Here you will find all of the East County Times' major news coverage over the past six months.
Older news articles are continually added to our Archives section.

Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders

Nonagenarian recognized for work to honor veterans, first responders
State Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (center) presented Catherine Hughes (right), 95, with a Maryland state flag and a Maryland Senate citation for her efforts to honor veterans and first responders. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A 95-year-old Perry Hall woman has for the last few years written cards and letters to active service members and military veterans, as well as police and firefighters, thanking them for their service.

And on Saturday, Jan. 27, state Senator Kathy Klausmeier presented her with a Maryland state flag and a Senate citation recognizing her efforts to honor those who protect and serve the community.

According to Joseph Hughes, son of Catherine Hughes, his mother has written at least 3,000 notes and cards to “American heroes.”

“She sits at our kitchen table virtually every day and writes dozens of cards and notes,” he said.

Klausmeier said while presenting the citation to Mrs. Hughes that there comes a time in everyone’s life when there is something you want to do that is special.

“And today is that time,” she said. “On behalf of everyone that you’ve ever sent a letter to - a little note to brighten up the day - thank you very much.”

“I did it from my heart and I love doing it,” Mrs. Hughes said, adding that even after sometimes hours of writing them she never gets tired from doing it.

She told the East County Times that a friend buys the cards for her and she writes in them, inscribing messages to veterans and first responders of how they are heroes and thanking them for their service.

Mrs. Hughes noted that she was a former duckpin bowling champion at the age of 91, but at 92 she suffered an injury while bowling that limited her mobility.

Seeing that she felt depressed, a friend got her started writing the cards to give her something uplifting to do, she said.

“It helped me so much to write these cards,” Mrs. Hughes said. “I put my heart in it.”

Although she has now recovered from her injury, she continues to write the letters and cards because she loves doing it, sometimes handing them out in person.

Mrs. Hughes even visited a local restaurant to hand out cards and thank veterans and first responders in person on Veterans Day last year.

She plans to continue writing and giving out the cards as long as she can, she told the Times, and noted that she had written about 70 in the few days leading up to getting the citation.

“I do it because I want to,” she said.

Mrs. Hughes is the daughter of Italian immigrants, according to her son, Joseph. She and her late husband - who served as a field medic in World War II and participated in the D-Day invasion - married when he returned home from the war.

“For Catherine Hughes, a super nonagenarian and patriot, her benevolent and caring ways should be a challenge to all Americans,” Joseph said. “Keep patriotism in your heart, and remember to thank the men and women who protect and defend our way of life.”

read more

Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot

Tradepoint officials to ‘respectfully’ move 1800s family plot
The burial plot is located near the intersection of I Street and 9th Street at the center of the Tradepoint Atlantic property. Some community members wondered why Bethlehem Steel was able to simply build around the graveyard and TPA is unwilling. And a TPA representative wondered why the graves were not relocated when the company town was razed in the 1970s. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

When members of the Trotten family were laid to rest on the family farm at the tip of Sparrows Point in the early to mid-1800s, their final resting spots overlooked the Patapsco River from a pastoral, bucolic vantage point.

More than 200 years later, those graves are in the middle of a heavily industrial site, where the lay of the land has been greatly altered thanks to the dumping of slag - a by-product of the steelmaking process - that created artificial land and extended shorelines.

“The land mass has been drastically altered and the site characteristics have been dramatically changed over these now nearly 200 years,” said Aaron Tomarchio, vice president of corporate affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic, which owns the former steel mill property.

Out of respect for the interred remains and because of a business need to build on the land, Tradepoint officials have begun the legal process to exhume and rebury the remains of four Trotten family members buried on the site, according to Tomarchio.

The company, which will cover all the costs of the relocation, must follow a stringent legal process to move the remains, he said. The plan to move the graves must be published in a local news outlet in an effort to notify any next-of-kin and to make the public aware of the plans.

Tomarchio said efforts already made to find local descendants of the Trottens have been unfruitful, although one relative was found “out west.”

A funeral director will be hired to be in charge of the process and to supervise the work as the graves are unearthed, Tomarchio said.

“From all the research we’ve done, we expect there will probably be very little to no remains to be found,” Tomarchio said.

Citing the funeral practices and procedures of the time, Tomarchio said company officials have been told to just expect areas of darkened dirt that would indicate where the bodies once rested.

“We will respectfully remove that dirt and place it in smaller vessels and then place them in a new grave,” Tomarchio said. “And we will have a new marker made that will list all four of the family members.”

A history of Sparrows Point compiled by Community College of Baltimore County faculty member Bill Barry for the Historical Society of Baltimore County in 2014, lists the buried family members as John Trotten, who died in 1809 at age 38; Sarah Trotten, who died in 1856 at 68; James Trotten, who was nine months old when he died in 1804; and Thomas Long, who died in 1823 at 16.

The new marker, at the request of community members, will also note the remains were originally interred on Sparrows Point, according to Tomarchio, who added Tradepoint officials are in talks with a Dundalk cemetery about the relocation and reinterment of the remains.

The original grave stones are fragile and worn and are difficult to read; one is damaged, according to Tomarchio. Tradepoint officials plan to preserve them, with some early discussion about either Todd’s Inheritance or the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society taking custody of them.

Fran Taylor, a member of the Todd’s Inheritance Historic Site’s Board of Directors, said his group has not yet formally discussed the suggestion, but he believes the historic house on North Point Road in Edgemere would be an appropriate place to preserve the stones.

A Todd family tree on display at the Todd’s Inheritance house lists a Mary Trotten-Todd, which shows the two local families were connected by marriage.

While Taylor believes board members would be amenable to hosting the stones, he also said there are many options for their display.

A Todd family plot is on site, and is administered by Oak Lawn Cemetery, which would have to approve displaying the markers there.

“And of course, we wouldn’t do anything in the plot without getting the approval of the Todd family,” Taylor said.

Given the age and delicacy of the stones, the best way to preserve them would probably be with an indoor display, Taylor believes. In any case, he said, there is much discussion yet to be held before reaching a final decision.

Once the Trotten family remains have been exhumed and are ready for reburial, Tradepoint will hold a graveside service, likely in March or April, for the reinterment, according to Tomarchio.

“We want to hold a service that community members can attend,” he said. “And I believe this move will be much more respectful of these individuals and will preserve their memories much longer than remaining in an unmaintained graveyard at an industrial site.”

read more

Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center

Glen Arm neighbors object to plans for Nepali-American worship center
The Glen Arm estate, once belonging to a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte, sold in March 2017 for $661,000. Photo courtesy of

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

What once was a country estate in Glen Arm owned by a distant relative of Napoleon Bonaparte is now envisioned as a house of worship for Hindu and Buddhist families from Nepal.

“It’s the first of its kind in Baltimore County,” said Kris Ghimire, a realtor based in Fullerton who started a fundraising drive more than a year ago to find a location for the future Nepali American Cultural Center of Baltimore.

The 31-acre site at 12231 Harford Road is located across from the entrance to Bonaparte Avenue and south of the newly competed Mt. Vista Road traffic circle. Nearby on Mt. Vista Road are the Beachmont Christian summer camp and the Redeemer church and school.

The property at one time belonged to Charles Joseph Bonaparte, who served as the U.S. Attorney General from 1906 to 1909 and founded the agency that would become the FBI. the original house burned down but was later replaced with a concrete house.

The Nepali group bought the property last year as a foreclosure, and in order to open the center the purchasers needed to apply to Baltimore County for a special exception that allows a worship center in a rural area.

At a public hearing on Jan. 17, Nepalis and supporters filled one half of the room, while immediate neighbors opposed to the project filled the other. Reviewers with county agencies did not object to the plan.

On Jan. 22, county Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen granted the special exception with conditions that require county-approved well and septic systems, an access permit from the State Highway Administration, and a sign with the center’s name posted at the entrance.

Rulings can be appealed to Baltimore County Circuit Court, and a group of neighbors organized as the Gunpowder Falls Watershed Preservation Association was considering an appeal as of Monday, Feb. 5.

Ghimire and Harford Road neighbor Dewey Clark, who spoke on behalf of the association neighbors at the hearing, also spoke with each other on Monday and discussions are expected to continue.

Contentious hearing
At the three-hour hearing, Clark questioned Ghimire about plans for the center, followed by more than half a dozen other neighbors citing concerns about well capacity, crowds at special events and additional traffic on an already dangerous stretch of Harford Road, which has two sharp turns nears the site’s entrance.

Resident Scott Striebinger, president of the Greater Mt. Vista Association, asked for caps on the number of people to visit the center at any one time.

He also argued that the local geology could not handle another large well and  septic system, citing efforts in the past to cap activity at the Beachmont property.

“We do live in the area, we have got to protect our investment,” he said.

Some neighbors on Harford and Hutschenreuter roads and Bonaparte Avenue also took exception to the fact that the Nepali group had not directly alerted them in advance about a two-day outdoor fundraising event last summer that attracted people from around the region.

Neighbors complained about the noise, heavy traffic and visitors driving into a local driveway.

A complaint was subsequently filed with county Code Enforcement alleging the center was being used without a permit, but the inspector concluded that the event was outdoors and the house itself was not yet fully renovated or operational.

Ghimire said he had met with the Greater Kingsville Civic Association and thought that a local neighbor who attended would relay information about the center.

At the hearing he said that no more fundraisers are planned and that he did not expect more than about 150 people on site at any one time.

That is in part due to the fact that, unlike other religions that meet for group prayer on certain days, Hindus and Buddhists can visit a temple any time on any day.

“There’s no set worship times; it’s more of a personal thing,” he said. “People arrive and depart on their own schedule through the week.”

He said an imprecise Google map contributed to some visitors getting lost last summer and that since then Google was contacted and the map has been remedied.

Ghimire also said a right turn only out of the center’s driveway onto Harford Road might help alleviate concerns about the potential for accidents at the turns.

The center plans to host an open house once it opens and is also working with the Kingsville association to preserve the original carriage house on the property, he said.

Located between India and China, Nepal is about the size of Iowa. It is home to Mt. Everest and the birthplace of the Buddha.

There is an existing Hindu-Jain temple in Finksburg, but Hinduism and Buddhism are uniquely intertwined in Nepal, which is why some local Nepalis were interested in opening their own center.

Ghimire estimated there are more than 5,000 people from Nepal living in the Baltimore area, drawn in part by the opportunities to open small businesses, including restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and small shops in malls.

An immigrant himself, Ghimire came to the U.S. in 1998 to study information technology at UMBC in Catonsville. He became the IT director of a mortgage company and later founded his own mortgage company. He then founded his own real estate company after the 2008 recession.

read more

Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls

Deadlines loom for appointed, elected Board of Education hopefuls
Julie Henn (left), Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer have each filed as BOE elected candidates in eastside districts.

(Updated 2/7/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With filing and application deadlines looming for both elected and appointed positions on the Baltimore County Board of Education, interest so far appears to be lukewarm.

Baltimore County residents who wish to run for elected seats have until 9 p.m. on Feb. 27 to file their candidacies. Residents seeking a political appointment to the school board have until March 16 to submit applications.

By way of legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2014 and 2017, the board that takes office Dec. 3 will be the first in the county to have elected members. All previous members have been political appointments, leaving many residents to believe they were beholden to elected leaders and not necessarily looking out for the best interests of the school system and county residents, according to reports during the process to change the law.

All current board members’ terms expire Dec. 2, regardless of when they were appointed, according to Debi Decker, a Baltimore County Public Schools employee who is facilitating the application process for the selection committee.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 6, only five candidates had filed to run for elected positions, with one each in the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh councilmanic districts. Sitting board member Julie Henn, as well as Edward Kitlowski and William Feuer are running in the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh districts, respectively, on the east side of Baltimore County.

June Eaton, current Seventh District board member, told the East County Times she will neither run for reelection nor seek an appointment. Sixth District representative Steve Verch and Fifth District representative and board Chairman Edward Gilliss did not respond to questions regarding their future school board intentions.

Residents who wish to apply for an appointment to the school board must submit an application by March 16, according to a statement from the school system.

Public candidate interviews will be held at five locations around the county, including May 7 at Perry Hall High School and June 4 at Dundalk High School. Times have not been announced.

The newly created Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, led by Chairman Aaron Plymouth, will select nominees to recommend to Gov. Larry Hogan for appointment to the four at-large positions, according to the statement.

The 19-member commission has a roster that represents a variety of organizations and interests, including the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, Towson University, Student Council, PTA Council, NAACP, Chamber of Commerce and League of Women Voters, according to the BCPS website.

The commission met for the first time on Dec. 4, according to Plymouth, and a second planned meeting was canceled because of inclement weather. As a result, many logistics of the process have yet to be ironed out.

“I like to say we have entered uncharted waters and we’re taking a brand new ship out for its first voyage,” Plymouth said of the creation of a hybrid school board. “But so far, the waters have been pretty calm.”

The chairman said he and his commission colleagues are looking forward to receiving a “good number” of qualified applicants and recommending the best of those candidates for appointment after carrying out a “flexible, transparent and accountable” process.

The law states that the commission must submit two nominees for each opening, so the group will send eight names to Gov. Hogan for his consideration, according to Plymouth. In addition, should no one file to run in an individual councilmanic district for an elected position, the commission would be charged with sending the names of two nominees to fill a councilmanic vacancy.

Applicants interested in an appointment to the school board must submit their applications by 4 p.m. Friday, March 16. The application form can be found on the school system’s website.

Completed applications can be mailed to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, c/o Debi Decker, 6901 N. Charles St., Towson, MD 21204.

read more

Local, state legislators call for extensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools

Local, state legislators call for extensive audit of Baltimore County Public Schools
Interim Superintendent Verletta White (center) answered elected officials' questions in Annapolis on Feb. 2. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

After the news broke on Jan. 23 that former Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent S. Dallas Dance had been indicted on four counts of perjury, local and state officials from around Baltimore County called for an independent audit of the school system to evaluate procurement contracts and relationships between the school system and vendors.

On Friday, Jan. 26, Interim Superintendent Verletta White met with Baltimore County’s state senators in Annapolis to discuss expanding the scope of an audit White ordered last year. The audit was originally slated to cover only 2016, but last December, White expanded the audit to cover 2014 through 2017, with a focus on technology contracts.

Still, senators urged White to start the audit from 2012, the year Dance took over as Superintendent.

“There is nothing to hide, so I would be open to any kind of audit,” said White. “We will do what we need to do to restore public trust.”

Senator J.B. Jennings (R-7) told White that she needed to “bring respect back to this jurisdiction.”

“I know it may cost the county some money. In extreme times you have to take extreme measures,” Jennings added.

Only two of the six senators present pushed back on the idea of expanding the audit. Senators Shirley Nathan Pulliam (D-44) and Delores Kelly (D-10) both pointed out that law enforcement would be investigating 2012 and 2013, adding that the overlap in investigations and audits might prove wasteful.

But Jennings refuted that claim, noting that law enforcement likely would not share information regarding an ongoing investigation. After the meeting adjourned, he told the East County Times that the cost of an audit would be equal to the salary of one school administrator, but that it would be worth it to potentially save millions of dollars on future procurements.

On Friday afternoon, after White’s meeting with county senators concluded, Delegate Robin Grammer joined the fray, filing legislation which would require the state to execute a full audit of Baltimore County Public School system procurement, as well as relationships between public school officials and vendors.

“Taxpayers have an immediate need for accountability in how we spend hundreds of millions of dollars and parents have an immediate need for a restoration of trust in our public school leadership,” Grammer said in a statement.

A vote on the bill could happen within the week.

While White was open to the idea of an audit mandated by legislators, Brochin and Jennings were more apprehensive. They stressed that White and school board chair Edward Gilliss needed to step up and be as transparent as possible, adding that legislators should not be spending valuable time in the General Assembly voting on something that should be easy to implement.

Jennings added that a strong school system spurs economic development and drives home prices.

Both Brochin and Jennings urged White and Gilliss to acquiesce to the requests of the minority members of the school board and expand the audit to 2012 and include contract procurement.

“Once we have consensus from our overall board, not one or two members, but our overall board, on what’s needed, then we can move forward,” said White.

So far, four members of the school board have called on the state education officials to do an independent audit, but were told by state officials the request had to come from either a majority of the school board or at the direction of local officials.

When asked late last year if the county executive’s office would initiate an audit at the state level, Ellen Kobler, spokewoman for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, told The Baltimore Sun that “the County Executive has complete confidence in Superintendent White to manage the school system, and the answer to your question is no.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan called for the creation of an Education Inspector General’s office, citing widespread corruption in school systems around the state. He pointed to both Dance and White receiving funds while doling out contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

While Hogan’s proposal has support among legislators, it was opposed by Kamenetz. “There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that has been brought to my attention that there is criminal activity afoot with the use of these iPads,” he told WYPR.

Despite Kamenetz’s assertion that White and the school board can handle things, Baltimore County’s three Republican members of the council - Wade Kach (R-3), David Marks (R-5) and Todd Crandell (R-7) - have all called for an independent audit, as have Democratic representatives Vicki Almond (D-2) and Cathy Bevins (D-6).

“It is time for an independent audit and ethical evaluation of Baltimore County Public Schools. Parents and students need to know that BCPS leadership is looking out for them and not for themselves,” said Bevins in a statement. “There must be more transparency and accountability at the top. We must begin to rebuild trust in our school system and its leaders.”

