Police, community search for answers after young girl’s death

Police, community search for answers after young girl’s death
Family, friends and neighbors of the slain girl have decorated the site of the shooting with balloons, candles and flowers in her memory. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following the shooting death of a 13-year-old girl in Middle River last week, concerned community members met with police and other stakeholders to find out exactly what happened, what is being done and what can be done in the future.

And due to the circumstances surrounding the incident, residents were particularly worried that it may have been caused by gang activity.

Just before midnight on Monday, July 31, police received a call for a shooting in the Miramar Landing community behind the 7-Eleven on Compass Road. When they arrived on scene, they found Iyanna Watkins, 13, deceased with multiple gunshot wounds.

Two adult male victims were also located later, each with one gunshot wound to the lower body.

According to a statement about the incident, police had determined that the victims were with a group of people sitting behind the 7-Eleven when at least one suspect began firing at the group from an alley a distance away.

Investigators were exploring the possibility that the shooting was related to an altercation that occurred earlier that evening between this group and another group, according to police.

However, Captain Andre Davis, commander of the Essex Precinct, attempted to quell fears that the shooting was a result of gang violence.

“The issues over there are not gang related,” Davis stressed, “they’re juvenile related.

Davis added that there are no gang problems in Middle River or Miramar Landing, specifically, that he is aware of, but they do investigate signs of gang activity such as graffiti “tags.” He also said police can usually tell when people are affiliated with certain groups using indicators such as clothing colors, tattoos, bandanas or gang signs that are consistent throughout the group. Additionally, they will often move in groups of at least three or four people.

Detective Jim Lambert, who is investigating the shooting with the BCoPD’s homicide unit, said the case was the result of a lot of “ridiculous” back-and-forth that has escalated over time.

“The truth of the incident is that about an hour before the shooting there was a call for police service because of two large groups of girls fighting,” Lambert said, adding that the shooting looks to be retaliation for that fight. “But that may not be the only cause,” he said.

Lambert said they are actively investigating the case, and it would be over if those involved told the truth. But those people are not coming forward and cooperating with police.

Regardless, “We have direction,” the detective said of the investigation.

Responding to criticism that it sometimes takes a long time for police to respond to incidents, Davis admitted there are only 21 officers currently on any given shift, and those officers cover an area of about 42 square miles.

But Lambert affirmed that police are not overwhelmed in the county to the point where they cannot put together a solid case.

Detective Bollinger, Lambert’s partner on the case, said they are monitoring social media using fake accounts to avoid detection. Additionally, they are using surveillance footage from the 7-Eleven and Vince’s Crab House in their investigation.

Bollinger also hinted that drugs, particularly marijuana, could have been involved in the initial altercation while noting that marijuana is the cause behind all of their drug-related shootings since it is decriminalized and anyone can carry it.

But because of the young ages of those involved - some as young as 11 - the parents are the ones who needed to be at the meeting and they were not, Bollinger said.

Likewise, Davis encouraged parents to control their children to keep them out of trouble and help avoid incidents like this.

“When police are called but don’t necessarily see anything illegal, they can only do their best to move the subjects along,” Davis said. He added that if they are in a legitimate gathering place such as a park, police can only be a presence there to prevent illegal activity.

There was concern from some residents, though, that the juveniles they see loitering often do not live in the community.

In that instance, Davis encouraged residents to continue to call police.

“Because they will get tired of the calls,” he said, “and they will do whatever they can to solve the problems.”

The Essex captain pointed out that his precinct is one of the busiest in the county, and as a result he has increased police patrols over the last year.

Analysis for the past year showed 711 calls for service to the area around the intersection of Middle River and Compass roads, said Davis making the case that police are vigilant in the area, 548 of which were for the subject shopping center and all but 60 of which were officer-initiated.

Davis also revealed that police will soon roll out a parental notification program to be sure parents know when their children are engaging in “unproductive” behavior. Police are also planning to partner with school resource officers (SROs) from local schools to ride around neighborhoods and help identify kids they see causing trouble, the captain said.

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Eastern Baltimore County Task Force looking to spruce up east side

Eastern Baltimore County Task Force looking to spruce up east side
Overgrown weeds in alleys - as seen here behind the CVS on Eastern Boulevard at Taylor Avenue - and graffiti in front of and behind buildings were two of the things the new task force identified that could make a noticeable difference in the area if removed. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Local community activists have had enough of the economic depression and sad aesthetics in some areas of eastern Baltimore County, and they aim to do something about it.

They feel if something is not done now, the area could miss out on the positive effects of the revitalization beginning to happen nearby.

The Eastern Baltimore County Task Force has already begun to survey problem areas and identify the problems - as well as solutions - at first concentrating on the Eastern Boulevard corridor between the Back River and Middle River bridges to move forward on improving the aesthetics, safety and quality of life in that area.

The goal of the task force, members said, is to begin with small, achievable improvement projects that will be noticeable and make an immediate difference in the community.

Leaders of the group include several recognizable names with long histories in the Essex area: Gary Jennings, owner of Jennings Transmission; Sam Weaver and Karen Wynn of the Back River Restoration Committee (BRRC); well-known judge Bob Ramadka; and Cliff’s Hi-Tech/Cliff’s Direct Effect owner Cliff O’Connell, along with his daughter Jillian.

The group began by making a list of what they saw as the 10 most achievable projects that would make a big difference in the appearance of Essex’s business corridor to restore pride and interest in the area.

Bob Bendler, president of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council which voted at its Aug. 2 meeting to support the task force, said there have been other “flash-in-the-pan” efforts and streetscape initiatives for Essex and Middle River in the past that went nowhere, but he has more confidence in this one.

“This effort is being initiated by active individuals from the Essex community, and it has the strong support of the [Chesapeake Gateway] Chamber of Commerce,” Bendler said.

Chamber President John Gontrum said the task force began as an idea to try to “dress up” Essex and Middle River, but he was cognizant of similar, “tired” efforts that have failed in the past.

“These aren’t tired ideas,” Gontrum said. “These are doable solutions to problems that we can attack and make a change for the better.” Communities can then use them as a spring board to even more positive ideas and efforts, he added.

First on the task force’s list is regular emptying and maintenance of the public trash cans that line Eastern Boulevard through much of Essex. Some of the cans do not have the hard plastic or metal liners in them anymore, O’Connell said, because they have been removed or decayed away.

The cans are also not always being emptied often enough, and as a result, some begin to attract rats.

They found out that the regular county trash collection employees are responsible for collecting this trash, but also want to discourage businesses from using the cans for their own in-house trash.

Next, they want to trim or remove overgrown or dead trees along the streetscape that block business signs or create tripping hazards by pushing up the sidewalk.

“There’s actually a medical supply store [in the 400-block of Eastern Boulevard] that I never knew was there,” O’Connell said. “You can’t see the signage at all.”

The BRRC has already volunteered to come behind the county’s tree removal and replant trees that will remain smaller and easier to manage.

They also want to replace the rotted or missing wooden bench planks around the flower boxes along the streetscape, O’Connell said. Many planks are currently missing, leaving behind only the exposed and rusted metal brackets.

Smaller projects on the list are repairing the brick wall around the bus stop at Eastern Boulevard and Mace Avenue, which has fallen apart with age, and fixing several deep potholes in alleyways.

Rounding out the list are some larger projects including cutting back the overgrown weeds in alleys, cleaning up the appearance of the government building at 439 Eastern Blvd., cleaning up graffiti all along the boulevard, and a full code enforcement sweep and rat extermination for the area.

O’Connell acknowledged that many of the issues they want to tackle are related to code enforcement. But he said they would rather just do the work themselves or have the county do it in the interest of faster progress instead of going through the code enforcement bureaucracy.

“Let’s clean it up right now,” he said, “and then we’ll start dealing with the property owners after that.”

A full code enforcement sweep would help to get the ball rolling, he said, by assessing violations for things like unkempt dumpsters, abandoned or otherwise junk vehicles and unsafe building structures. This would take away shelter and food sources for rats, as well as go a long way toward improving the look of things.

“It’s small things, but they’re very achievable,” said Jillian, O’Connell’s daughter. “It’s a starting point, and then we can move on to the more grandiose things.”

O’Connell noted that the group has counted more than 30 vacant buildings along Eastern Boulevard between the bridges, many of which are in the main commercial area.

“Nobody is going to rent one of those buildings with this mess,” he said.
Weaver said that now is the time for this revitalization work to start with other economic improvements happening in the region.

“You have [MD-43] down there and all the jobs that are going in there... you’ve got Tradepoint Atlantic, you’ve got Port Covington. Now is the time to jump on the wagon and start cleaning up,” he said, adding that with county and state help they will keep the effort going.

“Nobody wants to take their business, eat, do anything in a dumpster,” Weaver said, remarking about the area’s beauty, especially with the waterfront. “And it’s like the gateway to the dump if we don’t fix it up and do something.”

“This will take hold, there is no doubt,” Bendler commented. “It’s something we can get our teeth into, something we can support and encourage.” But he wants the county to see this as “only the first step” toward the greater Essex revitalization, he said.

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Miele campaign for State Senate combines old school with new school

Miele campaign for State Senate combines old school with new school
Delegate Christian Miele (right) speaks with Linover resident Mike Gerber about his platform. Miele’s door-knocking campaign will be in full force through November, utilizing new technology that puts a modern twist on grassroots mobilization. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

When Delegate Christian Miele (R-8) first ran for office in 2014, he was running a relatively simple campaign that focused on meeting the community and getting his face out there. While he had people working to create algorithms on likely voters and who to target, he primarily worked from sheets of paper on a clipboard, knocking on doors whenever he had the chance.

But now, Miele is looking to harness the power of data and technology as he looks to unseat incumbent State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8). The morphing shape of his campaign was on display Sunday, Aug. 6, as Miele and a group of about 20 volunteers - including Councilman David Marks (R-5), Delegate Kathy Szeliga (R-7) and District Six Council hopeful Glen Geelhaar - visited precincts in Fullerton and Perry Hall, guided by a phone app to help target specific voters.

On Sunday, Miele was looking to target “low propensity Republican voters.” As Patrick O’Keefe, political director for the Maryland Republican Party, put it, these are voters who don’t necessarily turn out every election or voters who don’t have a tendency to vote along party lines. And in Miele’s district, a lot of voters fall into the latter category.

“This is an area that doesn’t really go one way or another, which is actually a good thing because it means there are a lot of votes at play,” said Miele. “In this district, party affiliation isn’t everything.”

While party affiliation may not be the deciding factor in how someone will vote in the Eighth District, knowing someone’s tendencies gives campaigns a leg up in targeting. Enter Advantage GOP, an RNC-approved mobile app that provides access to precinct data and voter information to give candidates and their respective campaigns the best idea of who to target.

Miele and his campaign already had a strong idea of the type of people they wanted to target, but the data is necessary for actively seeking those voters out. In particular, Miele noticed that there were a large number of voters who voted for both Hogan and Klausmeier. Miele estimated it was around a 10,000-vote disparity between Hogan and Republican candidate Erik Lofstad.

Now, the freshman delegate is armed with plenty of information - as well as an endorsement from Gov. Larry Hogan - and he’s looking to draw some of those Klausmeier voters his way, arguing that Hogan’s agenda can’t get traction without more support in the State Senate.

“If we can get half of what the last candidate had, we’ll be in good shape,” said Miele.

In particular, there are 12 precincts, mostly in Perry Hall, that Miele plans to hit hard between now and Novemeber. On Sunday, Miele and his cast of volunteers were active in three of those precincts. He wanted to get started earlier in the year, but was studying for the Maryland General Bar exam.

“We want to be out as much as we can before it gets too cold out,” said Miele. “Also, with a baby on the way, I’ll need to spend time with my wife and child.”

With an important legislative session around the corner as well, Miele needs to make the most of his available time. He noted that the app helps keep things moving, allowing him to get to more doors. In total, he personally visited about 35 houses Sunday, with five or six people answering. While that isn’t a great percentage, he was also able to engage with more people who happened to be out in the neighborhood. In total, his volunteer team visited a staggering 763 residences on Sunday.

Using the app, Miele asked people he spoke to a few simple questions: “If the election were today, would you vote for Christian Miele and Larry Hogan, and who did you vote for in the last election?” The information gathered may seem innocuous, but it’ll all be analyzed to help Miele target those on the fence.

One of the first people Miele spoke to, Perry Rose, said that he didn’t know much about Miele’s policies but liked him as a person. Rose noted that he was a registered Republican when he lived out in California, but he feels as though “the party has left [him]” in recent years.

Later, Miele came across a gentleman named Mike Gerber who told him he has voted for Republicans in presidential elections since John McCain in 2008, but that he often votes for Democrats at the local level. Both Rose and Gerber expressed interest in learning more about what Miele had to offer.

“This is why you knock on doors, especially in this district,” said an enthused Miele. “That was valuable information we just got.”

For Miele to pull off a win, he’ll need to knock on as many doors as he can. Klausmeier, a formidable opponent, has enjoyed consistently strong support in her community since she started in the House of Delegates in 1994. She is a skilled fundraiser who also enjoys broad bipartisan support within the General Assembly.

Miele also has bipartisan support, and with Hogan’s endorsement comes ample money from donors looking to push the Republican governor’s agenda. And pushing Hogan’s agenda is a big part of Miele’s campaign.

“The Republicans need to take five seats in the Senate in order to prevent a Democratic super-majority from blocking Hogan’s agenda. If we can take five seats, we can actually start to have a discussion about legislation,” said Miele.

Aside from being tied to a wildly popular governor, Miele has a few other things working in his favor, most notably a feeling of voter fatigue.

“I didn’t know we had an option,” said Linover resident Valerie Moorman. “But I think it’s time for a change, she’s been there forever.”

With the Maryland GOP sensing vulnerability in the Eighth District, they’re hoping they can take not just Klausmeier’s seat, but Delegate Eric Bromwell’s seat as well. As it stands, the plan is for Delegate Joe Cluster, former Delegate Joe Boteler and newcomer Joe Norman to form a ticket while Miele takes on Klausmeier. The GOP are hopeful they can get a swing like they had in the Sixth District in 2014, which saw a historically blue area flip red.

But comparisons with the Sixth don’t quite hold up, considering the Eighth District hasn’t been a single-party district since 1986, when the Democrats held all three seats in the House and the lone Senate seat. Since then, there has always been at least one seat held by both Democrats and Republicans.

Despite the swell of excitement around Miele, there are concerns he’s looking to make the jump to the Senate too soon. One prominent Republican official, requesting anonymity, speculated that had Miele held off on a Senate run, Bromwell would likely be the one left behind next year. But that would mean Klausmeier would hold her seat for another four years.

“Christian was the top vote getter last election in his district, and he has a lot of strong support. But he doesn’t have a lot of experience and I only wonder if this jump isn’t coming too soon,” the source said before adding that there weren’t really any other serious challengers the Republicans could put forward to challenge Klausmeier.

Miele noted multiple times throughout the day on Sunday that while some might see him making a run too soon, he’s learned a lot in his first few years in Annapolis. He said that while he isn’t flashy, he’s always working for the betterment of his constituents and he’s gotten a reputation for working in a bipartisan manner behind the scenes. And in his district, bipartisanship is key.

“Take the fracking issue, for example. I heard back from my constituents, and about 55 to 60 percent wanted it banned, so that’s the way I voted,” said Miele. “Within the party it might have hurt me a little, but I have an obligation to my constituents, not the party.”

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Proposed Perry Hall medical cannabis site in limbo

Proposed Perry Hall medical cannabis site in limbo
The future of a medical cannabis dispensary proposed for the former Seifert florist building is now uncertain after the bill to block it was withdrawn. This will allow more time for the county and community to negotiate with the dispensary operator. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A bill introduced by County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall) to block the opening of a medical marijuana retail store on Ridge Road in South Perry Hall was withdrawn from the County Council’s voting agenda on Monday, Aug. 7.

Marks was not immediately available for comment after the meeting but Tom Peddicord, the council’s attorney, said Marks’ decision to pull the bill allows time for negotiations.

“It was to try to work something out with the community,” Peddicord said.

Marks’ Bill 44-17 would have blocked the state-regulated dispensary with a provision that such a facility could not be within 800 feet of a proposed public school site.

Planned is a public elementary school near the intersection of Gum Spring Road and Rossville Boulevard, which is within 750 feet of the site.

The bill was drafted in response to a plan by a group of investors called LMS Wellness, Benefit LLC that proposed leasing the former Seifert florist business at 4741 Ridge Road for use as a retail outlet for medical marijuana, which can now be legally sold to registered customers as part of a state-regulated program.

Members of the South Perry Hall Improvement Association objected to the plan, saying the site, which already has the needed zoning to move forward, is nonetheless bordered by residences and would be more properly placed in a commercial area.

Attorney William Huber, one of the partners in the LMS Wellness group, did not return a request for comment on Monday about the project.

State law allows two medical marijuana dispensaries in each of the state’s legislative districts.

A total of 102 investor groups received pre-approvals last December from the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission with the expectation that they become operational by December 2017, pending local approvals.

If the pre-approved licensees encounter local opposition with resultant delays opening their centers, they are not automatically denied a final license for failing to meet the December deadline, said the commission’s executive director, Patrick Jameson, in an email.

As of now, the commission has not made any decisions on granting extensions past the December deadline but may address the issue in the near future, he wrote on Monday.

Collection bins now need permits
In other business Monday, the County Council members unanimously approved Bill 43-17, which now requires that groups that place outdoor collection bins in shopping centers, gas stations and other privately owned locations to collect donated clothes, shoes and other donatable items must now get a permit from the county.

The bill initiated by Councilman Tom Quirk (D-Catonsville) came about because of problems with overflowing and unsightly outdoor bins that are poorly serviced by operators.

People also sometimes drop off unsolicited items next to the bins, and attempts to contact owners through phone numbers on the bins can sometimes lead nowhere.

Collection bin operators will have 90 days from the bill’s Aug. 18 effective date to apply for a permit to the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections. The bill does not specify how much the permit will cost.

“They’re popping up all over the place… and this will enable permitting and enforcement,” Quirk said. “This will basically weed out the bad actors who are collecting materials.”

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Judge denies permission for White Marsh cannabis dispensary

Judge denies permission for White Marsh cannabis dispensary
The proposed White Marsh dispensary is the second to be dealt a blow by Judge Beverungen after he denied a parking variance for a proposed dispensary on German Hill Road in Dundalk. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A Baltimore County administrative law judge last week issued an order that a special exception application to allow a medical cannabis dispensary in White Marsh be denied.

Judge John E. Beverungen issued the order on Friday, Aug. 4, following a hearing on the matter Monday, July 31.

The contract purchaser of the property, 5512 Ebenezer Road, LLC, had proposed to establish a medical cannabis dispensary to be operated by Chesapeake Health Sciences (CHS).

The subject site, which has an existing building on it, is located at 5512 Ebenezer Road at the intersection with Red Lion Road. The building was most recently occupied by the Dave’s Deals music and pawn shop which has moved.

The site is zoned BL, a commercial zone which normally allows a cannabis dispensary. However, a special exception is needed because the site is located within the Cowenton-Ebenezer Commercial Revitalization District.

Shannon Hexter, a representative of CHS, said they chose the White Marsh site for its visibility while still not being located directly on a busy highway, such as the nearby US-40/Pulaski Highway. She also said it was appropriately located in a commercial/industrial area, away from residences.

Hexter noted that she and other company representatives have already reached out to community members as well via the Greater White Marsh Community Council and the Essex-Middle River Civic Council and knocked on doors to educate area residents and nearby business owners.

“But we’re also committed to working with those neighbors to address any concerns,” she said.

The business would function as a retail store for medical cannabis patients registered with the state to purchase the product after receiving a recommendation from a registered doctor. They also planned to offer counseling for patients.

David Martin, a landscape architect, testified on behalf of 5512 Ebenezer Road, LLC that the new business would be a vast improvement over what exists there now, particularly with regard to ingress and egress from the site.

He noted that they planned to remove some of the impervious surface in the front of the building and replace it with landscaping to improve the appearance. In addition, all of the parking, along with the entrance to the building, would be moved to the back. There would also be “several levels of security” such as cameras, fences, an alarm system and security guards.

Martin explained that the plan met all of the requirements for a special exception and emphasized that the medical cannabis dispensary would have less of an impact on the area than would other uses permitted by right in the BL zone.

He pointed out that medical clinics and pharmacies are each permitted by right in that zone and would have a greater impact than the proposed dispensary.

Only one community member, Keith Randlett, attended the hearing, expressing his opposition to the plan on the grounds that it would adversely affect traffic in the area and cause a public safety hazard.

“The guitar shop that was there previously did no business, so traffic wasn’t a problem with them. But this sounds like it will be a hit,” Randlett said. “I’m just concerned that this will lead to more traffic and car accidents.”

He took no issue with the type of business, however, acknowledging that it could likely help people in need.

Ultimately, Judge Beverungen decided to deny the special exception due to what he saw as a lack of adequate reasoning in favor of it.

“While I do not dispute the validity or accuracy of [Martin’s] testimony,” Beverungen wrote in his order, “it is insufficient as a matter of law to sustain the applicant’s burden under the above case law.”

