn. A 15-minute delay becomes a 30-minute delay by the time the bus gets back to its point of origin, and that time can never be made up; the schedule is off for the rest of the day.

The solution was to chop that line up into smaller, more manageable segments while still meeting the needs of all riders.

While this plan is the first comprehensive revamping of the company’s offerings in most employees’ memories, minor tweaking of services happens all the time, according to Ryan Nawrocki, senior director of MTA’s Office of Communications and Marketing.

“We are constantly tweaking around the margins to address small problems or needs,” he told the East County Times. “We can do all the tweaking we want but that won’t fix core structural issues. The system operates on a grid laid out 50 years ago and it doesn’t work anymore.”

Alta Apartments resident Amanda Bull said she is already benefitting from an adjusted bus line that added stops at her apartment complex.

In her testimony, she said she is “really benefitting from the new 102 line” and that she appreciates the more convenient, safer stop. Bull, who does not own a car, said she now gets to work in half the time that it used to take when she used the 58 and 55 bus lines.

“It’s a very convenient route and takes me to a lot of different places,” she said.

After her testimony, she told the Times that her apartment complex, which is near the Oak Crest retirement community in Parkville, never had bus stops. She and other residents had to walk to a stop on Belair Road.

“One night, when I was walking home from the bus stop after work, I was robbed at gunpoint,” she said. “I feel much safer with the new stops so much closer to home - I’m not getting any younger and that’s important to me.”

Several public hearings still remain for customers to weigh in on the proposal, and written comments are being accepted through Feb. 21. The department’s comment form can be downloaded at and mailed to MTA’s Office of Customer and Community Relations, 6 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21202. Comments can also be emailed to with “written testimony” in the subject line.

Future hearings include those set for 6 - 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Catonsville library and from 5 - 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, at the Waverly branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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Dunkin’ Donuts planned for former Meineke site in Essex

Dunkin’ Donuts planned for former Meineke site in Essex

(Updated 1/11/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A developer revealed his plans to build a new Dunkin’ Donuts on a currently vacant site at the intersection of Eastern Boulevard and N. Marlyn Avenue in Essex at the Wednesday, Jan. 4, meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council.

The site, formerly the location of a Meineke Car Care Center and most recently Windshields on the Go, has been vacant for several years and the building now sits dilapidated. It is also located within the Essex Commercial Revitalization District.

The developer’s plan is to improve the roughly 16,000-square-foot site with a nearly 1,800 square-foot Dunkin’ Donuts carry-out and drive-through, according to John Povalac of Baltimore Land Design Group, the civil engineering consultant for the project. Carry-out would be the primary purpose for the establishment, he said, but it would also have limited seating inside.

The establishment would maintain its existing right-in, right-out access to Eastern Boulevard and full-movement access to Marlyn Avenue.

“Presently, the site is almost entirely paved,” Povalac said, so nearly all storm water runs off into the street and storm drains. “We’re going to add about 20 percent green area with the improvements, expanding some of the existing grass areas in the back, maintaining the grass area between [us and] the Essex Liquors store and really working on improving the landscaping and green space along the Eastern Boulevard and North Marlyn Avenue frontages.”

They will also construct a micro-bioretention facility closer to Eastern Boulevard for storm water management. About 75 percent of storm water on the site will flow to the facility rather than into the street.

Some EMRCC members expressed concern that trash from the bus stop at the intersection could end up in the storm water management area.

But architect David Roberson, representing Dunkin’ Donuts, said the corporation would not allow a franchisee to have a messy location and inspects them frequently. Franchisees are expected to keep their properties clean, and if they don’t, they can be forced to sell the franchise, he said.

“Even if it’s off-property, Dunkin’ will not allow that appearance,” Roberson said. “Monthly they are rated on the appearance of their store, inside and out.”

Roberson and other community members remarked, though, that two other Essex locations - on Eastern Boulevard near Stemmers Run Road and on Hyde Park Road near MD-702 - owned by the same franchisee that would own the new location, are continually kept clean.

Additionally, no one is on the site now to police the trash produced by the bus stop, which is heavily used. Having the business there would help to keep the trash under control, Roberson said. He added that they would not be opposed to putting an extra trash can on the property near the bus stop.

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MDE still investigating fish kill; results expected by end of this month

MDE still investigating fish kill; results expected by end of this month
Dead fish recently began washing up on the shorelines of the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, causing some concern about a resurgence of the recent fish kill. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

An estimated 10,000 fish have died as a result of the latest fish kill on Maryland’s waterways as of Dec. 30, according to state environmental officials. And The latest evidence still points to toxins produced by algae to the be the likely cause.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is still investigating the incident, which has occurred in waterways in eastern Baltimore County, including the Gunpowder and Bird rivers. The investigation began as early as Monday, Dec. 19, when dead fish were first seen, according to a statement from MDE.

MDE spokeswoman Adrienne Diaczok said a Department investigator was on-site Monday, Dec. 26, in response to the reports they have received and the investigator saw fish that continued to show signs of stress.

"Our field staff believes that the die-off has likely ended, however, we encourage citizens to let us know if they see dead fish by calling the Chesapeake Bay Hotline at 877-224-7229," Diaczok said. She added that no new affected areas had been identified by investigators.

"Samples collected last month are being tested at the lab now," she told the East County Times on Thursday, Jan. 5. And the results are expected before the end of January.

The kill has affected at least nine fish species, according to MDE, including yellow perch, largemouth bass, bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, carp, black crappie, gizzard shad, spottail shiner and channel catfish.

Some residents living on and around the rivers theorized that it could have been caused by pollutants or excess bacteria in the water, pointing to a recent sewage overflow in Joppatowne and a summer study by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which showed high levels of bacteria in the water after heavy rainfall.

But MDE pointed to an algae bloom instead as the likely cause.

“To this point, our investigation shows no signs of pollution as a potential cause. The preliminary results of the investigation show toxins produced by algae to be the likely cause,” Diaczok said.

She said that the monitoring by MDE investigators has shown elevated cell counts of Karlodinium venifecum algae in the Gunpowder River.

Diaczok explained that the epicenter of the fish kill appears to have been near Mariner Point in Joppatowne, spreading to Foster Branch and out into Bird River and the rest of the tidal Gunpowder.

While MDE believes the affected area is limited to the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, Diaczok said investigators had also taken samples in Dundee Creek - just to the south of Gunpowder - on Dec. 26.

Although in much smaller numbers, a few dead fish could be seen belly-up in Dundee Creek near Marshy Point Nature Center that Monday.

In the early aftermath of the fish kill, photos posted on social media by fisherman and water quality advocate Scott Sewell showed many of the other fish species that MDE named as having been affected by the incident.

But by Dec. 26, nearly all the fish seen washed up on the shorelines were carp, with a few stressed and lethargic channel catfish hovering close to shore.

“I want to stress that this is an ongoing investigation,” Diaczok told the Times, “and until we have laboratory results back we can’t speculate as to why you viewed an abundance of channel catfish and carp.”

MDE asks that individuals who see an accumulation of dead fish in state waters report it through the 24-hour, toll-free Chesapeake Bay Safety and Environmental Hotline at 877-224-7229.

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Dundalk Kmart to begin liquidating; will close by mid-April

Dundalk Kmart to begin liquidating; will close by mid-April
The Dundalk Kmart will leave a large hole in the shopping center where it is located. It is reportedly the only Maryland store to close. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The Dundalk Kmart will begin liquidating its inventory on Jan. 6 and close for good in early spring, according to a spokesman for Sears Holding Corp., the retailer’s parent company.

“We can confirm that we are making the difficult but necessary decision to close the Kmart store at 222 North Point Blvd.,” spokesman Chris Brathwaite wrote in an email to the East County Times. “The store will close in mid-April. Until then, the store will remain open for customers.”

The number of employees who will be affected by the Dundalk store closure is not “publicly available,” according to Brathwaite. Most workers are part-time/hourly employees, but associates who are eligible will receive severance pay and have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Sears or Kmart stores, he said.

Kmart customer Ginny Long said she will be sad to see the Dundalk store close.

“I’m very disappointed. We do a lot of shopping in this store,” she said, adding that she buys all of her purses there and enjoys the clothing as well.

Long, who lives in North Point Village, said she may try to shop at other major stores in the area, but dislikes Walmart.

Another customer, who only identified himself as “P.C.,“ said he was not surprised to see the store go.

“I could see this one closing,” he said. “This store has been going downhill for several years, unfortunately.” He mentioned that the last time he was there, just before Christmas, there was a fight that had to be broken up by police.

A Middle River resident, P.C. said he was more disappointed to see the Kmart location on Belair Road in Fullerton close, however. “That one was a lot nicer,” he said.

P.C. noted, though, that the space could be a good location for a new grocery store after Kmart leaves. “They could probably use one around here,” he said.

There is a Mega Grocery & Market in the same shopping center as the Dundalk Kmart, but no full-sized, super market-type grocery store in the immediate area.

The news of the closure comes on the heels of the company’s Dec. 8 announcement about 2016 third-quarter earnings. Company officials reported a net loss attributable to shareholders of $748 million for the period of July 1 - Sept. 30, compared to a $454 million loss for the same time period in 2015.

“We remain fully committed to restoring profitability to our company and are taking actions such as reducing unprofitable stores, reducing space in stores we continue to operate..., reducing investments in under-performing categories and improving gross margin performance and managing expenses relative to sales in key categories,” Sears Holdings Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Edward S. Lampert said in the earnings statement.

Revenues decreased about $721 million to $5 billion for the quarter ended Oct. 29, 2016, compared to revenue of $5.8 billion for the quarter ended Oct. 31, 2015, according to the earnings statement. Company officials attribute  much of the decline to having fewer Kmart and Sears full-line stores in operation (which accounted for $323 million of the decline) and a 7.4 percent decrease ($304 million) in comparable store sales during the period.

Kmart comparable store sales decreased by 4.4 percent for the earnings period. Officials noted declines were experienced in grocery and household, consumer electronics and pharmacy categories, but said they are “encouraged” by sales increases in several categories, including apparel, jewelry and outdoor living.

“We will continue to take actions to generate liquidity, adjust our overall capital structure and manage our business while meeting all of our financial obligations,” Chief Financial Officer Jason M. Hollar said in the earnings statement.

The company did not officially release a list of store closings but announced them internally to employees, according to many media outlets. Spokesman Brathwaite would confirm only the Dundalk store closure.