Crandell went a step further, calling for behavior and discipline issues to also be evaluated. That sentiment was echoed by State Senator Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) at Friday’s meeting in Annapolis.

Salling broached the subject of discipline and violence in county schools at the beginning of the meeting with White, but the subject was largely pushed aside due to discussion over the audit.

After the meeting adjourned, Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7), who had observed the meeting from about the halfway point, told the East County Times that he was unimpressed with White’s answers, adding that she is a “continuation of Dallas Dance on policy.”

“I didn’t see any real strong effort here for change,” McDonough said. “Senator Jennings talking about the system being great, well, the system is not great. The system has serious problems.”

McDonough added that he would be filing a request with state officials to look into violence in the school system.

“The audit is going to be done,” said McDonough. “I don’t have any concerns about that.”

While most of the Annapolis meeting was focused on auditing the school system, White began the meeting by addressing concerns that she, like Dance, lied on disclosure forms. She told the group of senators that not only was the form ambiguous, but that she had no intent to deceive.

White had collected $3,000 per-year over a four-year span, all of which she failed to disclose. She said that she did not think she had to claim payments from the Education Research and & Development Institute (ERDI) because BCPS did not do business directly with the firm. However, ERDI does represent multiple technology firms that have won no-bid contracts worth millions from BCPS.

Still, White defended herself, saying that she “didn’t have anything to do with contracts as [chief academic officer]” and had nothing to do with them now.

“I don’t touch the contract process. I don’t touch the procurement process. I didn’t then, and I don’t now,” said White.

Gilliss added that the contract procurement process is often misunderstood, noting that the goal is not just to seek out the lowest bidder, but to find a bidder whose work meshes with the curriculum, as mandated by state law.

“I think it’s probably best to have an educational forum about school system contracting so that there’s not misunderstanding,” he said.

read more

Residents, councilman unhappy with Klausmeier Manor proposal

Residents, councilman unhappy with Klausmeier Manor proposal
Farmdale Road, which currently terminates on the site would be extended to join Millner Road on the opposite side and 34 of the homes would be built along it. Much of the middle of the site is environmentally constrained and cannot be built upon.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A development proposal for 49 new homes in Perry Hall was not well received last Wednesday, Jan 24, when it was presented to the community for the first time.

As is typical in Perry Hall and many other eastern Baltimore County areas, residents of the existing community decried that school overcrowding and traffic congestion are already major issues caused by development and the last thing the area needs is more homes.

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks, who represents the area, also called it a “missed opportunity” for what could have been a new public park.

The plan, dubbed Klausmeier Manor, proposes 49 single, detached houses on the 28.3-acre Klausmeier farm property, adding to the one existing home on the site which will remain, according to Larry Schmidt, attorney for the developer.

The property is bounded by Klausmeier Road on its southern frontage, as well as existing homes on Holiday Manor Road to the east and Lovelock, Lovebird, Perry Brook and Hallbrook courts to the west. It backs up to the Gunpowder Elementary School property to the north.

While the property’s zoning - 3.5 homes per acre - would allow up to 99 homes to be built on the site, due to environmental constraints on much of the acreage, the developer has opted to build only half that amount, Schmidt said.

Much of the middle of the property is unbuildable due to wetlands and a pond used for stormwater management. The site plan also shows eight specimen trees on the property  which would likely have to be preserved, but the site is otherwise unforested having been farmed for many years.

While State Senator Kathy Klausmeier, who represents the area on the state level, is related to the owners of the property, she married into the family and has no legal say in the site’s sale or development, according to Schmidt.

With respect to traffic, residents complained that Klausmeier Road already has major issues, pointing out that speeding vehicles make it difficult for other drivers to pull out onto the road from other area streets. Additionally, the road is narrow and has no sidewalks, which makes it dangerous for pedestrians using the road.

“You take your life in your hands to try to walk down that road,” one resident said.

While the developer and property owner do not have the authority to widen all of Klausmeier Road, Schmidt said, they would be required to install sidewalks along their property frontage. These would tie in with existing sidewalks along Klausmeier Road west of the property and possibly with those on Holiday Manor Road.

However, there are three properties between the eastern edge of the subject site and Holiday Manor, so those owners would have to either sign off on the sidewalks or go through the county’s legal condemnation process for that tie-in to happen.

Regarding schools, although enrollment for the 2017-18 school year at Gunpowder Elementary is at 124 percent of capacity, Marks - who did not attend the meeting - stressed in a statement that two new elementary schools and a new middle school will be built for the area prior to the development’s completion if it is approved.

Since the project would be carried out by right under the property’s existing zoning, that too was a hot topic at the meeting and neighbors were frustrated that Marks was not there to answer their questions of why he did not decrease its allowable housing density during the last rezoning cycle in 2016. They were similarly frustrated with the lack of county agency representation at the meeting to answer questions about the project.

But Marks said after the meeting that county law prohibits County Council members, who are legislative representatives, from attending development meetings which are carried out by the executive branch of county government.

And Darryl Putty, a project manager with the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, said the meeting was merely preliminary and there is not much engineering that has gone into the plan at this point. Therefore, the county agency representatives would not have many specifics on which they could comment.

Perry Hall Improvement Association Vice President Karen Harms said at the meeting that the organization had raised the property as an issue for downzoning during the 2016 rezoning cycle and it was ignored by the councilman.

However, PHIA President Jack Amrhein told the East County Times that Harms had misspoken and they did not raise the Klausmeier farm as an issue. He said it had been on their preliminary list of issues to raise but did not make the “final cut.”

“We shied away from it because there had been discussions with the family... that they didn’t have plans to develop,” Amrhein said.

Marks noted that his downzoning decisions in 2016 targeted the areas with the most heavily overcrowded schools.

“The schools west of Belair Road are not as overcrowded, and at the time when we were starting rezoning they were not overcrowded at all,” he said, referring specifically to Gunpowder and Seven Oaks elementary schools.

In addition, had Marks decreased the density to one home per acre, the developer would still be able to build 27 new homes, which he called “significant,” noting that the government cannot simply block all development of the land.

The councilman called the situation “frustrating” and said the site would be an “optimal” location for a public park.

“Last winter, I met with the Klausmeier family to urge them to consider selling the land to Baltimore County for public uses,” Marks said. “I was specifically interested in this becoming a park. I thank the Klausmeier family for meeting with me, but ultimately they proceeded with this development, which is their right.

“Make no mistake - I am not happy with this property being developed,” he continued. “It is a missed opportunity and that is unfortunate, but it is ultimately the Klausmeier family’s decision.”

Marks held out hope, however, that there may still be a chance to match the developer’s offer and have the land preserved after a new county executive takes office in December.

With little recourse to stop the development, Amrhein said the PHIA will instead advocate for the proper infrastructure to go with it.

“Road enhancements, sidewalks, traffic improvement, pedestrian crosswalks if need be and development standards” are all things that are needed, he said.

Marks said traffic is also a concern for him and he will be putting together a task force of local residents to recommend improvements to the road network in the area.

“I will do all I can to mitigate any impacts of this project should it move forward,” he said.

read more

Dundalk activist’s efforts to keep bus stop clean thwarted by county

Dundalk activist’s efforts to keep bus stop clean thwarted by county
The area where the benches and trash cans were placed has remained mostly clean thanks to the efforts of Angel Ball and bus riders. Photo courtesy of Angel Ball.

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With her boss’ blessing and financial support, Dunmanway Apartments property manager Angel Ball has become much more than just a property manager in the Greater Dundalk area.

The energetic community leader and activist has thrown herself into many existing community efforts, projects and special events and has created others to fill needs that she saw.

Throughout the community, she has established a reputation of being the go-to person to get a wide variety of issues solved, to procure needed items for the less fortunate and to supply volunteers - her trusty and devoted residents - to any variety of community events.

So it is understandable that she is upset about some bus stop benches and a trash can being removed from in front of the apartments she manages without anyone addressing the perceived problem with her first.

On Monday morning, Jan. 29, Ball was in her office when a maintenance man rushed in to tell her that a Baltimore County crew just loaded the benches and trash can in to a yellow county truck and drove off.

The benches and can were installed near the bus stop by the apartment complex in an effort to keep the corner clean and to have a comfortable place for bus riders to wait between bus runs.

Ball said she immediately jumped in her car and attempted to track down the truck. She went to the county maintenance yard at Chesterwood Park, thinking the benches could have been taken there.

After a lot of phone calls, conversations and what she described as a “huge run-around,” Ball was told the benches were picked up by workers from the county’s highways bureau in response to a complaint filed by County Councilman Todd Crandell’s office.

She was also told the benches would be returned that afternoon. When they had not been returned by 3 p.m. Monday, she posted photographs and a video on Facebook, complaining of the removal and expressing her anger over not being contacted before taking the drastic action of removing the items.

“There was not one single word to me that this was an issue,” she told the East County Times. “Why would they just pick this up without giving any kind of notice or warning?”

Ball said a staff member in Crandell’s office told her the complaint did come from there, but the complaint involved the condition of a bus stop closer to Dunmanway and Liberty Parkway.

“So mine were taken by mistake,” she said. “That makes no sense and makes me even angrier.”

Baltimore County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler, in an email to the Times, provided this explanation: “Baltimore County received a complaint about a make-shift bus shelter, trash, litter and clutter near Heritage Park, and Highways dispatched a crew to clean up the area. During that effort, two non-approved benches and a trash can in front of Dunmanway Apartments, that were in our right-of-way, were removed. We will continue to reach out to the apartment complex representatives to address this issue further.”

In an effort to keep the property line clean, Ball said she had a “no littering” sign and a trash can put at the bus stop about four years ago. Last year, when she had several benches built for residents to use in a complex open space, she had two extras built for the bus stop.

“I went to the people using the bus stop and asked them if they’d be willing to help me keep that bus stop clean if I put a bench there for them to use,” Ball said. “They were thrilled and agreed to help clean - and they have; everyone puts their trash in that can.”

Ball employs a porter who works three days a week whose duties include emptying the bus stop can. It never overflows unless it gets heavy use over a weekend and then it gets emptied on Monday.

“Why would the county want to destroy an effort we’re making to keep this area clean?” Ball asked. “We are helping them out with this.”

As frustrated as Ball was with the lack of communication and clear answers from Baltimore County officials, she was as thrilled when she was approached by Janeen Kuser-Wolf, director of partnerships for the Maryland Transit Administration.

“Janeen contacted me to tell me about the MTA’s Adopt a Bus Stop program,” Ball said Tuesday. “She reached out to me after seeing the video on Facebook.”

With Kuser-Wolf’s help, Ball said she will take an incident that “went sour” and turn it into a “blessing” for the community.

Ball plans to meet with Kuser-Wolf next week to get the details of how the bus stop adoption program works and what the apartment complex will need to take care of the stop at Dunmanway and Dunran Road.

Once Ball gets educated on the program, she plans to share the information with neighborhood organizations and community leaders with the hope of transforming many of Dundalk’s bus stops.

“There’s a bus stop right in front of Dundalk Elementary School,” Ball said. “Maybe they could adopt that one, get them out there and give them a sense of pride in taking care of their community.”

Ball said she may never get the straight story about what happened to her benches and who took them. In spite of a promise otherwise, she does not expect to see them again and anticipates building new ones when she officially adopts the area with the state’s blessing.

“I’m so tired of all this good-old-boys stuff; it’s time to make some changes,” she said. “This has just whipped me up.”

The bus stop adoption proposal from Kuser-Wolf has reenergized her, she said: “I am so on a mission now.  I’m going to take this bad experience and make the glass half-full. We will use this to transform our community.”

Crandell’s office did not respond to multiple requests for information, and Kuser-Wolf could not be reached.

read more

Personal loss inspires Holliday to run for House of Delegates

Personal loss inspires Holliday to run for House of Delegates

(Updated 1/31/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Dundalk resident Justin Holliday is running for the House of Delegates in the Sixth Legislative District for personal reasons.

And he chose a special date on which to officially file his candidacy with the Maryland State Board of Elections: Sept. 28, his late father’s birthday.

“I lost my father last year when he lost his battle with addiction,” Holliday told the East County Times. “The opioid crisis played a big role in my decision to run and will be at the forefront throughout my campaign.”

The 22-year-old Democrat is a lifelong West Inverness resident and a 2014 graduate of Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts. He is a government and public policy student at the University of Baltimore, from which he expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in May.

Holliday is passionate about several social issues he believes are hitting the Essex and Dundalk areas particularly hard. In addition to the overall opioid crisis, he is concerned about homeless military veterans and the quality and cost of health insurance and health care.

He wants to see a more multi-pronged approach to opioid treatment, with more medical resources available to patients and a tougher criminal justice system to handle the habitual abusers and dealers.

“We can’t arrest our way to sobriety,” Holliday said. “But right now, there is a one-size-fits-all approach when treatment or punishment needs to be more individualized to meet the needs of each person.”

As he talks about opioid use on the campaign trail, Holliday said he meets resident after resident affected by the problem.

“I haven’t come across anyone not touched by this, whether it’s a son or daughter, parent, co-worker or friend,” he said. “We need to do more as a society and a government to increase the medical resources available to fight this disease.”

Holliday believes the state could increase its efforts without placing additional burden on Maryland taxpayers. He said there is “some waste in government and we could redistribute existing money without raising taxes.”

He would like to see more oversight of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry to tighten the distribution of prescription opioids and believes the criminal justice side of the equation needs to issue harsher sentences as a deterrent.

Holliday also “fully supports” medical marijuana and thinks it could be just as effective and less addictive than opioids in the treatment of chronic pain.

“It is government’s role to do everything it can to cut back on this problem,” he said. “That’s why, if elected, I’d like to serve on the Health and Government Operations Committee.”

Holliday would also like to see Maryland make a concerted effort to end veteran homelessness in the area. Noting that homelessness in general is a problem in many jurisdictions, he said “You have to start somewhere and what better place to start than with those who have risked their lives for us.”

He points to a Virginia plan that has significantly reduced overall homelessness and “effectively ended” that state’s homeless veteran population.

“I’d like to see Maryland try something similar; they have a program that is working,” he said.

As of Jan. 30, Holliday and Megan Ann Mioduszeski were the only Democrats registered to run in the Sixth District race. They are challenging Republican incumbents Robin Grammer, Bob Long and Ric Metgar.

The deadline to file is Feb. 27 and if additional people register to run, Holliday said he is ready for the competition.

He said he is running a “grassroots” campaign that involves a lot of door knocking, an Internet presence and word of mouth to get his message out. He plans to challenge the incumbents with what he says is a “record of broken promises” and a habit of “passing the buck.”

Holliday does not plan to raise or spend a lot of money and admitted that fundraising is his least favorite part of politics. In the most recent campaign finance report cycle, Holliday submitted an affidavit stating he would not raise or spend more than $1,000 in the covered time period.

He is considering signing up for public financing, which limits the amount of money participating candidates can spend. He does not believe money should be allowed to buy elections and hopes to run a down-to-earth campaign that resonates with local residents.

He considers himself a moderate Democrat and said governing should be a bipartisan effort with emphasis on issues and people, not political parties.

Holliday said he realizes Democrats do not enjoy the popularity they once had in the district, but believes he has a campaign message that should transcend party politics.

“I’m paying attention to my race and I’m not aware of anyone else planning to run,” he said. “But my campaign’s fine and I’m ready for the competition.”

read more

Bromwell, Klausmeier continue push for pharmaceutical transparency

Bromwell, Klausmeier continue push for pharmaceutical transparency
Delegate Eric Bromwell (left) and State Senator Kathy Klaismeier (center right) hosted a town hall event with the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative at the Parkville Senior Center to discuss prescription drug affordability. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

During the 2017 state legislative session, Delegate Eric Bromwell (D-8) co-sponsored legislation forcing pharmaceutical companies to explain sudden price hikes on off-patent or generic drugs and allowing  the attorney general to sue companies who partake in gouging.

This year, there are two bills that will be introduced that aim to curb the cost of prescription drugs while increasing transparency. One bill would put an end to gag clauses in pharmacy distribution contracts and the other would create a commission to review drug costs.

Last year’s price gouging bill (HB631) saw some pushback from Governor Larry Hogan, who noted in a letter to House Speaker Michael Busch that “this legislation only addresses the pricing of generic and off-patent pharmaceuticals, and does nothing to address the cost of patented products and medical devices which may be associated with drug delivery.”

“In a way, these two new bills are a response to Governor Hogan,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.

Bromwell and State Senator Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) are co-sponsoring legislation that would prohibit gag rules that prevent pharmacists from telling consumers that they could save money by paying for certain prescriptions out of pocket, bypassing the insurance co-payment.

Speaking to a group of seniors at Parkville Senior Center on Monday, Jan. 22, Bromwell explained that all drug stores have to go through a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). A PBM acts as a middleman for pharmacies, insurance agencies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, negotiating the price of a drug with manufacturers, as well as negotiating billing costs with insurers.

The PBMs also set the price of reimbursement for a pharmacy regarding that drug.

So if a pill costs $6 but your co-pay is $25, the $19 difference goes to the benefit manager, in what is known as a “clawback.”

“The pharmacists want to tell you [it is cheaper to pay out of pocket],” said Bromwell. “It’s the contract that, as it’s written, is keeping them from telling you that. A lot of them want to tell you...especially your independent pharmacists. This is literally stealing.”

Bromwell recommended that everyone ask their pharmacist whether or not it is cheaper to pay out of pocket.