Hexter declined to comment on the judge’s order Monday since she had not yet seen it herself. And their attorney, Patricia Malone, did not return a request for comment on whether they plan to appeal the decision.

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Pointer teacher chosen for cooking challenge with Oriole Adam Jones

Pointer teacher chosen for cooking challenge with Oriole Adam Jones
Kelly Karwacki. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Marge Neal -

As an educator, Kelly Karwacki strives to teach her students to take chances, seize opportunities and stretch their personal limitations.

So when the Sparrows Point High School family and consumer science teacher heard sports network MASN was once again holding its Fan Challenge cook-off with Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, Karwacki tossed her toque in the ring.

She prepared her signature panini and, with the help of the school’s Culinary Club members, produced a short video challenging Jones to a showdown in the kitchen.

A self-described behind-the-scenes person, Karwacki said she entered the contest mainly to follow through on the message she sends to her students to put themselves out there and to take chances.

“I didn’t expect to win,” she said. “So when I heard I was selected, I thought, holy cow, now I really need to do this.”

Karwacki said she was pleasantly surprised to be on the receiving end of a conference call from Sparrows Point Principal Emily Caster and Assistant Principal Caitlyn Brennan, who broke the news of her selection.

MASN had posted the announcement on Twitter and tagged the school system and SPHS, causing the news to hit the community with a bang, Caster said.

And she was “thrilled” to call Karwacki with the news.

“This is a great event that the entire school can rally behind,” Caster said. “And I’m so so excited for Kelly and the kids in the Culinary Club - this is great recognition for them for all the good things they do for the school.”

Because Karwacki  isn’t online as a habit, she had no idea how quickly and extensively the news was sweeping through the neighborhood.

“I’m not into social media; I don’t do Facebook or Twitter,” Karwacki said. “But my husband told me I was blowing up Facebook.”

She and her husband live in the Edgemere community that Sparrows Point High and Middle schools serve, so she often bumps into students and their families when shopping and running other local errands.

“I was in the grocery store and a student rushed up to me to congratulate me and I said, ‘How did you know?’” she recalled with a laugh. “I had no idea it was already all over social media.”

It’s fitting that she was selected, given the big role baseball has played in her life, she believes.

“I met my husband at Memorial Stadium 35 years ago, and he introduced me to the Orioles; we’re really big fans,” she said. “When I heard the announcement about the contest, I said, ‘Oh, I am so doing that.’”

The 21-year teacher started her career at Edgemere Elementary School but has spent the past 16 years teaching the “big kids” across the street at Sparrows Point.

In her family and consumer science courses, students are surprised to discover that the class involves much more than learning how to bake a pie.

“When the kids leave my class, they are prepared to cook in their own kitchens,” she said. “But that’s really a by-product of the class, not the main purpose of it.”

Each class has lecture time and food lab time. The curriculum is science-based and focuses on nutrition and healthy foods, chronic food-related diseases and illnesses, obesity and how to make healthy decisions when grocery shopping, among other topics, according to Karwacki.

“I think the kids are surprised at the amount of reading, writing, research, explorations and presentations the class requires,” she said with a laugh. “And another important part of my class is teaching common courtesy - to be polite and respectful of each other.”

The Culinary Club, an extracurricular activity, was created to allow interested students the opportunity to “cook for the enjoyment of cooking,” she said.

The group of student foodies often prepares food for school events and enjoys the “incredibly supportive” efforts of the school’s Alumni Association, according to Karwacki.

MASN hasn’t yet set a date for the showdown, according to Caster and Karwacki, but both are hoping to be able to involve the club members and their parents.

“I’m very excited about the honor to meet some of the Orioles,” Karwacki said. “But because I prefer being behind the scenes, I’d be thrilled if I can take the children with me - I’d prefer to do the facilitating and let the kids show off their skills.”

While Karwacki and her young foodies plan to wow the judges with a panini, Jones is keeping the details of his signature dish “close to the vest,” according to a MASN statement announcing this year’s contest.

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Communities show support for emergency services at National Night Out, First Responders Day

Communities show support for emergency services at National Night Out, First Responders Day
A member of the Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company shows a potential future volunteer how to work the hose. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 8/9/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Last week had a theme - celebrating the brave men and women who serve as emergency responders.

The festivities kicked off with Tuesday night’s National Night Out and wrapped up Sunday afternoon in Kingsville at the third annual First Responders Day.

Block parties, cookouts, games and more provided regular citizens a chance to mingle with law enforcement officers and other members of the community to show support for one another and learn about ways to fight crime. In some areas, like in Turner Station, party-goers got the opportunity to learn more about the Aviation Unit and police k-9 crews.

“This is my first year here, but it’s just such a great atmosphere,” said Kaylee Thomas. “I don’t really have many interactions with police, but you see a lot of negative stuff in the news these days. This type of thing helps show that cops are just people too.”

Elsewhere in Dundalk, the North Point Village Civic Association celebrated with an ice cream social and craftmaking, while the Civic League of Inverness held a potluck meal. In Essex and Middle River, community picnics were held in the Aero Acres Community Association and others. In Fullerton, the Linover Improvement Association held a block party.

National Night Out has been around since 1984 and is celebrated in all 50 states by more than 37 million people annually.

But the celebration and community building weren’t finished just yet, as the third annual First Responders’ Day was celebrated on Saturday afternoon at Jerusalem Mill in Kingsville.

The Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company, Maryland State Police, Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company, Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Park Service and more converged in Kingsville to celebrate first responders. Hundreds poured into Jerusalem Mill throughout they day to eat, see the MSP helicopter up close and partake in games and activities. While everyone came for largely different reasons, one main reason stayed the same.

“First Responders Day reminds us of the importance of volunteerism - not only the heroism of our volunteer firefighters and other public safety personnel, but also those who have worked tirelessly to restore Jerusalem Mill,” said Councilman David Marks, who represents the area.

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Henrietta Lacks immortalized with street dedications

Henrietta Lacks immortalized with street dedications
Members of the Lacks family and those gathered released white doves at the unveiling of the highway dedication in memory of Henrietta Lacks. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 8/2/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Tuesday, Aug. 1, was the day the Lord made.

It was also the 97th anniversary of the day the Lord made Henrietta Lacks, and many family members, friends and elected leaders gathered in Turner Station to rejoice and be glad in it.

For the second time in four days, the Turner Station community celebrated the life and legacy of the unwitting medical research pioneer by dedicating a stretch of roadway in her honor.

Baltimore County officials on Saturday, July 29, dedicated Main Street and New Pittsburgh Avenue, where the Lacks family once lived, as Henrietta Lacks Place.

On Tuesday, the community joined state officials in dedicating a portion of Broening Highway in Lacks’ memory.

Under a beautiful, bright blue, mid-summer sky, several speakers cited the 118th Psalm as they rejoiced in the life and legacy of Lacks and her many contributions to local, national and global communities.

Lacks, 31, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1951 and was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Cells from biopsy tissue were cultivated in a laboratory, becoming the first human cells to be successfully grown in a lab. She died in October of that year, just eight months after her diagnosis.

The prolific and hardy cells soon found their way to research labs across the globe, where they contributed to many medical discoveries and advancements, including the polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization, cancer treatment drugs and human papilloma virus vaccines.

Lacks’ cells, known as the HeLa cell line, became the “first immortal line of cells,” said State Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who sponsored the state bill that enabled the highway dedication.

“It is a wonderful, wonderful day to come out to celebrate the life of Henrietta Lacks,” she told a crowd of about 75 people.

Earl Lewis Jr., Maryland’s deputy transportation secretary, greeted the crowd by introducing himself as a “son of Turner Station.”

He said he spent a portion of his youth in the community and his grandmother, who will soon turn 100 and was a contemporary of Lacks, still lives in the neighborhood.

In calling Lacks a “Maryland icon,” Lewis said the pioneer lives on in a legacy of healing and hope. She lives on not only through her cells but also through her children and grandchildren, he said.

Several speakers acknowledged the many ways that Lacks’ contributions to science are finally being acknowledged, but added much more can be done to spread the word of those contributions.

Many more people have learned about Lacks through the publication of author Rebecca Skloot’s book, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and the HBO movie of the same title.

But Devin Brown, a former corrections administrator with ties to the community, said he believes every school in the state should teach the legacy of Lacks and every medical school should tell her story to address medical ethics, morality and best practices.

Alfred Lacks Carter, a grandson of Henrietta, spoke of the “global impact” of the woman many refer to as the “mother of modern medicine.”

He heads the Henrietta Lacks House of Healing, an effort that provides transitional housing and assistance to former prison inmates. He said he has chosen to continue his grandmother’s legacy through helping incarcerated men upon their release from prison and working to lower the recidivism rate.

He and other family members are lobbying the U.S. Postal Service to have Lacks’ likeness on a commemorative stamp, while members of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group are raising money to create a wax likeness for the Great Blacks in Wax Museum.

In his remarks, grandson Lawrence Lacks Jr. reminded the crowd that Henrietta Lacks was much more than just a line of cells, a book or a movie.

He cited her humble upbringing and elicited laughs from the crowd when he told the story of his family relocating from Virginia to Baltimore to take advantage of job opportunities at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point.

At the time, the Lacks family was living in a small, three-bedroom rowhouse on Biddle Street in Baltimore. They informed their cousins in Virginia of job opportunities, and the cousins came to Baltimore - all 22 of them. It made life in that tiny house a challenge.

In putting a human face on his grandmother, he referred to her as “an angel looking over us today.”

“God puts people in our lives for a reason, either for a season or a lifetime,” he said. “God chose my grandmother to be here for a lifetime.”

Because of the immortality of her cells, some might even say for infinite lifetimes.

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County parks board recommends merger of two eastside recreation councils

County parks board recommends merger of two eastside recreation councils
Struggling with finances following a major theft and difficulty recruiting volunteers, the Back River Recreation Council has been given three options going forward: get its house in order, merge with the much stronger Middle River council to save its programs or be decertified and shut down altogether. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 8/2/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Citing a number of failures to comply with regulations on the part of Back River Recreation and Parks Council, the Baltimore County Board of Recreation and Parks has recommended the merger of the group with its Middle River counterpart.

The recommendation was made at the board’s July 19 meeting, according to Charles Munzert, board vice chairman and Sixth Councilmanic District representative.

The Back River council has struggled both financially and in volunteer strength in the aftermath of a theft of about $36,000 from their coffers, according to Munzert. Former council treasurer Shane Gleason was convicted of the crime and in June 2016 was sentenced to five years in the Baltimore County Detention Center, with all but 18 months suspended, according to online court records.

“I personally have been working with Back River to help them get back up and running,” Munzert told the East County Times. “They have been on probation for many, many issues and were doing good, but then after about six months, they fell apart again.”

The local council has been unable to recruit a permanent treasurer, has difficulty gathering a quorum of officers for meetings and is behind in filing tax returns, according to Munzert.

Based upon these violations of county board policies and others, the group recommended the merger as the best possible solution to save the local programs, according to board chairman Eric van den Beemt.

“We made the recommendation but it is not something we can demand,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s a potential remedy to the problem - our purpose is trying to provide the best possible recreational opportunities for the citizens of Baltimore County and a merger would preserve those local programs.”

The volunteer recreation and parks board is an advisory group that oversees the governance of the local volunteer-run recreation councils, according to van den Beemt. All recreation councils must be recertified by the board every two years, which is accomplished by meeting a number of standards as set forth by the board. While a merger cannot be mandated, the county board can decertify a local council when it is determined that a group will not be able to meet the standards.

Decertification would effectively put a council out of business.

“Obviously, decertification is a last choice option,” van den Beemt said. “We as a board want to give every possible chance to fix problems before we would resort to that.”

In the past 15 years, only two councils have been decertified, and only one of those was during the chairman’s seven-year tenure on the board.

At this point, nothing is off the table in the effort to fix Back River, according to van den Beemt.

The council still can work on building its volunteer base, catch up on its necessary paperwork and fix other problems to remain an independent entity; it can merge with Middle River to utilize that council’s strong organizational leadership; or it could face decertification if it does not comply with board policies and refuses the recommendation of a merger.

Back River, though stunned by the theft of substantial funds, is not failing for financial reasons, according to the chairman. Volunteers held fundraisers to rebuild their treasury and have been continuing with their programs.

“The problem is an absence of control - that’s just a fact,” van den Beemt said. “The council needs to be better run than it is today and we want to help them accomplish that.”

While a merger would preserve all the local programs and allow volunteers to continue being the priority user of recreation and parks facilities, one group is worried its future hangs in the balance.

The Ballestone Preservation Society is a volunteer group that was founded to restore and preserve the historic Ballestone-Stansbury House near the Rocky Point Golf Course in Essex. While the society has its own officers and maintains its own treasury, it operates under the umbrella of the Back River council and its nonprofit status, according to society President Cas Groth.

Baltimore County officials approached the preservation society a couple of years ago and encouraged the group to obtain its own nonprofit status, Groth said.

“Our members didn’t want to do that at the time,” she said. “We’ve always been connected with the council and always send a representative to their meetings; we want to continue supporting the Back River Council.”

For his part, van den Beemt said he does not know how this situation will play out but added that the board will not give up easily in attempting to work with the council for the best possible outcome.

Munzert, as the board’s representative for the Sixth Councilmanic District, will work closely with Back River to reach a resolution, according to the chairman.

Munzert said he has spoken with the council’s president and vice president about the board’s recommendation and said he will schedule a meeting with the local board to map out a plan for where the group goes from here.

“We are going to sit down with them before our board meets again in September to figure out what they want to do,” Munzert said Tuesday. “And we’re still waiting to hear what the county department’s vision for this is. But it’s been two years that we’ve been dealing with this and it’s time to do something.”

Board chairman van den Beemt echoed those thoughts.

“The recommended merger isn’t something that’s imminent,” van den Beemt said. “We’re going to work with the group, and we won’t reach a decision and we certainly won’t decertify without lots of warnings, lots of guidance and many opportunities to fix what’s wrong. We haven’t shut the door on the Back River Council, but things definitely need to get better there.”

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Dundalk marijuana dispensary site denied parking variance

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

(Updated 8/2/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary on German Hill Road in Dundalk could be delayed following a recent ruling to deny the project a variance from county parking and landscaping requirements.

Testimony provided at the hearing did not satisfy the requirements under case law that the site must be unique and that denying it would cause practical difficulty or hardship.

“In the absence of such evidence, the petition for variance must be denied,” wrote county Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen in a two-page decision  following a July 10 variance hearing in Towson.

CGX Life Sciences, which bought the former barber shop located next to the Speedy Mart convenience store for $500,000, has until mid-August if it wants to file an appeal in the Baltimore County Circuit Court.

A company representative did not respond by press time to multiple requests for comment about the ruling or possible appeal.

Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Dundalk and Essex, also did not respond to a request for comment by late Tuesday morning.

CGX, which plans to operate the store through GreenMart LLC, is one of 102 investor groups pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to open retail medical marijuana stores by late December, pending local approvals and final inspections.

Already allowed in 24 other states, the highly regulated new industry in Maryland is expected to help people suffering from chronic pain and other ailments using a variety of marijuana-based products in the form of buds or flowers, oils, tinctures and lotions sold to state-registered customers certified by doctors.

The commission has also pre-approved 15 growers and 15 processors, one of which will be in Baltimore County. Curio Cultivation and Curio Manufacturing is redeveloping a former Pall Corporation warehouse on West Aylesbury Road in Lutherville. Final inspections are expected by mid-August.

Regarding the German Hill dispensary in Dundalk, which is in Legislative District 6, no one from the Berkshire neighborhood bordering the site spoke against the requested variance during the hearing.

Nora Baublitz, president of the Berkshire Community Association, said on Monday that she could not attend the hearing but opposes the store location because it borders a community of rowhouses.

“It’s six feet from a residential neighborhood, and it backs up to Berkshire Park, which has a playground,” she said.

Baublitz said she sees the need for medical marijuana and did not oppose working with Bryan Hill, president and CEO of Charm City Medicus LLC, who contacted her earlier this year to involve the community in finding a mutually acceptable location.

“I see the need for the dispensaries,” said Baublitz, who worked with Hill to find a building to lease at 717 North Point Blvd. in a commercial strip across from Eastpoint Mall.

Baublitz said Hill will have tight security and improved lighting in the building, which is next to a long-shuttered McDonald’s that is being redeveloped into an automotive center.

“It’s a win-win for all of us,” she said.

Two investor groups have also been pre-approved in District 8, including one with a site in the Festival at Perry Hall shopping center off East Joppa Road, and another who is leasing a former florist business on Ridge Road off Perry Hall Boulevard.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents Perry Hall, has introduced a bill to block the Ridge Road site because of neighborhood opposition. A Council vote is expected at its Aug. 7 meeting.

The two sites in District 7 include a building on Ebenezer Road west of Pulaski Highway and another planned off Pulaski Highway just across the Harford County line.

For a list of pre-approved investor groups, customer registration requirements and other industry information, visit www.mmcc.maryland.gov.

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SHA to replace Pulaski Highway bridges over Big, Little Gunpowder rivers

SHA to replace Pulaski Highway bridges over Big, Little Gunpowder rivers
This map shows the location of the bridges to be replaced. Image courtesy of SHA.

(Updated 8/2/17)

- By Devin Crum -

In the next two years, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) will replace and widen the four bridges which carry traffic across the Big and Little Gunpowder rivers along US Route 40/Pulaski Highway.

But in order to safely complete the project, the busy highway will need to be narrowed and traffic constricted during part of construction.

The two bridges in each direction across the Big Gunpowder in White Marsh and the Little Gunpowder, which acts as the line between Baltimore and Harford counties, were each built in 1935, according to SHA records.

And while the 82-year-old spans remain structurally safe, said SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar, the driving surface on top is “pretty bad.”

“It’s been patched and patched and patched,” Gischlar said. “Everything has a shelf life, and it’s right there at its shelf life.”

He noted that SHA has done remedial work on the bridges in the past, such as paving over the concrete deck with asphalt to improve the smoothness of the driving surface.

“But that’s just to keep it [drivable] until the project is advanced, which is coming,” he said.

The replacement project will consist of reconstructing the bridge decks which constitute the actual driving surface, according to Gischlar, who said the piers and abutments making up their sub-structure, as well as the concrete and metal beams making up the superstructure, will remain intact.

The agency will also widen the bridge decks to provide outside shoulders which will match with the existing profile of Pulaski Highway.

“Right now it’s a bridge [for the driving lane only], and once you cross it there are shoulders and through lanes on Pulaski Highway itself,” Gischlar explained.

He added that bicyclists will also be able to use the shoulders.

“That will provide them some safe opportunity to use that as well,” he said.

The project cost is estimated between $13 million - $13.5 million for all work, using a combination of state and federal funds, Gischlar said. But it still needs to go through the competitive bid process and the exact cost will not be known until they receive the bids.

Gischlar said SHA will soon enter the bid process for the project, and they anticipate advertising the project in February 2018 to solicit contractors. Crews will then likely begin work in early summer 2018, and the project will take about two years to complete from start to finish.

“We’re trying to do this as quickly as we can while minimizing the impact to commuters and residents in the area, realizing it’s a busy area,” Gischlar commented.

An estimated 27,000 vehicles per day travel the corridor, according to SHA analysis.

Gischlar confirmed that SHA had considered the possibility of completely closing the bridges in one direction on Pulaski Highway during construction and having the other side function with two-way traffic. But the agency ultimately decided against it.

Instead, likely sometime in summer 2019, they will keep both separate sides of the highway open, but narrow them down to one lane in each direction, Gischlar said.

He noted that for the first part of the project, crews will be able to maintain all four lanes open for traffic.

“But starting two summers from now, we’re going to limit it to one lane on each bridge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for about two months,” he said.

He said they chose to do the narrowing during the summer because schools are not in session and people go on vacation, so the traffic volumes are lower.

“It’s still going to be a little bottleneck there,” Gischlar said. “But it’s the only way we can get that done expeditiously and safely for both the travelers and our construction personnel.”

He also said using the narrowed highway option eliminates the possibility of head-on conflict between drivers traveling in opposing directions.

Additionally, crews will be out in advance to let drivers know of the changes and allow them to use alternate routes if necessary.

Gischlar named MD-7/Philadelphia Road and US-1/Belair Road as usable alternatives for drivers.

“That’s the fortunate thing about this - we have great parallel alternate routes, and everybody around that area knows how to navigate around things,” he said.

Other work in the area
For the past several months, SHA crews have also been working on a slope reconstruction and drainage project on both sides of Pulaski Highway in White Marsh between Allender Road and the Big Gunpowder River.

“The roadway slope was deteriorating and needed repair,” Gischlar explained. “There are also drainage projects at this site to prevent further roadway slope erosion and to improve overall drainage in that area.”

The spokesman noted this is a $1.7 million project that began last year and is on target for completion in early to mid-August, weather permitting.

The work includes stabilizing the roadway slopes on both sides of the highway, shoulder repair and reconstruction, guard rail and traffic barrier replacement, and general drainage improvements.