This latest wave of store closures comes soon after the shuttering of another 64 stores that started liquidating in September in preparation for mid-December closings, according to online reports.

While the company did not formally release a list of stores slated for closure, it did announce on Dec. 29 that it had obtained a secured standby letter of credit facility that will allow the company to initially borrow up to $200 million. Upon request by the company and approval by the lenders, Sears Holdings could borrow up to an additional $300 million, according to the statement issued by the company.

The letter of credit facility is being provided by JPP LLC and JPP II LLC, which are affiliates of ESL Investments, Inc. Citibank, N.A. will serve as the administrative agent and issuing bank.

“This new standby letter of credit further demonstrates that Sears Holdings has numerous options to finance our business strategy,” CFO Hollar said in the statement.

While Sears Holdings will be closing the brick-and-mortar Kmart building in Dundalk, Brathwaite said the company’s goal is to “maintain these valued relationships long after a store closes its doors” through programs like the Shop Your Way membership platform - which offers reward points for purchases - and through online sales.

Loyal Kmart shoppers will be encouraged to patronize other local Kmart stores, Brathwaite said, including the one on Waltham Woods Road in Parkville.

Devin Crum contributed to this article.

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Developer plans 150 new homes along US-40 in White Marsh

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following the conclusion of the 2016 Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, Pikesville-based Schwaber Holdings announced its plan to develop a roughly eight-acre property along Pulaski Highway in White Marsh with 150 townhomes.

The property, known as the former site of the Pulaski Drive-in and which was previously slated for a Carmax facility, was rezoned through the CZMP from mostly Resource Conservation to majority residential.

David Karceski, land use attorney for Schwaber, said there were a number of things they agreed to do or not do in order to get the new zoning, such as limiting the number of homes to 150, which is less than the acreage would allow; not allowing traffic access to Baker Avenue at the back of the property, which was negotiated with the adjacent Loreley Beach community; and keeping intact the environmental easements at the back of the property.

“We won’t disturb those or change the configuration of those at all,” Karceski explained.

Dwight Little, an engineer with Little and Associates, said there are two stormwater management (SWM) ponds existing on the property, and the site was already graded for the Carmax plan. Their plan is to use the SWM facilities and develop the area of the property that has already been graded, he said.

Little said the SWM facilities in place were built under regulations that predated the year 2000 SWM regulations.

“So I’m sure there will be some retrofitting here for water quality benefits,” Little explained. “But the intention is to use these facilities.”

Steve Rosen, a consultant for the project, pointed out that the SWM facilities were designed to handle the Carmax facility which would have produced much more stormwater runoff.

“So essentially, we’re going to be overmanaging by a significant amount,” Little said.

The Carmax plan was slated to include a regional body shop, an auction facility, a 100,000-square-foot building and a “huge” parking lot, according to Schwaber CEO Mark Renbaum, who added that the roof of the building would not have been any kind of “green” roof.

“This is a far greener project,” Renbaum said. “That Carmax project was almost all asphalt and paving.”

The SWM ponds in place are grandfathered and can be continued under the older regulations. But Little said because they are overmanaging by so much, that may result in the desired water quality benefits sought by newer regulations.

However, residents on and around the Bird River are still concerned about any development which may affect the river’s water quality.

“We’re particularly sensitive that what happens on the site stays on the site,” said Peter Terry, treasurer of the Bird River Restoration Campaign.

Little also noted that they are expecting to provide significantly more open space than they are required to thanks to a recent law change that allows developers to include environmentally constrained areas as part of a project’s open space.

The project was meeting the open space requirement under the previous regulations, but now will be able to include the forest easement acreage in that total, Little said.

Traffic is a concern for neighbors as well because, although there is a break in the median on Pulaski Highway at the entrance and exit to the site, they do not yet know if they will have a traffic light there to serve the development.

Residents of nearby Stevens Road lamented that they, too, have around 150 homes and the state will not install a traffic light for them because they do not have enough traffic volume.

Loreley Beach community members also expressed a desire for a degree of separation between themselves and the new community to prevent residents of Pulaski Crossing from using, or perhaps misusing, certain amenities like their boat ramp which their homeowners association pays for.

Karceski said they have no plans for a fence between the two communities, but they do plan to plant some additional trees and shrubs at the back of the property to make the existing forest between them even more dense.

Bauer farm developer to discuss plans with North Point community

(Updated 1/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Mark Sapperstein, the owner of the former Bauer’s farm property in Edgemere, has confirmed his attendance at the next North Point Peninsula Council meeting, set for Thursday, Jan. 5.

The proposed Shaw’s Discovery development is planned to include 139 townhomes and five single-family houses, according to online Baltimore County records. The project will also include a public boat ramp with parking, according to a rendering by Hoehn Landscape Architects. The community boat ramp is a “public benefit” that fulfills a requirement of the planned unit development (PUD) process, according to Arnold Jablon, director of Baltimore County’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

“The community and the developer worked together on the plan and that PUD was approved by the [administrative law judge],” Jablon told the East County Times. “The county is bound by the approved plan.”

Sapperstein bought the parcel of nearly 200 acres for $2.85 million in 2004, according to state land records. Much of the land is waterfront. Most of the land will be left forested or otherwise undeveloped, with houses concentrated along the waterfront and parallel to Willow Road, according to the Hoehn rendering.

Sapperstein is scheduled to speak at the North Point Peninsula Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, in the Edgemere Elementary School library classroom.

County Council approves new rules for open space, traffic calming

(Updated 12/28/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Toward the end of this year, the Baltimore County Council has enacted separate measures which change the open space requirements for development projects and update the criteria for installing traffic calming in neighborhoods.

The Council passed the open space legislation last month and it went into effect Nov. 21.

According to Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall), co-sponsor of the bill, it tries to incentivize developers to include more amenities and recreational open space within their residential projects.

“In a place like Towson, where there’s maybe a roof and you want to incentivize the developer to make it green and put amenities outside, then we would give a certain credit for that,” Marks explained.

That does not include indoor amenities within the project such as a pool or spa in an apartment complex’s clubhouse.

The bill also improved the county’s reporting requirements so that the administration has to consult with the relevant councilperson when spending open space waiver fees.

By law, open space fees must be used in the same councilmanic district as the development by which they were contributed. But now, the administration must consult with the Council member representing that district when deciding where to use those funds, which Marks said did not always happen before.

In the case of Towson, which Marks also represents, the bill says that when developers cannot meet the requirements, the open space fees must be expended within a certain distance of downtown Towson.

“My district goes from Charles Street to Harford County and people in Towson, candidly, don’t want their open space funding going into parts of Perry Hall,” Marks said. “They want it more in Towson.”

Marks said the development community was very interested in the bill. But so was NeighborSpace of Baltimore County, Inc. - a nonprofit organization that works to protect open space in the more urban parts of the county - due to a part of the measure that says developers can count wooded portions of their site toward their open space requirements.

“It doesn’t make sense for them to have to tear down a forested area to provide a homeowner’s association’s common area,” Marks affirmed. “You can use passive areas toward your open space requirement. The development community and NeighborSpace both argued that that made a lot of sense.”

Before this bill, when developers could not provide enough open space in their projects, they paid an open space fee and the county administration decided how the money was spent.

Marks said he has had some luck in Perry Hall getting those funds used for things like Angel Park, Gough Park and other recreational facilities.

“But ultimately, it’s up to the administration where they want to put the money,” he said. “This tries to incentivize developers to go ahead and provide the amenities on-site so they don’t have to pay those fees.” And if they do pay the fees, the Council member is involved in where it goes, he added.

On Monday, Dec. 19, the County Council also passed a resolution to approve the new Baltimore County Neighborhood Traffic Management Program (NTMP).

The county’s traffic calming procedures had not been updated since 2007, so Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-Middle River) - who initiated the action - and the Council asked the county’s Departments of Planning and Public Works to review and update the program. They placed particular emphasis on streets classified as “collectors” and those outside the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL).

“I get calls all the time from people [asking for traffic calming], said Bevins. But under the older criteria, some neighborhoods fell just short of meeting the requirements even if there was a clear traffic issue, she added.

After the Council’s request for an update, the departments came back with some recommendations for criteria changes, which the Council then approved.

Specifically, “collector” roadways, which handle higher traffic volumes because smaller streets feed onto them, were not previously considered for any traffic calming.

All streets may now be considered, however, roadways with peak traffic volumes higher than 350 vehicles may only be considered for upgrades to existing pedestrian crossings or other passive measures. Only those with peak volumes below that threshold may be considered for speed humps.

Also, any request for traffic calming that has a marked school crosswalk on it will be looked at for upgrades, regardless of whether the street itself qualifies for traffic calming.

Additionally, streets outside the URDL can now be considered for traffic calming if the residential lots fronting on them are two acres or less in size for the entire stretch of the requested street. Streets outside the URDL were not previously considered.

“It’s a few things that will help a few more neighborhoods qualify” that need it, Bevins said, adding that the funding for traffic calming projects is usually available when streets are approved for them.

However, she said some roads “just don’t make sense” to install traffic calming measures, such as the higher-volume collector roads because they would create traffic backups, as well as in neighborhoods where the homes sit far back off the roadway.

“I don’t see that changing,” she said.

“But some of these neighborhoods, I really see them needing it and one thing usually disqualified them” under the old criteria, Bevins commented.

The councilwoman said she does not think her district had any traffic calming projects waiting in the pipeline, but the rule changes may have allowed new ones to be considered.

Prior to Council approval, the NTMP had been prepared by DPW and adopted by the Planning Board on Oct. 6.

Communities call for county action on outdated development regulations

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Devin Crum -

At its most recent meeting on Dec. 7, the Essex-Middle River Civic Council voted to send a letter to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Council members Cathy Bevins (D-Middle River) and Todd Crandell (R-Essex) asking them to take a new look at how development regulations are applied in the county.

The EMRCC - consisting of 20 community associations throughout Essex and Middle River - has recently noticed that there are many approved development plans on the books in the county that have been idle for years with little or no movement.

Some of these plans were approved but were put on hold because of the housing market crash and subsequent economic decline. And many were approved under now-outdated development regulations, particularly with regard to storm water management (SWM) and other environmental regulations.

In many cases, the community may have even forgotten about these projects, EMRCC President Bob Bendler said.

“And when they rear their heads and begin their development, we find out that they’re not covered under current regulations,” some having been approved a decade ago or more, he said. “And they can have a serious impact on the environment.”