Klausmeier maintained that eliminating gag clauses was a simple way to combat the rising cost of prescriptions and a measure that would instantly put money back into the pockets of Marylanders, especially seniors who are likely to take more medications.

But Bromwell had other concerns, most notably that PBMs were cutting reimbursement rates to independent drug stores, then later offering to buy out the independents when times get tough.

“These PBMs are trying to put independents out of business,” said Bromwell, adding that they are taking the clawbacks and opening up more chain drug stores, which in turn will take business from independent stores.

At the end of last year, a poll released by MCHI found that 64 percent of voters were in favor of preventing pharmacy managers from restricting what pharmacists can tell consumers. With favorable numbers, Bromwell expects this initiative to pass without much opposition.

On Jan. 9, the Washington Examiner published a statement from The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the trade association for pharmacy benefit managers, with the group saying they support “the patient paying the lowest price available at the pharmacy counter for the prescribed drug.”

While the gag rule might make its way through the legislature without much of a battle, passing legislation to establish a review commission might be a bit trickier.

The main goal of the bill, sponsored by Delegates Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) and Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s) is to make all high-cost prescription drugs, including name-brand and specialty drugs, more affordable, with “upper payment limits” set up by the Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission.

In order for the commission to take up a review, a name-brand drug would either have to have a starting price of $30,000 or more; an increase of more than $3,000 per-year for a brand name or $300  per year for a generic; or have a generally unattainable price for Marylanders.

DeMarco pointed to the cost of Duopa Gel, a drug designed to treat motor fluctuations in patients with advanced Parkinson’s disease. A 30-day supply of the drug costs $6,054, and of the 4,649 Maryland residents battling advanced Parkinson’s, only 32 are currently receiving the advanced treatment.

In the Jan. 11 issue of the East County Times, Eighth District Delegate Christian Miele said he was withholding judgment on the proposed legislation as he had not seen the bill, but cited a wide array of reasons lawmakers should be cautious about wading into this issue. The Perry Hall Republican pointed to funding for research and development, noting that there are more drugs that never make it to market than do. He added that he’s “anxiously waiting” to read the bill and looking forward to hearing arguments for and against it.

DeMarco expects the pharmaceutical companies to have the same arguments that Miele presented, but he believes their approach is too narrow.

Pointing to Sovaldi, a $90,000-per-treatment drug prescribed to treat Hepatitis C, DeMarco told the Senior Center crowd that only 20 percent of Maryland residents who needed it were able to afford it.

“Our position is, why not cut the cost and make it available to 80 percent of Marylanders? They would still make plenty of money and help more people at the same time” said DeMarco.

DeMarco also pointed to Washington Post research from 2015 that showed big pharmaceutical companies spend much more on advertising than on research. Johnson & Johnson spends $17.5 billion per year on advertising and $8.2 billion per year on resarch, DeMarco noted, while Novartis, Pfizer and Glaxosmithkline all spend about $5 billion more on advertising than on research.

The two bills also have the backing of the AARP. Tammy Bresnahan, the organization’s associate state director for Maryland, said a survey of 1,700 members found that 80 percent said prescription drugs were their top issue.

“They’re afraid that their prescription drugs are going to put them out of their home,” said Bresnahan.

She applauded the efforts of Bromwell, Klausmeier and MCHI, saying that inactivity in Congress has pushed states to act.

According to MCHI, overall drug prices increased nearly 9 percent in 2016, and drug prices have risen at an average of 10 percent annually since 2013. Over that same stretch, inflation has only increased 1.2 percent.

There are at least 16 lawsuits in the U.S. looking to prohibit clawbacks, filed against CVS; Walgreen’s; UnitedHealth Group Inc., which runs the benefit manager OptumRx; Cigna Corp., which contracts with OptumRx; and Humana Inc.

read more

County no longer moving forward with plan for turf fields at ERP

County no longer moving forward with plan for turf fields at ERP
The new turf fields would have replace existing grass fields on the eastern side of the park near the parking lots and the one existing turf field. Image courtesy of Huntley Sports Group.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County has made an administrative decision, as of Jan. 16, not to continue with a proposal to allow a developer to install and operate four new turf fields at Eastern Regional Park.

The partnership would have brought ERP’s total number of turf fields to five and optimized the scheduling for the fields’ usage, according to the developer.

However, despite approval from at least three of the four priority user recreation councils for the park’s fields, a county spokesperson said there was not enough community support for the project.

“This public-private partnership concept seemed to have potential and was worth approaching the recreation councils and community,” said county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler. “It could have been an opportunity to combine a community recreation resource with a major regional sports tournament venue that would create positive economic activity for the area. The feedback that we have received indicates that there is not enough of a community consensus to move forward at this time.”

When pressed for more information about who specifically made the decision to cancel the project or what factors were considered in the decision, Kobler refused to elaborate. She also declined to say how much community support there was for the project or how much the county needed in order to proceed.

The East County Times reported last month that Huntley Sports Group was looking to split the $3.5 million cost with the county to install the new fields, and in return they would be contracted to operate the fields with regard to scheduling and maintenance.

HSG partner Athan Sunderland assured that all recreation council programs currently using the fields would be able to maintain their level of usage at the same or reduced cost. And the time left unscheduled could be sold to outside groups for HSG’s profit.

Leadership from the Bengies-Chase, Rosedale and Middle River recreation councils - each listed as a priority user in the ERP charter - confirmed that their boards voted, albeit in split decisions, to officially support the proposal. The Essex-Stembridge Recreation Council, the fourth priority user, was reportedly still in talks with Sunderland over whether to support it when the county’s decision was made.

Although not a priority user, Overlea-Fullerton Recreation Council President Nicole Wilson said that council also supported the proposal because they always support facilities improvements on the east side.

Other councils, however, which are at least occasional users of the park had concerns that they could incur high costs to use the fields when they need to under HSG’s management.

County Councilman David Marks (R-Perry Hall) said the Perry Hall and White Marsh councils opposed the proposal out of concern that they would have to pay high fees - up to $150 per hour - to use the fields as secondary users.

“The benefit would have been to the primary recreation councils which are all in the Essex and Middle River area,” Marks said. “But the ones up in the north would’ve had to pay more to use the fields,” he said, adding that PHRC and WMRC use ERP’s fields as backups when fields in their own area are not available.

“My frustration was that, once again, the county executive’s office did not fully involve my office and apparently other County Council members as well,” he said referring to Councilman Todd Crandell.

Crandell, who represents Essex and Dundalk, posted to his Facebook page on Jan. 16 that the proposal to “privatize” ERP had been scrapped.

“This is a win for our local rec. programs who were left out of the deal and would have had to pay large fees to use the park.”

Sunderland contended, however, that he had reached out to all stakeholders and been open with them throughout the process. In addition, he said only soccer and lacrosse clubs and other non-rec. council users would pay to use the fields.

In the field scheduling, Sunderland said, “HSG provided 1,435 hours for free rec. council use, which allowed for 25-percent growth in local rec. soccer programming and 50-percent growth in local rec. lacrosse programming. Those 1,435 hours are first made available to priority users, [Eastern Area Soccer League], Perry Hall Rec. lacrosse, Overlea Rec. soccer, and two tournaments: EASL’s Boo Bash and the Overlea Cup.”

He said 1,435 hours is equal to having five fields for the entire soccer season, plus three fields for the whole lacrosse season, each for five nights per week.

Regarding how they chose the priority groups, Sunderland said, “First, HSG was asked to follow the ERP charter to identify priority users. Second, HSG looked at recorded historical use at the park and approached those groups to ensure continued utilization. Third, we made public at every meeting and through public outreach that any rec. councils that have a need or use should reach out to us so we may meet to discover a workable plan.

“After HSG completes its initial programming objectives, we would offer available hours to local rec. councils at minimal to no cost,” he affirmed.

Charles Munzert, vice president of the Board of Recreation and Parks and the Middle River-area representative, agreed with the county’s decision due to a lack of understanding in the councils about how the project would work. However, he was optimistic that with time, everyone would be more clear about it and it could move forward in the future.

“I think that’s the proper way of doing it, is to make sure everybody understands it before we do it,” he said.

read more

Water’s Landing developer holds public meeting on growth allocation

Water’s Landing developer holds public meeting on growth allocation
This graphic shows an aerial view of the site with its Critical Area and non-Critical Area portions identified. Image courtesy of Daft, McCune, Walker.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A review committee is set to deliver its recommendations to the Baltimore County Planning Board by Friday, Jan. 26, regarding whether a Chesapeake Bay Critical Area growth allocation should be granted to the Water’s Landing at Middle River development in Essex.

The developer for the project, Manekin Construction, seeks to build 187 homes on a 56-acre waterfront site along Weber Avenue. But to do so, the project needs to be approved for a growth allocation which would allow homes to be built using only a 100-foot buffer from the shoreline rather than a 300-foot one, which is typical for new construction in the critical area.

The CBCA encompasses a 1,000-foot zone along any tidal shoreline.

“So pretty much this entire peninsula is within the critical area,” said Jason Vettori, land use attorney for the project with Smith, Gildea and Schmidt.

For CBCA purposes, the site is currently mapped as a Limited Development Area, and using the growth allocation would upgrade it to an Intensely Developed Area, using 56 of the county’s 88.2 remaining acres for that purpose.

Patricia Pfarr, of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability and who chairs the Growth Allocation Review Committee, said a requirement for converting from LDA to IDA is that the subject site must adjoin parcels with the same designation.

Water’s Landing does adjoin IDA parcels, and the adjacent Hopewell Pointe development also used some of the growth allocation acreage when it was built.

Of the 187 homes shown in the plan, 180 would be within the critical area. And while the average distance of all of the homes from the shoreline would be about 200 feet, according to plan engineer Sam Neuberger, the plan shows 49 within the typical 300-foot buffer and the closest just 119 feet from the shoreline.

Vettori noted that the developer has spent a lot of money to remove buildings and illegally dumped materials from within the areas closest to the shoreline which were harmful to the environment.

“We worked with the county representatives to try to come up with a plan that takes into consideration the most important wetlands and tidal areas to, at the end of the day, protect the habitat and other water quality issues,” he said.

Eric Chodnicki, environmental services manager for the project with Daft, McCune, Walker, said most of the trees being cleared on the site for the development are outside the 300-foot buffer, and where they have cleared within it will be replanted with understory shrubs and other plants.

He added that more trees will be planted within forested areas on the site as environmental mitigation, and trees will also be planted and wetlands created on two properties in the area to account for the remainder of the required mitigation.

Chodnicki said about 17.8 acres of farmland on the Celmer property near the Essex Skypark will be reforested and some wetlands created on the property to account for some mitigation. And 9.4 acres of farmland reforestation on the Peige property along Luthardt Road in Bowleys Quarters will cover the rest, he said, noting that it is adjacent to 150 acres of existing forested land.

“So it’s going to provide some really good habitat and functional value with that forest that’s existing today,” he said.

Pfarr added that all undeveloped areas of the site under the plan would be entered into a critical area easement and classified as “non-disturbance areas” to be permanently protected from development.

However, Bowleys Quarters resident Allen Robertson took issue with the two mitigation sites, partly because this type of mitigation is meant to be done within the same watershed as the development and one of them is in a different watershed.

He pointed out that the Celmer property drains to Back River, not Middle River. And the Peige property, while on Middle River, is on Seneca Creek which connects to the lower portion of the river.

Robertson said the trees being removed from the Water’s Landing site and the associated impacts are on the upper Middle River and Hopkins Creek, which have experienced algae blooms and other water quality issues in recent years.

“So that’s where the mitigation needs to happen,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association, Robertson said they support granting the growth allocation for the acreage and homes outside the 300-foot buffer, with a 35-foot setback from that buffer line for permanent structures.

“But we would oppose the allocation of the acreage for any land that is 335 feet or closer to the water,” he said.

“We appreciate you reforesting the Luthardt [Road] farm area, however, that farm drains into Seneca Creek... and they haven’t had any algae blooms recently,” Robertson continued. “It was actually the upper part of Middle River that had the algae bloom most recently that we would be concerned about taking more forest buffer away from.

“With that in mind, we would prefer that the 300-foot buffer stays in place,” he said, although they would excuse some houses if they only slightly crossed the line.

The GARC, comprised of Pfarr as well as representatives from the county’s departments of Planning, Economic Development, Public Works and Permits, Approvals and Inspections, looks at CBCA requirements for things like water quality and habitat protection when considering growth allocation requests.

Their recommendation will be sent to the Planning Board which will hold its own public hearing and make a recommendation to forward to either the County Council or the Board of Appeals, whichever is deemed applicable.

Although nothing is yet scheduled, Vettori said the Planning Board’s hearing would likely be sometime in March and the County Council or Board of Appeals would then likely take up the issue in June or July to make the final decision.

Following the county’s decision, the state’s Critical Area Commission must still approve the growth allocation, Pfarr said.

The county will then hold another public hearing for the overall Water’s Landing development sometime following the growth allocation decision, Vettori said.

read more

Feuer running for school board to combat ‘eastside neglect’

Feuer running for school board to combat ‘eastside neglect’
Will Feuer filed as a candidate for the Board of Education on Jan. 5 at the Baltimore County Board of Elections office.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Will Feuer has become an active member and leader in many of Dundalk’s community organizations since buying a house in West Inverness six years ago.

Currently the president of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., Feuer is also a vice president of the Eastern Regional Lions Club and the immediate past president of the Optimist Club of Dundalk.

But there is one more element of community service he is hoping to add to his résumé - that of Board of Education member. He filed on Jan. 5 to run for the Seventh Councilmanic District seat on the school board that will this year have popularly elected members for the first time.

“I’m running because I want people to be proud of Essex and Dundalk like I am,” Feuer told the East County Times. “I see all the neglect Towson has for this side of town and I want to change that.”

Feuer, a Parkville High School and Community College of Baltimore County graduate, originally got involved in Dundalk-area education issues because of proposed renovations to Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts.

“I didn’t think that what they had planned was enough; the renovations didn’t go far enough,” he said.

He is concerned that Greater Dundalk’s comprehensive high schools - Dundalk, Patapsco and Sparrows Point - are all overcrowded and planned new housing developments will only worsen the situation.

“Dundalk High School is brand new, and it already has two trailers out back,” Feuer said of mobile classrooms employed by the school system to accommodate overflow students. “That school is less than five years old and it’s already overcrowded. That just strikes me as poor planning. They plan in the moment or react, they don’t plan for the future.”

Regarding behavioral and disciplinary issues, Feuer said teachers and administrators “need latitude to address the issues,” but also sees the need for “clear, across-the-board policies.”

He is concerned that the identical infraction could be addressed different ways in different schools.

“I understand the need to do everything possible to keep a child in the classroom and learning, but there also needs to be repercussions for bad behavior and also respect for the students who follow the rules and want to learn,” Feuer said.

The candidate said he believes one of his strengths is the ability to see “the big picture.”

“I don’t know everything but I have a willingness and the time to become knowledgeable of the issues facing Baltimore County schools,” he said. “And I have the ability to hunt out the resources to find the information needed.”

Feuer has adopted the acronym COAT - community, oversight, accountability and transparency - as the guiding philosophy of his campaign.

“These are the four principles that, as I run my campaign and if I am fortunate enough to be elected, I will uphold,” he said.

As of press time, Feuer was the only candidate to have filed for the Seventh District school board seat. The deadline to register is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

read more

Rumor untrue about WMVFC private access road to MD-43

Rumor untrue about WMVFC private access road to MD-43
A concept rendering of how WMVFC's new station will look when complete. The new station will not have direct access to MD-43 via a private road.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Ever since the departure of the Paragon outlet mall project in White Marsh in January 2017, neighbors have sought information on what it means for the nearby White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company.

Paragon had promised to fund construction of a ramp connecting MD-7/Philadelphia Road with eastbound MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard to improve traffic flow around their property, as well as to provide easier access and improved response times for WMVFC. But that plan died with the outlet mall project.

Although Paragon was able to complete design on the ramp and get it approved by the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA), the state does not currently have funding allocated to build the ramp itself.

Recently, a rumor has circulated through the community that WMVFC was going to be given access to eastbound MD-43 via a private access road, only for their use. However, company representatives and a SHA spokesperson have said they have no information on such a project.

“We know of no plan to allow us access, but we would welcome it,” said a source within WMVFC who preferred not to be named. “That’s obviously much needed.”

Additionally, SHA spokeswoman Shantee Felix said the agency had no information about a private road being built in that area.

Neighbors have also expressed some concern about the “for sale” sign on the front of WMVFC’s current building since they believed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was set to provide grant funding for the demolition of the building following the company’s move to its new site and the property was going to remain open space.

But the unnamed source confirmed the building and property are for sale.

“We obviously need to sell it to help pay for our project down the road, which will better serve the community,” the source said.

WMVFC President Kevin Palmer said the MEMA grant was dependent on federal funds which were turned down by the state.

Palmer noted that federal restrictions prevent public safety infrastructure from expanding or doing new construction within flood plains; a portion at the back of their current site is within a flood plain. But a commercial use would not have that same restriction.

“So whereas we couldn’t expand or reconstruct the fire station because of the parameters placed on public safety, a commercial resale is a little bit different,” he said. “They would have a better ability to do renovations or expand, as long as it didn’t encroach in the flood plain itself.”

The property is zoned BL (business local) which allows commercial uses such as retail, restaurants, banks, offices and other similar uses.

read more

New housing going up in Rosedale

New housing going up in Rosedale
The Martin Farms site plan done by DS Thaler and Associates, courtesy of Klein Enterprises.