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Liquor board dismisses claims against TGI Fridays

Liquor board dismisses claims against TGI Fridays

(Updated 8/2/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners dismissed allegations of serving an intoxicated person against TGI Fridays in White Marsh after a hearing on Monday, July 31.

A woman who was vomiting and smelled of alcohol was taken from the restaurant on Campbell Boulevard to MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center early on the morning of May 6, according to a police officer who testified before the board during the hearing in Towson.

However, an attorney for the liquor license holders argued that there was no evidence presented to show that the woman was intoxicated when she was served liquor in the bar earlier in the evening.

The restaurant manager on duty said that the woman was served two drinks over three hours and left the bar about 12:30 a.m. She later returned to the location but did not get further into the restaurant than the vestibule, he said, before police were called because of her condition.

In other business, the board approved a request by Tavern in the Quarters, a neighborhood bar on Bowleys Quarters Road in Middle River, to make deliveries of liquor to nearby marinas.

Bars can do so provided that delivery drivers complete a training course and that locations receiving deliveries do not have their own liquor licenses, board members said.

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Money for Under Armour linked to job growth

Money for Under Armour linked to job growth
A conceptual design for Under Armour’s e-commerce distribution warehouse released with Under Armour's announcement of the facility in August 2016. Image courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

(Updated 7/25/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Under Armour must employ at least 800 full-time workers within five years under terms set for a conditional loan from the state to help pay for construction of its planned e-commerce warehouse and distribution center in Sparrows Point.

The loan, which does not need to be paid back if certain conditions are met, also requires support from the County Council.

The Council is expected to discuss a resolution in support of the project at their work session on Tuesday, Aug. 1, followed by a vote on Monday, Aug. 7.

As part of the effort, Baltimore County is also providing Under Armour with a $200,000 conditional loan intended for the purchase of equipment such as racks for storing inventory.

The 1.3 million-square-foot building is expected to open in summer 2018 and eventually generate 1,000 jobs.

The $2 million loan, announced last August by the Maryland Department of Commerce, is coming through the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund.

The money can be used to cover costs associated with the project, including acquisition and construction; leasehold, site and infrastructure improvements and the purchase of equipment, according to the resolution.

To receive the MEDAA money, Under Armour must employ at least 800 full-time employees at the former steel mill site by Dec. 31, 2022, according to Karen Glenn Hood, director of media relations and public affairs for the Maryland Department of Commerce.

Per the agreement, the company must pay 150 percent of whatever is the prevailing federal minimum wage for the job categories and area of the state, she wrote in an email.

The company must file annual employment reports and also keep a minimum of 800 employees for five years after the 2022 deadline.

Under Armour is leasing its site from Tradepoint Atlantic, which is redeveloping the 3,100-acre peninsula with a mix of industrial, retail and marine-related tenants.

Under Armour must verify that it has spent $75 million on equipment and verify that landlord Tradepoint Atlantic has spent $90 million on real property and construction costs, Hood wrote.

Another $2 million
In addition, Under Armour is set to receive an additional $2 million through the Maryland Economic Development Corporation for real property and infrastructure improvements, according to the Maryland Department of Commerce.

“It’s part of the overall incentive package,” said Robert Brennan, executive director of MEDCO, which also provided funding for the Owings Mills Metro Centre garage.

The money must be spent on public infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines and roads to serve the site, including a section of Sparrows Point Boulevard and the access road to the distribution center.

MEDCO is coordinating the infrastructure work with Tradepoint contractors and will use the money to pay the contractor bills when submitted, Brennan said.

The arrangement will help Tradepoint Atlantic lower capital costs, which will in turn result in “a more attractive lease” for Under Armour, Brennan said.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County does not have to pay for the infrastructure work, but it will be responsible for the maintenance of what will become a public road and utilities in the future.

Brennan said Under Armour originally planned to open a new distribution center in Tennessee, but after talks with the Maryland Department of Commerce the company decided to build it in Sparrows Point.

The 3,100-acre Tradepoint Atlantic site at the mouth of the Patapsco River is versatile and is drawing a lot of interest not only from distribution centers but also industrial and manufacturing companies.

“It’s a big site with a lot of potential,” Brennan said. “Redeveloping all these assets is very important.”

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BCSC’s annual youth regatta a ‘rousing success’

BCSC’s annual youth regatta a ‘rousing success’
The Club 420 fleet headed back to shore Wednesday due to an impending storm after completing just one race. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

More than 500 people descended on the beautiful shores of Rocky Point Park in Essex last week during the Baltimore County Sailing Center’s 2017 Summer Junior Regatta.

The annual event hosted more than 150 competitors from five states to participate in a variety of sailboat races over two days last Wednesday, July 19, and Thursday, July 20. As a qualifier event for both the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association (CBYRA) and the United States Sailing Association (US Sailing), the event also allowed participants to jockey for position in regional as well as national championship series, said George Good, BCSC’s chairperson for the event.

In regional competition, the regatta counted toward CBYRA’s Junior High Point standings. On the national level, it served as an Area “C” US Sailing regional qualifier for the Chubb U.S. Junior Championships in pursuit of the Bemis and Smythe trophies, according to a press release for the event. Area C consists of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.

“A lot of these kids that were coming to our event were there to help build their qualifying status for those nationals that happen at the end of the season in fall or winter,” Good said.

Holding the races over two days this year allowed the sailors to participate in as many races as possible and drop their lowest scores to improve their standings. And despite some weather issues, Good called the overall event a “rousing success.”

County Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents the area, also participated in the opening ceremonies.

Sunny skies, calm seas and a steady breeze made for a nearly ideal first day of racing Wednesday. But an approaching storm forced the event into postponement after just one race for each fleet. Races were able to resume after the weather passed, however, and the respective fleets squeezed in two more races to make for a solid day.

Then Thursday brought its own challenges in the form of a lack of wind in the morning, Good said.

“So the competitors arrived between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. [Thursday], we had the skippers meeting at 9 a.m. and immediately put up the postponement of race flag,” he said.

Good noted that the sailors had to sit on-shore until about 11:30 a.m., but were able to get back on the water with “great conditions” after eating lunch. The last fleet came off the water at about 4:30 p.m. after each group put in three more races, he said.

“Despite some weather non-cooperativeness from Mother Nature, we were able to work with what she was giving us and we got in a six-race regatta in each fleet,” Good commented. “So that’s considered a very successful event.”

He said BCSC received a lot of positive responses from participants about Baltimore County and the sailing venue. Some visitors to the event from outside the area were even able to enjoy some of the local flavor while in town, such as visiting Pizza John’s in Essex or catching an Orioles game.

“It was really great, because all these people came from out of town and they got to experience Baltimore,” Good said. “So it was very rewarding for us as a board, and myself as the regatta chairperson, to see so many happy, smiling faces on the kids and to get so many great, positive comments from the parents of the participants.”

Although most visitors were from the five Area C states, Good mentioned he saw license plates in the parking lot from farther away, such as Florida, Missouri, Texas and even Colorado, and at least 30 different sailing clubs were represented at the event.

The participants, aged 8 to under 18, competed in three different classes of sailboats during the regatta: the Club 420s, the Laser Radials and the Optimists, nicknamed “Optis.” The event saw around 40 Club 420s, more than 40 Laser Radials and 48 Optis sailing, according to Good.

The youngest Opti sailors compete in the “green” fleet, then move up to the white, blue or red fleets based on their age, Good said. They can sail in the Opti class until their 15th birthday, and the Optis raced on a course about a half-mile in legth.

The Laser Radial class, a larger boat, does not have the lower age limit but accommodates sailors up to age 18.

The Club 420s have the same age range as the Laser Radials but are larger and have two sails (a jib and a main) and two sailors (a skipper and a crew) while the Lasers only have one of each.

The Laser Radials and 420s all used the same roughly mile-long course, and both courses were set up between the Rocky Point Park shore and Hart-Miller Island.

Along with the competitors, the regatta saw about 30 coaches, more than 100 parents, roughly 50 volunteers and the participants in BCSC’s summer sailing camp, making for a sizable crowd at Rocky Point.

Good stressed that BCSC is an almost all-volunteer organization, functioning as a self-sufficient recreation council of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, and called the sailing camp the BCSC’s “bread and butter.”

“A lot of our programs are entirely run by volunteers,” he said, “including when we host a special event like this.

“[The camp is] where Baltimore County Sailing Center gets its sustainability,” Good said, because the income from it helps pay for their other programs and events.

BCSC’s mission is to introduce children and adults to the joy and challenge of small boat sailing through affordable learn-to-sail and seamanship programs, the press release stated. As a tax-exempt, charitable organization, they depend on fundraising activity to sustain their unique programs and continue to provide seamanship excellence to the community.

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Medical marijuana stores set to open locally by year’s end

Medical marijuana stores set to open locally by year’s end
Charm City Medicus LLC is currently renovating this building on North Point Boulevard for a marijuana dispensary. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 7/25/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

People living with chronic pain stand to soon benefit from a new state program that will allow the regulated sale of medical marijuana at more than 100 retail outlets around Maryland, including six stores serving the eastern Baltimore County area.

State law allows two dispensaries in each legislative district, and more than 100 pre-approvals have been granted by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, subject to final inspections later this year.

In the works are two dispensaries in Perry Hall for District 8, one in White Marsh and one in Joppa for District 7, and two in Dundalk for District 6.

Pre-approved applicants have until late December to find locations, secure local zoning and permit approvals and pass final inspections before opening.

The federal government does not sanction the sale of marijuana, but 24 states now legally allow it, including Maryland. The cost of products is not covered by Medicare, Medicaid or insurance companies, and customers will be expected to pay in cash, although some locations are looking into additional forms of payment.

The  Maryland commission has also granted pre-approvals to growers who produce the plants, including a site in Lutherville, and to processors who make the oils, salves, tinctures and creams that contain the pain-relieving marijuana.

Products are not sold in smokable form and they cannot be passed along to anyone except registered patients who have been certified by registered doctors.

Perry Hall
Blue Ridge Wellness LLC, a private investor group, hopes to open a dispensary in the Festival at Perry Hall shopping center on E. Joppa Road just west of Belair Road in November.

The center is managed by Kline Scott Visco, a commercial real estate company based in Frederick.

“We’ll be applying for building permits in the next few weeks,” said Edward Scott, one of the principals, about plans to renovate a vacant space.

Scott said the project is allowed under current zoning according to a letter he received from the county.

County Councilman David Marks,who represents Perry Hall, said he plans to meet next week with the Perry Hall Improvement Association and the Perry Hall Business and Professional Association about the group’s plans.

Marks said there are possible concerns about exactly where the store will locate in the center, which is also home to a daycare.

Scott said he also hopes to meet with local community associations and businesses about the business. He said a management company will handle the day-to-day operations. The store will employ five people, not including security guards.

Also pre-approved in District 8 is LMS Wellness, Benefit LLC, which plans to lease a vacant florist building at 4741 Ridge Road near the intersection of Perry Hall Boulevard.

Located in a residential area, the site is about half a mile southwest of White Marsh Mall.

Attorney William Huber, a Perry Hall resident and one of the principals in the venture, spoke about the project at a meeting of the South Perry Hall Improvement Association on July 17.

He said one of his goals is to dispel some of the stigma associated with marijuana. Although illegal under federal law, more than 20 states allow it to be used as a medicine to relieve pain, and some view it as a good alternative to opioid medications.

“It’s an amazing, viable option for people,” Huber said.

The current plan is to be open every day except Sunday, from 9 am. to 8 p.m., he said. The facility would employ 15 people and contract with a security firm for guards.

A video surveillance system will be installed, and rooms within the building will be secured, he said.

However, some residents oppose the location in a residential neighborhood, and Marks has proposed a bill that could block the project.

The Baltimore County Council is set to discuss the bill during a work session on Tuesday, Aug. 1, followed by a vote on Monday, Aug. 7.

Current county regulations say that a medical marijuana dispensary cannot be within 500 feet of a school site, and Marks’ bill would increase that boundary to 800 feet.

The bill could affect the project because within 750 feet is a heavily wooded, developable school site at Gum Spring Road and Rossville Boulevard. Design money has been approved, and an elementary school is set to open there in 2020, Marks said.

His bill would also require that marijuana businesses notify council members when they ask for a special exception or apply for permits.

Huber said the group has already invested more than $75,000 in a new roof and has plans to install new flooring and upgrade the parking lot. He said he hopes to meet with Marks before the work session, but Marks said the group has had plenty of time to contact him before now.

Marks said he supports the therapeutic use of marijuana but believes stores should be located in more heavily traveled areas. He also said that locating two stores in Perry Hall means none can be located in Parkville or Carney.

White Marsh
In District 7, Chesapeake Health Sciences plans to open a dispensary just west of Pulaski Highway at 5512 Ebenezer Road, at the Red Lion Road intersection.

Formerly a Sprint mobile phone store, the building was most recently occupied by the Dave’s Deals pawn shop, which has also now moved.

A representative of the group did not immediately return a phone call and email request for comment.

The applicants have asked the county for a special exception under the zoning regulations, and a hearing before a county administrative law judge is scheduled for Monday, July 31, in Towson.

Also pre-approved for the district is Meshow LLC, which is in the process of buying a site off Pulaski Highway in Joppa just across the county line in Harford County.

“It’s a standalone building with room for expansion,” said managing member Paul Michaud, a retired banker who presently lives in Monkton.

Michaud considered leasing a site but found that some landlords are concerned that doing business with entities that sell marijuana could violate provisions in mortgage documents.

Already at work renovating a leased building at 717 North Point Blvd. in a commercial area across from Eastpoint Mall is Charm City Medicus LLC, a group of private investors.

President and CEO Bryan Hill, whose grandparents lived in Dundalk, said the group plans to open the store in late October or early November and operate Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The group will employ a licensed pharmacist to run the store and will employ students at the University of Maryland pharmacy school to work with clients.

The business will be hiring people for administrative and inventory work.

“We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries,” said Hill. “They believe in the industry and they want to know how to get involved.”

Customers will need to pay in cash, but the group is also looking into systems that automatically debit accounts.

Hill said marijuana oils have helped older people with arthritis and children with epilepsy, as well as his father who is living with esophageal cancer.

Also pre-approved to operate in District 6 is GreenMart of Maryland which is affiliated with CGX Life Sciences, a division of a Canadian company.

The group purchased a site at 7458 German Hill Road next to a convenience store and recently asked for relief from certain county parking and landscaping regulations at hearing on July 10.

The group plans to open by mid-December and operate from 9 am. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

A list of growers, processors and dispensaries, along with registration requirements for customers and other information is posted on the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website at www.mmcc.maryland.gov.

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Dundalk residents use Dumpster Day as occasion to help neighbor in need

Dundalk residents use Dumpster Day as occasion to help neighbor in need
Susan Rayba (back) and Bob Compton (front) helped Mario Carlucci to his new scooter. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

During the West Inverness Community Association’s second annual Dumpster Day Saturday, July 22, community members not only provided a way for residents to get rid of their trash and junk, but also presented a disabled neighbor with a new mode of transportation.

The recipient, Mario Carlucci, has lived in the West Inverness community in Dundalk for around 40 years and was born with a spinal cord condition that prevents him from walking, according to WICA President Susan Rayba.

“He owns his home and never asks for help with anything, but he’s always there to help others,” Rayba said.

She added that neighbors often give Carlucci rides in their cars to take him where he needs to go, and they try to help him however they can. And when no one is available to provide transportation, he simply pushes himself in his manual wheelchair to his destination.

But the recent wave of summer heat over the past few weeks and Carlucci’s increasing age have made it more difficult to push himself in his old wheelchair, Rayba said.

Lucky for Carlucci, however, his neighbors used an unfortunate situation to help better the life of someone they care about.

A friend of WICA Vice President Bob Compton recently passed away, leaving a motorized scooter chair behind. And although it needed a little work, he and others decided it would be perfect for Carlucci.

Cliff O’Connell of Cliff’s Hi-Tech and Cliff’s Direct Effect in Essex volunteered to perform the needed work free of charge, fixing any problems with the scooter and giving it a fresh coat of paint.

Rayba said it was funny to see O’Connell, who usually works on cars, working on a motor scooter instead.

Nevertheless, she said those are the kinds of things she and others like her are doing to try to bring the community together and move it forward.

“We’re hoping this is going to change Mario’s life,” she said.

“This is real nice,” Carlucci said after receiving the scooter, adding that it was fun taking it for a test drive. “This will certainly be faster to get to the store.”

Rayba and O’Connell, along with O’Connell’s wife Debbie, Lynne Mitchell and Nora Baublitz - all of whom attended the event - comprise of group of community activists known as the Core Group. They came together from the southeastern Baltimore County communities of West Inverness, Middlesex, Berkshire and Eastwood, respectively, after realizing their communities face many of the same problems including trash, rats, crime and issues with homes and properties in their neighborhoods.

Rayba noted that the presentation and the community Dumpster Day - which the Back River Restoration Committee also helped with - were all part of the Core Group’s mission to better communities in Essex and Dundalk.

“We’re bringing more people into our vision and making our community a better place to live,” she said. “We’re all about quality of life issues and making things better and working together.”

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Henrietta Lacks to be honored with Turner Station street dedication

(Updated 7/25/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Henrietta Lacks, a Turner Station resident and unwitting medical pioneer, will be honored Saturday, July 29, in a street-renaming ceremony scheduled at the Fleming Community Center, 641 Main St. in Turner Station.

The tribute program will begin at 10 a.m. and will include a free screening of the movie, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” starring Oprah Winfrey, according to a statement from Baltimore County officials. The movie is based on the book of the same title by Rebecca Skloot.

New Pittsburgh Avenue, where the Lacks family lived at the time of Henrietta’s death, is expected to be dedicated to the woman whose cancer cells became the basis for numerous medical research projects that led to medical advancements, including vaccines, in-vitro fertilization techniques and cancer-fighting drugs.

County officials told the East County Times in May of their plan to dedicate a street in Lacks’ honor, shortly after state legislation was passed to dedicate a portion of Broening Highway, a state road, to Lacks.

Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31, was being treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital when her cancer cells were harvested and then cultivated in a laboratory. The hardy cells were the first human cells to be successfully grown outside the body. Known as the HeLa cell line, the prolific cells made their way into labs around the world where they were used for various research projects.

Many organizations, including the Lacks family, the Henrietta Lacks House of Healing, the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group, the Turner Station Conservation team and the Fleming Senior Center Council, are working together on the event, according to the statement from the county.

The public is invited to attend the free event.

Destiny fulfilled as community gathers to rededicate Aquila Randall monument

Destiny fulfilled as community gathers to rededicate Aquila Randall monument
Ed Seufert, an 1812 historian and member of the Todd's Inheritance Historic Site preservation group, read excerpts from Capt. Benjamin Howard's speech delivered at the 1817 dedication of the Aquila Randall monument. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 7/22/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Little could Capt. Benjamin C. Howard have known in 1817 that eight simple, yet prophetic words from a speech he delivered would serve as an invitation for others to gather at the same spot exactly 200 years later.

On July 21, 1817, on a little patch of land along what is now North Point Road in Dundalk, members of the First Mechanical Volunteers dedicated a war memorial in honor of Pvt. Aquila Randall, the first man killed in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812. After erecting and dedicating the monument, Howard spoke poignantly of the "melancholy event which has caused our assemblage at this spot."

"We commit this monument to destiny and time," Howard told those gathered.

So it was destiny that another crowd would gather on that small patch of land 200 years later to the day to rededicate the memorial and remember not only the dead but the survivors of that battle and the important role they played in protecting Baltimore from invading British forces led by Gen. Robert Ross.

Ross, who was leading the much larger, better-equipped British forces, was killed in the skirmish in which Randall died. Also killed were Daniel Wells and Henry McComas who, according to local legend, were credited with firing simultaneous gun shots, one of which felled Ross.

"It was his leading from the front that would lose his life," re-enactor Ed Seufert said of Ross.

With a solemn ceremony of prayer, patriotic music, the recitation of news articles and speeches from 1817 by men in period costumes and the presentation of modern-day proclamations by 21st-century elected leaders, the memory of Aquila Randall was once again committed to destiny and time.

A crowd of about 75 people representing a variety of local organizations, including the Maryland National Guard, the Maryland Society of the War of 1812 and the Wells McComas Citizens Improvement Association, gathered under canopies on a swelteringly hot day to remember Randall, as well as honor to the area's role in helping to secure the freedom and independence of Maryland and the fledgling nation.

Jean Walker, president of the Dundalk Patapsco Neck Historical Society, said after the event that she believes it is important to remember and honor Dundalk's role in vital events that helped shape a young nation.

"We knew so little about the Battle of North Point when we were in school because they just didn't teach about it," she said. "Most of us didn't learn a lot about it until we got involved with the society."

Events such as this one help keep people educated as well as keep the memory of those early heroes alive, she believes.

The desire to tell another generation the story of the monument was a major reason for planning the event, according to local resident Patricia Paul, who coordinated all the participating organizations.

"We wanted to tell the story in a meaningful manner, so that when people left they had the back story of the monument and a better understanding of the battle," Paul said after the event.

At the request of "a friend from across the pond," the ceremony also made a point of showing "dignity and respect" for Ross, according to Paul.