Prime examples of these types of projects include the Paragon outlet mall and the Cowenton apartments in White Marsh, as well as a townhome project now planned in Essex.

When Paragon first came forward, they sought to build under 1980s environmental and SWM regulations, which were what governed the originally approved plan for office buildings on the site. And the county’s departments of Permits, Approvals and Inspections (PAI) and Environmental Protection and Sustainability were willing to allow the project to move forward under those old regulations.

A county administrative law judge ruled that it had to abide by newer, but not current regulations. And it was not until Paragon faced immense public pressure that they agreed to proceed under the newest standards.

“It cost them some money, but they’ve got a lot more community support now,” Bendler said.

The Cowenton apartments were originally approved in 2006 as senior housing which would not have affected area schools. The developer even had a legal agreement with the community not to change the plan without consulting them. But that covenant has now expired and the plan has changed to 300-plus simple apartments that were not accounted for in school enrollment projections.

And the Essex property, on Back River Neck Road at Hyde Park Road, was initially approved for a shopping center in the 1960s before being changed to an apartment complex and now a townhome development not required to use the newest environmental guidelines.

The EMRCC is now requesting action from the three elected officials to research just how broad an issue this is in the county, as well as the possibility of putting limits on how long an approved project can sit idle, and they have sent a letter to them expressing their “serious” concerns on the matter.

In the letter, the civic council asks that, to the maximum extent possible, current state and county regulations be applied to projects at the time “substantial construction” occurs.

“This represents a particularly important issue when dealing with environmental requirements,” the letter reads.

In addition, they request that phased projects be subject to the most recent or updated requirements in effect at the time each phase begins.

“The importance of some environmental and safety regulations make it imperative that new and more protective regulations... be implemented as soon as possible and everywhere applicable,” the letter states, adding their desire to see the county avoid or at least minimize any exceptions to this for plans currently in the pipeline.

The EMRCC acknowledged that these changes may be seen as an added hardship for developers since existing laws govern the timeframes for applying regulations to their projects.

“However, the benefits of the updated or new regulation often outweigh the inconvenience or expense involved,” the letter reads.

“This is not something developers are going to like,” Bendler admitted, adding, though, that the community is willing to be reasonable. But, he said, they cannot have situations where regulations that are known to be ineffective are still used in building new projects.

Kamenetz spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said the letter is currently being reviewed by PAI Director Arnold Jablon. PAI is tasked with overseeing development and land use throughout the county, according to its website.

As reported in the East County Times on Oct. 13, Bevins had previously said developers sometimes need several years to get financing in place for their projects, and she would not want to put onerous timeline restrictions on them.

But some community members, such as Clyde Speelman of Hopewell Pointe in Essex, feel that a project sitting for 10 years or longer is “entirely too long,” feeling instead that four to five years would be an acceptable limit.

“Adequate public facilities formulas and how regulations apply to development projects are a constant discussion among Council members,” Councilman Crandell said in a statement to the Times. “I think we owe it to our constituents to look deeper into [this issue] and appreciate the Essex-Middle River Civic Council expressing their concerns.”

Jim Almon, a spokesman for Councilwoman Bevins, said she would be working with Crandell on a joint response to the EMRCC letter.

Residents raise concerns over Lockheed Martin cleanup activities

Residents raise concerns over Lockheed Martin cleanup activities
Cranes and dredges used for the environmental remediation can be seen from Wilson Point Park on the other side of Dark Head Cove. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Devin Crum -

On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Essex resident Scott Sewell posted a video on social media showing a barge in the process of dregding a portion of Cowpen Creek on Middle River as part of Lockheed Martin Corporation’s environmental cleanup of the area.

The video, which has received some 2,200 views, soon became an outlet for residents on both sides of the river to express their skepticism that the cleanup should really be happening and that perhaps the corporation should leave well enough alone.

Throughout the past several years, LMC has taken part in a consent decree to clean up the contamination on the land and in the waters surrounding their Middle River Complex. The contamination is the result of past industrial activity.

Over the course of the consent decree, the company has collaborated with and been overseen by local, state and federal environmental agencies to guide the course of the work. They are currently engaged in removing contaminated sediments via dredging from Dark Head Cove - also known as Martin’s Lagoon - and Cowpen Creek along the shoreline of the MRC.

The work is aimed at removing pollutants known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, as well as some heavy metals like chromium and cadmium, which are attached to the sediments.

But in his video, Sewell expressed his concerns that the contaminated sediments being stirred up by the dredging could drift around and be distributed throughout the rest of Middle River by the tides and currents. And he hopes “to God” that the toxins do not cause another major fish kill like what happened in the area a year ago.

In November 2015, around 200,000 fish were found to have died in the creeks of upper Middle River. However, the Maryland Department of the Environment published a report on the fish kill which implicated a late-season algae bloom. The bloom, they said, was caused by the availability of excess nutrients in the water due to storm water runoff, along with an increase in temperatures around that time.

This particular species of algae, the report explained, produced a toxin that suffocated the fish. And when the algae died off and decomposed, it stripped the oxygen from the water, compounding the problem.

MDE’s report found that LMC’s remediation activities did not contribute to the fish kill.

LMC officials also explained that strict requirements govern the dredging currently being done in the waterways.

For example, the difference between the normal turbidity, or cloudiness, of the water and the restriction they must abide by is so small that you would not be able to tell the difference between the water samples with the naked eye, according to Steve McGee, LMC’s project manager for the work.

Additionally, they have employed a turbidity curtain to prevent solids from migrating out of the work area and turbidity monitors both inside and outside the curtain which are constantly sending water quality data.

According to LM spokesman Tom Blackman, they would have a meeting with MDE and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency immediately if they exceeded their turbidity requirement to determine what went wrong and how they would address it.

Following a walk-through of the work site with LMC officials on Thursday, Dec. 15, Sewell maintained his skepticism that the turbidity curtain can prevent contaminants from migrating out of the work area since it does not create a water-tight seal and does not strain solids from the water. In addition, it only drops to eight feet, which is not the full depth of the creek all the way across.

But McGee pointed out that the turbidity monitoring indicates the disturbed particles do not travel far from where they originated and do not even get as far as the curtain.

However, they do have another turbidity curtain sitting on the boat ramp ready to deploy should they need an extra barrier, McGee noted. And when the dredging is complete, they will put in place a six-inch thick sand cap to minimize the movement of any residual contamination.

Also part of the project is the installation of a new bulkhead around the MRC consisting of marine-grade steel to prevent any migration of potentially contaminated soils from the land into the water, McGee said. The bulkhead has a 70-year design life.

Another topic discussed in responses to the video posted online was the type of dredge being used. Some commenters suggested a suction dredge would be more appropriate since it would not leave the distrubed particles in the water.

But as the LMC officials pointed out, suction dredging does not necessarily retain all of the water that comes up with the sediment material.

The mechanical dredges LMC is using do not retain all of the water either, but they are specially constructed with screens to drain off unwanted water brought up with the dredged material while retaining any solids, McGee said. And turbidity monitoring in and around the work area ensures that there is not too much migration of the disturbed sediments.

Sewell told the East County Times that he also does not fully trust the MDE report about last year’s fish kill in that it was caused by an algae bloom and LMC was not at all responsible. He cited a previous fish kill in the 1990s which MDE explained as having been caused by a spike in the river’s salinity, which he found similarly hard to believe.

He and others responding to the online video expressed a sentiment that the sediments should have been left undisturbed and the pollutants allowed to degrade or become buried naturally over time.

However, LMC and environmental officials have explained in public meetings that PCBs build up in the food chain, first being consumed by organisms in the mud and eventually by fish when they eat those organisms. The contaminants then concentrate in fish.

“I’m glad they’re doing what they’re doing,” Sewell said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I’m anti-protecting the environment; no one cares about the environment out there more than me.”

But now that the decision has already been made and the work is being done, he said, “you better believe I’m going to hold their feet to the fire” to be sure it is done right.

More information about LMC's environmental remediation activities can be found by visiting the following links:

Middle River Photo Tour:

Fall 2016 Newsletter:

Sediment Project Bulletin – Season 1:

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Kamenetz issues citation to Franklin Square’s Child Protective Services Team

Kamenetz issues citation to Franklin Square’s Child Protective Services Team
Kamenetz (left) and Shellenberger (right) gave high praise to the Child Protective Services Team (center) at Franklin Square Hospital in Rosedale. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/21/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger visited MedStar Franklin Square to issue commendations to Dr. Scott Krugman and Dr. Michelle Chudow of the Child Protective Services Team.

“I’d like to formally thank the medical center for their commitment to the community, particularly to the community of children they help,” said Shellenberger.

According to Shellenberger, he meets with the group multiple times per week to discuss potential abuse cases and ways of keeping children safe.

“This is just another example where there’s dedication, and really a sense of where hospital professionals go beyond the call of duty and really work tirelessly to advocate for something they believe in,” said Kamenetz. “And in this instance it’s taking care of children who are in the greatest need.

The Child Protective Services Team has been in operation since the early 2000s. The team investigates abuse, provides comprehensive abuse and neglect services, provides community outreach and training and much more.

“It’s been a long process to get to this point,” said Krugman, who oversees the team and has been involved in child protection for over a decade. “I’m so glad we could be of assistance to make this work.”

Krugman stated that the relationship between medical personnel and investigative authorities have never been better. That sentiment was echoed by Shellenberger after the presentation.

Shellenberger stated that they are not just concerned with criminal cases, though that is a benefit to the partnership. Aside from criminal cases, he said that in cases where abuse couldn’t be proven they are at least able to refer cases to the Department of Social Services which has a lower threshold for investigation.

“This advocacy group, it’s the police, the Deparment of Social Services, the medical team and prosecutors all working together to look out for what’s the best interest of the child,” said Shellenberger.

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Gunpowder Valley Conservancy celebrates Clear Creeks volunteers

Gunpowder Valley Conservancy celebrates Clear Creeks volunteers

(Updated 12/19/16)

- By Christine Potts, assistant project manager for the Clear Creeks Project -

Purnell Glenn and Buzz and Sandra Stromberger, all Middle River residents, were recognized at this year’s Gunpowder Valley Conservancy’s 2016 Volunteer Awards Banquet for exemplary contributions to the Clear Creeks Project.

Glenn is the homeowner’s association president for the Miramar Landing community, which consists of some 740 single family and townhomes and sits at the intersection of the Back River, Bird River and Middle River watersheds.