(Updated 1/24/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A planned complex of 77 townhouses off Rossville Boulevard in Rosedale offers quick access to Interstate 95, but it is also close enough to the highway to require noise barriers for the people who will live there.

The 12-acre former Martin Farm site is bounded on two sides by I-95 and Rossville Boulevard. Because the site is within 500 feet of a designated highway, barriers will be required to muffle the sound for the three-story townhouses.

Developer Klein Enterprises of Pikesville asked for a waiver from Baltimore County’s noise policy at a public hearing on Thursday, Jan. 18.

Also requested were multiple setback variances that would allow tighter grouping of townhouses due to a stream and woods on the southern end of the site that make part of the acreage unbuildable.

No one from the neighboring area attended, and a decision by a county administrative law judge is expected by the end of January.

A study of exterior noise levels from the highways indicated decibel levels above 66 dBA, the maximum allowed without mitigation. Because a wall could be more than 30 feet high, the developer asked for a waiver that would allow a lower wall as long as noise levels inside the townhouses do not exceed 55 dBA.

Granting the waiver would enable meeting the required noise levels on the ground floor, but not necessarily on the second and third floors. Potential buyers would be notified at the time of purchase about the condition, according to an attorney for the developer.

The only way in and out of the development would be off Rossville Boulevard at the existing traffic light across from the entrance to the Community College of Baltimore County Essex campus.

Located in groups of six to seven, Martin Farms units have one- or two-car garages and the community offers several amenities. The developer is paying $164,682 in lieu of fully meeting open space requirements.

Shady Springs Elementary School, the school district in which the new development is located, is over capacity. But other elementary schools in the area - Elmwood, McCormick, Red House Run and Orems - have room for students, according to the county’s Department of Planning.

An engineer for Klein testified that the additional traffic generated by Martin Farms will not result in creating a failing condition at intersections in the immediate area. An F-rated intersection means that a developer cannot apply for building permits until congestion is mitigated.

Other new residential construction in the area includes the fast-rising Overlook at Franklin Square, a complex of 356 luxury apartments in eight buildings with a two-story clubhouse and leasing office, as well as additional townhouses in Franklin Pointe at Deerborne.

Located near Martin Farms, the Overlook entrance is farther south off Rossville Boulevard at the traffic light across from Franklin Square Drive.

Four buildings are already being leased, and there are currently 20 occupants, according to an on-site leasing agent.

One-bedroom apartments start at $1,470 and three-bedroom apartments start at $2,225, she said.

read more

BQVFD ‘extremely grateful’ for gift of land from former delegate

BQVFD ‘extremely grateful’ for gift of land from former delegate
Most of the wooded property near the corner now belongs to BQVFD. While the cleared portion still belongs to developer Clark Turner, Hammen said the fire company may approach him to purchase that land as well. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Former State Delegate Nancy M. Hubers is a proud 50-year resident of the Bowleys Quarters community.

The staunch public servant who served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1999-2003 said she has always felt “safe and secure” while living on the peninsula, in part because of the presence of the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department.

She beamed with pride Saturday, Jan. 13, when she presented a ceremonial deed of ownership, representing a gift of more than nine acres of land for future fire station use, to past President John Hammen.

“The future of the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department should be of prime concern to every resident in Bowleys Quarters,” she told the crowd gathered for the group’s annual installation of officers and awards program. “I hope this acquisition helps secure the future of the Bowleys Quarters fire department.”

Hammen elicited laughter from the crowd when he recalled a time when volunteers were called to assist with an incident that occurred on Hubers’ property.

In sharing what he described as “one of the strangest calls” he was involved with, he told of a boat that ran up into Hubers’ waterfront lawn and crashed into an oak tree.

“She came out and said, ‘Get that boat out of my yard,’” he said with a laugh.

The gift of about 9.25 acres of land situated near the intersection of Bowleys Quarters and Carroll Island roads is the result of a long and complicated process, according to Hammen.

Noting the desire to move the fire station to higher ground and to a location that would allow quicker access to Eastern Avenue, Hammen said he approached Hubers about three years ago to express the department’s interest in buying the land.

Hubers suggested making the land a gift, but discovered that her late husband, Dan Hubers, had bought the land with a couple of partners. With those partners also deceased, heirs needed to be tracked down so the land could be legally transferred.

Several lawyers, nearly three years and countless meetings and phone calls later, the effort resulted in the ultimate transfer of the land from Hubers to BQVFD. The legal transaction was finalized in October 2017. The gift is valued at about $1 million, “give or take,” according to Hammen.

Hammen thanked Shawn Vinson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police Department and an attorney, for guiding the complex legal maneuvering that resulted in the gift.

Although the land is now under the ownership of the fire department, how to ultimately use it is still undecided.

“No decision has yet been made; that’s another set of extremely complicated decisions that have to be made,” Hammen told the East County Times. “We have to figure out where the money will come from, do we sell what we have, do we completely relocate, do we keep the hall that we currently have and just move the station?”

While about 90 percent of the calls responded to by the department are along the Eastern Avenue corridor, Hammen said the group’s Marine Emergency Team is also a vital component of its services.

BQVFD keeps one rescue boat at Long Beach Marina and another at Beacon Light Marina, which allows members to quickly respond to water emergencies on both the Middle River and Seneca Creek/Gunpowder River sides of the peninsula.

Another boat is kept trailered at the station for assisting water rescue efforts outside of the immediate area, according to Hammen.

The potential move would expedite land calls but make water rescues more complicated.

“Now when we get a water rescue call, the guys can just run across the street and be on the boat in minutes,” Hammen said. “So a move up the road would mean getting in cars to drive to where the boats are kept.”

In any case, the membership will take some time to assess priorities, funding, the future of the banquet hall and what is in the best interest of the community before deciding how to best utilize Hubers’ gift.

“We are a good, active group with our act together,” Hammen said of the department that boasts about 150 total members, with about 45 active firefighting and medically trained first responders. “We’re extremely grateful for this gift and we will use it in the best interests of the community we serve.”

read more

Tradepoint’s Royal Farms store moving forward; dredging begins in polluted tin mill canal

Tradepoint’s Royal Farms store moving forward; dredging begins in polluted tin mill canal
The canal’s northern section cuts through TPA’s planned retail complex. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A planned Royal Farms convenience store at Tradepoint Atlantic’s proposed shopping center off Bethlehem Boulevard in Sparrows Point got the go ahead from county reviewers last week and is expected to open late this year.

Located near Tradepoint’s marketing center building at the southern end of Peninsula Expressway, the convenience store will have gas pumps and a car wash, according to plans discussed at a Jan. 9 meeting of the county’s Development Review Committee.

Royal Farms was the first tenant to be announced for the retail and restaurant center component of TPA’s redevelopment of the former steel mill site that will serve industrial tenants, visitors and travelers, as well as the nearby Edgemere residential community.

Also planned is a 115-room hotel.

“[There are] no additional tenants to announce as of now; however, we are actively working the market to attract additional tenants,” said Tradepoint spokesman Aaron Tomarchio on Friday.

The Royal Farms site within the planned shopping center was formerly used as a marshalling yard and parking lot for a tin mill that operated until 2012 when it closed and was subsequently demolished along with most other steel mill buildings on the peninsula.

Environmental regulations sometimes allow the paving over of contaminated ground with parking lots and building foundations to protect people on site from coming into contact with the pollutants.

“Like the FedEx and Under Armour [distribution center]] sites, the [Royal Farms] development will serve as a cap for any residual contamination,” Tomarchio said.

The exact location of the future shopping center buildings will depend on remediation deemed necessary for the Tin Mill Canal, including buffers and fences approved by the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

Before construction can begin on the shopping center, work must be done to remediate and monitor the remaining canal, a 1.4-mile waterway that drains 800 acres of the peninsula and also received contaminated discharges from the mill and other operations.

About 15 feet deep, the canal cuts across the shopping center site on its way west through the Humphreys Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant before draining into Bear Creek.

A plan was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in October to guide the remedial work and monitoring.

Work began this month to excavate and remove contaminated sediments so the canal can continue to be used as a stormwater collector, but with less treatment required at TPA’s treatment plant because of the cleaner conditions.

However, two environmental groups - Blue Water Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation - argued during the comment period for the plan last summer that missing from the plan is data about the level of contamination in groundwater, which also drains into the canal.

“Generally speaking, having as much information [as possible] for the development from the onset just makes sense,” said Angela Haren, harborkeeper with Blue Water Baltimore. “Historically, the canal is one of the most contaminated locations at Sparrows Point, and we need groundwater monitoring to protect human health.”

The EPA argued in response that the issue will be addressed in the overall evaluation of ground water on the peninsula that has been occurring for about two years.

“The area around the Tin Mill canal has been studied and will be part of the comprehensive groundwater evaluation underway for the entire property,” said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Disposal of sediment
The plan is to remove sediments going about two feet down from the bottom of the canal, which is expected to take about a year.

“The project consists of excavating sediment material from the canal, installing a geotextile liner, and capping the canal with clean material and rip-rap,” said Tomarchio. “The sediment being removed contains VOCs, SVOCs and inorganics (metals).

“The canal will be pumped out during the excavation and capping process, which will occur on a section by section basis,” he wrote. “The water will be pumped to the on-site wastewater treatment plant.”

Once excavated, the sediments will be disposed of at Grey’s Landfill, owned by Tradepoint, north of Bethlehem Boulevard.

Disposed of elsewhere will be material from a 200-foot section heavily polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that will be taken to an off-site hazardous waste facility.

“They will divert a section, scoop out the sediment, move it to a drying pad, line and repeat down the line till they get to the PCB area, which will require different material handling since the PCB soils will be hauled off-site to a disposal facility,” Apperson wrote in an email.

Still to be worked out is how stormwater runoff from Tradepoint’s paved shopping center will be integrated with the existing tin mill canal.

County regulations typically require that stormwater systems be designed to serve a particular parcel. But in this case, the shopping center is part of a much larger redevelopment.

“Other stormwater issues will be addressed by Baltimore County and MDE for the retail once the final design plans are submitted,” Apperson wrote.

read more

New Marshy Point program to expose kids to nature at early age

New Marshy Point program to expose kids to nature at early age

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A new program at Marshy Point Nature Center in Middle River called the Chesapeake Adventurers Pre-K, meant to give young children nature education and exposure, has its roots in a European concept known as “Forest Kindergarten.”

Ben Porter, the nature center’s senior naturalist and director, said the concept seems to have gained significant ground in environmental education.

“And it spread to a lot of different places in the U.S. to do a preschool program that is nature-based,” he said.

Chesapeake Adventurers offers children a nature-focused learning experience during which adventurers will set out on daily expeditions in the center’s park.

Porter said the children, accompanied by two “adventure guides,” will spend as much of the day as possible outside exploring and learning in the center’s 500 acres of park land.

“One of the ideas is that kids can learn from their environment and then from each other, and also from our adventure guides,” he said.

The program, which is scheduled for this spring, will run during the months of March, April and May on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day.

Snacks will be provided through the program, but participants are asked to bring their lunches.

Porter said it will build on the popularity of their pre-K drop-in program which allows preschool-aged children to visit the center with their parents for an hour on Mondays and participate in nature-related activities.

“They come in... and do a different topic depending on what the time of year is, and that’s been very successful for about the last five or six years,” Porter said.

Like most of the other happenings at MPNC, Chesapeake Adventurers’ activities will follow the seasons, according to the director. And they are starting in March because the weather will be getting warmer and they will start seeing signs of spring.

“March starts to wake up the amphibians, so they’ll be exploring different habitats,” he said. “They’ll study our pond and wetland habitats here, they’ll hike through the forest, they’ll visit different parts of the Chesapeake Bay [habitat] on Dundee Creek here at Marshy Point.”

He added that the kids will participate in team activities as well as “free-form nature play.”

Porter, who grew up in the area around Rocky Point Park in Essex and then in the rural northern areas of Baltimore County, said he remembers having fun playing on the beach, in the creeks and in the woods in those places.

“That seems like what’s missing a lot in our world today,” he said. “So we want to give that experience to up to 16 kids from the local area, ages 3, 4 and 5.”

The program will also take some cues from the center’s summer camps, which have had abundant success each year providing similar types of activities for children in several different age groups.

“This, to me, seemed like a great way to provide an opportunity at a different time of the year and in a little bit different way,” Porter said.

Chesapeake Adventurers will lead into the summer camp season and will pick back up in September after the camps conclude.

Participant costs for the program are $90 per week for MPNC members and $100 per week for non-members and will contribute to paying the guides, providing snacks and covering the center’s investment to outfit a second classroom in their building.

Even simpler than providing a formal education, Porter said the goal of the program is just to expose kids to nature.

“There’s something special that time in the outdoors does,” he said. “It’s a really essential part of your humanity to connect with something bigger than yourself and the broader outdoor world.”

People can learn about themselves as well by spending time in nature, Porter said. “And I think that is important to start even at a very young age.”

read more

School board candidate Kitlowski knows the system ‘inside and out’

School board candidate Kitlowski knows the system ‘inside and out’

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

As a youngster, Edward Kitlowski was inspired to become a teacher after watching “Room 222,” a 1970s television program about the inner workings of a school that had its share of problems.

“And years later, I got to teach history in Room 222 at Sparrows Point High School,” the Loch Raven resident said. “It was like a lifelong dream had come true.”

The now-retired educator wants to bring his teaching career full circle by becoming a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education. Kitlowski has filed to run as a candidate representing the Sixth Councilmanic District.

He is excited about the potential to get in on the ground floor of a newly formed Board of Education that he thinks is long overdue. With this year’s election, Baltimore County residents will for the first time elect seven members of the school board who will serve alongside four political appointees and an appointed student member.

“For many years, the Board of Education wasn’t accountable to anyone save maybe for the governor,” Kitlowski told the East County Times.“And that needed to change.”

Kitlowski attended Cromwell Valley Elementary School and graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1976. He received his bachelor’s degree in history from Ithaca College in 1980 and earned a master’s degree in education from then-Loyola College in 1986.

Kitlowski worked at a private school for students with learning disabilities for four years before beginning his career with Baltimore County Public Schools in 1986. He retired in 2016, having spent his final years as a teacher at Kenwood High School in Essex.

In his 30-year experience with BCPS, Kitlowski said he watched the culture of leadership change from one of partnerships to one of antagonism.

As he gets his campaign underway, Kitlowski is running with the slogan of providing a LIFT to the school system, with the acronymn referring to leadership, integrity, focus and transparency.

“I think that, from my perspective as an educator, I will bring a lot to the BOE that perhaps other candidates won’t have,” he said. “I want to put the focus on the culture of leadership, how is the money being used, how are new policies being implemented and received?”

He pointed to recent school years in which teachers were overwhelmed with implementing new grading systems, adopting new curricula and other new policies and procedures, all at a time when internal support for teachers has diminished, in his opinion.

The federally mandated No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on data-driven outcomes, removed a lot of the individuality and creativity from the teaching process, he believes.

“No Child Left Behind shifted the culture, the dynamics, the relationships of the building,” he said of the achievement testing mandates created during the George W. Bush administration. “Those tests became all-important - more important to the teachers than to the students - and created an antagonism between teachers and students, teachers and department chairs, department chairs and principals and principals and higher administrators.

He is also concerned that the school system could be doing better by its students by graduating students who are actually college and/or career ready.

“We are preparing our students to graduate but we aren’t preparing them for life,” he said. “Nationwide, less than 50 percent of kids who enter college graduate, and a lot of the time that’s because they aren’t prepared for the level of work required in college.”

He also believes not enough attention is being paid to trades and careers that do not require a formal college education.

“A lot of students just don’t want to go on to college,” Kitlowski said. “We need to be more encouraging to students who want to pursue trades, we need to provide the training for the jobs that can never go overseas - plumbing, HVAC, welding, auto mechanics - and these are well-paying jobs.”

Noting that there is still a stigma attached to trades - as opposed to white-collar careers - Kitlowski believes parents should want their children to be independent and self-sufficient, regardless of what they choose to do for a living.

Kitlowski recalls a time when, as an educator, administrative support for teachers was much more apparent.

“I remember when Walt Amprey was an assistant superintendent and he’d walk into my classroom and ask me if there was anything I needed from him,” Kitlowski said. “We mattered as teachers and there was more support offered to make us be successful at our jobs. A lot of that is gone.”

In addition, he would like to see more idea sharing, not only from teacher to teacher but between jurisdictions.

“Baltimore County has in the past been narrow-minded in looking at other school systems for ideas that work,” Kitlowski said. “There has been a philosophy that if an idea didn’t come from the superintendent’s office, then it wasn’t a good idea.”

While he admits that much of his conversation about the school system might sound negative, he maintains that most teachers in Baltimore County are “phenomenal” and he does not fault principals who often have their hands tied with testing mandates and other state and federal requirements that can bog down the educational process.

He would like to see teachers treated more professionally with less micromanaging and putting a stop to intimidation and retaliatory actions that ultimately shut down communications and idea sharing among colleagues.

Kitlowski believes his extensive classroom experience across many superintendents and federal administrations makes him ideal for the school board.