Lt. Col. John McDaniel, commander of the 175th Infantry Regiment, Maryland National Guard, said his unit "proudly carries the pride and lineage" of the First Mechanical Volunteers unit, which was part of Maryland's Fifth Regiment.

He spoke of the soldiers who gave the last of their devotion and sacrificed their lives for state and country.

"Maryland's Dandy Fifth honors them today," he said. Citing a unit slogan, he added, "We are 'always ready, always here.'"

Friday's gathering honored Howard's words as much as it honored Randall.

"We owe something to those who are dead - something to those who are yet unborn," Howard told his volunteers at the original dedication in 1817. "So strongly do I feel this, that my imagination at this moment flies forward to the future, and my memory to the past. I can picture to myself sensations of those who in far distant days will contemplate this monument, while my memory brings before me the scene which was exhibited here and the melancholy event which has caused our assemblage at this spot."

In those far distant days that Howard envisioned, on July 21, 2017, on that small parcel of sacred land, another generation gathered to remember that melancholy event, most probably with their own thoughts of far distant days when yet another generation will again gather in a show of respect for a slice of local history.

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Ravens’ John Urschel visits Dundalk to talk math and science behind ice cream making

Ravens’ John Urschel visits Dundalk to talk math and science behind ice cream making
Of course, a lesson about ice cream wouldn’t be complete without enjoying some. Aside from receiving plenty of ice cream for their participation, the students were also gifted a brand new calculator courtesy of Texas Instruments. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

John Urschel, guard/center for the Baltimore Ravens, is widely regarded as the smartest player in the NFL, and for good reason. When he is not opening up lanes for the run or protecting Joe Flacco on the field, Urschel spends his time working toward his Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT.

And on Tuesday morning, Urschel stopped by Dundalk High School to teach the students in attendance at the Baltimore County Public Schools Summer Math Academy the science and math behind making ice cream.

One may wonder why learning the math behind ice cream making is important, but Urschel saw the lesson as a way of showing how math is applicable in basically every line of work, be it fashion design, art, athletics or even making ice cream. Ultimately, though, ice cream was chosen because “it’s delicious,” he said.

“We’re just trying to show kids some of the importance of math in careers where they might not see it,” said Urschel. “To show them that even if they don’t become a scientist or mathematician, that math is important in a whole range of careers. No matter what they do, believe it or not, they’ll use math in their career.”

The lesson began with Urschel showing the students a video he made at an ice cream shop in Texas. There, the employees talked about how ice cream works its way through different states - from liquid to solid - and the math that goes into making the product.

From there, Urschel got into more detail about the measurements and specific timing that needs to be followed in order to churn out the best product. If one aspect of the process is off, be it temperature or time spent spinning, the end result won’t turn out the way you want it.

When the oral lesson was over, Urschel put the students to work, having them fill out a worksheet utilizing the information they just learned.

While the lesson was an important one for the students, it was also important for Urschel as a way to get his feet wet in front of a class. When his career as a football player is over, he plans to teach.

“When I’m done playing football, I’m going to be a math professor and this is my life’s passion - trying to inspire young people to show them that math matters and is useful in their life and try to actually make an influence and an impact,” he explained.

All in all, Urschel thought he did fairly well for a beginner, giving himself a B-plus.

But there was an even deeper lesson for the students, one that carries over to professional athletes. Urschel stressed that it isn’t enough to devote yourself to a single passion, that a person needs to be well-rounded in order to reach their potential. For him, that means smacking players around for a large portion of the year, but staying dedicated to math in his off time.

“I think the balance is very useful. If you’re an athlete you need to realize that even if you play professional sports, your career won’t last you the rest of your life and you’ll need academic skills to get you to the next career and beyond,” said Urschel. “And if you’re an academic I would actually really stress the importance of physical activity.”

Of course, the students loved being able to work on math with a member of the Ravens.

Michael Dannenfelser, an attendee at the camp, said that he never imagined the first Raven he’d have the pleasure of meeting would be teaching him about ice cream.

“I actually didn’t know that there was so much that goes into ice cream, so much into making the product,” he said. “I really enjoyed the lesson.”

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Status of former Seagram’s property unclear after hearing

Status of former Seagram’s property unclear after hearing
The building formerly occupying the space at the right of this photo, and similar to the building in the center, has now been completely demolished as a result of the most recent conflagration on July 3. According to Code Enforcement Chief Lionel van Dommelen, the remaining buildings must also come down by the end of next month. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Marge Neal -

When a fire swept through one of the remaining buildings on the former Seagram’s property of Sollers Point Road in Dundalk on July 3, Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell said “enough is enough.”

That same day, at Crandell’s request, a code inspection was performed and a code violation notice was issued to the property’s owner, according to Doug Anderson, senior council assistant to Crandell.

An expedited administrative hearing was held last Wednesday, July 12, to address the violations, Anderson said, and an immediate order to raze the building was issued.

“The wrecking ball was out there July 13,” Anderson said.

Crandell posted a picture on his Facebook page of a crane of some sort on the property July 13. At that time, the only thing that remained of the latest burned building looked to be a reinforced column of some sort such as a stairwell or elevator shaft. The rest of the building had already collapsed as a result of the blaze.

The property had been plagued by fires, with at least 12 occurring since 2008, according to online reports.

Questions remain regarding the order to raze and whether it pertains to only the building that burned or all remaining structures on the 12-acre property.

Anderson said he did not know the specifics of the order, and the official administrative hearing order document has not yet been written, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

“The [Administrative Law Judge] will write an order (not written yet) detailing the terms of the county’s agreement with [property owner] Sollers Inverstors LLC - the main building will be [razed] within two weeks and remaining cleanup will be completed by the end of August,” she wrote in an email to the East County Times.

The phrase “main building” refers to the building mostly destroyed by the July 3 fire, according to Code Enforcement Chief Lionel van Dommelen.

“It’s my understanding that the building that burned must be down within two weeks and all other buildings must be down by the end of August,” van Dommelen said in a phone interview. “The only things that are to be left standing by the end of August are the smokestack and water tower.”

Those two structures are designated by Baltimore County as historic landmarks and must be preserved.

The only thing that could extend the deadline is if it is determined that extensive asbestos abatement is needed before demolition can continue, according to van Dommelen.

“And that’s only if he is making a full and good-faith effort to get the work done,” he said of partner owner John Vontran. “He’s not going to be able to wait around for six weeks and then say he needs more time - that won’t fly here.”

A Maryland Department of the Environment asbestos survey done in 2009 found the toxic material in several samplings of insulation, tar paper, wall board and floor tiles, among other building elements.

The county also imposed a $100,000 fine, which could be waived at the discretion of the county’s director of Permits, Approvals and Inspections “if there is a full and good-faith effort to complete all the work within the allotted time frame,” according to Kobler.

Vontran had applied for a demolition permit before the fire, and had submitted all the necessary paperwork, including a letter from a certified exterminator stating that rat eradication had been carried out on the property, according to van Dommelen.

While a wrecking crane was on the site on July 13, it was gone July 14 and no additional demolition activity took place that day or Monday, July 17. The only visible work done on the property was the demolition of the reinforced column remaining from the collapsed, burned building.

The property that at one time had 13 buildings, now has only three structures visible from the street. The property is overgrown with trees and brush and is secured by a dilapidated gate that is patched with assorted pieces of chain link fencing held together with a series of padlocks. The remaining buildings are heavily tagged with graffiti, have most of their windows broken out and one has a large chunk of brick facade knocked out of it.

An approved development plan exists for the property which allows for the construction of 185 townhomes to be known as Foundry Station. The owner of the land - Vontran, along with partners Jeffrey and Mark Powers - have entered into a voluntary cleanup agreement for the property. Approved and accepted by the Maryland Department of the Environment, the plan spells out the remediation that must be done on-site to remove and/or cap ground pollutants and toxins.

Once the housing development is constructed, groundwater use and excavation deed restrictions will be placed on the property to prevent any future disturbance of contaminated areas. The property’s groundwater may not be used for potable or non-potable purposes, according to MDE.

None of the owners responded to requests for interviews by press time to answer questions about the status of the housing development and a potential time frame for remediation and new construction.

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Liquor board fines Christina’s strip bar $2,000

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners imposed a fine of $2,000 against Christina’s Female Revue in Sparrows Point after a hearing on Monday, July 17, in Towson.

The adult entertainment bar at 4508 North Point Blvd. was charged with violating two board rules. One requires that dancers cover their nipple areas with pasties, and the other prohibits them from accepting tips between their breasts.

The vote was 2 to 1 to impose the maximum fine, with board members Charles Klein and  Bob Page voting in favor and Les Pittler voting against. Pittler  said after the hearing that he supported the fine but voted no because he favored suspending the license, a tougher penalty, due to the bar’s history of violations from  2007 through 2011.

Detectives from the county Police Department visited the bar on April 14 and observed the violations, according to their incident report. The report states that they visited the bar in response to an anonymous complaint about possible prostitution at the site, but the allegation was not verified during the visit.

In other business, the Greene Turtle Sports Bar and Grille located in White Marsh Mall has appealed a $2,000 fine imposed on June 12 by the board for allegedly serving alcohol to an intoxicated person.

The Greene Turtle paid the fine and filed the appeal in Baltimore County Circuit Court on June 28, according to liquor board files. The appeal will be reviewed by a Circuit Court judge.

Staigerwald announces run for State Senate

Staigerwald announces run for State Senate
Buddy Staigerwald announced his run for State Senate in the Sixth District last Thursday, July 13, in front of a packed house at the Sail Inn. He was surrounded by a wealth of supporters from both the community and the Democratic Party. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Devin Crum -

To say the Sail Inn, in the Jones Creek community near Sparrows Point, is an intimate venue would be an understatment. But Buddy Staigerwald managed to pack the building last Thursday, July 13, with a standing-room-only crowd for his campaign announcement and first fundraiser.

Staigerwald officially threw his hat in the ring for State Senator in the Sixth Legislative District (Dundalk, Essex). He filed as a candidate on Tuesday, July 11.

The event turned out a wealth of support for the Democratic candidate, who emphasized his connections at the state level as a way to get things done for the district. That support included current and former elected officials and candidates, as well as dozens of community members and leaders.

Staigerwald told the crowd it will take hard work to win the Senate seat. “It’s not a given that we’re going to get it back,” he said.

The seat is currently held by Republican Senator Johnny Ray Salling.

“But I know the people of this district, the people of this county and the people of this community will do that [work],” Staigerwald continued, predicting it will be a “hot” campaign.

He said his campaign, though, is not about Democrats or Republicans, but “working a commitment to the community.

“In order to get work accomplished, it’s all about community commitment and involvement,” Staigerwald noted. “And the one thing that I’ll stand behind is my résumé of working with the community, for the community, through different avenues.”

Staigerwald has been a volunteer firefighter with the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Company for 27 years and headed the Baltimore County Volunteer Fireman’s Association for four years. He also has worked for several different community organizations, was volunteer chair of the Sky is the Limit community theater and sits on the Southeast Area Education Advisory Council to the county school board.

The candidate told the East County Times he hopes to bring to the office the ability to work within the framework of the political system.

“I understand how the Senate operates,” he said, adding that he has worked to fight the sale of the North Point Government Center and headed the BCVFA, a quasi-government entity, where he worked with county budgeting. “While I haven’t been elected, I have knowledge of how the system works.”

Staigerwald said he also already has a network of relationships within the state legislature that he could draw from to help accomplish his goals for the district. He named Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Joe Bartenfelder and Comptroller Peter Franchot as examples of beneficial relationships he has, along with former delegate and Dundalk resident Bob Staab, who brings knowledge and experience to his campaign team.

He also said the “gem” that is Sparrows Point is “an economic engine waiting to start.

“You need real people with real ideas to make real jobs and real prosperity come back to this community,” he said.

Staigerwald and others supporting him said the elected officials currently representing the Sixth District do not know how to work in the state capitol and make gains for their communities.

“And for that reason, nothing’s getting accomplished for us in Annapolis,” Staigerwald charged. “They went to Annapolis, they’ve brought nothing back.”

“We have a state senator in this area... who really hasn’t done very much,” said Del. Steve Lafferty (D-Towson).” He added that during the election, Staigerwald will bring to the forefront the most important issues for the community which have been ignored.

Del. Pat Young (D-Woodlawn) drew similarities between his own southwestern Baltimore County district and the Sixth District, noting that the people in both areas are proud and do not elect “empty suits.”

“He ain’t no empty suit,” Young said of Staigerwald. “You don’t want an empty suit who’s a Republican, you don’t want an empty suit who’s a Democrat. But right now you’ve got an empty suit who’s a Republican, who would do anything the governor says without question.”

The sitting senator balked at being called an empty suit, noting that he and the Sixth District’s delegates have worked together with Governor Larry Hogan on initiatives to benefit the district.

Sen. Salling said they have worked with Hogan to make sure no taxes were raised, as well as to reduce tolls and fees where possible.

Salling did not name any projects or funding specifically geared toward his district that he has brought home, instead pointing to statewide efforts he has worked on that benefit his constituents such as tolls reduction and school funding.

“Anybody in this district that goes south has to pay a toll. Well, the tolls aren’t as much as they used to be,” he said.

Salling, who sits on the state Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee, noted that education funding levels are at their highest in history, adding that school construction funds particularly benefit the Sixth District, which has more schools without air conditioning than any other district in Baltimore County.

Additionally, he said he has met directly with school officials and students from 23 of the district’s 24 schools and has been told that is more than any previous state senator or delegate for the district has done.

Staigerwald last ran for political office in 2014, when he finished third in the Democratic primary for Baltimore County Council District 7. He stressed the crowded field in that campaign and called it a “transitional” year while admitting he had no real connection to Essex, a sizable part of that Council district.

But he did learn from the campaign and determined that he could be more effective at the state level.

Staigerwald said the 2014 election was an election of change, and that is what many were seeking with their votes. But he pointed out that the majority of voters in the district are still registered Democrats.

“I’m not what you rejected last time,” he said, stressing that he is a moderate to conservative candidate with the tools and knowledge to get the job done.

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Ceremony to mark bicentennial of Aquila Randall Monument

Ceremony to mark bicentennial of Aquila Randall Monument
The monument will mark its 200th anniversary on Friday, July 21. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

The bicentennial celebration of the Battle of North Point isn’t quite over yet.

The Wells-McComas Citizens Improvement Association invites the community to attend a ceremony Friday, July 21, to mark the bicentennial of the Aquila Randall Monument, erected in 1817 near the spot where the soldier died in the same skirmish that killed Major Gen. Robert Ross, commander of the invading British forces.

“A lot of people call it the General Ross monument, but that isn’t the case, obviously,” association President Rob Zacherl said.

Randall was one of a handful of citizen soldiers from the First Mechanical Volunteers sent ahead of the Battle of North Point to scout the British and to provide a distraction, according to Zacherl.

“They were sent there to be a pain in the butt,” he said of the group of advance soldiers that also included the famous sharpshooters Daniel Wells and Henry McComas. “General Ross, after hearing gunfire, rode his horse to the front of the line, where he was shot and mortally wounded - he died several hours later.”

Randall, Wells and McComas were all killed in the conflict.

Local legend gives credit for shooting Ross to Wells and McComas, though many historians believe there isn’t sufficient proof to back up that claim.

Zacherl laughed when he mentioned the word-of-mouth accounts of the battle that have been passed down from generation to generation.

“I know there are a lot of different stories out there,” he said. “But this is what has been handed down and this is what we’re going with.”

The monument erected in Randall’s honor was constructed and dedicated on July 21, 1817, according to an article by Scott S. Sheads published on battleofbaltimore.org. Capt. Benjamin C. Howard’s First Mechanical Volunteers marched six miles to the battlefield on what is now North Point Road, accompanied by wagons hauling the blocks that would be assembled to create the marker, according to the article. The monument was constructed and whitewashed before being dedicated in a ceremony that included a speech by Howard.

“We have a copy of the speech that Major Howard gave the day of the dedication,” Zacherl said. “It’s an unbelievable speech - very, very moving and at the end, he takes a shot at General Ross.”

Zacherl said he hopes to have a member of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Wing - a descendant of the First Mechanical Volunteers - read the speech at Friday’s ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m.

The program will include presentations by local historians, Zacherl said. Local elected leaders and members of the 175th ANG Wing have been invited to participate in the free event that is open to the public.

The monument is situated on North Point Road near Old Battle Grove Road in Dundalk, on a small piece of county-owned land in front of a private residence, according to Zacherl.

“There’s not a lot of room to park or stand, so we expect the police will close a small portion of the road off for the ceremony so people can stand out in the street,” he said.

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Davis promises to be a ‘voice of the people’ in bid for County Council seat

Davis promises to be a ‘voice of the people’ in bid for County Council seat
Richard Davis posed with supporters at his gathering in Edgemere. The Dundalk native wants to focus on jobs, health and education. Photo courtesy Richard Davis.

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Two years ago, lifelong Dundalk resident Richard Davis lost his girfriend to cancer. They had been dating for five years and the loss put Davis on his back.

Davis took refuge in group counseling sessions and grief therapy, and things are looking a lot more different for him.

“I went to group session for therapy, grief counseling, for 10 to 15 sessions,” said Davis. “I got healed and decided to take what I learned and help others. So now I work as a counselor and help others who went through what I went through.”

While helping others through their hardships, Davis said he was approached by a gentleman who suggested a run for County Council. The gentleman told Davis that “because you’re honest, you try hard, you’re caring and you’re trustworthy, you’d make a good candidate.”

Davis took some time to mull it over before ultimately deciding to throw his hat in the ring for a run at the District 7 County Council seat, currently held by Councilman Todd Crandell (R). Davis, a Democrat, feels that the county government isn’t doing enough to help the people they’re supposed to serve - especially the youth, elderly and those dealing with drug issues.

“I’m offering a listening ear as someone who wants to help,” said Davis. “Help our young people and give them hope. I want to hear the voice of the community and help the people.”

Davis has taken issue with the workings of the County Council over the last few years. In 2014, the council voted to increase the County Executive’s salary by $25,000, while boosting the salaries of the councilmen and women by $8,500. He also pointed to the recent debate over whether or not the Department of Corrections should be utilizing the federal 287(g) program that would see county correctional officers work more closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill to utilize that program was introduced by Crandell but ultimately tabled.

“I feel it’s not [the county’s] responsibility, and it’s a good thing it was tabled. Crandell introduced that bill and a lot of people were happy when it was shut down,” Davis said.

He went on to note that if Crandell wanted to work with the federal government, he shouldn’t have turned down the opportunity for a school meals program that would have seen breakfast and lunches provided to the students for free. Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6) took up the government on its offer when Crandell refused.

“If the federal government is going to give you something, we need all the help we can get,” said Davis. “There are families struggling, working multiple jobs and still struggling to put food on the table. Any help we can get for kids is necessary.”

Davis also took issue with the handling of the North Point Government Center, saying the decision should have been made by the community. Davis maintains that the space is vital for providing public services that help educate and keep people off the streets. A lack of options, according to Davis, can lead people down the wrong path, like drug use.

And when it comes to the main issues Davis wants to focus on, the opioid problem is at the top of the list. The Democratic hopeful takes an empathetic approach, positing that a lot of addiction issues stem from a sense of hopelessness.

“I feel that they feel nobody cares, and they’ve lost hope. I want to give them a chance of hope and show them someone does care,” said Davis.

Davis wants to see more treatment centers set up, and he wants to see 30-day programs extended to 60-day, saying that 30 days doesn’t seem to be enough to keep people off drugs. He also floated the idea of businesses getting tax breaks for hiring those who go through a 60-day treatment plan.

“Best case scenario, you help get someone off the street and working to become a productive member of the workforce, and worst case scenario you get a tax break,” he said.

He went on to praise Gov. Larry Hogan for his efforts to curb the problem, citing a $50 million commitment over five years to tackle the issue from multiple angles.

“I praise Governor Hogan for releasing money to help fight the epidemic,” said Davis. “I think it’s a great thing. He’s a caring governor who really wants to help and it’s a blessing he’s willing to help.”

Going forward, Davis knows he has a lot of work to do. He stated he’s going to be visiting every part of the district, knocking on doors and listening to what people have to say. Last weekend he held a campaign event at the Edgemere VFW, which he said was well-attended.

“There were about 70 people there and they were excited,” said Davis. “They heard that I want to help seniors and kids and everyone who needs a hand. And I’m going to be taking that message all over the district.”

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State Park Service finalizing plans for North Point Heritage Greenway Trail

(Updated 7/19/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Plans for a mile-long pedestrian and bicyclist trail meant to connect communities on the North Point Peninsula to each other, as well as with historic sites, are nearing completion and the Maryland Park Service anticipates sending the project out for bid later this year.

MPS Chief of Planning LeeAnne Chandler explained at last month’s North Point Peninsula Council (NPC) meeting that the trail, known as the Heritage Greenway Trail, is planned to extend from a parking lot in North Point State Park - near where the North Point Spur meets Bay Shore Road - down North Point Road to Fort Howard Veterans Park.

Chandler noted that the project will likely be phased due to budget constraints, but the first phase would run from the park to the Todd’s Inheritance historic site and the second would cover the remainder of the distance, about one mile in total.