For personally contributing over 100 hours of his time to planning, promoting and championing the Clear Creeks Project at Miramar Landing program, Glenn received a 2016 Community Leader of the Year Award for outstanding contributions to the Clear Creeks Project.

Clear Creeks: Our Water, Our Heritage, Our Pride is a community-based, grant-funded initiative, managed by the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy, that answers residents’ desire for improved water clarity in the creeks, runs and rivers of the Bird River, Middle River and Tidal Gunpowder watersheds.

Since 2013, the project has been helping residents take simple steps, like planting trees and installing Bay-friendly gardens and rain barrels, in order to help prevent storm water runoff from polluting local waterways and causing problems, like flooding and standing water, on residential and institutional properties.

This year, the Clear Creeks Project expanded its scope beyond just individual homeowners and institutions by launching the Clear Creeks Project at Miramar Landing, a pilot program within the greater Clear Creeks Project that focuses on instituting storm water remediation and Bay-friendly gardening practices on shared, community-held properties.

Clear Creeks Project Manager Peggy Perry credits Glenn’s “critical support” and “vision of a more environmentally-friendly, sustainable community," as essential to the program's success. “The Miramar Landing community project was successful mainly due to the outstanding contributions and community leadership from Purnell Glenn,” said Perry.

Glenn said that prior to participation in the program, the Miramar Landing HOA had been discussing ideas for increasing community beautification and environmental awareness. The Clear Creeks program helped them achieve those goals. “We have become really green; we are doing our part,” said Glenn.

On Miramar Landing community property, project volunteers planted 137 trees and 8,765 square feet of neighborhood gardens filled with Bay-friendly native plants that will help support local birds and pollinators. Glenn also worked with Clear Creeks Project partners to make Miramar Landing the first HOA community in Baltimore County to have its community property certified “Bay-Wise” by the Baltimore County Master Gardeners.

Like Glenn, the Strombergers mobilized members of their own community to take actions to help local waterways. The couple contributed some 58 hours hosting Clear Creeks garden workshops for their Bird River Beach community. They assisted at project events and helped promote Bay-friendly practices to their fellow parishioners at St. Matthews Church in Bowleys Quarters. For their efforts, the Strombergers received a Certificate of Appreciation for Community Leadership Award.

To learn more about the Clear Creeks Project, visit the project website at

The Clear Creeks Project is made possible through funding from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Chesapeake Bay Trust; Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability; Baltimore Gas and Electric; Gunpowder Valley Conservancy; and Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, administered by Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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County’s Sixth District a target for Republicans in 2018

(Updated 12/14/16)

- By Devin Crum -

A little over a month ago, on Nov. 3, Sixth District County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins held a campaign fundraiser in White Marsh in preparation for her reelection campaign over the next two years.

And being just five days before the end of one of the most contentious and polarizing election seasons in recent memory, some may have been surprised to see so many people of mixed political allegiances coming together in the same room to support the second-term Democrat.

Bevins’ fundraiser showcased support from Democrats all over and well outside of her council district, and many others who do not identify as Democrats, either remaining politically neutral or whose sentiments lie on the opposite end of the spectrum from her own.

But Republicans see the district as Republicanizing, making Bevins vulnerable, and are salivating at the possibility of a GOP majority on the Baltimore County Council if they can unseat her in 2018.

Citing recent voting patterns in the Sixth District and in eastern Baltimore County in general, the Maryland Republican Party plans to concentrate efforts on winning the last Democrat-held council seat on the east side, as well as taking the county executive’s office, according to MDGOP Executive Director Joe Cluster.

“If we can win that seat it would give the Republicans control of the council,” he said, adding that “unlike last time,” he believes Republicans will also have a strong candidate for county executive in 2018.

Cluster opined that the other three Republican-held seats on the council will remain in their hands over the next election, with Fifth District Councilman David Marks (Perry Hall) and Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell (Dundalk) enjoying high levels of public support in their districts.

The Third District (North County) may see a new councilperson since sitting Councilman Wade Kach “probably” will not run again, Cluster said. “But that’s the most Republican district there is in the county.”

While there was no word yet on who might run against Bevins, a source within the party who asked not to be named noted that the councilwoman has campaigned significantly for Democratic candidates for President, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and she supported Anthony Brown for governor in 2014.

Her constituents, however, have largely voted against such candidates, particularly for executive offices, according to state voting records.

Going back to 2010 when Bevins was first elected, 55.7 percent of District 6 voters chose Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich over Democratic incumbent Martin O’Malley, giving Ehrlich about 4,500 more votes than the Democrat in that district.

Likewise, voters in District 6 decisively chose Republican county executive candidate Joe Bartenfelder that year by a 3,400-vote margin, sending him away with 55.4 percent of the district’s vote.

District 6 overall chose the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senator, U.S. Congress and State Senate by slim margins in 2010, but the House of Delegates seats representing the district more often went to Republicans.

It is worth noting, though, that the Republican candidate for State Senate in the Seventh Legislative District got more votes from county District 6 voters than any Democratic candidate in their respective races that year, and the Seventh District is represented entirely by Republicans.

Bevins only narrowly won her own election with 50.4 percent of the vote, only edging out her Republican opponent by 300 votes, or one percentage point.

The following election two years later saw Democratic candidates enjoy wider margins of support in the district over their Republican counterparts.

But while voters in the county’s Sixth District chose Democrats more often than Republicans in 2012, Democrats did not receive majorities in the races for President and U.S. Senate, taking home only 49.8 and 43.8 percent of the vote, respectively.

Just over 1,000 votes separated the District 6 totals for President Barrack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Interestingly, the unaffiliated candidate for U.S. Senate that year received about 200 more votes than the Republican in the district. The combined totals from that candidate and the Republican could have easily topped the Democrat’s.

The Sixth District was kinder to the GOP in the 2014 election, which saw Republican Larry Hogan overtake heavy Democratic favorite Anthony Brown for governor. Several other Republican candidates also rode a wave of conservative sentiment to victory across Baltimore County’s east side and the state that year.

In District 6 specifically, despite Bevins throwing her support behind Brown, 66.4 percent of her constituents voted the other way, choosing Hogan by more than 10,000 votes.

And while they tended to prefer Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) over his Republican challenger, residents of the jurisdiction living in congressional districts 1 and 3 chose the Republican more often.

Sixth District voters overall picked Democrats for State Senate and Republicans for House of Delegates by similar margins as they had in 2010.

But in the local races they changed their tune from four years prior. Democrat Kevin Kamenetz took home a thin majority - 51.4 percent - of Sixth District votes cast for county executive. And Bevins herself defeated her Republican challenger by 12 more percentage points than she had previously, earning an extra 6 percent of the vote.

Seeking to build on the wave of conservative sentiment from 2014, though, and take advantage of Gov. Hogan’s high popularity, Republicans eagerly awaited the release of this year’s election results, according to Cluster, to see how Baltimore County and Sixth District residents had voted.

Councilwoman Bevins again supported the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, for president. And she was the sponsor of a controversial County Council bill to allow an outlet mall in White Marsh which was the subject of a referendum, appearing on the ballot as Question K. So Republicans sought the results of those votes in particular, Cluster said.

The difference in the 2016 Presidential race was razor thin in District 6, being separated by only 342 votes across the district. But unlike in 2012, the Republican, Donald Trump, held the higher vote percentage.

Trump actually took a nearly identical percentage of the vote as Romney did in 2012. It was Clinton who simply had the lower turnout.

The race for U.S. Senate was also close among Sixth District voters, separated by just 443 votes. Democrat Chris Van Hollen took in a similar percentage to the Democratic candidate in the Senate race four years prior, maintaining a lead over Republican Kathy Szeliga.

But Szeliga managed to secure a haul 20 percentage points higher than the Republican in 2012.

As for Question K, party members had surmised it passed county-wide without much support in District 6 where it would actually have the greatest effect.

Additionally, the unnamed source said that some believe Bevins’ decisions over the last two zoning cycles have made her vulnerable.

Election results show that the ballot measure enjoyed widespread support in Bevins’ district, however.

The question passed with 61.3 percent of the vote in the district. County-wide, the results were slightly closer, with 58.7 percent voting for it.

In fact, of the district’s 35 precincts, the ballot question only failed in two and tied in one other.

Votes for and against the measure were close in many precincts, but ultimately, the vast majority voted in support of it. And the tie came in a precinct that only registered only 10 votes on the issue - five for and five against.

Despite some of the voting trends of her constituents, Bevins said it is her community relations and work on constituent services that has seen her through.

She noted that her background while working under former County Executive Jim Smith was in constituent service.

“For seven years, that’s all I did was problem solve and work with communities,” she said at the fundraiser, adding that it was not about being a Democrat or Republican. “When you called my office I didn’t look you up in the voter registration file.”

Bevins said that when she first ran for office in 2010 people trusted her and thought she would do the right thing. And since being elected, her office has handled more than 4,000 constituent issues, she noted.

“And that’s from researching and responding back to the constituent,” Bevins explained. “That’s a lot of work that everyone in my office does to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

On top of that, she noted that she has endlessly advocated for new schools and air conditioning in existing schools, bringing the district up from having the lowest percentage of air conditioned schools in the county.

“I work with both Democrats and Republicans on the County Council because that’s what you have to do to get the work done,” Bevins asserted, adding that they have worked together and supported each other on issues such as decreasing development, preserving open space and planning for smarth growth.

She admitted that not everyone likes her zoning decisions and that she cannot please everyone with those. But she said her district is moving forward and being revitalized with respect to building new neighborhoods and creating new businesses.

“That’s exactly what we need,” she said, noting that White Marsh and Middle River are major growth areas within her district.

Bevins said that when she campaigned in 2010 and 2014, people wanted jobs on every level.

“Students, seniors, couples, singles - everybody wants jobs, and I am creating jobs,” she said, pointing to the growth that has occurred along MD Route 43, and the outlet mall planned for MD Route 7 in White Marsh, as well as the planned redevelopment of the Middle River Depot.

“For me, it’s about a balance of business and community, along with also preserving open space,” Bevins said.

She secured the preservation of 15 acres of open space in White Marsh this year through the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process and the use of Program Open Space funds.

But she contended that she works hard for her constituents to address their concerns.

“I’m just going to keep doing what I do,” Bevins told the East County Times. “My office works extremely hard.”