“I  think it’s in the best interests of all Baltimore County taxpayers to have someone on the Board of Education that knows the system inside and out,” he said. “I’d like to see the school system keep its phenomenal teachers and make the commitment of changing the culture so people really do feel appreciated and are allowed to do their jobs.”

read more

Gov. Hogan’s paid sick leave veto overturned in General Assembly

Gov. Hogan’s paid sick leave veto overturned in General Assembly
Gov. Hogan (left) addressed the House of Delegates - alongside Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and House Speaker Michael Busch - on the first day of the session on Jan. 10. The next day the House overrode his veto of paid sick leave legislation.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

A day after the General Assembly reconvened in Annapolis last week, the Democratic majority worked quickly to override multiple vetoes enacted by Gov. Larry Hogan at the end of last year’s session.

Most notably, the House of Delegates and the State Senate voted to overturn the veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, colloquially known as the paid sick leave bill. The bill will require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide five days of sick leave. Democrats contend the bill will help more than 700,000 workers in the state, but a task force convened by Hogan earlier this year estimated the number was below half of that.

Needing 85 votes in the House of Delegates, the Democrats secured 88. Every member of the House representing Districts Six, Seven and Eight on Baltimore County’s east side voted to sustain Hogan’s veto. In the Senate, the override passed with a 30 - 17 count, and Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11) ultimately providing the bump needed to push the override. Zirkin was one of four Democrats - including Kathy Klausmeier (D-8), Jim Brochin (D-42) and James DeGrange (D-32) - who voted against the bill last year. He was the only one to flip.

“The sick leave bill Governor Hogan vetoed - which the legislature overrode - takes us in the wrong direction,” said Delegate Bob Long (R-6). “The bill is too complicated and goes too far. It unfairly exempts too many for unexplained reasons, and it could require disclosure of private medical information to your employer as a condition of actually taking a paid sick day.”

Those sentiments were on display on the floor of the General Assembly on Jan. 11 as the Democrats and Republicans got their last words in before the vote. House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-7) told lawmakers that “while the bill was certainly well-intentioned,” there were too many flaws. She called it “overly constrictive” and highlighted “privacy concerns,” especially for those dealing with deeply personal issues like assault or abuse. She also pointed to a portion of the bill that required businesses to hold onto records for three years.

Szeliga urged lawmakers to consider Gov. Hogan’s bill, the Paid Leave Compromise Act of 2018, which would see the threshold for providing paid sick leave pushed from 15 to 25 employees. It would also take three years to be phased in, with hardship waivers available for businesses who can prove that cooperating with the measure would cause financial hardship.

“I support [Hogan’s proposal]. The compromise bill had the benefit of a study undertaken during the interim, and attempts to fix the major flaws,” said Long.

With the override of the veto, the law is set to be implemented in 30 days. But Thomas Middleton (D-28), the lead sponsor in the Senate, told reporters that lawmakers will consider a separate measure to delay enforcement provisions - such as fines - for 90 days.

“Is this the end of the discussion? Absolutely not,” said Middleton.

Amelia Chasse, deputy communications director for Hogan, issued a statement calling for legislators to fix the flaws in the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act.

“Now that this political posturing is over, it’s time for the legislature to get down to the business of fixing the serious flaws in this bill that Senator Middleton and numerous others openly acknowledged today,” said Chasse. “Given their own admission that [the bill] will hurt small businesses, we urge legislators to fast track the governor’s Small Business Relief Tax Credit to ensure employers aren’t forced to close their doors and lay off employees.”

read more

‘Migration’ pulls together eclectic group of dancers for original production

‘Migration’ pulls together eclectic group of dancers for original production
Pucci directs dancers during one of the production’s rehearsals in the CCBC Essex field house. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 1/17/18)

- By Marge Neal -

A genetics research project that has tracked the patterns of human migration over the past 50,000 years has revealed that Earth’s human population shares a common origin - that all humans are descendants from a single source and migrated across the globe.

That concept is the inspiration for an original dance production that will have its world premier at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex campus.

CCBC alumnus and internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Peter Pucci has created the original production titled “Migration” to honor researcher Spencer Wells’ work and to provide a unique creative experience for an eclectic group of dancers they would not have otherwise had, he told the East County Times.

Wells founded the Genographic Project, an anonymous, nonmedical and nonprofit effort, for National Geographic in 2005. Pucci said he reached out to Wells to tell him about his research being the inspiration for the production, and the researcher plans to attend the event.

“We’re all linked, going back 50,000 years, to a single tribe in Africa,” Pucci said of Wells’ research. “That inspired me to make a dance about migration, with a cross-pollination of many levels of dancers - professional, college, high school and community dancers - to represent that common linkage.”

Many local dancers are familiar with Pucci’s work and have benefitted from his expertise. The East Baltimore native received his associate’s degree in physical education from then-Essex Community College. A single dance class taken by chance served as the seed that would determine his life’s path and he said he enjoys being able to give back to the community that set him on that path.

“Migration” is an intricate piece of choreography that Pucci likens to a jigsaw puzzle, with separate but complementary pieces performed by different groups involved with the production.

About 50 dancers from CCBC, Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, St. Timothy’s School, Towson University and The Collective, a Baltimore-based professional dance company, are involved with the production.

Claire Sweet, chairperson of Patapsco’s dance department, considers the opportunity for some of her students to work with Pucci  “an invaluable experience.”

“It’s really all about the artistic vision,” she said of the chance to work with a professional like Pucci. “Being able to be around someone who is a master with the vision to bring this project to fruition is amazing for our students.”

Patapsco senior Jessica Kirkner is one of five Patriots taking advantage of the opportunity to work on “Migration.” She plays the role of a member of the original African tribe who branched out and started her own tribe.

Kirkner has not yet decided if she will pursue a career as a professional dancer. But she said she has learned a lot about her own abilities and the demands of dance as a profession.

“I think this experience shows me what I could do professionally if I chose that, and also that I could stay involved in dance even if I don’t choose that path,” she said. “These rehearsals require 100-percent effort and we take them more seriously that we do perhaps others.”

In addition to “cross-pollinating” the program’s cast of dancers, Pucci is fulfilling another creative fantasy by staging the production in a nontraditional performance space.

“I straddle both worlds,” Pucci said of athletics and theater. “I went to CCBC because I wanted to be a physical education teacher and I was involved in many sports - track and field, football, lacrosse, all of them really.”

In spending so much time in field houses for athletic events, he began to dream about holding a dance production in a sports facility.

The concept of “Migration” and its theory of cross-pollination made the production the perfect candidate for yet another performance experiment, Pucci said. To that end, “Migration” will be staged in Essex’s domed field house, with the dancers performing on a rubber floor poured over concrete and audience members sitting on bleachers.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to put dance in a very different context,” Pucci said. “We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments and the rehearsals have been very difficult on the dancers.”

The floor, with little to no give to it, exhausts the performers and wears out their legs, he said. And it is not unusual for birds, bugs and squirrels to visit during rehearsals, to say nothing of leaves and bits of debris that blow in.

“It’s very different, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh. “But it has been a really great experience for all the students.”

CCBC commissioned Pucci to create “Migration” with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation. The production is part of CCBC’s yearlong Baltimore Stories Performing Arts series that involves many artists and performers who either live in the Baltimore area or have local roots.

The dance production is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Tickets can be reserved by calling the CCBC box office at 443-840-2787.

In keeping with the theme, Pucci hopes to fill the gym with a cross-pollinated audience that will further carry out the theme of connections and commonality, in spite of individual differences.

“The dancers have all been working really hard on this production,” Pucci said. “We’re throwing together groups that would never have worked together, and I hope we have a great audience to witness their work and dedication to the project.”

read more

District Six delegation delivers legislative agenda to constituents at town hall

District Six delegation delivers legislative agenda to constituents at town hall
Delegate Robin Grammer (standing) fields a question from the audience at the pre-legislative session District Six town hall. The four members of the delegation predict that this will be a contentious session as politicians position themselves for election season. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Leading up to the start of the 2018 General Assembly in Annapolis, which kicked off Wednesday, Jan. 10, the Sixth District delegation held a town hall at the North Point Library in Dundalk to give a pre-session update.

Delegates Robin Grammer, Ric Metzgar and Bob Long, as well as State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, met with dozens of constituents for two-plus hours, discussing topics ranging from infrastructure and taxes to crime and redevelopment.

Delegate Long spent his opening remarks focusing on tax issues. He told the gathered crowd that he planned to submit legislation that would bump up the Homeowner Propert Tax Supplement from a $62,000 joint income threshold up to $72,000, which accounts for inflation since the credit was approved in the early 1990s.

Long noted that he is going to focus on lowering the Homestead Property Tax, which limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage, from 4 percent to 3 percent. He also plans to create a first-time homeowner tax incentive, which he contends would be beneficial in combatting Section 8.

“This is a great way to get families back into these neighborhoods,” he said.

While Long was focused on taxes, Salling made it clear from the outset that jobs were his main concern, especially at Tradepoint Atlantic.

“I think the biggest thing we’re looking into is manufacturing, and we’re looking into windmills,” he said. “If you really think about what windmills could bring here, building them at [Tradepoint Atlantic]’s the greatest opportunity we have in this area. We have the skillset here already and we’ve been promoting that.”

While the individual members of the group each spent about five minutes outlining their agenda for the session, most of the evening was dedicated to hearing from constituents. As local residents filed into the library, they filled out a card with a question that would later be posed to the delegation.

The first question posed to the delegation dealt with the topic of redevelopment at Fort Howard. Grammer noted that redevelopment under the current developer who holds the lease is unlikely.

“The thought is if the current developer was to proceed with any kind of project he’d need to bring in help,” said Grammer. “There was another developer who looked into it and I met him once and I asked him to show me what he had, and he didn’t even have a traffic study. That kind of describes where that is. I don’t see development at Ft. Howard going anywhere right now.”

Grammer added that he would like to see a congressman propose a bill that would see the property fall into possession of the State of Maryland should the current lease expire. Metzgar and Long echoed that sentiment, with Metzgar pointing to redevelopment aimed at helping veterans in Perryville and promising to address the issue with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2).

On the subject of potential marijuana legalization - which Grammer believes will be put on the ballot for referendum in November in order to draw a large voter turnout - he told the crowd the biggest problem he sees is a lack of communication between the state and local jurisdictions.

“What needs to happen right now is local law enforcement needs to understand what state laws are. They need to understand the process of how a person comes to be given access to these products. One of the bills I’m putting forward this year is to require training for local and state law enforcement for what is essentially a new industry in a unique time,” Grammer said.

Long pointed out that in discussions about legalization last year, the subjects of drug education and treatment were rarely discussed, if at all. He added that, should a legalization initiative reach the floor, he would add an amendment that would see funding generated from taxes shifted to drug education and treatment.

“We have to make sure our younger children are prepared and know the consequences,” Long said.

On infrastructure, the delegation tackled a few issues. Salling lamented the state of sidewalks - or lack thereof - in Sparrows Point and on North Point Road, noting the delegation has spoken to the County Council and others about how they can rectify the situation. Grammer added that a lot of those issues, when they are not handled at the local level, are handled at the discretion of state agencies like the Maryland Department of Transportation or the State Highway Association, which essentially leaves state-level representatives powerless.

From there the conversation jumped to traffic issues in the Turner Station area. Grammer again took the lead, telling the crowd that truck drivers often try to avoid getting hit with the Broening Highway toll and end up on the local roads.

“If you live in old Dundalk you can’t get on a state road without paying a toll,” he said. “It’s harming Turner Station and St. Helena. We’re still looking at it and that battle is going to come back up.”

Turner Station resident Linwood Jackson added that truck driver GPS devices also often get Main Street in Turner Station and Broening Highway confused.

“Every time a truck comes down they tear down our cable lines and electric lines,” Jackson said.

Jackson added that he believes Turner Station is a “target” due to its positioning between Tradepoint Atlantic and the Port of Baltimore. He urged the members of the delegation to meet with the residents of Turner Station and tour the community.

“We can’t keep going hours or days without power because of these trucks,” he concluded.

Salling added that a big issue is truck drivers going back and forth from the Port or Tradepoint do not want to keep getting hit with a toll when they are not using the Key Bridge. He promised that the delegation was working to fix the issue.

After the event, Metzgar commented that he was excited about the turnout and dialogue.

“This was one of the best town hall’s we’ve ever had,” said Metzgar. “And we’re going to do everything we can this session to make sure these issues are dealt with.”

read more

Poll shows importance of prescription drug affordability to voters

Poll shows importance of prescription drug affordability to voters
Incumbent Senator Kathy Klausmeier (left) will face challenger Del. Christian Miele in this year's race for the District 8 State Senate seat. A new poll suggests prescription drug affordability measures will be an important issue for voters in that election.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Devin Crum -

A poll released at the end of last year asked voters statewide and in two legislative districts whether or not they support several initiatives related to controlling the price of prescription medication.

The results of the polls showed voters overwhelmingly support the initiatives both around the state and in the individual districts.

First, respondents were asked how they felt about the prescription drug price gouging law the Maryland General Assembly passed in 2017. That law aims to prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies on generic and off-patent drugs by making them justify large price increases and authorizing the Maryland attorney general to sue the companies if necessary to prevent those increases.

In District 8 in eastern Baltimore County, 71 percent of respondents said they approved of the law while only 16 percent said they opposed it.

When asked about initiatives proposed for this year’s legislative session in Annapolis - which kicked off Wednesday, Jan. 10 - large majorities of District 8 voters polled said they at least somewhat favored requiring pharmaceutical companies to inform the public about expensive new drugs and large price increases for older drugs, and to justify those pricing decisions (82 percent); establishing a cost review commission to determine acceptable costs for drugs (77 percent); and preventing commercial managers from restricting what pharmacists can tell consumers (64 percent).

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative which conducted the poll, said the results show that people in District 8 - which includes Parkville, Nottingham, Perry Hall, Overlea and some of White Marsh and Rosedale - and statewide “strongly” support their intiatives to help make all prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders.

DeMarco said the Prescription Drug Cost Review Commission is MCHI’s main proposal for the General Assembly because the body would have the authority to determine what Marylanders pay for all high-cost drugs. It would be tasked with examining evidence to determine what is affordable for Marylanders.

DeMarco used the brand-name drug Sovaldi, which is used to cure hepatitis C, as an example because it costs around $90,000 per treatment and only about 20 percent of the Marylanders who need it can get it, he said. But because it is a brand-name drug, it does not fall under the authority of the 2017 law.

“Certainly, if you don’t have insurance, you can’t pay that,” he said. “We want Marylanders to be able to afford life-saving drugs like this, and that’s what the drug cost commission is about.”

Rolled into that bill would be the requirement that drug companies inform the public of expensive drugs and justify their cost to the commission.

DeMarco said the commission would be similar to the state’s Health Services Cost Review Commission which determines what hospitals can charge patients and is meant to keep hospital costs under control while ensuring they have enough money to provide quality care.

The HSCRC was established in 1971 and is comprised of seven members appointed by the governor.

It will be written into the bill’s language that the PDCRC members will be appointed one each by the governor, the state senate president, the house speaker, the attorney general and the state treasurer, according to DeMarco.

MCHI’s other proposal is to do what several other states have done and prohibit “gag rules” on pharmacists. Some pharmaceutical benefit managers (PBMs) use such gag rules to bar pharmacists from telling consumers if the cash price of a drug is lower than they would pay if they go through their insurance.

The gag rule bill would make it a crime to include gag rules in contracts between pharmaceutical companies, PBMs and pharmacists.

“Marylanders, like all Americans, are feeling the crunch of skyrocketing prescription drug prices and they want legislators to do something about it,” DeMarco said. “This poll reflects what people are feeling in their pocketbooks.”

DeMarco admitted that District 8 was chosen for the poll because it will see a competitive State Senate race in 2018, but also because both candidates in that race - incumbent Kathy Klausmeier (D) and challenger Christian Miele (R) - currently sit on key legislative committees that could decide the fate of the bills.

MCHI also wanted to show support for their proposals in “purple” districts - those that voted for Gov. Larry Hogan (R) but elected Democratic state senators in 2014 - he said.

“We wanted to show these legislators, as well as other legislators around the state, that even in those kinds of districts this issue is very powerful,” DeMarco said.

The MCHI poll showed a 16-point lead for Klausmeier over Miele in a generic 2018 senate race. And that lead jumped up to a hypothetical 41 points for Klausmeier if she supported the aforementioned proposals and Miele did not.

However, if Miele supported the proposals and Klausmeier did not, the poll then favored Miele by 35 percentage points.

“I think that shows the power of this issue,” DeMarco said.

Klausmeier said she was not concerned with the results of the poll, noting that it is less important than her work with the legislation itself.

“My biggest concern is the way the prescription drugs are going out of the ballpark as far as the cost. We’ve got to really start looking at how we can curb that,” she said, noting that she is trying to get the PBMs to the negotiating table to work on solutions.

The senator revealed she is the lead Senate sponsor of the “gag rule” bill, which she said is modeled after legislation passed in Connecticut last year. She said she will be working with Del. Eric Bromwell (D-8), who is the bill’s lead sponsor in the House of Delegates.

“We’ll be trying to craft something that is a win-win for everybody, but most of all for the constituents of the state,” Klausmeier said.

Regarding MCHI’s other proposals, she said, “It sounds good, but I just need to do more digging myself to make sure that’s a great way to go.”

Miele, a state delegate, took a more cautious and free-market approach to MCHI’s proposals to regulate pharmaceutical companies.

“These are potentially life-saving drugs that we want to see come to the marketplace, and they’re only going to come to the marketplace if there’s something in it for the people who take the risk,” he said.