“This is the [Department of Natural Resources] and Maryland Park Service mission,” she said. “We are trying to get folks to appreciate our natural environment, and in this area especially, the cultural and historical surroundings that you have here.”

The planning chief noted that changes have been made to the trail pathway plan to accommodate issues that have come up, including high construction costs and dealing with drainage problems related to the existing trolley rail bed, which forms the base of much of the trail. MPS also had to meet requirements for stormwater management (SWM), she said.

“So there have been some modifications as to where exactly the trail will go,” she said.

Chandler pointed out that the new plan minimizes tree clearing along the trail route, decreasing it from about 1.2 acres to only about a quarter-acre.

“But there still will be a significant amount of landscaping to beautify the area,” she said, adding that the plan also increases separation between the trail and the roadway for much of the route.

The trail will include a crosswalk across North Point Road just before Avenue C to allow trail users to get to the Todd house, according to Chandler. It will have a pedestrian crosswalk and signage both painted onto and placed to the side of the roadway alerting drivers to the crossing.

Chandler said the most expensive part of the project will be dealing with drainage through the installation of drains and pipes along the trail.

“Given that it’s a peninsula close to the bay, that’s what we end up with,” she said.

The trail is planned to be 10 feet wide and will have a stone dust surface with graded aggregate beneath for an eight-inch bed depth.

The total area of disturbance has increased in the plan, Chandler said, mostly due to added curving of the trail itself. But she reiterated that more trees are being saved with this plan.

Areas around the path will be “heavily” landscaped with a variety of native trees and shrubs, Chandler said, and existing forested areas will remain intact as much as possible. She said the construction will actually help to clean up the areas, which are currently “overrun” with vines and invasive plant species.

The trail plan has already gone through internal review by other resource agencies and was approved by the state’s Critical Area Commission in June 2016, according to Chandler. She said changes to the plan are likely not such that they will require reapproval by the CAC.

The plan will now go to the Maryland Department of the Environment for approval of its SWM and sediment and erosion control aspects. But because of its cost, it will then have to go to the Department of General Services to be bid out through the state process, Chandler explained.

“We’re hoping that the plans get finalized and get to DGS by the end of the summer, and the hope is to get it out to bid in the fall,” she said.

Chandler said they will know more about the phasing of the project and how much can be done with the current funds on-hand at the bidding stage.

Mary Owens, also with MPS, said a $270,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation will fund much of the project’s cost. However, a concern with the grant is that they will have to ask for an extension on its use, and then request a second extension to finish the project.

“But we can demonstrate progress, and that’s the main thing with these grants,” Owens said, calling the extension requests a “formality.”

“They really don’t want to take the grant away because they won’t have any other project [to use it for]. This project is queued up and ready to go,” she said.

NPC President Fran Taylor said he thinks the Todd’s Inheritance site will be a destination for a lot of people using the trail.

“But I think the long-term goal and vision for the trail is going to be as a transportation link from Fort Howard to Todd’s farm, to the park and to the community,” he said.

Taylor also sits on Baltimore County’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee which recommends projects to improve pedestrian and bicycle connectivity for communities throughout the county.

Bob Iman, chief ranger for North Point State Park, said people visiting Todd’s Inheritance will also be able to park in NPSP’s parking lot, then use the trail to get there since the historic site has limited parking.

Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company breaks ground for upgraded station

Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company breaks ground for upgraded station
Several county, state and federal representatives helped the volunteer firefighters break ground for their station's addition. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 7/12/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After years of fundraising, the Kingsville Volunteer Fire Company (KVFC) broke ground, Tuesday, July 11, for a new renovation and construction project that will see the facility on Bellvue Avenue install additional engine bays and updated kitchen facilities, bunk beds and locker rooms.

The KVFC has been operating since 1954, and the last capital improvements to the station were made in 1985. According to State Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7), representatives at the state level have been working to secure funds for the last 11 years. This past legislative session, Jennings and State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) worked together to get $400,000 worth of bonds secured for the company.

In addition to funding from the state, $2.5 million has been pledged by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who was on hand with a group of local officials and representatives for the ground breaking ceremony on Tuesday morning.

“For 63 years now [the KVFC] has served in all capacities, whether it’s a swift-water rescue team trying to help extract some overzealous teenager who’s in the lower gunpowder falls or the medic unit responding to someone’s grandfather who has chest pains or the engine rushing to save a family’s home, each of you personify that meaning of selfless public service,” said Kamenetz.

Back in 1954, the local Lion’s Club called a public meeting to discuss the possibility of a fire station in Kingsville, and four years later the building was erected. Jennings noted that back in those days the firefighters were known as “foundation savers” because oftentimes that was all that was left of structures when the company arrived.

That is no longer the case, with the KVFC responding to 1,700 calls per year.

Those who spoke took time to recognize the effect the fire station has on the community outside of their heroic feats. Public meetings are often held in the building, and every year the Fourth of July parade kicks off from the station.

“This fire station is in many ways the heart of this community,” said Councilman David Marks (R-5), adding that the renovations will “enhance Kingsville and the surrounding areas.”

“Over the past three years, our office has worked to advance two major projects in Kingsville - the air conditioning at the elementary school and reconstruction of this fire station,” said Marks. “I am delighted that the first project is almost done and we are breaking ground on the second, an essential initiative for the Kingsville community.”

Jennings also noted that volunteer fire companies are a great way for younger men and women to get involved in their community from an early age, a sentiemnt that was also expressed by Kamenetz. Fittingly, Kamenetz also took time to recognize the new Baltimore County Fire Chief Kyrle Preis, who got his start as a volunteer in Kingsville at the age of 16. Preis, a Kingsville resident, was confirmed as Chief on July 3 by a unanimous County Council vote. He’s a 27-year veteran who was named assistant fire chief in 2012.

“You grow good stock here, and I’d like to offer a note of special congratulations to one of your lifetime members, our brand new Baltimore County Fire Chief Kyrle Preis. You all should take pride that Kyrle got his start right here on his 16th birthday.”

Preis started his career with the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1990 as an emergency medical technician (EMT) at the Fullerton fire station. Throughout his more than 26 years, Preis has held numerous positions including Fire Captain, Battalion Chief and Director of Emergency Medical Services, and in 2012 he was promoted to Assistant Fire Chief.  He earned a master’s degree in public safety administration from Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from the University of Maryland. He holds the highest level of fire officer certification from the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute.

Preis takes over for Chief John Hohman, who retired on June 30 after 40 years of service to Baltimore County. “Chief Hohman has done an outstanding job throughout his distinguished career and I wish him and his family all the best in his well-earned retirement,” Kamenetz said.

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Latest Seagram’s fire reignites community discussion about abandoned property

Latest Seagram’s fire reignites community discussion about abandoned property
The Seagram's site, vacant since 2008, has suffered several fires and structural collapses, as well as a rat infestation. The property will need to undergo an environmental cleanup before it can be developed with a new townhouse project. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/12/17)

- By Marge Neal -

A recent early-morning fire on the former Seagram’s Distillery campus in Dundalk has brought the status of the abandoned eyesore property back into the spotlight.

Baltimore County firefighters responded to a call at about 5:20 a.m. Monday, July 3, for a fire at the site owned by developer John Vontran. About 30 firefighters worked for about an hour to contain the blaze that caused the complete destruction and collapse of one of several buildings on the property, according to county officials.

The fire was so intense and involved that residents reported seeing the flames from the Key Bridge and from various vantage points in Baltimore City, including Canton and Curtis Bay.

It did not take long for social media users, including Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), to take to the web to weigh in on the fire, as well as the property’s long history of fires and code enforcement violations.

“And yet another fire at [the] Seagram’s property,” Crandell wrote on his Facebook page. “Enough is enough! The owner clearly has no regard [for] public safety and has been given more than enough chances. I’m going to need your public support moving forward.”

Crandell did not respond to requests for comment and Vontran could not be reached by press time.

Community members quickly responded to Crandell’s comment. As of Tuesday, July 11, 238 people had “liked” or otherwise reacted to his post, while a conversation of nearly 160 comments took place. While a few residents defended Vontran, the bulk of the comments supported holding the owner responsible for securing the property, razing the remaining buildings and questioned the status of the property’s voluntary environmental cleanup agreement and the approved PUD that calls for the construction of more than 180 townhouses on the site.

“I think the owner has been wanting to tear down those buildings for years, but has run into numerous roadblocks,” David Rader wrote in response to Crandell’s comment. “Maybe we could support getting it torn down safely... ground contamination can be dealt with after the buildings are dealt with, right?”

“Progress and growth are happening throughout the community,” Chris Haffer wrote. “We need to strengthen and support revitalization. No more business as usual!”

Many residents chimed in simply to tell Crandell he has their support in addressing the issue.

Public support for first responders was mentioned several times.

“Please do something,” Mike Sherba wrote. “Why put our firefighters at risk?”

“Please do something about this,” Tracy N. Johnson wrote. “My son is a firefighter and I fear every time that place [goes] up something bad is going to happen to our boys.”

The most recent fire is just one of at least 12 fires on the property since 2008, according to online research. At least two people have died in incidents on the property and one man was critically injured in a three-alarm fire in July 2013.

The site, visible from the Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk and Sollers Point Technical and Dundalk high schools, has a storied past.

The distillery was built in 1933, shortly after the repeal of prohibition, according to an online history of the property. It was sold to Joseph E. Seagram and Sons in 1942.

Seagram sold the property to Brewery Station Inc., headed by local developer and apartment complex owner Frank Scarfield, in November 1994 for $425,000, according to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation online records.

Scarfield sold the land and buildings to VO LLC, headed by Vontran, a real estate developer and former amusement company owner, in October 2008 for $2.1 million.

When VO LLC filed for bankruptcy, the property transferred to Sollers Point LLC, also headed by Vontran, for no financial consideration, according to assessment and taxation records.

Throughout the ownership of Scarfield and Vontran, the property has been plagued by fires - most of which are thought to be arson, according to county officials - illegal squatters and other trespassers on the land and code enforcement violations, including open dumping, electrical and plumbing violations and renting space to commercial entities without occupancy and other required permits.

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Tires again being stored outside Middle River Depot

Tires again being stored outside Middle River Depot
As seen from atop the MD-43 bridge, large masses of tires are being stored behind the main Depot building closer to the MARC train station and in the distance closer to residents' homes on the far end of the property. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/12/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Nearly a year after area residents expressed concerns about tires sitting outside the Middle River Federal Depot, the giant black masses have returned to the area behind the main warehouse building on the site.

First discussed by the Essex-Middle River Civic Council at its June meeting more than a month ago, the tires remained in several large piles outside the Depot as of Monday, July 10.

Community members expressed concerns about the potential for rats and mosquitoes to breed in and around the tires, as well as it being a fire hazard.

After hearing the concerns, the office of Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, initiated a code enforcement complaint for the site.

The Baltimore County Code states that it is a violation to store scrap tires outside for any period of time, no matter the surface they are on top of. Following the complaint, a county code inspector visited the site and issued a correction notice for the tires, which online records show was mailed to the owner and its “resident agent,” listed as attorney Jeffrey Spatz of Gordon Feinblatt, LLC, in Baltimore.

Spatz did not respond by press time to a request for comment on the correction notice or the status of the tires.

“The issue is that large piles of tires and debris are sitting outside the building in the open and uncovered,” said an employee at the county’s Office of Code Enforcement.

This, because of rain water collecting inside the tires, can create a breeding ground for mosquitoes, leading to a potential health hazard for nearby residents, according to the code inspector’s report.

Mosquitoes breeding in the tires can potentially spread diseases such as encephalitis, West Nile Virus and Zika Virus, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment’s website. Tires can also provide breeding grounds for rats, snakes, ticks and other vectors, the site says, and present a fire hazard when improperly stockpiled. And if they are burned illegally, tires emit dangerous oils and soot into the air and water.

The tires were originally slated to be used for a competitive go-kart racing venue inside the Depot called Summit Point Kart which hoped to open this past spring, according to posts on their social media.

The business had signed a five-year lease with the Depot owner to use 200,000 square feet of space inside the building and had planned to use the tires as barriers around their tracks. Following the complaints about them sitting outside last year, the tires were moved inside for that purpose.

However, due to difficulties obtaining permits for operation of the business, the lease was terminated and the tenant vacated the space. The tires were subsequently moved back outside.

In preparation for opening, SPK had designed and laid out four tracks inside the leased space, installed a new ventilation system in the building, ground and prepped the floor surface, along with other improvements to bring the building in line with modern building safety codes, according to the company’s most recent post on its Facebook page.

It has been rumored in the community, though, that the business could not get a use and occupancy permit from the county because the fire suppression sprinkler system still needed to be updated or replaced, which was cost-prohibitive.

The electricity to the building is also rumored to be shut off, which community members suggested could be because of the sprinkler system not being operational.

A representative of Depot owner Middle River Station, LLC, was not available to confirm or deny the rumors.

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Medical marijuana group buys site in Dundalk for dispensary

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

(Updated 7/12/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A division of a Canadian company plans to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Dundalk by mid-December, pending county approvals.

CGX Life Sciences recently bought the two-story building and garage at 7458 German Hill Road across from the St. Andrews cemetery in May for $500,000, according to state property records.

The dispensary, scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, will be one of more than 100 facilities set to open soon around the state, which now allows marijuana to be grown, processed and dispensed for medical use by registered patients.

A one-time barbershop, the CGX location is bounded by rowhouses to the east, a park to the north and the Speedy Mart convenience store to the west.

At a zoning hearing on Monday, July 10, representatives said they had met with County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk and Essex, and Nora Baublitz of the Berkshire Community Association about the project.

They said they expect to also meet with Berkshire association members in the fall.

The dispensary is allowed by right under county zoning regulations but will need relief from some landscaping and drive aisle requirements. A decision from a county administrative law judge is expected within the week.

CGX representatives also said they expect to employ 20 to 25 full-time employees, some of whom will work one-on-one with qualifying clients, who will need to register with the state and get certificates from participating doctors.

State law allows two cannabis dispensaries per legislative district, and the Dundalk location falls within District 6, encompassing Dundalk and Essex.

Going through the approval process in legislative District 7 is a group called Chesapeake Health Sciences, which met in May with community leaders regarding plans to open a dispensary at 5512 Ebenezer Road in White Marsh, just west of the Pulaski Highway intersection at Red Lion Road.

Formerly a Sprint mobile phone store, the building was most recently occupied by the Dave’s Deals pawn shop which has now moved.

District 7 stretches from Bowleys Quarters on the Chesapeake Bay waterfront and north to the Pennsylvania line.

Councilman David Marks, R-5, has proposed a bill (Bill 44-17) that would prohibit a facility within 800 feet of a future public school site, restrict cannabis facilities near schools and require that companies notify County Council members if they apply for a permit or special exception under zoning regulations. The bill is set for discussion at the Council’s Aug. 1 work session.

A list of growers, processors and dispensaries going through the state approval process can be found  along with information about registering to use medical marijuana, at the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission website at mmcc.maryland.gov.

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MDE gives update on Sparrows Point cleanup progress

MDE gives update on Sparrows Point cleanup progress
This map, provided by MDE, shows the status of the different parcels making up the 3,100-acre Sparrows Point former steel mill property.

(Updated 7/12/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Over the past three years, tremendous progress has been made in the effort to clean up industrial pollution at Sparrows Point, according to Barbara Brown, who has overseen the operation for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

MDE, along with environmental consultants and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and property owner Tradepoint Atlantic (TPA), held a meeting late last month to update the public on just how much progress has been made at the 3,100-acre former steel mill property.

Brown said the current process started in September 2014 with an administrative consent order and a settlement agreement that laid out the pathway by which Sparrows Point would be cleaned up and moved forward with redevelopment.

“There is a lot of activity that has taken place in these last few years with assessing and conducting investigations on a large percentage of the property,” she said, adding that they had just gotten started with investigating some of the parcels in 2015.

Brown first highlighted documents that showed nearly 70 percent of the acreage under investigation on the peninsula has at least a work plan approved by the relevant government agencies, meaning work can move forward to determine exactly what must be done. A smaller percentage of that acreage, though, is further along in the process, having its investigation completed or even a final cleanup plan approved.

MDE is investigating each parcel individually, looking for soil, groundwater and soil gas contamination that needs to be addressed. But what has been helpful, Brown said, is the availability of historical documents showing where pollutants were buried and where certain steelmaking processes were carried out.

“We still have access to a number of very detailed historical records that show where on the property there were processes that were likely to cause releases - things like oil tanks, sumps, pits, machine shops - anywhere chemicals or petroleum could potentially be used as part of the process,” she explained.

Additionally, where there is redevelopment potential, if there is a large building in the plan, it may itself be part of the environmental remedy because the concrete poured over the soil will prevent anyone from coming in contact with it.

“So there’s a number of sites that we’ve received response and development work plans for which also act as an interim measure under the EPA classification,” Brown said.

Specifically, Brown discussed the former site of the Rod and Wire mill toward the northwest of the property. Used for that mill from the 1940s - 1980s, the site is now proposed for a large warehouse structure. But it is also a hot spot for petroleum- and lead-contaminated soil, along with zinc and cadmium. She noted, though, that the site has been studied for a long time, with a pump-and-treat system to treat the groundwater there in place for several years.

“So there was a lot known about this site when we began this process of looking at it for redevelopment,” she said.

Brown also addressed areas near the former location of the blast furnace to the south of the property and the current TPA offices to the northeast, which are also proposed for a series of large, bulk storage warehouses.

The blast furnace location has high amounts of heavy metals, posing a cancer risk. Therefore, the building location was determined by the distribution of the metals so that it can act as an environmental cap for those materials, Brown said.

Likewise, the large area near the TPA offices, which is contaminated with petroleum and some lead, will be capped by the warehouse building. However, there are also some pits in that parcel that must be sampled and closed.

The future site of the massive Under Armour distribution warehouse, also toward the northeast of the property, will similarly be part of that parcel’s environmental remedy, with the floor slab currently being poured acting as an environmental cap.

Additionally, Brown said, the storm water generated from the site during construction is being pumped to the Humphrey’s Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant for treatment. The new stormwater management facilities being built will be lined and routed to new or existing stormwater piping.

“The game plan for as this development proceeds is that there will be a separation of clean stormwater from the parking lot and building runoff and it will not be infiltrating into the ground and will be separated from the groundwater,” she said.

Regarding Coke Point to the southwest of the property, EPA representative Luis Pizarra said there are interim cleanup measures underway in the former Coke Oven area. He called it “legacy” environmental work because it is taking place under the consent decree signed in 1995.

Work there consists of continued sampling of the groundwater and working to increase its pH level so the dissolved heavy metals and other contaminants will precipitate out and can be removed.

Pizarra said 53 extraction wells in the area have also helped to remove 12,000 pounds of hydrocarbons from the groundwater, which has been under investigation since the 1980s.

Shifting northward, Russ Baker, a consultant with EnviroAnalytics Group, said he has been working with TPA to investigate and address contamination in the Tin Mill Canal.

The canal, which is about 7,500 feet long and ranges from 30 to 50 feet wide, was orginially constructed from steel mill slag and intended to act simply as a swale to direct stormwater from the site, Baker said. It was constructed between the 1950s and 1969 and reaches about 15 feet in depth.

Primary contaminants found in the canal’s sediments, he said, are polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are industrial solvents, and oil and grease.

“It’s expected that how they got there was some significant period of time ago,” Baker explained, because of their depth between four and five feet into the sediment.

He added that the highest concentration of contaminants in the canal were found, not surprisingly, in four 50-foot sections adjacent to the former site of the tin mill.

Extensive investigations are also taking place for the offshore areas surrounding the property.

Greg Ham, the on-scene coordinator with the EPA for the offshore investigations, said they are using Superfund money to study what contamination is present in the offshore sediments, as well as how to remedy it and identify funding sources for the actual cleanup.

Ham specified that he is in the "removal" program as opposed to the "remedial" program, working on "non-time critical" removals - "any project that will take more than six months, but still presents a risk that needs to be addressed," he explained.

The offshore investigations are focused on three major areas: the northwest, the southeast and around Coke Point.

Workers have completed their assessment of the northwest area, Ham said, showing that there is an ecological risk because of contamination from oil and grease, PCBs and metals such as nickel and zinc. But the area poses no real direct human health risk; they would simply advise people to limit the amount of fish they consume from the area.

He said remedy options would include variations of dredging and capping of contaminated areas, and he estimated that the remainder of the process for the northwest - including options and cost analysis and plan development - would be complete by the end of this year.

In the southeast area, Ham said the first round of sediment sampling was done last summer and the second round was planned for this month.

Surface samples found mainly metals contamination, including copper, chromium and lead, but with nickel and zinc again being the highest concentrations.

This month's sampling will be sub-surface, reaching up to four feet down into the sediments to see how deep the contamination goes.

Samples will be taken "pretty much all the way up Jones Creek," Ham said, adding that they will be taking stormwater outfall samples from the area as well.

Regarding Coke Point, Ham said the area was looked at by the Maryland Port Administration in the past, but there is no work taking place there currently.

"So there's a pretty good characterization of that area," he said, adding that it will be done sometime in the future.