Lockheed Martin progressing with environmental cleanup on Middle River

Lockheed Martin progressing with environmental cleanup on Middle River
During the first season of work, a barge was used to remove contaminated sediments from lower Cow Pen Creek. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Decades of pollution in Middle River resulting from industrial manufacturing done by the Glenn L. Martin Company is in the process of being cleaned up in order to protect public health.

Lockheed Martin Corporation has planned the cleanup activities in three Middle River tributaries - Cowpen Creek, Dark Head Cove and Frog Mortar Creek - over the last several years to address the environmental damage done by its predecessors. But the remediation work began in earnest this October.

In Cowpen Creek and Dark Head Cove - also known as Martin Lagoon - workers began the first of two seasons of dredging on Oct. 17 to remove contaminated sediments from the waterway, according to Mike Martin of Tetra Tech, a contractor for the project.

The cleanup effort also involved some light dredging two years ago, Martin said. “This time around we’re back to basically do the full job.”

In accordance with their permits, the company has until Feb. 14, 2017, to complete the work planned for this season so as not to interfere with any fish breeding that may occur in the waterway. But Martin said they hope to finish by January.

He explained that this round of work consists of dredging in Dark Head Cove to finish what they started in 2014, as well as using barges to dredge as far up Cowpen Creek as they can get.

“So where the North American Electric property is, that’s somewhere around the area where we’ll be able to make it,” Martin said, adding that beyond that point is “basically a mud flat” at low tide.

Along with the dredging, the company will replace the metal sheets along the bulkhead that keep additional contaminated soil from entering the waterway.

Dark Head Cove and Cowpen Creek will remain closed to public access during the work, as they will during the second season which begins in June.

Although Martin was unsure of the exact timeline for season two, he said that work will involve the clean-up of the rest of Cowpen Creek, working down from the BGE substation at the top toward the point at which they could no longer continue during season one.

The chief contaminants being removed from the waterways are substances classified as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to be carcinogenic, as well as some heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium.

These substances are bound to the sediments, Martin said, and do not migrate through the water. Additionally, a turbidity curtain lines the work area to ensure the sediments they stir up while dredging do not travel down the creek.

Although work could not begin in the water until Oct. 17, Martin said they began much of their preparation work on land before that.

“Obviously a lot of the work has to occur on land,” he said, noting that the contaminated sediment they remove must be taken up onto land so it can be processed, put onto trucks and hauled off for disposal.

Martin described the sediment they remove from the water as “like a thick milkshake” when they bring it up. As the water - which contains some of the contaminants - is filtered and drained off, it is collected into a holding tank before being discharged to a county santitary sewer, as permitted by Baltimore County. That water will ultimately be treated by the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The sediments themselves are processed by adding Calciment - a cement and quicklime mixture - to stabilize it and make it more like soil so it is safe for transport to a landfill.

“Landfills don’t want a big truckload of mud, and you don’t want to be driving a truckload of mud down the highway,” Martin explained.

He added that the quicklime dries up the moisture and the cement binds up the material. It is then hauled off for disposal in approved landfills in Virginia and Pennsylvania which are specifically equipped to handle and dispose of those types of contaminants.

Martin expected the project to cost a total of about $2 million.

But according to Paul Calligan, Lockheed Martin’s project manager for the remediation, because the pollution occurred as a result of work done for the federal government, the company will be allowed to recoup that cost using the price of future contracts with the government.

On the other side of Martin State Airport, along Frog Mortar Creek, workers are constructing a ground water filtration facility to prevent pollutants from leaching into the creek from a former dump site used by the Glenn L. Martin Company.

Until the mid-1970s, the Martin Company - and subsequently Martin Marietta - owned all the land that now includes Martin State Airport and the Maryland Air National Guard base. And during the 1950s and 1960s, the company used a 20-acre area along Frog Mortar Creek as an industrial landfill, where they disposed of waste materials from manufacturing, according to Mark Salvetti of contractor CDM Smith.

“This was all legal at the time,” Salvetti said. “It was covered over, and when the airport was sold it went with the land. It wasn’t recognized as an issue back then.”

Through extensive investigation, Lockheed Martin has found a lot of debris along with degreasing products and industrial solvents, Salvetti said.

“So what we find here is groundwater that has been contaminated with primarily trichloroethylene,” which he said breaks down into other products in the environment, such as vinyl chloride, and are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

The pollutants in this area are found in the water as opposed to the sediments, according to Salvetti. But they do not migrate far because of their volatility and instead vaporize into the air before dispersing.

A water contact advisory extends 200 feet into the water from the shoreline, but Salvetti noted the majority of the toxins are found much closer to the shore.

As a result, they are building a groundwater treatment system which uses 16 groundwater wells along about 1,000 feet of shoreline to extract the polluted water before it reaches the creek. The facility will then treat the water by removing and destroying the contaminants before discharging the cleaned water back to Frog Mortar Creek via a submerged outfall.

“And it really is clean; it actually will meet drinking water standards,” Salvetti said.

The building for the facility is expected to be fully enclosed by early to mid-January, he said, to finish the interior construction. They aim to turn on and begin testing the system in April and bring it to fully operational by May or June of next year.

“We’ll be running around the clock, seven days a week, treating that groundwater,” Salvetti noted. “And then we’ll keep treating until the water is clean enough that we don’t need to treat anymore to keep Frog Mortar Creek clean.”

They will continue monitoring water quality in Frog Mortar Creek and sampling the groundwater around the site on a regular basis during operation, submitting monthly reports to the state, he said. They will also monitor the facility itself to be sure it is operating efficiently because it is so expensive.

He estimated that the facility will be in operation for a period of between 30 - 50 years at an approximate operating cost of $1 million per year.

Salvetti noted that they anticipate seeing the concentrations of contaminants decreasing within the first few months of operation, and their goal is to have them low enough in a year or two to remove the water contact advisory.

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Dundalk man killed in early morning beltway crash

Dundalk man killed in early morning beltway crash
Robert Peros (far right) left behind his parents, two brothers and sister, as well as his wife and three young children (not pictured).

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Marge Neal -

The Greater Dundalk community is rallying around the family of a North Point Village man who was killed in a car crash Saturday, Dec. 3, while helping his father fix a flat tire on the Baltimore Beltway near Woodlawn.

Robert Peros, 32, had stopped on the shoulder of the highway near Crosby Road at about 8:35 a.m. Saturday to help his father when he was struck by a 2003 Buick LeSabre that veered from the roadway to the shoulder, according to a Maryland State Police statement. The Buick first struck a Nissan van, owned by Peros, and continued along the shoulder, hitting a 2009 Chevy Silverado that was stopped on the right shoulder with a flat tire, according to the statement.

Peros was declared dead at the scene, according to Sgt. Horton, a spokesman for MSP’s Golden Ring barrack. Peros’ father, whose name was not available, remained hospitalized in critical condition as of late Monday. The driver of the LeSabre was also hospitalized.

It is unclear where Peros was at the time of impact, Horton said.

“The father said he was outside of the vehicle when the crash occurred, but was not sure where his son was at the time of impact - he couldn’t remember,” Horton said Monday. “It’s still under investigation.”

The name of the driver who veered onto the shoulder and struck the two vehicles had not been released as of Tuesday, and no charges had been filed, according to Horton. The case would be reviewed by the state’s attorney’s office, he said.

“We don’t believe alcohol or drugs were involved; there was nothing on the scene to indicate that,” Horton said. “We will request the medical records.”

At least two online fundraisers have been created using the organization, and the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company, where Peros was a probationary firefighter, is raising money for his family, according to company spokesman Bob Francis.

Peros was married and the father of four children. He and his wife, Ashley, had also adopted two nieces and a nephew, according to longtime friend Rob Dunford.

“Rob was just one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back,” Dunford said of Peros. “If this had happened to me, he’d be out on a street corner with a sign, collecting money for me.”

Peros was a field technician who repaired commercial kitchen equipment, according to Dunford, and his wife is a stay-at-home mother, which means the family is abruptly without an income.

“Rob was a good person, just a regular blue-collar kind of guy who would do anything he could for anybody, and we’re just trying to do something for him,” Dunford said.

Peros joined the Wise Avenue fire company as a probationary firefighter in April, according to Francis. He needed to schedule a physical exam for the medical clearance to achieve firefighter status, according to Francis.

The fire company has pledged to donate proceeds from this Saturday’s train garden income to Peros’ family.

“We will donate at least $500 to the family, or all of Saturday’s train garden income, whichever is greater,” Francis said.
Noting that for-profit online fundraising sites charge administrative and other fees, Francis said the fire company is accepting donations for the Peros family.

Anyone who wants to make a donation to Rob’s family can do it through the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Company, and then 100 percent of the donation will go to the family,” Francis said.

Donations to the Robert Peros Fund can be mailed to the fire company at 214 Wise Ave., Dundalk, MD 21222.

The online fundraisers can be found at As of Tuesday, the two funds collectively had raised about $5,000 toward a combined $15,000 goal.

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Appeals court rules North Point Government Center sale needs state approval

Appeals court rules North Point Government Center sale needs state approval
The fate of the North Point Government Center building has been left in limbo by state opposition to the county's plans. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Marge Neal -

In what Dundalk United leaders consider a “major victory,” Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals has ruled that Baltimore County officials must have the approval of the Maryland Board of Public Works to sell the North Point Government Center and surrounding campus.

Gov. Larry Hogan, state Treasurer Nancy Kopp and state Comptroller Peter Franchot sit on the BPW, which is charged with overseeing state expenditures to ensure the state’s fiscal integrity, according to its website.

Baltimore County has a deal to sell the former North Point Junior High School building to a developer who has proposed a retail center called Merritt Pavilion for the land at the corner of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue.

Since Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced in 2012 his comprehensive plans to close Eastwood Elementary School, sell the government center and move the Dundalk police precinct offices from the government center to Eastwood, the plan has been championed by some residents and protested by others.

After competitive bids were reviewed, Vanguard Commercial Development was named the winning bidder. The company proposed a retail center and pledged to upgrade or create athletic fields and other outdoor amenities.

A statement on the Baltimore County government website boasted that the developer had letters of intent with several nationally known businesses, including Chipotle, Panera Bread and Five Guys, that committed to leasing space at the proposed shopping center.

The project would create 2,000 jobs, including 1,500 short-term construction jobs and 500 permanent retail jobs once the center was fully occupied, according to the statement.

While the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation supported the idea, citing the jobs and retail opportunities it would provide for the community, some area residents and Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council volunteers decried the loss of indoor recreation space, particularly a 600-seat theater used year-round by a variety of organizations.

