Opponents boycott meeting with developer on Fort Howard
- 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.