While Miele withheld judgement on MCHI’s specifically proposed bills since he had not seen them, he said state policymakers must be careful not to undermine investment in important drugs.

He noted that many pharmaceutical companies invest tens of millions of dollars in research and development of new drugs, and for every one that makes it to market there are probably dozens that fail at some point in the process.

“It’s not just the cost of the drug that the company has to bear,” Miele said. “There’s also the millions of dollars in failed drugs that never made it to market,” which includes research and development, permitting and marketing costs.

For this reason Miele had concerns that the poll did not adequately showcase both sides of the argument for respondents.

“I feel like if people that were polled were able to hear from the pharmaceutical companies and from the advocates, the outcome might be different,” he said.

Miele and Klausmeier both supported the 2017 price gouging law and Miele stood by that decision.

“I voted the way I did last year because I thought that was a reasonable measure, and I’m looking to find common ground,” he said.

That law was specifically tailored so it only triggered action using a measureable rubric for what seemed out of the ordinary or excessive, the delegate said, and it did a good job of protecting the public while not being too invasive in telling the marketplace what it can and cannot do.

Miele said while he has “built-in concerns” about the issue, he is “deeply interested” in it and the arguments both sides will present to the legislature. He said he is “anxiously waiting” to read the proposed legislation.

DeMarco said the poll has big implications for the 2018 election because it shows that whoever supports their proposals is much more likely to win the office they seek.

“Our polls show that people will much more likely vote for a candidate, whether incumbent or challenger, who supports these measures than one who doesn’t,” he said.

Regardless, he said MCHI hopes they both support their proposals to increase their chances of passing.

read more

Marijuana dispensary to open this month in Dundalk

Marijuana dispensary to open this month in Dundalk
Charm City Medicus LLC has renovated this building on North Point Boulevard for a marijuana dispensary. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Eastern Baltimore County’s first medical marijuana dispensary is set to open in Dundalk within a few weeks with a variety of salves, oils, edibles and other products designed to help registered patients with chronic pain and other debilitating conditions.

Charm City Medicus, at 717 North Point Blvd. in a retail area across from the Eastpoint shopping center, is now just waiting for inventory to arrive from suppliers, according to CEO Bryan Hill.

The dispensary is one of 102 operators in the state pre-approved by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission that are looking for locations and final approvals before competing to sell marijuana products to registered patients who have been issued certifications from medical providers.

In Maryland, two dispensaries are allowed in each legislative district. And so far, Charm City Medicus is the only one of six operators in eastern Baltimore County that has won a final approval from the commission.

The other five, including a Health for Life dispensary that expects to open in a former Burger King on North Point Boulevard by March, are awaiting approvals.

The Health for Life dispensary, at Rolling Road across from the Bob Bell Chevrolet car dealership, expects to launch a website in about two weeks and complete renovations in mid-February, according to Project Manager Julie Winter.

The group plans to hold a public educational event with staff and speakers, including a pain doctor from White Marsh, a grower, a processor and a compliance expert, who will be available to answer questions.

“It’s so the community can come hear about the benefits,” said Winter. The date is to be announced.

Originally listed with the commission as Green Mart, Health for Life planned to open a dispensary on German Hill Road but ran into opposition from neighbors because the building was next to residences and a park.

Representatives of the commission and the other four pre-licensed operators did not return requests for comment about the status of their applications by early Tuesday morning.

More than 20 states have approved the sale of medical marijuana. But because the drug is still illegal under federal law, most banks will not open accounts for dispensary businessnes and dispensaries accept only cash. However, some are working on offering additional options.

Hill said legislators in the Maryland General Assembly, which convened Wednesday, Jan. 10, for its annual 90-day session, may introduce a bill that would require industry contributions to a fund to help cover costs of the drug for low-income patients.

Charm City hosts open house
On Thursday, Jan. 4, Hill and the Eastfield-Stanbrook Civic Association hosted an open house at the dispensary that offered nearly a dozen visitors a chance to tour the facility and ask questions in advance of the opening.

“I thought it went well,” Hill said. “We got a lot of feedback and a lot of questions about the process and the different types of products.”

Hill, who also held an informational event for veterans at the dispensary in November, said he will offer discounts to veterans, senior citizens and children.

“I thought it was very interesting,” said Adele Scheidt, who lives in Eastfield and helped organize the two-hour event with association president Karen Cruz.

“I think it will help a lot of people,” Scheidt said. “I know people who have used it and they swear by it.”

Another Eastfield resident, Burt Harris, was initially skeptical but said he was reassured after asking questions of the staff, including Stephen Seidel, the dispensary manager and lead pharmacist.

Seidel, who said he lost his son to a heroin overdose, said people who have been prescribed opioid pain killers and become addicted sometimes turn to illegal heroin because it is much cheaper.

Regulated medical marijuana promises to be an alternative way of dealing with certain types of conditions, he said.

Harris said his wife was in significant pain when she died seven years ago and that doctors at the time prescribed heavy doses of morphine.

“I think they overdid it,” he said. “I was curious about [marijuana]; I’ve never really bought into it, but for anyone who’s sick, I can see it as a possible treatment.”

Under the Maryland program, patients must first register with MMCC to get an identification number.

Qualifying medical conditions include chronic pain, wasting syndrome (sometimes related to cancer), anorexia, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe or persistent muscle spasms, glaucoma and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the commission’s website.

Applicants then make an appointment to get a written certification from a doctor or other medical provider who is also registered with the commission.

In late August, Green Health Docs, which operates five other locations in Maryland, opened a medical marijuana evaluation office at 1050 North Point Road west of Merritt Boulevard.

“They must bring medical records with them to their appointment,” wrote Dr. Shivangi Amin, a principal with the group, in an email. “If a patient is unsure how to register, they may also come to our office and we will help them with the entire process.”

The call center accepts calls every day but Sunday, and the office is only open on Saturdays.

Also because of the federal legal status, insurance does not cover associated costs, Amin wrote. Green Health Docs charges $200 for the initial visit and charges veterans a discounted $170.

“We are required to see the patient every year under Maryland law, so the certificate will last the patient the entire year,” she wrote. “Renewal fees after [one] year are [$]150 for everyone.”

read more

County to pay for construction of remainder of Campbell Boulevard extension

County to pay for construction of remainder of Campbell Boulevard extension
This map shows the plan for the Campbell Boulevard extension, including the connections at US-40, Bird River Road and MD-43 at the top right. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County plans to pay for construction of the last remaining piece of Campbell Boulevard linking MD-7/Philadelphia Road to MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard via residential areas of Middle River, according to a Department of Public Works spokesperson.

DPW spokeswoman Lauren Watley confirmed to the East County Times that St. John Properties - the developer for much of the land along the MD-43 extension between White Marsh and Middle River - is currently designing and obtaining the necessary rights of way for the project, which would see the remainder of Campbell Boulevard constructed between Bird River Road and just south of Foxleigh Way.

The estimated cost is $2.5 million for the roughly 4,000-foot length, Watley said, and county officials have said funding will be requested in the county’s Fiscal Year 2019 capital budget for the project.

However, some in the community wondered why the county had decided to take on the expense of the construction since it has long been seen as a “developer’s road,” to be constructed by developers as they were ready to build on land the road would help them access. For that reason, many see the developers planning projects in the area as the chief beneficiaries of the new roadway.

Ray Reiner, an Oliver Beach resident and member of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, said at the group’s November meeting that he was okay with the county footing the bill for now, but developers should have to pay their share back to the county as their projects progress.

“Originally, it was to be put in by [developers]…,” he said. “Once a developer comes along, I think the county should be reimbursed by the developers for this [money].”

EMRCC President Bob Bendler pointed out that the completed link would make sure the additional traffic traveling along Campbell following the reopening of the Mohrs Lane bridge would not simply dump onto Bird River Road, which already sees traffic issues.

The bridge’s construction is expected to begin in June 2019 and take two years to complete, according to Watley.

Bendler said “major bottlenecks” would result from the Mohrs Lane bridge reopening before Campbell Boulevard is completed beyond Bird River Road.

“We have continually pressed the fact that this has to be looked at as a continuum,” he said in November. “We can’t just focus on getting the bridge done; you’ve got to have the rest of the process in place or else one thing causes other problems.”

Still, other EMRCC members agreed with Reiner that the developers should ultimately pick up the tab.

“The increase in development density [in the area] is what is causing traffic problems, so I think the cost of that should be borne by those folks who have done the developing,” said Wilson Point resident Dan Doerfer.

At EMRCC’s December meeting, Reiner and others acknowledged the project’s benefits regarding traffic, but stuck to the notion that Campbell Boulevard was planned as a developer’s road.

“I don’t see why we [as taxpayers] should be paying for the extension of the roadway when it’s benefitting the businesses along [MD-]43 and the housing developments over there,” Reiner said last month. “I think the developers should be paying for it.”

EMRCC member and Bird River Beach resident Peter Terry said, though, that the county typically does not address things like traffic until after development occurs and congestion of a particular area becomes an issue.

“Then we have overdevelopment and it takes three more years for an intersection to catch up,” he said.

“The overall project will improve transportation and access through the White Marsh area, an important and designated growth area,” Watley said of the extension. “The current county effort would complete the overall project in that area in advance of additional growth in the area.

“Most of these long main roadways in the growth areas have been built in pieces over a period of many years by both developer projects and county capital projects, which usually fill gaps and create the final needed connections,” she said.

Watley noted that the county designed, funded and constructed Campbell Boulevard from US-40/Pulaski Highway to Bird River Road in 2015 and will fund construction of the upcoming Mohrs Lane bridge replacement, which will become part of Campbell Boulevard extended between MD-7 and US-40. Meanwhile, development activity facilitated the con

struction of the road’s 3,000-foot section between MD-43 and Foxleigh Way at the developer’s expense, but left a smaller area for the remaining road connection.

Bendler wanted to find out if it would be possible to assess developers in the future for their share of the road’s cost as their projects move forward.

“Timing may justify throwing some county money at it,” he said, “but I agree with the discussion that’s been going on that it was originally a developer road and the developers haven’t come forward. And now [St. John] is promoting it because they need it for that access.”

read more

King to be celebrated with readings, music, dance, prayer and food

King to be celebrated with readings, music, dance, prayer and food
The special service will be held at Orems United Methodist Church, 1020 Orems Road in Middle River. Photo courtesy of Orems UMC.

(Updated 1/10/18)

- By Marge Neal -

Two local churches are planning a special Martin Luther King Jr. celebration that the Rev. Walter Jackson believes would have made the civil rights activist proud.

“This service brings all kinds of people together and I think the Rev. Dr. King would have liked that,” said Jackson, pastor of Chase United Methodist Church. “I enjoy anything that serves to bring people together, and in a proactive, not reactive, way.”

Chase and Orems UMC are working collaboratively on the service to be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at Orems, 1020 Orems Road.

The event will kick off with dinner, followed by a program that will include readings of King’s works as well as choral and instrumental music selections and dance, according to Vicki Borreson, administrative assistant at Orems UMC.

“Chase held the event in our fellowship hall last year and it was so successful, so moving, that we decided we had to do it again,” she said.

In addition to readings and musical selections, the service will also include activities specifically for children, according to Borreson.

“Martin Luther King’s sister wrote a children’s book about her brother, and we’re going to read from that for the children who come,” Borreson said. “And we’ll have a craft table set up as well.”

Citing King as “one of the greatest theologians of our time,” Jackson said it is important to remember the words and actions of the civil rights activist who was assassinated in April 1968.

“He spoke of unity, peace and justice like no one else ever has, either in the 20th century or this one,” Jackson said. “He had a brilliant mind and was well ahead of his time.”

It is Jackson’s hope that the celebration will once again bring King’s words and philosophies “to the forefront of our minds.”

Borreson said she hopes the program helps keep King’s legacy alive locally.

“This is a celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., and we hope this helps make it more than just a word,” she said. “This is a place and time for us all to come together, with an eye on justice.”

In a world where many people are “apart in their thinking, emotions and relationships,” Jackson said the community needs opportunities to come together in a positive fashion, rather than after a catastrophic or tragic event.

“We need to remember we are all one people, people of God, we are all human beings,” he said. “We invite people to gather with us to eat, laugh, talk, reflect and come together in a wonderful event with a good spirit.”

Chase and Orems have invited several other local churches to attend the celebration, which is also open to the public.

Jackson hopes to fill the fellowship hall with area residents but said if just one person comes, it will be a success.

read more

Cub Hill Road neighbors challenge subdivision plan in Parkville

Cub Hill Road neighbors challenge subdivision plan in Parkville
Outlined in red is a planned 19-lot subdivision near the corner of Cub Hill Road and Flagstone Drive in Parkville. The existing house on the site at 9411 Flagstone Drive is set to be razed to create an entrance to the new development. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Neighbors fear the addition of 19 houses on the top of a wooded hill in Parkville could worsen already hazardous winter driving conditions in their neighborhood along narrow and winding Cub Hill Road.

Planned is a one-street subdivision on the former Hunsberger tree farm, which sits on a steep hill bordering the older neighborhood of 22 houses across from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.

Nearly half a dozen local residents living on the affected Flagstone Drive and Southwest Road raised questions about additional traffic from the project that would double the size of their community during a three-hour development plan hearing on Friday, Dec. 29.

They also questioned the proposed entrance off Flagstone Drive; a retaining wall along Cub Hill Road, which is a county-designated scenic byway; plans for storm water runoff; and the requirements for street lights.

Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen opted to continue the hearing on another day to allow more time for county departments to review the plan and share their opinions with residents.

Several county reviewers said at the hearing that parts of the plan were incomplete or currently unacceptable, including landscaping for a 10-foot-high, concrete retaining wall to be built along Cub Hill Road.

A previous developer had planned a subdivision with three fewer houses and an access road off Cub Hill Road, but the redevelopment of the tree farm was later taken over by the current developer, listed as Cub Hill Development LLC in care of Bel Air-based Timothy O’Shea.

Land records show that the LLC bought two half-acre lots on Flagstone Drive last July not owned by Hunsberger. The intent, according to a representative of the developer, was to build a house on one of the lots, which has been cleared of vegetation. But then the project was expanded to include the adjacent 10 acres of Hunsberger farmland.

The second lot on Flagstone Drive  includes a house that will be razed to create the entrance to the proposed subdivision, which residents said would be better located off Cub Hill Road per an earlier development plan for the farm.

Hazardous driving conditions
A traffic engineer for the developer said a one-day, peak-hour study on Dec. 12 of vehicles going past the Flagstone/Cub Hill intersection was within acceptable levels and that site distances were adequate.

Residents said driving is already hazardous, especially during icy winter weather, due to a sharp curve on Cub Hill Road and the generally hilly local terrain that drains into the nearby Gunpowder River.

Residents reported cases of cars and delivery trucks sliding down Flagstone Drive toward Cub Hill Road, and one long-time resident said he fears a driver leaving the subdivision could slide into his house across from the proposed entrance on Flagstone.

Another resident said during the summer she has personally cut back overgrown vegetation blocking the view of oncoming traffic on Cub Hill Road for drivers turning left out of Flagstone Drive.

Residents also note that the proposed subdivision is within the traffic shed that includes the routinely congested intersection of East Joppa Road and Perring Parkway which funnels traffic onto the Beltway.

Residents said a county official told them that the intersection is rated F, which means a development plan within the shed can be approved but that building permits cannot be granted until improvements are made to the intersection.

The developer’s attorney, Timothy Kotroco, disputed the F rating, saying a traffic shed map approved by the County Council rates the intersection as an E, which would allow building to go forward.

Kotroco said he is applying to the county Planning Department for a reserve capacity use certificate that would allow building permits provided it does not generate more than 103 peak-hour vehicle trips per day.

Retaining wall, other issues
The plan also calls for a 10-foot-high concrete retaining wall between Cub Hill Road and five lots along the northeast end of the subdivision.

Scenic road regulations require that the area between the wall and the road remain undisturbed and that area would be maintained in the future by the subdivision’s homeowner association, according to county officials.

They also said efforts would be made to color the wall to blend in with the surrounding vegetation, but that a landscaping plan has not been completed.

Also still outstanding is an answer about whether an existing 27-inch storm drain pipe under Cub Hill Road at Flagstone Drive is large enough to accept overflow runoff from the subdivision’s planned on-site drainage system.

If it is not, runoff can be diverted to wooded undevelopable areas on the southwestern end of the subdivision site, according to Kotroco.

Residents are also concerned about the addition of street lights, which they say will diminish views of the nighttime sky, which Kotroco said could be mitigated by applying to the county for a waiver.

He also said that the developer plans to pay the county $47,300 in lieu of providing required open space, which is allowed under county regulations.

read more

Motorcycle advocates to push for change to ‘helmet law’ during legislative session

Motorcycle advocates to push for change to ‘helmet law’ during legislative session
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore-Harford chapter of ABATE of Maryland, Inc. plans to focus its efforts during the upcoming 2018 General Assembly session on making wearing a helmet a choice for motorcyclists in the state rather than a requirement.

In previous years, ABATE - which in Maryland stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, although the acronym has different meanings in other states - has had to fight against a lot of different legislation proposing what they saw as unfair regulations on motorcyclists, according to Jay Hidden, the chapter’s legislative representative.

For example, in past legislative sessions, Hidden noted, bills have been proposed to make it illegal for anyone under 12 years old to ride a motorcycle, even as a passenger. Another sought to increase the fine for exceeding the speed limit by 40-plus mph from $500 to $1,000, but only for those on motorcycles. Both bills were sponsored by representatives from Prince George’s County.