The recent Court of Special Appeals verdict was a “Merry Christmas gift, a little early,” according to Dundalk resident Bob Staab. The former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks director is a leader of Dundalk United, an organization created to fight the county’s effort to sell the property.

Staab believes the sale of the building and surrounding park land is a “horrible precedent” to set, and warns other communities that a park in their neighborhood could be next if this sale is completed.

He also complained that the community was kept in the dark and was not allowed to participate in the planning process.

“We are just losing, losing, losing while the county gives us false promises and lies after more lies,” Staab said in a phone interview. “The county executive doesn’t care about the residents of Dundalk, and he doesn’t work for the residents of Baltimore County. He works for Caves Valley [Partners] and all the other developers who want to build in Baltimore County.”

Don Mohler, a spokesman for the county executive, said Tuesday that county officials don’t agree that a covenant in the property deed about a potential sale needing approval from the Board of Public Works is still relevant.

The state has no financial interest in the land, he said, with loans taken to build the school long paid off, he said.

“We continue to request that the governor put the approval of this project on the agenda and bring it up for a vote,” Mohler said. “Let us make our presentation on why we think this is an outstanding project and then vote up or down, but don’t continue to keep the project in limbo.”

The proposed project would tear down an “outdated, dilapidated, falling down building” and replace it with a “state-of-the-art” recreation center, Mohler said.

“The new center would be one of our finest rec centers,” Mohler said. “The governor is allowing politics to get in the way of progress and he’s ignoring the recreational needs of Dundalk residents.”

Phone calls to Leonard Weinberg of Vanguard were not returned by press time.

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Patapsco United Methodist hit with potential $12,000 citation for housing homeless

Patapsco United Methodist hit with potential $12,000 citation for housing homeless
The church's sign displayed an appropriate message in light of the neighbors' complaints. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/7/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After months of complaints from neighbors about homeless individuals taking residence in the back yard area of Patapsco United Methodist Church (PUM), the church, located at 7800 Wise Avenue in Dundalk, has been slapped with a $12,000 citation and order to appear in court on Dec. 21.

Baltimore County code enforcement has been out to inspect the church multiple times this year, with complaints being lodged against the church in June, July, August and November. The first three visits yielded no violations against the church. But the last one, dated Nov. 22, found that the church was in violation of county zoning codes for “failure to cease exterior use of property as housing units.”

According to neighbor complaints, homeless persons in the area had set up tarps on concrete slabs to create makeshift shelters at the back of the church. The complaint filed in June cited the shelters and noted that trash and waste were being created. The July complaint referred to the June complaint, while the August complaint noted that a local business owner had started to get upset due to the homeless “urinating on his trees.”

For many churches, turning away the homeless population is in direct conflict with their faith according to Pastor Katie Grover, who heads up PUM.
“The business of the church is to serve God, and God says, ‘Whatever you’ve done for the least of these you’ve done unto me,” said Grover. “We want to care for these people the best we can.”

Grover stated that while they don’t encourage people to stay on the property, they aren’t going to rid their property of those looking for a place to sleep. Aside from utilizing the back area, benches around the church are often occupied at night. A garden area in the middle of the property also frequently houses those without permanent housing at night.

With a new heating system required for the church - which Grover estimates will cost about $80,000 - the loss of $12,000 to code enforcement would be a major blow to PUM.

“We’re kind of in a tricky situation here, because we don’t exactly know how we can be compliant since we don’t have people here at all hours of the day to make sure the back area is clear,” said Grover. “We were told if the violation is fixed before the court date the fine could be rescinded, but we’re not exactly sure about what it is we need to do right now.”

Grover noted that it’s not ideal for the homeless to be outside on their property, but added that bringing them into the church brings more codes into the equation. And considering the lurch they currently find themselves in, they can’t afford to take that risk.

The bigger issue at play here is homelessness in general, Grover admitted, adding that people want an answer to the issue, but predominantly want it to be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach.

And in east Baltimore County, it is an issue that is increasingly working its way to the forefront.

The 2010 census found that 25 percent more people didn’t have permanent housing than the last census. Of the homeless population, 36 percent lived in Dundalk, Essex and Rosedale. While there are no solid numbers at this time, it stands to reason given the economy that the number has most likely risen.

There’s also the issue of shelter availability, with the only men’s shelter in the county located in Catonsville. Next year, the Eastern Family Resource Center will be adding beds for men, but as it stands they only serve women and families. There are cold weather shelters in the county, but only one readily accessible to those in the Dundalk area. They’re also only open between Nov. 15 - April 15 and do nothing about housing homeless when the temperatures rise in the summer.

Councilman Todd Crandell and Delegate Ric Metzgar both agree that the homeless problem needs to be seriously addressed. Crandell talked about the need to stress available resources that churches can utilize, while also noting that the issue of homelessness is tricky because some are on the streets due to addiction while others are there for mental health or other reasons. Metzgar added that a community town hall needs to be held to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, and that churches like PUM who currently provide this type of help to the homeless need to band together.

Grover conceded that she understands the issues that neighbors have and added that she isn’t trying to start a fight. She doesn’t want to split the church or divide the community in any way. But she also knows that her church’s mission is to provide aid for those who need it. And with the Christmas season upon us, she can’t help but think of the parallels between this ordeal and the biblical story of Mary and Joseph being turned away from housing in Bethlehem.

“We have to remember that when Christ’s parents went into Bethlehem, they couldn’t find a place. The savior of the world was born in a stable and he later said in his ministry, ‘foxes have dens and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head,’” Grover said. “Our savior was a homeless man. If we can’t welcome the homeless, can we welcome God?”

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Cannons return to Fort Howard Park after restoration

Cannons return to Fort Howard Park after restoration
The newly restored guns again stand strong with their weather-resistent finishes and concrete pads to protect them from the elements. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/1/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Almost exactly a year after Fort Howard Park’s two antique cannons were removed for restoration, they returned on Nov. 15 to their post overlooking the mouth of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Fort Howard Community Association and now-retired Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Leslie Ernest orchestrated the restoration of the cannons, which departed from their 40-year post at the park on Nov. 18 of last year for a complete makeover.

The cannons were transported to the Maryland ANG’s base in Aberdeen where personnel performed the metal resurfacing at no charge. Likewise, a local carpenter at Chesapeake Woodworking, located on Kresson Street in Baltimore, restored the cannons’ wooden wheels.

And although much of the labor and materials for the project were donated, the FHCA was still responsible for covering the cost of materials, according to FHCA Vice President Scott Pappas. He estimated the total cost of the project, including the donations, to be worth roughly $50,000 per cannon.

Prior to their restoration, the M1906, World War I-era cannons had endured four decades in the elements and suffered vandalism and neglect, leading them to deteriorate and become an eyesore. They had previously sat directly on the ground, allowing the wooden wheels to decay.

Baltimore County had been seeking removal of the cannons, citing the liability they created at the park and a lack of funds to restore them themselves.

And because of that vandalism and neglect, the community partners had sought to return the cannons to the Fort Howard Veterans Park following their restoration, rather than Fort Howard Park.

The FHCA wrote in its proposal for the location change that the risk of recurrence of vandalism to the guns remains unabated at Fort Howard Park.

That risk is so great, they wrote, that the park must be closed to the public for 10 weeks each fall to protect Halloween props used for the Fort Howard Dungeons attraction. This also creates a problem for public access.

“In response to the imminent recurrence of vandalism to the M1906 at the previous location, the Fort Howard Independent Odd Fellows Lodge Grand Senior Warden Dennis Brown has agreed to dock the guns at the War Memorial area under lease to the Odd Fellows from Baltimore County government,” they wrote.

The Veterans Park, they contended, is more visibile, more secure and more accessible by the public.

Fort Howard Veterans Park fronts directly on North Point Road - the only route into and out of the community - and sees police patrols pass by twice per eight-hour shift. It is also highly visible to the surrounding neighbors and traffic.

On top of that, the cannons are not historically fitting for Fort Howard as a military installation.

Battery Harris, in front of which the cannons sit, originally housed two rapid-fire five-inch rifled guns. Following their removal in 1917, the battery was home to a Coincidence Range Finder which helped the other gunners to be able to accurately pinpoint their targets. Batteries Stricker and Nicholson housed 12-inch and six-inch rifled guns, respectively. And Battery Key housed 12-inch mortars.

The M1906 cannons fired a 4.7-inch projectile and were much smaller by comparison than those in used at Fort Howard.

The FHCA thought they were set to install the cannons at the Veterans Park upon their completion. But due to what Pappas called a “mix-up in the paperwork,” park staff told them when they showed up to deliver the finished cannons that they did not have approval.

“For the time being, they are being stored at the Fort Howard Park,” Pappas explained. “We have approval for them to be set at the Fort Howard Veterans Park. It’s just a simple matter of living up to the [conditions] that the county put in front of us to get them up there.”

On the bright side, though, the county had poured concrete pads at Fort Howard Park for the cannons to sit on to avoid the wooden wheels rotting away again.

The FHCA is hoping to have the cannons moved to the Veterans Park in time to be part of the Memorial Day ceremonies held there.

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BRRC updates community on Back River’s progress

BRRC updates community on Back River’s progress
The BRRC removed 57 tires - some completely buried - from the area around Race Road in Essex. The area was described by some as a “dump city” because of its seclusion and the ease of dumping there illegally. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/1/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Back River Restoration Committee leadership had a lot to talk about at their fall general meeting on Nov. 15, particularly in the way of their progress and the issues facing Back River.

The Back River watershed encompasses approximately 55 square miles, reaching deep into Baltimore City and as far north and west as Towson. It also has about 73 miles of streams emptying into it, and the BRRC has done its best to try to clean every one of them.

With such a large watershed, an enormous amount of trash is able to make its way to the waterway via its many tributaries. So the BRRC has stepped up its efforts this year to clean not only Back River itself, but the streams leading to it and the communities around them. And along the way they have forged strong ties with community organizations to further their goals.

Illegal dumping is one of the largest issues they face as an organization, according to BRRC President Sam Weaver. He described several instances of private contractors dumping their scrap and waste materials into storm drains and along secluded streets.

Weaver mentioned a certain dump site along Trappe Road in Dundalk that is a frequent nuisance.

“It’s just all the time over there. We clean it up and it’s just there again,” he said, adding that the BRRC and county workers have each cleaned it “a number of times.”

The BRRC works on both sides of the river - in Essex and Dundalk - to clean up the watershed, holding clean-up events and doing community outreach to educate the public.