All work plans for the Sparrows Point cleanup are available on MDE’s website at http://mde.maryland.gov.

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Bill battles split Council along party lines

(Updated 7/10/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

At the last Baltimore County Council meeting on July 3, members voted 7-0 to set into law a longstanding policy that prohibits them from accepting campaign contributions during the politically charged Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

But the unanimous vote for that bill proved to be only a brief lull in the action, as the Democratic majority of four voted down several other bills supported by the three Republicans.

The tone of the meeting was unusual because Council votes don’t typically split so cleanly along partisan lines.

The Democrats defeated Bill 41-17, sponsored by Republican David Marks, who represents Perry Hall and Towson, that would have put warning devices on roads to slow down speeding drivers.

Neighborhoods that don’t qualify for the county’s traffic calming program would have been eligible through an application process. Marks said residents from Towson had tried asking the county administration for the devices without success.

Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6), who represents Middle River and White Marsh, questioned money for the devices coming out of county’s speed camera revenues, which fund the police body camera program.

Council Chair Tom Quirk (D-1), who represents Catonsville and Arbutus, said he’d be willing to work with Marks to find alternative funds, but voted with the majority to defeat the bill.

Public input bills
The Council also voted four to three along party lines to defeat two bills by Councilman Wade Kach (R-3), who represents northern Baltimore County. Kach said he submitted them in hopes of encouraging more public input into county government decisions.

Bill 40-17 would have required the county executive to hold two public budget hearings before submitting the annual spending plan to the County Council.

A debate ensued between Republicans and Democrats about ways to pitch the county executive for money in the budget for projects and services.

“Your agenda becomes his agenda and your communities are made whole,” said Bevins about Council members working with the county executive.

Kach replied by noting the practice of speaking at public hearings: “What’s wrong with people addressing the county executive directly?”

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk and Essex, said Council members, with the help of advocates, had succeeded in getting additional money from the Kamenetz administration to fight neighborhood rat infestations.

But Crandell also agreed with Kach and Marks about the value of encouraging public input into the county budgeting process.

“[It’s] good government, considering the budget is more than $3 billion,” he said.

Kach’s second bill voted on during the meeting would have rescheduled the Council’s Tuesday-afternoon work sessions from 2 p.m. to the evening, making it easier for people who work during the day to testify on bills before final Council votes.

Democrats argued the shift could add to staff overtime costs and that it wouldn’t help people who work in the evenings. They defeated the bill with another 4 - 3 vote.

Ethics training
Meanwhile, a fourth bill introduced by Democrat Vicki Almond, who represents Reisterstown, Pikesville and part of Owings Mills, won majority Democratic support.

The bill requires that certain elected county officials and appointed employees, as well as lobbyists registered with the county, complete ethics training for matters such as financial disclosure and conflicts of interest.

Maryland counties are required to pass legislation that is at least similar to state ethics legislation.

Bevins said the Campaign for Liberty, a group founded by Libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, had been “all over social media” opposing the bill and arguing that it threatened to interfere with citizens’ right to free speech.

“[T]hey want to increase the costs and legal risks of citizen activism in hopes that we'll run and hide,” according to a July 4 post on Facebook by the group’s Baltimore County chapter.

Marks and Kach asked if citizen activists are considered lobbyists who must resister with the county and take the training, and if yes, whether that might put a damper on citizen involvement.

“I don’t want community activists caught in this,” Kach said.

Crandell made a motion to table the bill, which was quickly voted down by the four Democrats.

Quirk ended the debate by asking the County and Council attorneys if they thought the bill would affect citizen groups. They said no, and Democrats voted 4 - 3 to pass the bill.

The County Council is scheduled to meet again for a work session on Aug. 1.

Starting in August, the Council staff will also begin live streaming both the Council’s work sessions and Monday legislative meetings. Work sessions  taped so far are archived at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil/meetings.

In addition, Comcast’s public access Channel 25 reruns the most recent Council legislative meeting once a day on Mondays through Fridays. The start times, which vary depending on the day, are posted in a calendar at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/News/bctvscheduleprogram.html.

Johnny Olszewski Jr. officially kicks off county executive campaign

Johnny Olszewski Jr. officially kicks off county executive campaign
Approximately 100 people attended Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s campaign rally at the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Dundalk on Tuesday, June 27. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 7/5/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Four years after losing the District Six State Senate race to Senator Johnny Ray Salling, former Delegate Johnny Olszewski Jr. is firing up another campaign, this time for county executive.

Seeking the Democratic nomination, Olszewski, 34, announced his candidacy at a campaign kick-off event in Woodlawn last Tuesday, June 27, before ending the day with a rally at the Battle Grove Democratic Club in Dundalk.

Olszewski is the first to officially announce his campaign for the Democratic nomination, and he wasted no time in laying out a progressive platform consisting of universal pre-kindergarten, expanding free breakfasts and lunches and making the Community College of Baltimore County tuition-free.

“There’s no better investment in education, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. If making pre-k and college open and feeding our kids is progressive, I’m happy to have this race being decided on whether that’s the right move,” said Olszewski in an interview with the East County Times.

Olszewski, a former teacher at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, acknowledged that education is his highest priority. He highlighted the need to continue with the county’s school construction plan but added that more needs to be done to ensure the county’s children have the tools they need to grow. For Olszewski, that means prioritizing.

He noted that, should he be successful in his campaign, a comprehensive spending audit would be done to see where funds could be shifted. Olszewski pointed to the STAT program, which puts tablets in the hands of students, as something that could be done away with.

“There’s certainly some value [in STAT], but for me, if it came down to investing in one versus the other, having taught in classrooms where kids haven’t had a meal or they’re trying to learn in sweltering heat, I know that there’s no bigger priority than feeding our kids and making sure they’re in a safe, comfortable learning environment,” said Olszewski. “No curriculum or other program is going to be as useful if kids don’t have foundational needs met.”

Olszewski also noted that there were other ways to get funding, including through the federal government and through public/private partnerships with non-profits and businesses.

In Baltimore County, four schools already take part in a free meals program, while two take part in a free pre-kindergarten program.

“We’ll go and we’ll find partners, be it the federal government, or whoever, to help fund things like meals for kids,” Olszewski said. The former delegate also noted that he still has strong relationships at the state level that could be useful in bringing more money into the county.

Olszewksi’s relationships at the state level were on display at his campaign kick-off events, with Delegate Pat Young (D-Woodlawn) and Senators Kathy Klausmeier (D-Perry Hall) and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Woodlawn) putting their support behind Olszewski.

“I want Johnny Olszewski Jr. to be the next county executive,” said Klausmeier at the Battle Grove Democratic Club. “For the sake of Baltimore County, we need him in county government. We’ve had many conversations and I’m excited to support him.”

“We’re strong in the county... because we have advocates like Johnny Olszewski Jr.,” said Young. “He invests in people, he invests in neighborhoods, he invests in people’s ideas of what they want their community to be, and he helps them with that.”

Pulling in early support from elected officials at the state level could prove to be a huge push for Olszewski. While Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-Reisterstown) and State Senator Jim Brochin (D-Towson, north county) weigh the decision to run, Olszewski has gotten out ahead of the curve.

But the young Democrat, who is telling constituents to refer to him by the more folksy “Johnny O.,” knows that he’ll need his campaign to be more of a grassroots effort if he wants to come out on top, and that’s exactly what he’s working toward.

Over the last year, Olszewski has been working his way around the county with his group, Better Baltimore County, building relationships and partnerships. He’s spent a lot of time building up support in the heavily Democratic Woodlawn area, which Young and Nathan-Pulliam represent.

Keeping in line with a grassroots movement mentality, Olszewski stressed that he would like to see campaigns in Baltimore County utilize public funding to keep special interests at bay. Similarly, Brochin has called for a ban on developer contributions to county candidates.

“What I like about a public finance system is it’s the voters who fund your campaign and vote, so it’s solely for them,” said Olszewski. “There’s no question about whether or not there was influence coming from somewhere else.”

Olszewski highlighted Governor Larry Hogan as a successful example of a politician utilizing public funds. He also stressed that his position wasn’t a shot at developers or business, but one that’s focused on individual citizens.

“I’m not anti- or pro-development, I’m smart development,” said Olszewski. “If a project makes sense, grows and strengthens our communities and we can pull it off financially, I’m all for it. I don’t want to chase off anyone. But development needs to be citizen and community centered, and the best way to do that is recognize there are all kinds of special interests in the county.”

Despite losing in his last race in 2014, Olszewski is hopeful for his chances this time around. While he only lost his race by 2.8 percentage points, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, now a Congressman, lost Baltimore County to Hogan by just over 20 points. Hogan remains highly popular in the county, and statewide he has an approval rating of 65 percent as of March.

“If you’re investing in good schools and job creation, that’s something that resonates across party lines,” Olszewski stated.

While Olszewski hasn’t officially filed his campaign, he still has plenty of time. When asked when Olszewski plans to file, Olszewski’s campaign manager, Tucker Cavanaugh, responded, “Before Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, at 9 p.m.,” which is the deadline to file with the State Board of Elections.

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McDonough compares campaign initiatives to former Governor Schaefer’s

McDonough compares campaign initiatives to former Governor Schaefer’s
Del. Pat McDonough at his first county executive campaign breakfast event at Jad's Caddyshack restaurant in February. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 7/5/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Following his declaration as a candidate for Baltimore County Executive, State Delegate Pat McDonough embarked on a “listening and learning” tour of the county to find out what people think are the most important issues they face.

After speaking with community and business leaders all over the county, as well as four county government agencies, McDonough said at a campaign event on June 24, “people are in agreement from Catonsville to Dundalk” that the top issue is that the county is rapidly moving in the wrong direction.

He believes 2018 will be a “keystone” election because the county is “at a crossroads.”

“If we make a mistake and elect the wrong person, we will go for another four years in the wrong direction and at that point in time the county will be lost,” McDonough said.

He pointed to growing crime and poverty rates and escalating violence in schools as major problems in the county.

“We need a leader who is going to address these problems and try to find solutions to move this county in the right direction,” he said.

McDonough has been labeled “the Donald Trump of Baltimore County” in the media and has since embraced the title. But his model and narrative for this campaign is not Donald Trump, it is Donald Schaefer, he said, referring to former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer.

McDonough said Baltimore County today can be compared to Baltimore City circa 1971 - a lot of issues that need to be solved, but also a lot of unfulfilled potential.

The delegate noted that there has been a 35-percent increase in incidents involving weapons in Baltimore County Public Schools over the last two years for a total of 311 incidents. He said BCPS this coming year will surpass the number of such incidents in the city’s schools.

For its part, BCPS has responded to the claim with their belief that much of what people are seeing is either old videos resurfacing on social media or things happening in areas outside the school board’s jurisdiction.

However, the school system has admitted to seeing an increase in anonymous reporting of such incidents by students.

McDonough also said there has been a 38-percent increase in poverty in the county over the last eight years. “Which means we have more people on poverty-level status in the county than we’ve ever had,” he said.

He said there is also a growing problem of vacant houses in the county.

McDonough also commented on the “enormous” drug problem in the county, particularly with heroin and other opiates, along with a growing crime rate, which he said is “mostly unreported.”

Baltimore County officials have touted in recent years a decrease in overall crime and especially violent crime, seeing their lowest numbers since the 1970s. However, unreported crimes would not affect those numbers.

The second-biggest issue in the county, McDonough believes, is insider politics and the influence special interests have on county government.

He said the previous three county executives - Dutch Ruppersberger, Jim Smith and Kevin Kamenetz - spanning the last 24 years, all had the “same operation.”

“They listened to the powerful insiders, collected the money and did what they were told to do,” McDonough said. “If you wanted a deck built onto your house, you could get it. If you wanted a 10-story condo [building] built in a neighborhood where it didn’t belong, you could get it.”

He asserted that they did not care about the people, but McDonough is offering his “Put People First” contract highlighting many of the issues he wants to address as county executive, such as crime, schools, special interests and illegal immigration without going into partisan politics.

“What that means is that the corruption and the neglect in Towson will be over when I’m sworn in,” he said. “It’s about saving the county and building a great future.”

Regarding illegal immigration, McDonough said Baltimore County is second only to Montgomery County in the state for its acceptance of undocumented immigrants.

McDonough criticized the Baltimore County Council for rejecting legislation last month that would have seen Baltimore County work more closely with the federal government on illegal immigration via its 287(g) program.

The program reports to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when undocumented immigrants commit crimes and finish their prison sentences here, giving ICE the opportunity to pick them up for deportation.

Baltimore County Council members, in their tabling of the measure, expressed concern over added costs the program could bring to the county and stressed that the county’s corrections officials already report to and cooperate with ICE on a daily basis. They also maintained that Baltimore County is not a “sanctuary county.”

“On my first day in office, I take out the red pen,” McDonough said, “all immigration policies gone.” He added that he has a close relationship with the White House and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “There are numerous programs we will bring into Baltimore County, including money.”

While McDonough stressed the link between himself and Schaefer, rather than Trump, he touted his closeness with the Trump administration on several issues, particularly with regard to obtaining federal funding for his initiatives.

He stated he wants to institute a “sector policing” method of law enforcement which would see police in every neighborhood and who have close relationships with residents.

McDonough would also seek to initiate what he called “project exile” for offenders who commit crimes using firearms in the county. The program would see those convicted serve their time at a federal penetentiary across the country rather than close by.

To complement the crime initiatives, McDonough said he would seek to have a strong community association in every neighborhood and a community liaison in every County Council district to report back to him with any issues.

He also said sitting County Executive Kamenetz has neglected to sign an executive order which he claimed could bring up to $100 million to the county from the federal and state governments for such community-strengthening programs.

“Unless we reverse the trend in our communities, we’ll be in trouble because they are the foundation of our entire county,” McDonough said.

In the realm of education, McDonough noted he would pursue phasing out of the Common Core standards, using his control of the county’s budget as leverage.

He also criticized former Superintendent S. Dallas Dance for how much he has spent on technology in the classroom.

“Computers are great, but every grade does not need computers,” McDonough opined. “We shouldn’t be spending $200 million on computers.”

The delegate said he would cut that number in half and use the savings to finance rebuilding of aging school facilities around the county.

He lamented that the state gives millions of dollars to subsidize transportation and schools in the city while the county gets very little. And even Baltimore County contributes millions from its budget to arts and entertainment in the city.

“Like Schaefer loved the city, I love this county,” McDonough stated, adding that he wants to spend more to promote tourism in the county. “When I’m county executive, it’s no longer a love-fest for Baltimore City. They’re competition.”

Regarding his potential competition in the race, he said the Democratic primary could greatly affect his chances in the general election, noting that Senator James Brochin and former Delegate John Olszewski Jr. could each cut into his voter base in northern and eastern portions of the county, respectively. But County Councilwoman Vicki Almond would only get votes that McDonough would not get anyway, he said.

Olszewski Jr. officially announced his candidacy last week while Brochin and Almond continue to explore runs for the office. None has filed officially.

McDonough predicted that Brochin and Olszewski will split the vote, allowing Almond to prevail in the primary and paving the way for McDonough to defeat her in the general election.

He also had sharp words for his potential Republican rival for the office, Al Redmer, currently the state’s insurance commissioner.

Although Redmer has not publicly declared his candidacy, McDonough said Governor Larry Hogan is supporting Redmer for the office. But McDonough said Redmer cannot win in the general election because of his political baggage, including that he is currently weighing a requested major increase in rates from insurance companies.

At least one company has requested a 58-percent increase in their rates, and McDonough said Redmer as the insurance commissioner would likely grant in the range of a 30- or 40-percent increase, which could cost him votes.

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Growth issues dominate charter review hearing

(Updated 7/5/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Checks on development and more transparency in government again surfaced as important issues for organized community groups at a recent hearing about proposed changes to the Baltimore County charter.

Several people spoke about the need for preserving the legal weight of the county master plan in land-use disputes and for maintaining the independence of the People’s Counsel, who represents the public in such cases.

“Independence is crucial,” said Elizabeth Wilmerding, a board member with the Valleys Planning Council, during a hearing on Wednesday, June 21, in Towson.

The hearing was hosted by the Charter Review Commission, which is nearing the end of its public discussion of proposed changes that the County Council may approve for the election ballot in November 2018.

Recommendations are due to the Council in October, and Commission Chairman Ted Venetoulis has asked Council attorneys to draft language in time for the commission’s next meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at 10 a.m. in Towson.

The meeting is open to the public and minutes are posted on the Council website.

Most of the 11 speakers at the June 21 hearing were from the central and northern parts of the county. In addition to development issues, they advocated for more time for public comment about bills and last-minute amendments during the Council’s current 40-day process of passing laws.

George Harman, a past president of the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council, suggested a tiered system that would allow a short turnaround time for emergency measures, but 70  to 75 days for more complicated issues.

More time is needed to discuss amendments, said Beth Miller of the Green Towson Alliance, referring to last-minute changes made to bills involving development in central Towson and open space requirements.

“When there are substantial amendments, there is no opportunity to comment,” said Eric Rockel, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council.

Harman and others also advocated for more conservative fiscal management by lowering the debt limit, which they said has risen steadily in recent years.

The county charter currently states that the county’s general obligation indebtedness cannot exceed 10 percent of the assessed value of all real and personal property.

Master Plan
Speakers concerned about development and its potential effect on property values advocated for strengthening the county’s master plan.

Planning power is granted to counties by the state legislature, and in years past, legally binding zoning changes approved by the County Council would sometimes prevail in court over community plans, which are created with citizen input and accepted into the county master plan but considered only guides.

In 2009, however, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Smart and Sustainable Growth Act, which requires consistency between a master plan and local zoning ordinances.

The Baltimore County charter says the zoning maps should be “consistent” with the master plan, but the master plan is referred to as a “guide.”

“It needs more teeth,” Rockel said.

Commission member  John Gontrum, a land-use attorney, suggested including a reference in the section to whatever the state law is.

People’s Counsel
Also raised as a subject for ongoing discussion by the commission is the role of the Baltimore County People’s Council.

Currently part of the Department of Planning and staffed by two part-time attorneys, the office was created in 1974 to defend the county zoning maps approved by the County Council and also advocate for the public interest in zoning and development cases, including appeals to higher courts.

Unlike other county employees, the People’s Counsel does not directly report to anyone - a status created intentionally to help insulate him or her from political pressure.

The position is also not subject to reappointment every four years like some other higher-level county employees. However, the County Executive, who initially appoints the People’s Counsel, can remove him or her with confirmation by at least five of the seven council members.

Access to Information
Speakers also said residents should have an easier time getting requested information from the county when researching issues that could affect their communities.

Constituents can ask for help from their elected representatives but that potentially dips into the relationship between the County Executive and the County Council.

Known as the charter’s separation of powers section, it states that Council members can make requests “for the purpose of inquiry or information” but they cannot “order” or “influence” employees in the performance of their duties.

Speakers said responses to requests for information can be inconsistent and in some cases hostile, with citizens being shuffled between departments or being told they must file a Public Information Act request.

Specific information that is not exempt under the law can be requested by the public in writing, but speakers said the process can take time and money, with information coming back too late to participate in a legislative debate or land-use hearing.

Speakers said when they ask their Council member for help, results can vary depending on the Council member’s standing with the county administration, which can make the process political.

County Attorney Michael Field, who sits on the 11-member charter commission, said he spends about 20 percent of his time dealing with PIA issues. He also said he recently trained 200 county employees in how to respond to requests.

Last updated in 1990, the county charter broadly defines the powers and responsibilities of the County Executive, who prepares the budget and controls county government, and the County Council, which votes on zoning changes and enacts legislation reflected in the County Code.

The charter has been referred to as the skeleton of county government, while the code has been referred to as the flesh on the bones.

The 51-page charter is included at the beginning of the Baltimore County Code at www.baltimorecountymd.gov. To find it, search for “County Code.”

Minutes of the Charter Review Commission meetings and information about past charter revisions are posted on the county website at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/county council under “Boards and Commissions.”

Dundalk Concerts in the Park series kicks off with No Drama

Dundalk Concerts in the Park series kicks off with No Drama
No Drama front man Michael McClaskey. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 7/5/17)

- By Marge Neal -

There’s a changing of the guard this year with Dundalk’s Concerts in the Park series, but concert-goers will only notice the same great chance to hear some good, free music.

Angel Ball, who has chaired the music series for the past several years, handed the organizational keys over to Joe Buccheri, a broadcaster and promoter well known in local entertainment circles.

“I am very excited about the Concerts in the Park this year,” Ball wrote in a Facebook post advertising this year’s lineup. “Joe Buccheri is the new chairman and I am his trusty sidekick.”

The organizers, through a network of contacts, keep the concerts free to the public by asking bands to perform for free - no easy feat in this economy.

The program also receives financial and in-kind support from the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council, American Media Entertainment, Dunmanway Apartments, Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, Costas Inn, Chick-fil-A of Eastpoint and Kim’s Dessert Island.

Buccheri, who has worked in radio broadcasting and music promotions for many years, praised the generosity of the local music community.

“These guys are so wonderful. It doesn’t matter if its a car show or a benefit concert - whenever I need music, I call upon this group of gentlemen and they are always there for me,” he told the East County Times.