But more recently, the organization has heard complaints from members that they have not accomplished anything with regard to the state’s helmet law.

The federal mandate that states must have a law requiring helmets for motorcyclists in order to receive highway funds was the main reason ABATE chapters sprang up around the country decades ago, Hidden said. And ever since that mandate was overruled by the courts, advocates have pushed to have Maryland’s law repealed, or at least modified.

As a result, the organization will push for passage of the “helmet modification law,” called so because it would modify the law and “‘helmet repeal law’ sounds like we want to outlaw helmets,” Hidden said. “We just want it to be a matter of choice.

“I try to explain to legislators that if I’m riding across the country and come into a state that doesn’t require a helmet, I’m going to leave the helmet on,” he said. “But when I stop, get a room then go to get something to eat, if the restaurant is three blocks down the road, I don’t want to put the helmet on, especially if it’s 95 degrees outside.”

Motorcycle advocates often argue that the efficacy of helmets is questionable, citing that they impair riders’ hearing and peripheral vision, according to Hidden. In addition, safety testing on helmets is typically done at what he said is the equivalent of riding at 13 mph. Advocates question how safe they really are and how they will perform at higher speeds.

People on both sides of the issue use numbers from Michigan, Hidden said, because it is the most recent state to repeal their helmet requirement.

Advocates of helmets point to an increase in total motorcycle fatalities since that repeal. But opponents of the laws say the increase in ridership following the repeal, which is far greater, means that the percentage of fatalities among riders has actually gone down.

Because of these discrepancies, however, Hidden believes insurance rates provide better insight into the reality of the issue.

In the course of his research, Hidden said, he contacted insurance companies in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and West Virginia to compare rate quotes for himself. He said he chose those states because they are on similar latitudes with Maryland and there is less weather variation as a factor.

He found that, on average, states without helmet laws had rates that were $16 per month cheaper than those with the requirement.

“That’s counterintuitive,” Hidden admitted. “But these are numbers that insurance actuaries - people who are paid a lot of money to look at a lot of factors - came up with.”

He said that the lower insurance rates could be because people ride more cautiously when not wearing a helmet.

“I know when I’m not wearing a helmet, I tend to be a little more cautious,” he said. “It’s a subconscious thing.”

Hidden also believes states that offer choice do a better job with safety training as a requirement for a motorcycle license, which he thinks is the best way to address the issue.

“The way to keep someone’s head intact is to not throw it down on the pavement in the first place,” he joked, adding that he would like to see better motorcycle awareness training for drivers as well.

Hidden said they plan to introduce this year’s bill through a Prince George’s County delegate who sits on the Environment and Transportation Committee.

read more

Weir promises to take care of local issues in Seventh District

Weir promises to take care of local issues in Seventh District
Brian Weir is currently seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge incumbent Republican Todd Crandell for the Baltimore County Council's Seventh District seat. He is of no relation to former state delegate Mike Weir Jr.

(Updated 1/3/18)

- By Marge Neal -

With a campaign slogan of “It’s not about the party, it’s about the people,” Democrat Brian Weir is running for the Seventh District seat on the Baltimore County Council.

“And I’m a conservative Democrat,” the longtime Berkshire resident told the East County Times. “This isn’t about party affiliation, this is about wanting the district to have a local politician who is concerned about addressing local issues.”

Weir, 57, (no relation to former state delegate Mike Weir Jr.) certainly qualifies as a local guy. His family moved to Berkshire in 1966 and as an adult, he bought a home around the corner from the family home where he grew up. He graduated from Dundalk High School in 1978 and studied at then-Dundalk Community College for a year, then Essex Community College for a year before going to work.

“I had to stop going to school before I graduated because I had a family to support,” Weir said of his college experience. “I just couldn’t afford to keep going.”

The longtime recreation and parks activity leader and volunteer has been a member of the Board of Recreation and Parks for six years. His term ended Dec. 31, and he doubts he will be reappointed by Seventh District Councilman Todd Crandell. Should Weir win the Democratic primary, he would face Crandell in the general election.

As of press time, Weir and Dundalk resident Richard Davis were the only candidates registered with the Maryland State Board of Elections to run for the seat.

Weir said his motivation for running is simple.

“Since the last election, none of the local issues are being taken care of,” he said. “It seems like all the politicians are interested in is Tradepoint [Atlantic]; everyone wants to send taxpayer money there and everyone wants to take credit for the jobs being produced there.”

Weir is more concerned about “crumbling infrastructure, out-of-control development,” taxpayer money being given to developers to help pay for private projects, and what he sees as the destruction of the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks.

“What has been done to our rec and parks department is horrible - they’ve destroyed that department,” Weir said of county administrators.

“I want to restore Rec and Parks to what it once was,” Weir said. “The staff has been cut to practically nothing, everything is being done by outside contractors and Property Management makes all the calls, not the rec and parks staff.”

He is concerned that the North Point Government Center is being neglected, with no work being done on the building even though it is still in use by several local recreation council programs.

The sale of the building and much of its land to a developer was hotly protested by the community, but Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz closed Eastwood Elementary School and put the government center on the market, despite community opposition to both proposals.

Eastwood was closed as a school to house the Dundalk Police Precinct after it vacated the government center.

The final sale of the property was halted by Gov. Larry Hogan because county officials did not get permission from the state to sell the land that was bought with funding assistance from the state’s Program Open Space fund.

“Because that building has been so neglected, there’s no doubt the community needs a new building there,” Weir said. “But I’d like to see a recreation center there with no retail or commercial space - just a rec center and athletic fields like exist there now.”

Weir said that, because of the watering down of the joint use agreement between Rec and Parks and the public school system, indoor recreation space is at a premium and a new center would be heavily used.

“I’d like to see a center with two soccer rinks, a 1,000-seat theater, a wrestling center and other spaces that area rec councils all could use,” he said.

He is also concerned about the proposal that a private contractor take over the management of Eastern Regional Park’s fields in Chase. He said that Rec and Parks officials were not in on the decision-making process; Property Management staff members facilitated the request made by a developer to run the facility.

“They want to charge Rec and Parks to use facilities they already paid for,” Weir said, expressing concern that rec councils would have to pay exorbitant fees to use the fields.

Weir said if voters send him to the council, he will fight for improved infrastructure and other local issues, work to restore the recreation and parks department to more viable levels and, perhaps most importantly, listen to his constituents.

“This district needs a local politician to return phone calls, handle local issues and be responsive to residents’ concerns and needs,” he said. “And I’m prepared to be that guy. I’m a dirt-on-the hands guy; I’m not a suit-and-tie guy.”

As of Tuesday, neither Crandell nor any potential Republican challengers had officially filed to run. The deadline to file is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

read more

Luminaria Night spotlights the magic of the season

Luminaria Night spotlights the magic of the season
Volunteers placed and lit seasonal luminarias to light up certain Dundalk neighborhoods with some festive flair. The luminaria bags had decorative cutouts to add to their aesthetic appeal. Photo courtesy of Will Feuer.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

After a two-year cancellation because of bad weather, downtown Dundalk was again awash with the warmth of candlelight Friday, Dec. 22, when the tradition of Luminaria Night was carried out.

Started by the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum about six years ago, the first Luminaria Night involved lining the society’s Center Place building and the neighboring Veterans Park with the soft, festive light provided by votive candles inside small paper sacks weighed down with sand.

The event was so popular that other community organizations, including churches and businesses, decided to join in.

“The last two years, it was canceled because of bad weather, but we participated for two or three years before that,” the Rev. Kristi King, pastor of New Light Lutheran Church said. “This year, we had the perfect night for it.”

Unseasonably warm weather and lack of winds allowed the event to get off without a hitch.

About 10 church members volunteered to decorate the sanctuary and line the property at the convergence of Dundalk and Pine avenues and Willow Spring Road with candles.

“And this year, we did something special,” King said. “We have a regular crafty group that meets at the church, and they did some decorative hole-punching in the bags to make them more festive.”

Historical society member Will Feuer said he supplies “manual labor” for Joe Stadler, chairman of the candle effort.

“This really is Joe’s project,” he said. “I just lined half of the park with candles.”

The luminaria event augments the society’s train garden attraction, Feuer said. With nice weather this year, he believes the event generated a bigger crowd than usual.

About 40 people gathered in front of the museum to sing Christmas carols, and children lined up to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, he said.

“Santa Claus and his wife arrived this year on a fire engine, which was new,” he said. “That’s a tradition we’re hoping will continue, and will bring out even more people in the future.”

Firefighters from Dundalk’s Station 6 had the honor of escorting Santa to his appointed rounds.

Luminaria Night, while officially a project of the historical society, is truly a community event, with support from the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, Dunmanway Apartments and the St. Helena Community Association, according to Feuer.

“It really is a community effort,” he said. “And it’s such a magical time - a time to take a moment out of today’s busy world just to contemplate that magic of the season.”

read more

Sparrows Point Country Club developer wants to be a good neighbor

Sparrows Point Country Club developer wants to be a good neighbor
This artist's rendering shows the conceptual plan for the Country Club Estates development at Sparrows Point Country Club. The plan shows two entrances on Wise Avenue and one on Grays Road. Image courtesy of Conor Gilligan.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Noting that “people just don’t like change,” Sparrows Point Country Club president Ron Belbot nevertheless hopes the Dundalk community will embrace a proposed development project planned for the club’s Wise Avenue property.

“This isn’t a project to ‘sort of’ save the club,” he told the East County Times in response to a question about the reasoning behind the plan to develop a portion of the waterfront property. “This is a plan to save the club, no doubt about it.”

The club, which dates to the days of the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows Point, has partnered with Craftsmen Developers to build a total of 308 housing units on about 75 acres of club property.

SPCC started as the domain of Bethlehem Steel management staff. In 1985, it was sold to the membership and since then, little more has been done except to throw on an occasional coat of paint, according to Belbot.

“Like every other country club, we’re struggling with membership and we never had the resources to keep up with facility needs,” he said. “The building just got older and older and more work needed to be done.”

In assessing needs, Belbot said the club house needed to be replaced, a new irrigation system is needed for the golf course and the pool house is a 1950s locker room that “no one wants to go into.”

“After determining what needed to be done, we were looking at a figure north of $10 million and we knew that was never going to come from the membership,” Belbot said.

The plan to develop a portion of the property has been on the books for more than 10 years, but the recession of 2008 and its effect on the housing industry brought the plans to a screeching halt, according to Belbot.

When the original concept was being shopped, which called for the club to sell acreage outright to a developer, the builders wanted the club to assume most of the risk involved.

“We looked at the numbers we would realize with us footing the risk, and they were well south of what we needed to survive,” the club president said.

After the housing market rebounded, club officials revisited the plan and entered into the partnership with Craftsmen, which Belbot believes will benefit both parties.

The acreage identified for building will not be sold to the developer. Instead, both parties will share the risk and both will benefit from profits as units are sold, according to Belbot and Conor Gilligan, vice president of Craftsmen.

Gilligan hosted a community meeting Dec. 21 at the Southeast Regional Recreation Center in Dundalk to update community residents who were unable to attend a similar meeting held Dec. 5.

The development, to be known as Country Club Estates, will include townhouses, single-family houses and villas, which Gilligan described as “age-targeted” housing that will put all living amenities on the first floor and have second-floor bedrooms that could be used for grandchildren and other guests.

About 10 residents, mostly from the Edgepoint community directly across the street from the club, attended the most recent meeting.

They voiced concerns about current traffic that often impedes their ability to access or leave their driveways, lack of sidewalks, poor stormwater drainage, crowded schools and other issues they believe will be worsened by additional development in the area.

Wise Avenue resident Richard Taylor, who has lived in his house for 30 years, said his cars have been hit 11 times in that span, with seven being totaled because of such extensive damage.

Several residents, including Richard Davis, a Democratic candidate running for the Seventh District Baltimore County Council seat, are concerned about the potential loss of mature trees that line the club property along Wise Avenue.

In response, Gilligan displayed revised drawings that show an increased setback from the road and said not only would the mature trees be left standing, but additional landscaping would include fill-in shrubbery and “shade-loving” trees to create more of a curtain for local residents.

While the land in question was rezoned from DR1 (one house per acre) to DR5.5 during the 2012 comprehensive rezoning process, the partners decided to pursue a planned unit development  process because the proposed development area did not fit perfectly within the rezoned area, according to Gilligan.

About 40 acres of the designated area is a critical area buffer, wetlands and steep slopes - and, therefore, not buildable, according to Gilligan.

“If we are kept to that area, we would only be able to do about half of what we originally planned and the project would not be feasible,” Gilligan said.

He told the meeting attendees that Craftsmen “would like to be a friendly neighbor” and listen and respond to community suggestions and concerns.

He emphasized the project is not a “done deal” and much remains to be done to get the approval to move forward.

The PUD has been submitted to Baltimore County officials for review, and more work will need to be done before the final document goes to the County Council for discussion and a vote, Gilligan said.

In the meantime, the developers are listening to the community and making changes to be the “good neighbor” country club and development company officials want to be.

The Wise Avenue setback has been moved to 100 feet, or twice what the law requires, and some units have been reconfigured while others have been eliminated to achieve that, Gilligan said.

Club president Belbot said the development is the best plan for the club and surrounding community.

“The alternative would be to lose the club completely,” he said. “And if we were to lose the club, the entire parcel could be developed. We really think this is the solution to ensure the club and its open space exists for generations to come.”

If all goes smoothly in the rest of the approval process, Gilligan hopes groundbreaking can occur in the second quarter of 2019, with the first units available for sale that summer.

Construction is expected to be carried out in five phases, with the next phase commencing as the last group of houses is sold, he said.

read more

Kingsville residents ask for natural landscaping around solar array

Kingsville residents ask for natural landscaping around solar array
An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Required landscaping is expected to block the views from Philadelphia Road and Interstate 95 of a proposed array of about 8,000 solar panels in Kingsville, according to operators.

Turning Point, a for-profit company based in Denver, presented its plans for the site on the northeast corner of Raphel and Philadelphia roads to a county administrative law judge on Monday, Dec. 18.

Under a new county law, operators must ask the judge for a zoning special exception with a public hearing before the judge can issue a decision that can include conditions.

The Greater Kingsville Civic Association was scheduled to meet Wednesday, Dec. 20, to discuss the plan and submit any comments to the ALJ.

“Thankfully, placing the solar panels on this fairly hidden site presents very little visual impact in our rural community,” wrote Kingsville resident Doug Behr in an email.

Behr attended the hearing and advocated for a mix of trees and other plantings to make the required screening of the array more natural looking.

If approved as proposed, the solar facility would generate enough energy to power about 500 single-family houses for a year, according to the operators.

The panels are designed to track the path of the sun throughout the day, which should result in no glare from the array, according to operators.

The 23.5-acre solar property is part of the former Huber farm. On the eastern end of the site is a non-buildable strip of environmentally sensitive land that would serve as a buffer between the array and residents of Old Long Calm Road.

As part of the plan, the operators are asking for a variance that would allow them to install three panels in a small wetland area in the center of the site.

West of the site is an open field held by a separate owner that is expected to serve as a buffer between the array and Raphel Road.

About three acres of farmland will also be preserved along the southern border of the array, which will be accessed via an existing driveway shared with the farm off Philadelphia Road.

Crossing the Turning Point site above ground are major transmission lines running from the BGE substation located on the south side of Philadelphia Road.

Still to be scheduled for a hearing is a request by Power52 Energy Solutions to install solar panels on the northwest corner of Raphel and Philadelphia roads on land that is owned by BGE.

An article in the Dec. 14 edition of the Times incorrectly named the nonprofit Power52 Foundation as the entity that has applied to operate that solar array.

The Ellicott City-based foundation will be supplying and selling the power to low- and moderate-income individuals and to other customers.

Power52 Energy Solutions will be building the project using graduates from the Foundation’s job training program.

read more

Republican Robertson wants to return County Council to the people

Republican Robertson wants to return County Council to the people
Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Bowleys Quarters resident Allen Robertson has been advocating for his community for more than 25 years and he is ready to step up his involvement.

On Dec. 4, Robertson, a Republican, registered his candidacy for the Sixth District Baltimore County Council seat, joining a crowded race that so far has four official candidates vying for the chance to challenge incumbent Democrat Cathy Bevins in the November 2018 general election. One other Republican has announced his intention to run, and a Democrat is reportedly considering a challenge to Bevins in the primary.

Robertson, 61, grew up in Hawthorne and graduated from Kenwood High School in 1974. In 1978, he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from what was then Loyola College. He has been in the financial services and banking industry since 1992 and currently works as an investment representative for Securities America.

“I’m semi-retired and plan to devote full-time hours to my work as councilman if I get elected,” he said. “I have permission from my employer to do this.”

Robertson’s community activism began in 1992 when he started fighting against proposed development on the Bowleys Quarters peninsula that did not fit in with the local area plan and the Baltimore County Master Plan.

More recently, he has been fighting a plan to build condominiums on the site of a marina, a project that he believes violates Baltimore County planned unit development (PUD) laws, ignores environmental requirements of a parcel of land within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area and is not consistent with current community architectural patterns.

In citing the political influence of land use attorneys, Robertson said he would like to put an end to the “nepotism and corruption” that he believes is rampant throughout Baltimore County politics.