They have worked closely this year with several community leaders fighting against rats in their neighborhoods as well.

“The rats, the trash, the downgrading of the communities - it kind of all goes together,” Weaver said. “This stuff all winds up in Back River and the Chesapeake Bay.”

They performed two major clean-ups in the Middlesex community of Essex and the West Inverness community of Dundalk.

Earlier this year, the BRRC set out to clean up a drainage ditch behind Middlesex that was filled with garbage and had been used as a dumping ground by neighbors. The group spent three days loading three 30-yard dumpsters with nearly 25,000 pounds of trash that had been piled “up to your knees,” according to Weaver.

“None of us thought it would ever be right again,” he said. “After we were done it looked like a resort.”
Similarly, at the clean-up site in West Inverness, “trash was just everywhere,” Weaver said.

The BRRC brought some of their heavier equipment that day and helped the neighbors pull out some of the larger items that had been dumped there.

More recently, on Nov. 19, the organization held a community clean-up of the area on both sides of Race Road in Essex, which has had major problems with dumping because of its seclusion.

BRRC member Clark Testerman described the area as “dump city.”

Cliff O’Connell, who helped with the clean-up, said the lack of residents there and the forested land on either side of the road make it ideal for dumpers.

“There’s no homes; it’s all woods,” he said.

Any trash dumped there eventually makes its way into Stemmers Run, which drains to Back River, O’Connell said. “It’s a lot easier to get it here before it goes into the stream.”

BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn noted that they had cleaned the area three years ago. But volunteers said it was as bad Saturday, as it was previously.

All told, volunteers removed about 15,000 pounds of garbage from the area, including at least a ton of metal and 57 tires before they could make their way into the waterways, according to Weaver.

Weaver also praised the county for showing up “in force” with three dump trucks and a front-end loader to help when they could not get a dumpster to the location.

The Back River trash boom, in place since 2010, has been an immense help to the BRRC, helping them to catch “an enormous amount” of trash that would otherwise head directly into Back River and the Chesapeake Bay, according to Weaver. Between the boom and the trash BRRC has collected elsewhere, they have surpassed 2.8 million pounds of trash and debris removed from the river since 2011.

“That’s a huge amount of trash to keep out of the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

Wynn noted that the boom has caught an average of about 45,000 pounds of trash per month this year - up from about 37,000 pounds last year. But she said this year’s numbers are boosted by a major rainstorm back in February that dropped four inches of rain on the area in one night.

The resulting clean-up over the next four weeks saw approximately 97 tons of waste materials removed from the river and its tributaries, Weaver said.

While the trash boom is effective, it only covers part of the river, leaving anything drifting down Stemmers Run to go straight out to Back River and the Bay. And without funding from the county for another boom, according to Weaver and Wynn, the focus will remain on cleaning the upstream estuaries and communities to catch the trash before it hits the river. And they will continue to reach out to the community to educate residents about the issues as well.

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Seven Courts-area stream restoration plans almost complete

Seven Courts-area stream restoration plans almost complete
Work on the southern tributary of the stream (dark blue) begins about 600 feet east of Naygall Road, including the BGE right of way and a small portion near Springtowne Circle. Work continues downstream until the confluence with the northern tributary. The northern tributary begins at the culvert at Seven Courts and continues until it meets with the Southern Tributary and they form the main tributary. The main tributary continues to the end of the project limits at the India Avenue bridge.

(Updated 11/23/16)

- By Marge Neal -

Plans to restore a section of a degraded stream that feeds into the Lower Gunpowder River watershed are about 90 percent complete and headed into the permitting process, according to Baltimore County officials.

Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS) staff members met at the Perry Hall library on Nov. 21 with residents from the affected area, which runs from the BGE right-of-way near Naygall Road to the India Avenue bridge.

Once completed, the restoration project will accomplish several goals toward a healthier and cleaner Lower Gunpowder watershed, according to Eric Duce, a natural resources specialist with DEPS.

Work on the unnamed tributary will result in better water quality, improved wildlife habitat, erosion control that will lessen property loss and will provide additional infrastructure protection.

“Sewer and water lines often run parallel with streams and erosion can cause exposure of those lines,” Duce told the audience of about 10 residents. Rebuilding the stream bed and reinforcing the banks with dirt, large rocks and plantings will better protect that infrastructure, reducing the chances of sewage spills into the waterways.

Plantings of native plants and trees will also help absorb excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, preventing them from leeching into the groundwater or making their way to the Gunpowder River and beyond, Duce said.

The work will also help the county comply with mandates regarding the health of the Chesapeake Bay. As the result of a lawsuit brought against Baltimore County, the local government must work toward meeting the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of a number of nutrients being carried into the bay via tributaries. The consent decree reached as a result of the lawsuit states that certain thresholds must by met by 2024.

Heather McGee, another natural resources specialist with DEPS, likened the TMDL to a diet.

“Consider the TMDL to be like calories and only so many calories should be consumed each day,” she said after the meeting. “The TMDL states how much of each of many nutrients can safely go in the water each day, and reaching those acceptable amounts is the goal.”

The project is substantial, according to Duce, involving the restoration of about 4,500 linear feet of stream bed.

With the project just entering the permitting process, work probably won’t begin until summer or fall of next year, according to Rob Ryan of DEPS’ watershed restoration division.

Because of restrictions on construction in waterways during potential fish breeding season, crews are not allowed to work from March 1 to June 15, Ryan said.

“We won’t start a project and then stop,” he said at the meeting. “And with 10 or 11 other projects going on at the same time, most likely we’re looking at next summer into fall.”

Asked about a timetable for the project, Duce said there are many variables that come in to play.

“Right now, it’s hard to say because of the permits process,” he said at the meeting. “There’s a lot of work and not many qualified contractors that can do the work.”

Other factors, including weather, the size of the work crew assigned to the project and identifying quarries with sufficient supplies of rock needed will all play a role in how long it takes to complete the work, Duce told the East County Times.

Advertising for competitive bids to be submitted can take up to three months, according to Duce and the actual work will take at least two months and perhaps longer.

The stream restoration is expected to cost at least $2 million, according to Duce.

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White Marsh Volunteers break ground for new station

White Marsh Volunteers break ground for new station
An architect’s rendering of what the new station will look like when completed along Philadelphia Road in White Marsh.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Officers and members of the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company, together with officials from every level of government, celebrated the next step in a years-long process to build themselves a state-of-the-art fire station to better serve the community.

Dozens of guests - representatives of government, community and business groups and the fire company itself - gathered Monday, Nov. 14, on a six-plus-acre site, donated by General Motors’ White Marsh plant for the project, to break ground for the new station.

The company’s current station, located about a mile from the new site, was built in the 1940s and has been plagued by traffic and flooding which have affected response times at a time when the community they serve is growing and demand is increasing.

Additionally, the station was not built to accommodate extensive personnel or community gatherings.

The company, started in 1943 and incorporated in 1945, began with seven men and seven women responding to roughly 100 calls per year in what was a rural farming community.

WMVFC now responds to up to 4,000 calls per year in what has become a thriving growth area and a business and residential hub.

According to WMVFC President Kevin Palmer, the company began exploring a move in 2006, and the process to begin the project on the chosen site began four years ago with a simple letter to GM.

The new station will accommodate 25 or more personnel per day, include private and semi-private bunks, additional showers, a full-service gym, full-service kitchen and a study area to further education, Palmer noted. It will also house an indoor interactive training tower allowing members to train year round, plus a community meeting center and ample outdoor space to host community events.

“So as the history of our organization goes, we are changing our location and our building, but we are still going to be the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company that proudly serves our community,” Palmer said.

He added that the company’s capital campaign had raised more than $30,000 from the residential community in just one month and over $300,000 toward the project from business and community groups.

Station Captain Rick Blubaugh said the groundbreaking not only marked a special occasion, but spoke to the ideals and practices on which the nation was founded.

“The officers and members of the White Marsh Fire, EMS and Rehab Company will soon be better able to serve this area given its expanding size and development,” he said. “This was accomplished through public-private partnerships.”

Blubaugh pointed to a low-interest loan from the Baltimore County Volunteer Firemen’s Association (BCVFA) to fund construction, support from County Council members Cathy Bevins and David Marks in directing resources their way, Senator Kathy Klausmeier’s sponsorship of a funding bill for the new station in the state legislature and future allocation of “significant public funding” from the county administration as essential pieces of the project.

“I pledge to you in return that this strong organization will work dilligently to meet the expectations of the community, execute smart business practices and respond consistently to calls for service,” he said.

On top of a 9.2-percent increase in funding for volunteers in the current budget, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has pledged a pot of $3 million for volunteer companies who decide to merge and form joint corporations.

BCVFA Vice President Craig Coleman said the WMVFC provides a blueprint for this process, having merged with the Central Alarmers - an emergency services support organization - last year for the benefit of both companies. And there are now nine more volunteer companies in the county exploring mergers.

“Any volunteer company will benefit from what the White Marsh Volunteer Fire and EMS Company and Rehab 155 have done,” Coleman said.

GM’s assistant plant manager, David Rizzo, said the groundbreaking was a major milestone for both GM and WMVFC, stating that since they are one of the busiest fire companies in eastern Baltimore County, a new facility to support the community is a “winning proposition for all.”

“The donation of this property by GM to the fire company is symbolic of GM’s committment to our community,” Rizzo said. “We are proud of the good work done protecting the community by our partner in this effort.”

Councilwoman Bevins said she was grateful for GM’s generosity through the agreement.

“It’s such a tremendous contribution to the community and to the White Marsh volunteers,” she said.

Bevins commended Blubaugh and Palmer for their leadership in seeing the project through. She emphasized, though, that the fundraising campaign is not over and they still have a long way to go.

She also touted that the new traffic ramp to eastbound MD-43 - made possible by the Paragon outlets locating across the street from the new site on Philadelphia Road - will be a great help to them in improving response times.

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger noted that the old station is even older than he is.

“It’s amazing that our volunteer firefighters have been able to do what they do to protect our people with such an old station,” he said while remarking on how much better the new station will be.

“The more we give these types of facilities to our firefighters, and our volunteers especially, I think the more they’ll be there,” Ruppersberger opined. “And the more that they’re there, the better and quicker for the response time.”

Also part of the funding for the new station was the sale of a 12-acre parcel of land opposite the old station on Ebenzer Road for approximately $800,000 which was finalized on Nov. 4.