The Dundalk summer concerts have become mini-music festivals, with food trucks and vendors, photo props and spontaneous contests and other activities.

This year, an added element will be a guest performer who will begin each concert with “God Bless America” as the colors are being presented, and then lead the crowd in The Pledge of Allegiance before introducing the main act, according to Buccheri.

The new concerts chairman, whose life was saved by an organ transplant 11 years ago, has embraced his new duty as a way to give back to a community he loves.

“I died on the table during the transplant and they paddled me back,” he said. “Going through something like that, your whole perception of life changes abruptly.

“Anything like this volunteer position that allows me to help others while doing something I love is a gift.”

The annual series of Thursday-night concerts kicks off at 6:30 p.m. July 13 with a performance by No Drama, an acoustic classic rock band.

The band bills itself as a “four-piece acoustic-based amplified group with an electrified kick that plays all greatest danceable classic rock from the 60s, 70s and 80s,” according to its listing on the Maryland Party website.

Established in 2014, No Drama boasts veteran musicians Michael McClaskey (guitar, keyboards, mandolin, harmonica and vocals), Mike Soukup (guitar and vocals), Greg George (bass, vocals and keyboards) and Jay Wise (percussion and vocals).

The band is well-known to eastern Baltimore County audiences, having played at restaurants, pubs and marinas in Essex, Middle River, Dundalk, Parkville and Perry Hall.

Concert organizers encourage attendees to bring the entire family, blankets or camp chairs and enjoy an evening of free, live music.

Complete schedule:

July 13: No Drama (acoustic classic rock)
July 20: Russ Greene Blues Band
July 27: Chris Presley (Elvis tribute)
Aug. 3: Point Boys (classic rock)
Aug. 10: Family Tradition Band (country rock)
Aug. 17: Funktionality (rhythm and blues)
Aug. 24: Pet Rock (classic rock)

All concerts begin at 6:30 p.m.

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County Council to vote Monday on important bills

County Council to vote Monday on important bills

(Updated 6/30/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A resident from Bowleys Quarters journeyed to Towson this week to express his opinion about several significant bills up for a vote by the County Council on Monday, July 3.

“It doesn’t solve the problem, it just changes the timing,” said Allen Robertson about a bill that would prohibit campaign contributions during the Council’s rezoning process.

Prohibitions on accepting money are currently in place as a policy but not as a law.

Robertson, who heads the Bowleys Quarters Community Association, said he was speaking as an individual because the association’s board had just recently met and had not yet taken a formal position on the bills.

Scott Collier from the Dundalk TV YouTube channel also attended the work session on Tuesday, June 27, where Council members heard as well from the public about additional bills addressing ethics training, public hearings, speeding in residential neighborhoods and commercial solar panels on farms.

The proposed bills are posted at www.baltimorecountymd.gov under County Council/legislation. The Monday meeting is set to start at 6 p.m., and Council members could introduce amendments to the bills before voting.

Campaign contributions
Bill 36-17 introduced by Vicki Almond, (D-2) would prohibit council members from holding fundraisers or accepting campaign contributions during the year-long Comprehensive Zoning Map Process.

Held every four years, the CZMP is when Council members are sometimes heavily lobbied to change the zoning on land through a legally binding vote that can significantly affect development projects and neighborhood property values.

Robertson argued the bill prohibits fundraising and contributions during the CZMP, but not before or after the year-long review.

“There has to be a change in the process; let’s address the real issue,” he said, arguing that there is a perception that contributors will get something in return for their money.

Robertson mentioned a project in Bowleys Quarters, which he claimed exceeded the allowable number of houses, a claim that Cathy Bevins (D-6) who represents the area, sharply disputed, citing a document issued by the county.

“I didn’t get a dollar from that person,” Bevins said.

Almond also took exception to the implication that council member decisions are influenced by campaign contributions.

“[People] just assume we don’t have any integrity,” she said. “It bothers me when people assume the worst when it’s not true.”

Ethics training
Bill No 35-17, also introduced by Almond, is similar to state law and would require that certain county employees and appointees, registered lobbyists and the elected County Council complete at least two hours a year of ethics training, such as disclosure about conflicts of interest, by the county Ethics Commission.

“There are no provisions for noncompliance,” said Robertson, noting that the bill as posted on the Council website does not specifically mention the county executive position.

Bevins replied that wording in the bill refers to “elected officials.”

Council work sessions
Bill 39-17 introduced by Councilman Wade Kach (R-3) would reschedule work sessions, which are currently held on Tuesdays at 2 p.m., to 6 p.m. or later in the  evening.

“It’s about openness, transparency and giving the public another opportunity to participate in our system,” Kach said.

Other council members said it would make it more difficult for people who work in the evening and that it could mean additional overtime costs for staff. They also noted that constituents already make good use of phone calls and emails to communicate with council members.

Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents Dundalk and Essex, suggested scheduling some of the work sessions in the evening and keeping some during the day.

“We could stagger some and see how it works,” he said.

Robertson suggested starting work sessions at 4:30 or 5 p.m. with other council business, which would give speakers more time to arrive before the end of the meeting.

Budget bill hearings
Bill No. 40-17, also proposed by Kach, would require the county executive to hold at least two public meetings so that residents could voice their spending priorities the to county executive before he or she presents the annual budget to the County Council for approval.

“It’s more than $3 billion,” said Kach about the capital and operating budgets. “This is the people’s money. All the council can do is cut, not set priorities.”

Budget hearings are currently held early in the budgeting process by the Planning Board and Board of Education, but hearings are not held by the county executive.

“It’s also going to benefit the county executive to [hear from] people, who have good ideas, there’s no question about it,” Kach said.

The county executive presented the budget in early April, which was followed by a County Council hearing on April 25. The council then spent several weeks reviewing the budget department-by-department before voting to approve it in late May.

Speed warning signs
Bill 41-17 introduced by David Marks, R-5, who represents Perry Hall and Towson, would place two solar-powered speed monitors in each Council district to remind drivers of how fast they are going.

The solar-powered devices, which council members said are popular with constituents, are not cameras and do not generate speeding tickets.

“I think it’ll be a deterrent,” said Marks about the speeding problems common to many neighborhoods in the county.

He said the initial cost for 14 devices, which he sees as a pilot project, would cost $42,000. He said that is less than 1 percent of the $7.3 million a year that speed cameras generate for the county.

Crandell said he could think of at least 10 streets in his district where the devices would be helpful. “What’s the criteria for deciding who gets what?” he asked.

Marks said the devices would be available to neighborhoods that don’t qualify for the county’s traffic calming program, which installs things like speed bumps to slow down drivers.

Neighborhoods could apply and the placement of the monitors would be up to the county Department of Public Works, he said.

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Registration ‘explodes’ for annual BRRC golf tournament

Registration ‘explodes’ for annual BRRC golf tournament
The Back River Restoration Committee’s annual golf tournament at Rocky Point Golf Course overlooking Back River, although delayed slightly by the rain, still saw an increase of about 50 golfers over last year. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Despite the persistent rain before the start, excitement was in the air Friday, June 23, for the sixth annual golf tournament hosted by the Back River Restoration Committee at Rocky Point Golf Course in Essex.

“Rain or shine, people still turn out to support Back River,” said BRRC President Sam Weaver.

With the shotgun start scheduled for 8 a.m., golfing only had to be delayed by about a half-hour on what turned out to be a beautiful day, according to BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn.

The event had enjoyed mostly good weather in its previous five years with only a quick spat of rain in 2016, she said. And its reputation has apparently grown with 130 golfers registered for this year’s tournament.

“This year exploded,” Wynn said of the number of golfers, noting that last year only saw about 80.

BRRC also listed 67 sponsors for the day, counting 62 tee sponsors - including the East County Times - and five others. For instance, Brewer’s Landing donated the beer and liquor for the event, Rocky Point Golf Course sponsored by hosting the event, Joe McGee and Advantage Signs donated all the signage, Bimbo Bakeries supplied the bread for the bull roast that followed, and the Porter family was the event’s breakfast sponsor.

The Porter family is connected to the BRRC via Weaver’s sister, who lives on Kent Island across the Chesapeake Bay, but sees the trash that ends up there if it is not caught at Back River, according to Wynn.

“Trash comes from here and goes over that way. She’s seen it, she grew up here,” Wynn said of Weaver’s sister, adding that she “quite frequently” makes both equipment and monetary donations to BRRC.

The Carroll Motor Fuels team came in first place on the day and opted to donate their entire $400 pot of winnings back to BRRC. The second place team similarly donated $50 of their winnings to the organization.

While final numbers were not yet available Monday for how much funding the event brought in, the golf tournament is one of three major events each year that benefit BRRC, the largest being their annual rockfish tournament held in September and the third being the Rockin’ on the River music festival.

“It was a beautiful day along the banks of the Back River,” said David Sikorski, director of Maryland’s arm of the Coastal Conservation Association and who competed in the tournament.

He joked that he and his team could have played better, but still had fun while supporting the BRRC.

“We’re happy as a fellow conservation and environmental-based organization to help support Back River and the work they do,” Sikorski said. “And as fishermen and boaters, our members are proud to support them. We’re all in it together and it’s a shared resource. Every group has got to help out their allies.”

Weaver stressed that all funds raised will be used to support clean-up efforts throughout the river’s watershed.

“It’s a great event considering all the funds are being used to clean up Back River, which we were playing on,” he said.

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Independence Day in Dundalk means strolling the fair, striking up bands, cueing fireworks

Independence Day in Dundalk means strolling the fair, striking up bands, cueing fireworks
Well-known artists, such as Joan Jett, have long provided entertainment for the Heritage Fair crowds. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Dundalk is throwing a $300,000 Independence Day party and you’re invited.

The gathering starts with an open house of sorts at 4 p.m. Friday, June 30, when the 42nd annual Heritage Fair kicks off at Heritage Park in downtown Dundalk. The three-day festival features a non-stop schedule of live music acts, carnival rides and attractions, food and beverage stands, business vendors, community organization booths, craft tents and a beer garden with karaoke.

The festival runs through Sunday, with a day of recuperation before the Independence Day parade at 8:15 Tuesday morning, July 4, and the fireworks at dusk the same day. Parade early birds can cheer on the participants in the Dundalk Heritage 6K road race beginning at 7 a.m. The 3.72-mile run starts at CCBC Dundalk  and follows the parade route before ending at Dundalk Middle School on Dunmanway.

This year’s fair includes time-honored traditions as well as some new attractions, including a few new bands, an increased business vendor area and a new starting time for opening day, according to Heritage Association of Dundalk President Joe Falbo.

“For the first year, we will be opening at 4 p.m. Friday instead of noon,” Falbo said in a phone interview. “Friday is a work day for most people and attendance is low until later in the day - it just makes it easier on everyone involved.”

Headlining musical acts this year are KIX (8 p.m. Friday), Hotel California, an Eagles tribute band (8 p.m. Saturday) and .38 Special (8 p.m. Sunday). Other popular acts include The Gigs, Dean Crawford and the Dunn’s River Band and The Mahoney Brothers with their Beatlemania production. The Sparrows Point High School steel drum band will also appear again this year.

Asked if he’s looking forward to any particular acts, Falbo laughed.

“Honestly, I’m usually stuck in the trailer,” he said of the fair office. “I’m taking care of  lots of paperwork, trouble-shooting and putting out little fires that pop up here and there.”

Heritage Fair is similar to Thanksgiving dinner in that there is a lot of preparation for an event that seems to come and go in the blink of an eye.

Volunteers work pretty much year-round on the effort, with planning intensifying each January with the main selection of musical acts, according to Falbo. Many fair volunteers take vacation time from their jobs to install fencing, provide security, keep the fair grounds clean and the trash cans emptied and work as parking attendants, Falbo said.

Fundraising is a constant, with money coming from three major sources -  corporate donations, contributions from individuals and smaller local businesses and ticket money at the gate.

“We hope to break even each year, and any profit that we might make gets us started on the next year,” Falbo said. “When we book the acts in January, many of them require a 50-percent deposit to sign them.”

The fair is an expensive party to throw, according to Falbo, with many hidden costs, such as those for sound equipment and truck rentals, liability insurance and portable toilets in addition to more obvious expenses like entertainment.

“We have a $7,000 bill for spot-a-pots alone,” he said. “It all adds up.”

Promotions and fundraising chairwoman Angel Ball has been busy soliciting donations from the community and is especially excited about Weis Markets agreeing to be the fair’s main sponsor.

“Weis stepped up and essentially replaced Mars as a major sponsor,” she said of the grocery store chain that bought several former Mars stores, including two in Dundalk. “They donated $20,000, which is a major donation for us, and we really appreciate them supporting us like that.”

The grocer will also provide reusable shopping bags that will be given out at the gate Saturday and Sunday, while supplies last, Ball said.

Ball said a campaign to get businesses to buy sponsorship banners that will hang on the fair’s perimeter fence throughout the weekend has been successful, and a recent quarter auction raised $3,000 in three hours.

“Dundalk really came through for the auction,” she said. “They packed the house and everyone had a great time. I was very pleased with the results and proud of Dundalk.”

While the gates will open at 4 p.m. Friday, the opening ceremony will begin at 7 p.m and gates will close at 10 p.m. Fair hours are noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Daily admission, which includes all concerts, costs $8. There is no charge for children 12 and younger. Carnival rides and midway games have their own additional costs.

The 83rd annual Fourth of July parade, with the theme, “Dundalk - Our Patriotic Town,” will kick off at about 8:15 a.m. July 4 after organizing at the Logan Village Shopping Center on Dundalk Avenue. The procession will leave the shopping center and travel north on Dundalk Avenue, east on Belclare Road and wind through many Old Dundalk streets before disbanding near Dundalk Elementary School. The complete route is available at the fair website, www.dundalkheritagefair.com.

The fireworks, which are launched from the athletic fields between Grange Elementary School and the North Point Government Center, are scheduled to begin about 9:15 p.m., according to the association’s website. Parking is available at Grange and the government center, as well as CCBC Dundalk.

The complete schedule of events, fair rules and regulations and other relevant celebration information, including for the fireworks, parade and race, is also available on the website.

The festival that started out as a one-time affair to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976 has grown to become a holiday tradition for generations. Many people take vacation to work the events while others take time off to return home to meet up with friends from the past or to share a childhood memory with their own children.

Throwing the party takes its toll on workers, including Falbo, but seeing the end result and knowing how many people look forward to the annual event makes it all worthwhile, he believes.

“I close my business down for two days so I can be there the entire weekend,” he said. “I’m one of the first ones in each morning and one of the last ones to leave each night and it takes a good three days to get my body back when it’s all over. But we all look forward to doing it again next year.”

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Cardin hosts health care town hall in response to Senate bill

Cardin hosts health care town hall in response to Senate bill
Cardin interacted with and took questions from the audience at Franklin Square for over an hour at the event. Some audience members told Cardin their personal stories about how Medicaid saved their lives. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) unveiled the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) - his chamber’s version of the House’s American Health Care Act - Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stopped by Franklin Square Hospital in Rosedale to host a town hall.

A crowd of approximately 50, including health professionals, advocates and regular citizens, expressed their concerns and fears about what passage of the Senate bill would mean for them.

“We’re not angry, we’re fearful,” said one member of the audience.

The 142-page bill, which was drafted solely by a group of Republican Senators behind closed doors, would see massive cuts made to Medicaid over the next 10 years.

In Maryland, approximately 1.2 million people utilize Medicaid, including 83,000 seniors and more than 600,000 under the age of 21, according to a recent study by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. Their study, which was released in March in reaction to the American Health Care Act (AHCA), found that if the state intends to keep Medicaid benefits at current levels, it will need to pay $145.7 million in fiscal year 2020, $696.6 million in fiscal year 2021 and $1.092 billion in fiscal year 2022. While there are differences in the AHCA and the BCRA, those numbers are likely to stay the same for the Senate version of the bill, the study shows.

“The state budget is already strapped, so the question becomes whether or not they’ll be able to pick up the bill,” Cardin said. “And the answer is ‘no.’”

According to early estimations from Cardin’s office, Maryland could lose between $11 billion and $13.5 billion in Medicaid funding over the next 10 years.

“I don’t know what options I’m going to have next week, but I’m going to use every option I have,” Cardin told the crowd.

But Cardin, who floated the possibility of continuously adding amendments to make the process drag for months, may not have to take any additional steps. After the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released their score for the bill, a few Republican Senators, including Susan Collins (Maine), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.), have all said they would vote “no” on a motion to proceed, leaving the bill in limbo. The Republicans hold 52 seats and can only afford to lose two votes on the bill.

Due to the bill being put forward as budget reconciliation, the Republicans need a simple majority to push it through. A tied vote would mean Vice President Mike Pence would be the tiebreaker.

“You’re not gonna get 49. You’re either gonna get 50 or probably 35,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Monday.

Cardin stressed to the audience at his town hall that health care is an issue that needed to be worked on in a bipartisan fashion, alluding to the fact that no Democrats were asked for input on the Senate bill. He also noted that the process for implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) stretched months and included dozens of committee hearings and markup sessions, and that Republicans added over a hundred amendments to former President Barrack Obama’s signature piece of domestic policy.

“The process for implementing the Affordable Care Act was not without controversy, don’t get me wrong,” said Cardin. “There was a great deal of angst regarding why we couldn’t get a bipartisan bill done,” he added, noting that not a single Republican voted for the health care overhaul.

According to the CBO score released Monday afternoon, 15 million more people would be uninsured by 2018 than under the ACA, with that number rising to 19 million in 2020 and 22 million in 2026. The bill would, however, reduce federal deficits by $321 billion over the next decade.

Most notably, the bill would roll back Medicaid expansions. Under the expansion included in the Affordable Care Act, over 300,000 Marylanders have enrolled in Medicaid. They would likely lose coverage under the BCRA.

Where Cardin expressed a lot of concern was with the opioid epidemic. Last year saw Governor Larry Hogan institute a State of Emergency over the health crisis, while dedicating $50 million over the next five years to help with treatment programs and other measures.

According to Cardin, a hard cap on yearly Medicaid spending, which is proposed in the Senate bill, would “have a major impact on our ability to deal with opioid abuse.”

A recent study published by the Associated Press found that “Medicaid expansion accounted for [59] percent of total Medicaid spending on substance abuse treatment in Maryland.” When asked for a response to the article, Christopher Garrett, a representative from Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, stated that “The Hogan Administration and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene remain focused on preserving the level of healthcare coverage the federal government promised to our residents. For this reason, Maryland continues to fight to save waiver funds tied to Medicaid expansion. Those funds have played a big role in serving our residents’ needs, and we continue to pressure Washington to maintain that funding.”

Amelia Chase, the deputy communications director for Gov. Hogan, released a statement deriding the bill, saying “the proposals that are being considered in Congress do not work for Maryland. Congress should go back to the drawing board in an open, transparent and bipartisan fashion to craft a bill that works for all Americans.”

Andy Harris, the Republican representative from Maryland’s First Congressional District, voted for the passage of the AHCA. While he didn’t comment on the BCRA, he did note that “the opioid epidemic claims thousands of lives per year in Maryland” and that “saving those lives is a top priority.”

As of press time, no date had been set for a vote on the bill. And while Republicans in the Senate have expressed concern, it should be noted that many in the House expressed similar concerns before the passage of the AHCA.

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MCM seeks permit to expand processing of slag, other materials at Sparrows Point

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Devin Crum -

MCM Management Corporation has applied for a permit to expand the amount of equipment they have at Sparrows Point which is used for processing slag left behind by steelmaking processes.

The slag, once processed, is used to make material for Tradepoint Atlantic’s (TPA) development projects on the property, as well as backfill material for any excavation done or foundations of demolished buildings.

After being processed, the slag sets up “almost like concrete,” according to Brandon Bonanno, vice president of operations for MCM, to create a solid building pad material for new construction.

MCM has been working at the former steel mill site since 2012 as a tenant of TPA under a 10-year lease and has performed all of the site’s demolition. They have been operating crushing and screening equipment on-site since 2015 under an air quality permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment processing the same types of materials they do today.

The permit, if granted, will make permanent the equipment they already have in place - currently permitted on a temporary basis - while adding new crushers, screening plants and other equipment to essentially double MCM’s processing capacity, Bonanno said.

“They’re all basically the same units, but you need enough of them to be in different areas,” he said.

The company currently has two processing sites for recycling slag on the 3,100-acre property: one in the Ore Yard area near the Lafarge plant and one in the Coke Point area. Both of these plants and all of the new equipment are designed to be mobile so that they can move as needed to where the material piles are, Bonanno explained.

A third site, located near the shipyard and the water tower, is used for demolition debris processing and is stationary.

Richard McFadden, MCM’s operations manager for the slag processing, said average production with the three current facilities is between 400 - 500 tons per hour of material.

He noted that occasionally they will have higher numbers with cleaner material loads, but there are generally a lot of challenges to processing the material which sometimes has scrap in it.

“There aren’t many days when we go out there and work 100 percent on all three plants,” McFadden said, adding that if they did, they may get as high as 8,000 - 9,000 tons of material processed per day.

Bonanno pointed out that the stepped-up operations still will not make them a major source of pollutant emissions and diminished air quality, as explained in their permit application.