A local business purchased the land and has committed to preserving the White Marsh Post Office which sits on it, according to Blubaugh. However, the new owner’s other plans for the land have not been disclosed.

The land was originally donated to the company by Janey Bickel to do with what they wanted, and they had considered using that site for a new station. But studies of the land in the early 2000s concluded that the site work needed for utilities and other infrastructure there would be too expensive. Additionally, they would still have to contend with traffic backups and the adjacent train crossing.

Blubaugh assured, though, that the proceeds from the sale will be used to build a new station and provide the community with even better service.

The company is working with North Point Builders for construction of the new station and is anticipating an eight-month build beginning spring 2017.

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Water’s Landing lowers density, seeks Critical Area Commission approval

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Devin Crum -

Water’s Landing at Middle River, the planned unit development (PUD) slated for the 58-acre Weber Avenue property off Old Eastern Avenue in Essex, has dropped its planned density by about 20 homes, and the developer is focusing efforts on moving a school bus lot as well as winning approval from the state’s Critical Area Commission.

“This plan now, which has been in evolution over the last six months... is now settled down at 186 units,” said Richard Alter, president of Manekin Construction and developer of Water’s Landing.

The PUD resolution was approved by the Baltimore County Council in July 2015 to allow up to 207 units.

One of the “more significant” changes to the plan, Alter said, is that he has eliminated a planned extra road near the middle of the site which helped him take the unit total down while leaving a larger swath of forest undisturbed.

Much of Alter’s focus of late has been his effort to relocate a school bus depot, located on a 17-acre property that juts into his plot. Alter has contended that the bus lot does not belong near a community like his and has been working with Baltimore County and Baltimore County Public Schools - which each owns portions of the acreage - to find a suitable new site for it.

Alter said because school enrollment on the east side is increasing, BCPS is planning to eventually build a new, larger bus lot anyway. The existing lot has no running water or restroom facilities and currently relies on portable toilets, he said.

“It’s a pretty terrible facility,” Alter said, “so I would hope that sometime before we get finished we’ll be able to relocate it.”

He noted that they have multiple locations in mind, one of which is owned by the county and another by BGE.

The bus lot also has above-ground fuel tanks which have created a concern about the need for environmental clean-up at the site. And Alter said he needs to complete the second phase of studying pollutants from the buses themselves on the lot.

“We know that there’s gas and oil - you can just see it on the ground when you go there,” he said. He added that the lot has been there for “a lot of years,” so they know pollutants are present but not the quantities they are dealing with.

Additionally, Alter is seeking approval for the project from the state’s Chesapeake Bay Critical Area (CBCA) Commission and said he is at the beginning of a yearlong process in that regard.

Much of the project area is within the 1,000-foot CBCA, and as part of the CBCA application, the developer must identify other sites in the same watershed for reforestation of trees taken down since it cannot all be done on-site. The developer is required to pay to the county $1.50 per square foot of impact to the CBCA if mitigation cannot be done on-site. The county would then be responsible for using those funds to plant trees elsewhere.

Alter said a total of about 16 acres of reforestation will need to be done, much of which could be done on the bus lot site if they are able to relocate it.

Alter is hoping to use some of Baltimore County’s remaining Critical Area growth allocation, which would allow him to build more within the CBCA.

The growth allocation consists of 5 percent of the land mapped within the county’s critical area.

“So essentially, you can increase the [allowable housing] density with that 5 percent number for acreage of growth allocation,” said Claudia Jones, science advisor for the Critical Area Commission. “But that comes with certain conditions and standards,” she said, such as a 300-foot setback from the water for permanent structures.

Alter’s plans show homes at an average distance of 270 to 280 feet from the shoreline, with some coming as close as 150 feet.

Jones said it is “highly unlikely” the developer would be allowed to build within that 300-foot buffer, but that he could potentially get around the restriction through other remediation.

“The commission has, in those situations where the developer has not done the whole 300-foot setback, they’ve required some offsets and they’ve been pretty hefty additional stormwater [management] or additional tree planting,” Jones explained.

“It’s not something that the commission takes really lightly,” she said. But they do look at allowing that type of impact to the critical area if they can gain something somewhere else like preserving or improving a wetland, for example.

The developer is looking to be able to start construction of the project in 2018.

Even with volatile energy year, CCBC ‘delighted’ with solar power results

Even with volatile energy year, CCBC ‘delighted’ with solar power results
People often choose to park under the panels for extra protection from rain, snow or the sun's heat in summer.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Marge Neal -

A little more than a year after the “turning on” of the Community College of Baltimore County’s solar panels, school officials are pleased with the savings experienced to date, even though those savings were considerably lower than anticipated.

Based upon previous consumption habits and the negotiated price of the power produced by 16,500 photovoltaic panels built across the college’s three main campuses at Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex, college officials anticipated saving about $100,000 a year, according to Melissa Hopp, CCBC’s vice president of administrative services.

Through the first 11 months of solar power production, the actual savings were about $40,000, according to Hopp.

In what Hopp said was an unfortunately timed - and unprecedented - move, Saudi Arabian officials glutted the global market with energy around the same time CCBC started buying the green electricity, which supplied a little over 27 percent of the college’s full needs through the first 11 months.

While the college was thrilled with its negotiated rate of the solar-produced electricity, it buys the other 70 percent of its electricity through a buying consortium that is able to negotiate low prices because of the volume of energy purchased.

The consortium paid about 5 cents per kilowatt for a period of time while CCBC was paying 8 cents for the solar-produced energy.

“We went back through our records to at least 2005 and never saw electricity at or below 8 cents,” Hopp said in a phone interview. “We were thrilled with 8 cents; no one could have seen 5 cents, even for a short period of time.”

The administrator fully expects the savings to reach the anticipated goal, which is a total of $4 million over the course of the 20-year agreement.

When the 20 years is up, a variety of things can happen, according to Constellation spokeswoman Christina Pratt.

“Constellation owns and operates the system, which is good for the college - it protects them from any kind of liability or expense in repairs and maintenance,” she said in a phone interview. “In 20 years, there are many options, such as to continue the agreement as is or go with something else.”

A lot can happen in 20 years and Pratt expects technology to have greatly improved, so changing the system to the latest generation of panels would be on the table, as would the possibility of rate changes, a change in the maintenance agreement or any number of other details.

For at least the past 10 years, college officials have studied and been more aware of wind and solar power.

“We really began our sustainability efforts in earnest about eight years ago, when we started focusing on our consumption habits,” she said. “We looked at our gas and electric consumption but without really looking at the supply side.”

While working to “continually reduce” the college’s carbon footprint, Constellation/Exelon entered the picture. As a result of the Exelon acquisition of Constellation - then the parent company of BGE, the area’s regulated utility company - the newly merged energy giant was encouraged to increase its solar power production, according to Hopp. Looking for large spaces upon which to build solar facilities, Constellation officials approached the college in November 2014 and pitched the idea of building solar canopies on parking lots of the three main campuses.

After the CCBC Board of Trustees approved the concept in principle, a purchase agreement was reached, with Constellation agreeing to foot the bill for all construction and maintenance costs over the 20-year period, and CCBC agreeing to buy 100 percent of the energy produced by the panels, according to Hopp.

“We negotiated a flat rate eight cents per kiloWatt hour, which will be very beneficial to us now and in the future,” Hopp said. “Also, there would be no cost of transmission of the power to us.”

The transmission of traditionally-produced electricity varies and costs between 1.7 and 2 cents per kW hour, depending on the campus and meter, she said.

Construction began on the canopies during the summer of 2015 and was completed by September. A ceremonial “flipping of the switch” activated the panels in October 2015.

In addition to the anticipated energy savings over the course of the agreement, the college benefits in many other ways through its new relationship with Constellation, Hopp believes.

The installation of the solar panels is one of the most visible efforts on the college’s part to bring attention to the school’s sustainability efforts, according to Hopp.

“Students come onto campus and immediately see CCBC’s commitment to sustainability,” she said. “They see that CCBC cares about Earth.”

Constellation also has funded a $50,000 STEM Scholars program, which “financially, socially, academically and professionally supports” students pursuing associate’s adegrees and certificates in a variety of science, technology, engineering and math-related fields, from HVAC installation and maintenance to computer and environmental science, according to Pratt.

The scholarship program works particularly hard to attract low-income and minority students.

“This relationship has also allowed us to connect with one of the larger employers in the region,” Hopp said. “We were able to have student interns do some job-shadowing during the construction of the panels.”

One of those job-shadowing students, a single parent, completed her studies in HVAC and is now “one of the only African-American women doing HVAC installation for BGE Home,” Pratt said.

Another unintended benefit is that the canopies created garage-like facilities, which protect cars and students from rain and snow, as well as keep cars cooler in the summer, Hopp said.
“Students love them for those reasons alone,” she said.

The project also includes 10 charging stations for electric cars.

“So absolutely, we’re delighted with the results,” Hopp said. “Constellation has been a very good partner and we look forward to the continued relationship.”

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Ruxton Chocolates moves candy manufacturing business to Route 43

Ruxton Chocolates moves candy manufacturing business to Route 43
The 32-foot Mary Sue Candies Bunny was on hand for the groundbreaking event. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 11/16/16)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week, construction crews were hard at work on the new $8 million headquarters in Middle River for Ruxton Chocolates.

“Baltimore County has worked with us every step of the way as we put the pieces in place for this new building,” said Bill Buppert, president of Ruxton Chocolates. “We are very excited about growth opportunities as we expand our nationwide private label business.”

Growth opportunity is what brought Buppert, known as “Billy Wonka,” and his business to White Marsh, as the move helped to consolidate three separate locations into one. Two of the previous locations were based on Baltimore City while one was located in Pennsylvania. The new 100,000 square-foot building will eventually be home to 43 new workers when the facility opens next summer.

“We now have coffee, alcohol and chocolate along Route 43, and that’s reason to celebrate,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz told reporters that the county has been working hard to expand business  in the White Marsh-Middle River area, touting nearly $1 billion of recent private investment.

Back in September, the County Council unanimously approved issuing $8 million worth of bonds on behalf of 1412 Tangier LLC, the firm handling the construction of the new facility. The firm will have to repay the bonds over time, while the county will earn an annual fee for issuing the bonds. Should the bonds not be paid back, the county won’t be on the hook for payment.

“We are pleased that the company that makes some of Maryland’s iconic candy brands has picked Baltimore County for its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility,” said Kamenetz.

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