He noted that the emissions estimates given in their application are based on “maximum throughputs” of each piece of equipment, meaning if they ran it all at full throttle, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“That is not how we operate,” Bonanno assured, adding that only the plant on the Coke Point side runs at night while all other operations are during the day.

He said that MCM’s emissions and modeling of toxic air pollutants are in compliance with MDE regulations. And, in fact, the company has had no air quality violations since the issuance of their permit.

“We’re an experienced operator of this type of equipment,” Bonanno added. “We have a lot of the ex-Kinder Morgan employees [who formerly did similar work on the property] that we took on when they left,” along with some of their trucks and equipment.

Additionally, Bonnano said, his company often works toward material orders from TPA, through which they tell MCM how much they will need for an upcoming development.

“We’re almost at the crest of what they think they’re going to need shortly,” he said. “We then will drop off, and then our production will kind of ebb and flow because we can’t make material if there’s no demand.”

Fugitive dust control was high on the list for many at the public input meeting for the permit June 14, and Bonanno noted it is a constant concern for them as well.

“Being down here for decades, it’s always been an issue,” he said, noting that they have two 8,000-gallon-capacity water trucks used for wet suppression. “They run constantly. They do roads, they do piles, they do whatever we need them to do, both for the reclamation operations and for other operations that we have on-site.” They also wet down all of the haul roads they use daily, he said.

Bonanno also revealed that, with approval from MDE, they have been testing a new dust-suppression chemical that he said so far has been able to keep the dust down a lot longer than water.

“You put water down on a hot day, it’s gone almost instantly and we have to keep coming back,” he said. “This, at least in the initial stages, has shown that almost for multiple days you still have wetness on the roads.

Bonanno said use of the chemical, which he described as a “commonly used, non-hazardous” calcium chloride solution, is widely used in the industry and they are trying it on their heavily used areas.

Steven Lang, with MDE’s Air Quality Compliance Program, also noted that TPA has gotten approval to put down asphalt millings, which come from road repaving off-site, where they plan to eventually pave on the property.

Lang noted that the slag becomes “almost like talcum powder” when it is crushed. Therefore, they can put the millings down over the slag in certain areas to help control dust because the asphalt does not break down as fast.

Bonanno concluded that the material processing the company does is “a beneficial re-use of something that, had we not done something with it, it would just sit out there and who knows what would happen with the product.”

Merritt Station to be first apartments built in Dundalk in four decades, developer says

Merritt Station to be first apartments built in Dundalk in four decades, developer says
Workers are currently laying the groundwork for the new complex, located behind AutoZone and Denny’s on Merritt Boulevard. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Construction began this month for the $22 million Merritt Station apartment complex on an undeveloped five-acre parcel of land next to the Giant grocercy store on Merritt Boulevard in Dundalk.

The parcel was a “residual” piece of the German Hill Center shopping center behind AutoZone and Denny’s and was already zoned for a mix of retail and commercial uses, according to Brian Lopez of Osprey Property Companies, the developer for the project.

Lopez told members of the Eastfield-Stanbrook Civic Association on June 5 that, excluding senior housing, the project will be the first general occupancy apartments built in Dundalk in over 40 years.

The project will consist of two four-story buildings for a total of 72 residential units, with 10,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor of the buildings. Lopez noted that rents are anticipated to start at about $1,000 per month for a two-bedroom unit and $1,200 for a three-bedroom. They will also range from 800 - 1,000 square feet per unit.

After the developer pointed out that traffic studies prior to the project’s approval did not warrant any new traffic improvements, some attendees expressed concerns that rush-hour traffic on Merritt Boulevard in the area is already bad, and to add more cars with no improvements will cause issues.

“I don’t see how we can’t be at capacity now,” one man said.

Lopez responded that the site was originally slated entirely for commercial uses, which would have involved higher traffic volumes than residential. He acknowledged that retail uses generate a lot of traffic, but said “relatively speaking,” his is a small development.

Lopez also addressed the argument that Dundalk has enough apartments, noting he lived in the area for six years.

“I saw a ton of people move to White Marsh because there was no good housing for people who want to rent,” he said.

He also remarked about the trend of younger people who want to rent first rather than buying houses right away, saying those people want to rent somewhere that is clean, nice and professionally managed.

“And if that’s not here, they’re going to go somewhere else,” Lopez said.

While the developer will receive tax credits from the federal government, which they then sell to investors to help finance the project, Lopez stressed that the apartments are not federally subsidized housing, commonly known as “Section 8.” He said nothing is subsidized on the rent side.

However, if renters come to them with federal, Section 8 housing vouchers, they can accept them.

Lopez said the company that manages most of their 3,500 apartment units throughout Maryland and nothern Virginia does criminal and credit background checks and job verifications on residents, along with quarterly inspections of the units.

“Having a Section 8 voucher holder is not what’s bad for communities; it’s bad management,” he said, pointing to several area properties that are victims of bad management and have become problematic.

Lopez also noted that Tradepoint Atlantic is anticipated to bring a lot of jobs to Sparrows Point and that is the target market for this project - “younger people that want to live in Dundalk and be convenient to everything,” he said.

When asked about building new retail in an area that already has a lot of retail vacancies, Lopez said it has been a big topic of discussion for the company. But from what they have seen, people want to go to new spaces.

He said many of the older, empty spaces do not have things like handicap access, high ceilings, newer technology or higher-capacity electrical wiring.

“There’s a lot of space, but not new space - not higher-end space that people want to move to,” Lopez said.

He noted that their retail space has seen significant interest already, particularly from medical uses such as a dentist’s office, and will get a lot of attention because it is new and is right on the “main drag” of Merritt Boulevard.

He mentioned they are also looking to have a type of coffee shop.

“That would be ideal for us because we like that type of complimentary use,” Lopez said.

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Delegate Metzgar is on a mission to beautify Essex

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6) wants to revitalize Essex, but before he can do that, there’s cleaning to be done.

“I’m just fed up now,” Metzgar told the East County Times. “If you go in some of these alleys you’ll find dead rats, trash, litter. We have got to do better than this as a community.”

Two weeks ago, Metzgar and community activist Kevin McDonough walked along Back River Neck Road, and what the two saw dismayed them both. They observed overflowing garbage, litter accumulating at bus stops, uncut grass, rats and a host of other issues. In his capacity as an elected official, Metzgar stressed to multiple business owners the importance of keeping their properties clean.

“We need [Baltimore County Code Enforcement] to do a sweep through on businesses, because they are getting way out of hand,” said Metzgar.

Metzgar stressed that this isn’t an attack on businesses, but a way to help.

“It’s no attack, it’s just... take pride in your business,” said Metzgar. “A clean business will always do better than one that’s dirty.”

A former small business owner himself, Metzgar knows the importance of keeping a business clean. He said that it used to be commonplace for shopkeepers to sweep up storefronts and hose down the sidewalk before and after a work day, and he’s urging for a return to the practice.

It’s a simple practice but an important one. McDonough echoed Metzgar’s sentiments, noting that businesses that keep things tidy, like Pizza John’s, can thrive. He referred to Pizza John’s as the “gold standard” of cleanliness, and noted that others in the Back River Neck business corridor could learn something from the restaurant.

“[Pizza John’s] has invested a lot of money into renovating that property,” said McDonough. They clean up daily and keep the lawn mowed and tidy. They have neighbors down the street that have untagged vehicles piling up one their properties and two-foot high grass, but that doesn’t deter them because they have pride in their business.”

Both Metzgar and McDonough praised Code Enforcement for their efforts, but McDonough noted that due to a tight budget and understaffing, the agency is largely reactionary and reliant on others reporting issues. And when an agency is reliant upon individuals reporting issues, the bystander effect comes into play.

“It’s hard to get the first person to speak up,” said McDonough. “There’s the assumption that someone else will pick up the litter or someone else will call code enforcement.”

McDonough went on to praise Metzgar for not falling prey to the bystander effect.

“He’ll be the first person to take a step,” McDonough said.

Metzgar praised community leaders like McDonough, Sam Weaver and Cliff O’Connell for the work they have done with bringing awareness to the issue and leading cleanups, but he noted that people should have more pride and not be reliant on the kindness of others.

“It’s just irresponsible,” said State Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6). “People just don’t care, but the thing is they have to care. When you care and you’re being responsible and accountable, all of that together makes a difference.”

With the hope of major growth in the area due to the redevelopment of the old Bethlehem Steel property in Sparrows Point, among other projects, Metzgar and Salling see a prime opportunity to attract new businesses to the area, and they don’t want to see the opportunity wasted due to litter.

“It’s just awful that we’re adults that have to talk to other adults about cleaning their business,” said Metzgar. “Parents tell their kid to clean up their bedroom; well I’m going to play the role of parent here and tell businesses they need to clean up.”

And according to Metzgar, this isn’t an issue that’s relegated to the Back River Neck peninsula, but one that stretches across the district.

“It’s a problem in the business corridor of Back River Neck Road, but it’s also a problem in Middlesex and across the river,” said Metzgar.

One possible solution to the problem that Metzgar floated is bringing back two days of garbage pickup, though that may be difficult since garbage collection was scaled back to one day to accommodate recycling.

“If you check out some of these dumpsters on garbage day, you’ll notice they’re overflowing a lot of the time. Or you have houses with two full cans and multiple bags that wouldn’t fit sitting next to the containers,” said Metzgar. “How many trash cans can you ask a household to buy?”

Metzgar also floated the idea of getting businessmen together to help take care of the issue. And while he is looking to help in any way he can, there isn’t a whole lot he can do as an individual.

“We need more residents and business leaders to take pride in their property and community,” said Metzgar. “It’s as simple as that.”

Todd’s Inheritance offers open house, volunteer opportunities

Todd’s Inheritance offers open house, volunteer opportunities
Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Marge Neal -

After its official ribbon-cutting in April and a rehearsal open house weekend with free admission on Memorial Day, Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site is now open for business, although on a limited basis.

The historic homestead at 9000 North Point Road in Edgemere will get in on Dundalk’s Independence Day celebration by opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 1 and 2, according to Carolyn Mroz, president of Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site.

Volunteer members have continued to work on exhibits and outside projects, including landscaping, since the house opened for its tours in April.

“And we will be changing the exhibits on a regular basis to keep the displays new and exciting for all visitors,” Mroz said.

The house that played an important role in the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812 has a variety of exhibits that pay homage to different aspects of the area. With just the first floor renovated and open to the public, exhibit rooms are dedicated to the War of 1812 as well as to general life on the North Point peninsula. The entrance hallway is dedicated to the history of the Todd family, descendants of which lived in the house for more than 300 years.

Because the house was continually lived in until the 1980s, the house is not decorated in any one period. The building was continually changed and updated for modern life of the day, according to Mroz. As a result, the house is an eclectic mix of construction, plumbing, electrical and finishing techniques that span three centuries, starting with the 1800s reconstruction after the original structure was burned by the British during the War of 1812.

In addition to displays of artifacts, photographs, household items, tools and clothing, portions of the house’s older construction techniques have become displays. A portion of the entrance hallway’s ceiling is deliberately open to allow a glance at the progression of electrical and plumbing materials used over the years. Part of the hallway wall has been covered with modern drywall while another section exposes original brick.

In the gift shop, visitors can see the chimney of a fireplace in the next room. The chimney was encased in clear plastic rather than walled off to allow visitors to see the primitive brick and mortar work. In the corner of the gift shop, a stairwell is similarly encased to enable the view of the floor joists and other construction methods.

“We believe being able to view the construction habits and materials of the day are just as valuable as any other display we could put together,” Mroz said.

While many years of sweat equity and hundreds of thousands of dollars have put the house in its current condition, much remains to be done, Mroz said. The second floor, now closed off, still needs to be completely renovated.

To raise money for the next phase of work, the organization is offering annual memberships, ranging from $30 to $1,000. Membership at all levels of giving includes unlimited free admission to the house and its events.

For those without a membership, daily admission will cost $10 for visitors 16 and older, $7 for senior citizens and free admission for children 15 and under.

The organization is also looking to boost its board and committee membership and offers many different volunteer opportunities to fit a variety of interests, including facility maintenance, grounds and landscaping, displays, fundraising and public relations.

Donations and membership fees can be made by mailing checks, payable to Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site, to 4979 Morning Star Drive, Dayton, MD 21036.

Future open houses are scheduled for Aug. 5 and 6, Sept. 9 and 10, Oct. 28 and 29, and Dec. 2 and 3.

For more information or to volunteer, contact Mroz at cmmroz@hytekltd.com or 443-803-0517.

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Bromwell named Legislator of the Year by hospital association

Bromwell named Legislator of the Year by hospital association
Delegate Eric Bromwell (at podium) led the fight in Maryland to keep pharmaceutical costs from skyrocketing while providing transparency for citizens. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Hospital Association announced recently that is has chosen Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-Perry Hall) as its 2017 Legislator of the Year for his advocacy in the state legislature in the realm of health care.

“The award recognizes an outstanding legislator  who, through his or her efforts in the Maryland General Assembly, promotes legislation that helps ensure health care access for every Marylander, demonstrates support of the Mayland Hospital Association’s legislative goals, supports the work of Maryland’s hospitals to transform the delivery of health care and who is recognized throughout the health care community through hospital and health system activities,” said MSA President and CEO Carmela Coyle in a statement.

In particular, MSA spokesman David Simon said there were two large initiatives in which Bromwell was a key player that were drivers in him being chosen for the award: the bipartisan HOPE Act to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis and his longstanding support for a birth injury fund in the state.

“I consider it one of the biggest recognitions of my career,” Bromwell told the East County Times. “We’re in a unique area in the country and in the world where we have one of the greatest health care delivery systems, and to be recognized by the association that represents Maryland’s hospitals is a really big accomplishment for me.”

The HOPE Act was a comprehensive package of measures which establishes around-the-clock treatment for individuals experiencing substance abuse and mental health crises, and requires hospitals to establish new protocol for discharging patients treated for substance abuse. It also increases access to naloxone, and overdose-reversal drug, and sets greater funding for community behavioral health providers.

“He was instrumental, I would say, in working on both sides of the aisle to bring folks together on some common-sense solutions,” Simon said of Bromwell, “and what we hope will be effective measures to try to mitigate something that has been getting pretty nasty over the past few years.

Bromwell has supported the birth injury fund for years, “but in particular, this session,” Simon said, trying to enhance and augment support among other legislators for a no-fault fund system.

Although the fund legislation did not pass the legislature this year, Simon said, “what [Bromwell] did this year was really build more traction toward its passage.” He added that MSA remains hopeful Bromwell’s efforts will pay off for next year.

In the case of an injury suffered at a hospital, such as a birth injury, according to Simon, the injured party or their family will typically hire a lawyer, the hospital brings in its attorneys and they go through what can be years of litigation.

“And depending on the sympathies of a jury, you may get an award or you may not get an award for what occurred,” Simon said, depending on determination of fault or if there were pre-existing conditions or other circumstances related to the injury.

He said there are “a handful” of cases each year in the state when significant neurological damage occurs to a child during the birth process.

MSA has proposed for several years to establish a no-fault birth injury fund paid for by hospitals so that when these birth injuries occur, rather than going through the courts, “we simply say fault is irrelevant - we want to get compensation to the family as quickly as possible,” Simon explained.

He noted there are similar funds in Virginia and Florida by which families are granted compensation within six to eight months through an administrative process to give lifetime care and assistance for the victim.

“It’s this idea that, rather than play the litigation lottery for these horrific injuries, let’s get people compensation quickly,” Simon said.

“It’s an opportunity to change a broken system in the state of Maryland,” Bromwell said of the fund. “I’ve been proud to sponsor it in the past [despite its failure]. That’s an ongoing battle in Annapolis.”

Bromwell serves as vice chairman of the Health and Government Operations committee in the House of Delegates, playing a crucial leadership role in getting the legislation passed, MSA recognized.

But Simon said Bromwell has functioned in his leadership of the committee to assist new members of the committee to understand the state’s complex health care policies.

“[He is] a delegate who models best practices when it comes to making sure that the body of knowledge is there around health care policy,” he said.

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Engine builder, community activist Brad Wallace dies

Engine builder, community activist Brad Wallace dies

(Updated 6/28/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Bradley L. Wallace, a renowned race car engine builder and precision machinist turned community activist, died suddenly June 20. He was 72.

Wallace was the second generation owner of Wallace Engine Co. in Essex. Founded by his father, Bob Wallace, the company was widely known and respected for its precision work and for mentoring generations of local and not-so-local “gearheads.”

When the engine company property at 1801 Eastern Blvd. was targeted for takeover through a controversial eminent domain law ushered through the Maryland General Assembly in 2000 by then-Baltimore County Executive C.A. Ducth Ruppersberger, Wallace sprang in to action to protect his rights and those of other targeted property owners.

“That issue really sparked a fire in him,” longtime friend and customer Jason Smith said of Wallace. “When he discovered that his family property, the business that his father started, was under attack, he got extremely fired up to do something about it.”

Bradley Wallace recalls his father rallying a community to save itself from what was often referred to by area residents as a “land grab” by Ruppersberger.

“It was David taking on Goliath and David won,” Bradley said of his father. “My dad just wouldn’t lay down.”

The elder Wallace was one of the original activists who organized a movement, gathered signatures and ultimately overturned the law by way of voter referendum.

Wallace was born and raised in Essex and was a 1963 graduate of Kenwood High School.

“He spent 66 of his 72 years in Essex and the other six all over the world,” Bradley said. “He only left Essex for the Vietnam War.”

When Smith first got involved in auto racing, he was introduced to Wallace by an uncle who told him that Wallace was the guy to go to with any problem or question having to do with an engine.

“And what many people don’t know is that Brad didn’t just know racing engines,” Smith said. “Whether it was a garden tractor engine, a boat, a race car, even an airplane engine, Brad and his dad were the guys to go to.”

Wallace was just a “regular guy” who looked out for and was well-liked by other regular guys, according to Smith.

Many local racers are hobbyists who work full-time and pursue racing as weekend recreation, he said.

“Brad freely shared his expertise and showed guys where to spend money and where not to spend money to help us compete with the guys who had the bigger budgets,” Smith said. “A lot of us didn’t have those big budgets and he helped us get the most out of what we had to spend.”

He recalled the “little block building in Essex” being a beehive of social activity because of Wallace’s magnetic personality. Customers were known for stopping by with a cup of coffee for the owner and sitting for hours chatting the day away.

“He had time for everyone “ Smith said. “He’d open the shop at 9 a.m., he’d work on an engine, answer the phone, stop for a cup of coffee and make time for anyone who stopped by.”

Often, Wallace wouldn’t get all of his work done because he couldn’t turn people away, according to Smith. When that happened, he would close the shop at 5 or 6 p.m., go home and have dinner and then return to the shop, where he would work uninterrupted until 9 or 10 p.m.

Smith said he will remember Wallace for his great sense of humor and his enjoyment of playing the part of practical joker.

“He also was one of the smartest people I knew,” Smith said. “If I was going to put together a dream team of smart people, he’d be near the top, if not at the top, of my dream team. I’d like to know what his IQ was because it had to be up there.”

Bradley Wallace said he would remember his father as a man of integrity, loyalty and devotion.

“He was simply the greatest man I have ever known,” he said.

Wallace is survived by son Bradley G. Wallace and his wife Kelley and daughter Heather Strine and her husband Adam; siblings Pam Arnett and her husband Dave, Dawn Opie and the late DeWayne Wallace and his wife Jane; five grandchildren; and many extended family members and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, Bob and Freda Wallace.

A memorial service will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 1, at Columbus Gardens, 4301 Klosterman Ave. in Nottingham.

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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 www.LarryHogan.com/AR17. 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 ptavon@comcast.net; or Renee Smith at 410-812-2971 or smith_renee@verizon.net.

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, fullertonfireworksfoundation.org.

“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 www.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil 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 RockinOnTheRiver1@gmail.com. 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 http://mema.maryland.gov/Pages/PetSafety.aspx.

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 www.baltimorecountymd.gov 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 www.ccbcmd.edu 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 www.bcpl.info/technology.

Marijuana dispensaries eyed for White Marsh, Middle River locations

Marijuana dispensaries eyed for White Marsh, Middle River locations
The proposed White Marsh dispensary is the second to be dealt a blow by Judge Beverungen after he denied a parking variance for a proposed dispensary on German Hill Road in Dundalk. Photo by Devin Crum.

(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 www.bcps.org/academics/grading.

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 (www.crew726.com) 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 www.baltimorecountymd.gov 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 www.baltimorecountymd.gov 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 atwww.baltimorecountymd.gov/countycouncil. Click on Boards and Commissions/Learn More.

Information about the procedures and decisions of the Board of Appeals can be found at www.baltimorecountymd.gov.

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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 www.bcps.org/construction/victoryvilla. 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 www.waterreporter.org, 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 www.savebackriver.org.

“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 www.stbaldricks.org/events/bmoreheroes2017.

“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 www.gunpowdervalleyconservancy.org.

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 structural collapses, as well as a rat infestation. The property will need to undergo an environmental cleanup before it can be developed with a new townhouse project. 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 MassageTherapySC@ccbcmd.edu.

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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,