“Too many of our elected leaders are bought and paid for by these lawyers, and the way they vote proves that,” Robertson said.

He rattled off a variety of development projects around the county that residents have been adamantly opposed to, yet the local councilperson endorsed the projects.

“That has to stop,” he said. “The influence of big money has to stop and leaders need to truly represent their districts.”

Robertson said he wants to govern without special interests and believes he has the appropriate work experience and ethics to accomplish that goal.

“I’ve worked in an industry where trust and integrity are everything,” he said. “My background will allow a seamless transition to an elected position guided by that same trust and integrity.”

Many community issues, such as senior housing, school discipline, the use of police officers in schools and over-development, are on Robertson’s radar.

After discussing a variety of concerns he would like to address if elected, Robertson reflected on his motivation for running for office.

“I’m not a politician; never have been and don’t want to be,” he said. “I want to be a community advocate; I want to do this for the community.”

Robertson is a founding member of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association and takes pride in that organization making a difference in the community. Members perform regular cleanups along Bowleys Quarters Road and recently sponsored a Christmas concert that collected donations for the St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church food pantry. They also advocate for other quality-of-life issues affecting the area.

“We are just people working together to help others in the community,” he said. “But when we’re always fighting corruption, that takes away from the energy we could be using to get things done. I need to go into a position where I can stop spinning my wheels, and winning a seat on the council will allow me to do that.”

Robertson said his goal is to see a majority-Republican council elected next November. Democrats now hold a slim majority of 4-3 on the County Council.

“I certainly am hoping I am the Republican candidate to face Bevins, but I will throw my full support behind whoever wins our primary,” he said.

Other Republican challengers who have filed to run are Glen Geelhaar, Erik Lofstad and Deb Sullivan. Ryan Nawrocki has announced his intention to run but had not filed as of Dec. 26.

The deadline to file is 9 p.m. Feb. 27.

read more

Depot owner misses code enforcement deadline; Walmart no longer moving

Depot owner misses code enforcement deadline; Walmart no longer moving
At least four large piles of tires remained untouched behind the depot’s main building as of Friday, Dec. 22. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Despite being given more than two months to resolve county code violations on his property, the owner of the Middle River federal depot failed to do so and now faces increased fines, as well as an added bill for the county to correct the problems itself.

At a hearing on Sept. 20, county administrative law judge Lawrence Stahl ordered property owner Middle River Station Development, LLC and its principal, Sal Smeke, to remove masses of discarded tires, debris and old boats from the property within 60 days. He imposed a $6,000 fine for the violations, but suspended all but $750 provided the mess was cleaned up.

Having missed the deadline late last month, Smeke now must also pay the remaining $5,250, along with the cost for the county to come remove the tires and other materials, according to county officials.

County code enforcement officials were moving in the latter half of this month to remedy the situation, having submitted contractor requests to perform the work. The contractors were scheduled to visit the site in the following two weeks to provide cost estimates, after which the county would choose a bid and work would begin.

The bill would then be sent to the property owner for payment or else end up as a lien on the property. Since the winning bid had not yet been chosen, there was no word as of press time how much the county’s removal cost would be.

In another blow to the owner and his plans to redevelop the site, Walmart has confirmed through the local County Council representative that they will no longer close their nearby Carroll Island location in favor of a new store at the depot.

County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, told the East County Times Dec. 18 - and community groups before that - that she had a meeting with Walmart representatives who told her they will no longer move the Carroll Island store.

“They came to me personally,” Bevins said, adding that she was somewhat relieved because of what Walmart’s departure would have done to the Carroll Island Shopping Center where it currently acts as the anchor store.

Leadership of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, which has followed the issue for years due to concerns that the vacant Walmart building would blight the shopping center, echoed Bevins’ sentiment.

“The bottom line is, I think it’s good for Carroll Island Shopping Center,” said EMRCC President Bob Bendler at the organization’s meeting on Dec. 6.

“I think this is probably going to be the best thing to happen,” Bevins said.

She noted that two weeks after she met with Walmart officials, she received a call from another developer - who she confirmed is Blue Ocean Realty - interested in purchasing and developing the property.

The current owner purchased the depot property for $37 million in 2007, and it is reportedly now listed for sale at $49 million. However, the state tax assessment value is listed at $9 million.

Bevins told the Times on Oct. 30, before she could reveal the name of the developer, that they had a project in mind for the depot site that is “very different” from the plan that Middle River Station Development currently has on file with the county.

“It would have a very positive effect on the Middle River area,” she said at the time, noting that it would not include a lot of retail, as is proposed now.

Bevins also said then that when she rezoned the property in 2012, her office got a lot of comments from the community that they would like to see fields there for recreation, athletics or some other form of entertainment along those lines.

She pointed out as well that the current zoning allows residential uses and the plan on file calls for them, but she does not want to see residential uses there.

“In having conversations now that Greenleigh is being developed, and I’ve had other people’s projects now starting out that [were approved before I was in office], I really don’t want to see residential there,” she said in October.

She said Blue Ocean also has no intentions to include residential uses in their plan.

The depot site also exists under an easement from the Maryland Historical Trust which protects certain aspects of the main building - specifically the window frames and saw-tooth roof design - from being demolished or changed during redevelopment.

Bevins and community leaders have observed that the easement has proved to be an obstacle to redevelopment in the past, resulting in a more recent community push to explore the removal of the easement and the site’s historical designation.

While Bevins said she has contacted MHT to re-inspect the site and perhaps reevaluate the designation, they notified her that they have a lot of properties to inspect and will not be visiting the site until sometime next month.

“But they’re flexible” with the use of the buildings, she said.

She indicated that if a plan for the site came about that enjoyed widespread support from the community, Baltimore County, elected officials and other relevant stakeholders, they would ease the pressure to preserve the building exactly as is.

However, in a potential barrier to any future development at the depot, Paul Svoboda announced at the Dec. 6 EMRCC meeting that he and several members of the Baltimore County Mobile Homeowners Association, as well as the BCMHA itself, had filed suit against the county and Middle River Station Development.

They have environmental concerns over the soil and groundwater at the site - located adjacent to Williams Estates and Peppermint Woods, two mobile home park communities - which are contaminated from past industrial activity, yet they claim the county is moving forward with development approvals as though no further cleanup needs to be done.

The suit was filed on Nov. 7, Svoboda said, and received by the county Nov. 24. They had 30 days from that date to respond to the suit.

read more

Streets of Hope offers shelter, services to homeless men

Streets of Hope offers shelter, services to homeless men
Custodian Ron McBride makes sure rooms for the public and staff are regularly maintained at the Essex library. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/27/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

As the new year approaches, Ron McBride is without a place to call home, but he is working six days a week to earn the money to get one.

A part-time custodian at the Essex library on Eastern Boulevard, he is one of more than a dozen homeless men in the nonprofit Churches for Streets of Hope winter shelter program serving southeastern Baltimore County.

Thanks to a former program manager who helped him find the job, McBride has been banking his paycheck so he can move into a nearby apartment complex by April.

“God has a plan for me… It’s going to happen,” said McBride, a graduate of Dunbar High School in Baltimore who once had an apartment and a car but lost both.

“I never thought I’d be homeless,” he said.

On Thursday, Dec. 21, the longest night of the year and the start of winter, Baltimore County homeless advocates held their annual vigil at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson to remember the 37 homeless men and women who have died in the county this year.

Those who died ranged in age from 19 to 69, according to speakers.

Among them was a woman suffering from cancer who spent much of her time in Dundalk and Essex, and two other people who died at the Eastern Family Resource Center on Franklin Square Drive in Rosedale due to overdoses.

The new county-built center, which replaced a smaller center, provides beds and expanded social and medical services for women and children, as well as 50 first-time beds for homeless men that adds to beds for men available in Catonsville.

Because of the new center, the cold weather shelter that served men, women and children at the North Point Government Center in Dundalk will only be used as a backup facility.

Founded in 2010, the Streets of Hope program based in Essex is run by a coalition of churches that provides up to 16 men with cots, meals and services from early November to April 15.

“We now have a full staff of shift managers, over 30 member and partner churches and over 400 volunteers,” wrote Executive Director Patrick Dickerson in an email.

Applicants must get a referral from the county’s Department of Social Services, and the number of available openings are posted on the program’s website. As of last week, there were two.

Churches sign up to host the program, which relocates every few weeks to a different church. This year, the program started at First Baptist of Essex, moved to St. Stephens A.M.E. in Essex and spent Christmas at St. Matthew Lutheran in Bowleys Quarters.

The organization recently began raising money to find a permanent location, Dickerson said.

Other participating churches also provide daily dinners and breakfasts, along with clothes and other necessities. Several participants said one thing they could also use are MTA bus tokens and passes.

The men must report to the shelter by 6 p.m. and then leave early the following morning to spend the day elsewhere. Some need to get to medical appointments while others head to the Essex library.

“All are welcome,” said branch manager Yvette May, whose staff helps patrons look for jobs by assisting with things like résumé writing and filling out job and healthcare applications.

People can make an appointment to meet with a librarian for an hour if they need help with computers, she said. The library also recently partnered with Goodwill to provide free job readiness workshops.

McBride said he sometimes spent $4 to catch a cab from First Baptist to get to the library by 7 a.m., where he cleans and maintains the public and staff areas on two floors.

“He always has a smile on his face,” May said. “He always has a positive attitude and he’s very dependable and accommodating.”

At other times, McBride and others in the program, including Gerald, 33, who preferred not to give his last name, would make the 40-minute walk from Mace Avenue to the library.

Gerald grew up in the Key Landing apartments in Dundalk before moving to Essex in the eighth grade. A 2002 graduate of Chesapeake High School, he was living out of state when his mother got sick and asked him to come home.

He has worked in retail, human resources, food service and distribution and now is looking for another warehouse job.

“I can lift boxes all day,” said Gerald, who played football at Chesapeake High.

Streets of Hope operates with the help of donations, grants and nearly $70,000 from the county to help with insurance and extra heat and electricity costs related to the winter shelter operation.

This year the organization has been able to hire a part-time case manager to work with volunteers who interview participants and research available affordable housing openings and other services.

“One thing we provide differently from the new shelter is the community aspect of our work,” wrote Dickerson. “The men in our shelter connect with volunteers and visit their churches, building relationships with actual members of the community that last beyond the cold weather season.”

For more information about Streets of Hope, visit,  call 443-764-4249 or email For the county’s homeless shelter hotline, call 410-853-3000 and press option two.

read more

Clark Griswold alive and well and living in Oliver Beach

Clark Griswold alive and well and living in Oliver Beach
Some might say Marc Smith goes overboard for Christmas, but he does it out of love and creativity. And the neighbors seem to appreciate it. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Professionally, Marc W. Smith is a respected, award-winning scenic, lighting and sound designer, known internationally for his prowess and decades of dedication to technical theater as witnessed by his 38-year career at the Community College of Baltimore County.

But in his Oliver Beach neighborhood, he is known as the Christmas guy - a Clark Griswold of sorts, with a house that when decorated, generates an electrical bill nearly three times the normal cost.

The “Christmas House,” as it is referred to by many local residents, has pretty much every square inch of lawn, roof, exterior walls and shrubbery covered with every kind of light and decoration imaginable. Not even the boat parked at the back of the driveway escapes the Christmas treatment - lights line the vessel and an inflatable Snoopy stands guard at the stern.

And the cozy home’s interior gets pretty much the same treatment.

“Literally, everything in the house gets put away so the Christmas stuff can come out,” Smith said with a laugh. “Curtains, comforters, sheets, everything.”

On a tour of the house with Smith and Debbie Goetzinger, his life partner of nearly 20 years, the evidence of that statement becomes apparent. The living room, kitchen, office, bedroom, guest room and even the bathroom serve as temporary galleries of all things Christmas.

The hallway has so many lights lining it that it resembles a runway. Snowman valances grace the kitchen windows, while sheets and pillow cases adorned with images of strings of lights and a satin comforter that pays homage to the snowman dress the bed.

In curio cabinets, on shelves, cabinet and table tops, hanging from doorways and walls and draped along many other surfaces are displayed the Christmas collection that has taken more than four decades to amass.

“I don’t have many ornaments from when I was a kid, but I do have some of the stuff from the train garden that I built with my father,” Smith said. “I still have a bunch of small cottages that he made from beer cartons.”

Smith vividly remembers the crafting of the small houses, from creating them out of cardboard to painting them and sprinkling them with mica to give the perception of snow on the roofs.

He went to the basement and returned with two of the cherished items, and points out that the window openings are covered with clear contact paper.

“We put the houses over top a clear light so there was light in the windows,” he recalled. “And I also still have the four-by-eight-[foot] platform my dad built for our train garden.”

The exterior’s decoration collection carries an equal number of sentimental memories and stories. The center piece of the front lawn is a large red sleigh being driven by none other than Santa Claus.

“I built that and used it in a Christmas show at the college,” Smith said. “And when the show was over, I thought I’d hang on to that."

The sled was built in pieces so he took it apart and put it in storage. It is featured in Smith and Goetzinger’s yard each year and is always available to make another stage appearance if necessary.

Three large wooden wreaths that adorn the front wall were designed, cut and painted by the multi-talented artist, again for a theater production, and became part of the Oliver Beach display after retiring from the stage.

The now over-the-top display started innocently enough in 1998. The first effort involved small garlands and lights, along with some handcrafted wooden elves he designed and made.

“We added on each year until we basically couldn’t add any more,” Smith said. “It doesn’t grow now, it just changes from year to year so we can use stuff that didn’t get used the previous year.”

Smith is one of those Christmas people that can irk others who like to hold on to warm weather as long as they can. On social media, he reminds people that the big holiday is a mere six months away and counts down from there.

As a more visible reminder, at precisely 1 a.m. on Sept. 16 of each year, he installs a Christmas countdown clock on a pole in his front yard to remind his neighbors that Christmas is a mere 99 days away.

Why 1 a.m.?

“The first year I installed it, I went out front right before midnight on Christmas Eve to watch it count down to zero, and it told me there was still an hour to go,” he recalled with a laugh. “I forgot to factor in the fall time change.”

Now the sign is an hour off before the time changes back to standard time, but is accurate when it really counts, he said.

Neither Goetzinger nor Smith will admit to have a favorite decoration, but rather cherish the memories and stories behind most of the individual pieces.

“When we bring the stuff out each year, we remember where we got something, or think about the person who gave us a certain piece,” Goetzinger said. “We really spend a lot of time thinking about people who are special to us.”

While they are good guardians of the collection and do not claim any favoritism, Goetzinger admits to a special fondness for snowmen and Smith seems to treasure trains of all sizes.

Snowmen are well represented throughout the house, with curtains, bedding, moving and stationary figurines and ornaments adorned with the snowy creatures.

In the train department, there is one on the front porch, one that circles the wood-burning stove, various others around the house and still others unused and spending the year in storage.

Smith pulls one miniature train off a shelf and points out the scale - or lack thereof. The entire “garden” is a four-inch by eight-inch base with a tiny village, complete with a snowcapped tunnel encircled with a track and train. Smith estimates each car is about one-half inch long and one-eighth inch tall.

He also has quite a collection of vintage ceramic lighted Christmas trees. A tree that was going to be discarded by a friend now sits on the couple’s dining room table, being “renovated.” And he made it a point to show off the first one he personally made in 1973.

Smith takes pride in buying quality decorations and tries hard to avoid “tacky.” But even he succumbs to the occasional inflatable, as witnessed by this year’s acquisition of a blowup Olaf.

He originally balked at the $150 price tag but ended up buying it for one reason: “I knew the kids in the neighborhood would love it so I bought it,” he said.

As if on cue, during a recent visit to the house, a man was walking his two dogs along the street.

“Great display, as always,” he said to Smith. “And my kids love Olaf.”

Smith and Goetzinger continue to buy things as they see and like them, and they dream of Smith finding the time to build a garage that they have coveted for years.

“We’d really like to build a garage so I could set up a wood shop and then store the Christmas stuff on the second floor,” he said. “But it’s a matter of having the time and money to do that. In the meantime, we don’t have a basement because the Christmas stuff pretty much fills it.”

Their final goal is to have the exterior of the house resemble a fairy tale gingerbread house, but it is pretty much already on its way. The roof is lined with large illuminated gumdrops, as are the railings. Lighted candy canes line the driveway, sidewalk and yard perimeter and large lights hang from the deck.

Smith laughs when he remembers buying the first few gumdrops. He went home to hang them and discovered he needed a “few” more because the few he bought did not create the illusion he was hoping for.

“I ended up buying about 15 more,” he said, adding that they cost about $8 each.

He also told the story of finding garlands of beads that he really liked at Boscov’s. He bought some, took them home and really liked the image they created. He went back to get more, only to find the store did not have as many as he wanted.

“I went to five other Boscov’s, including two in Pennsylvania, and bought all they had,” he said.

The couple has a lot of money tied up in the extensive collection that spends about 10 months of the year closed up in plastic storage bins in the basement.

But the personal enjoyment they get out of seeing a few of their favorite things at their favorite time of year, coupled with the appreciation they receive from neighbors, makes it all worthwhile.

During the interview for this story, Smith got up from the dining room table, took something off of the refrigerator and came back to the table beaming.

"The little girl next door gave us this last year," he said, holding a laminated piece of paper.

“Congratulations!” it proclaimed in a child’s scrawling handwriting. “You have earned an award for best Christmas house!”

The treasure hangs along side a more professional-appearing certificate for Christmas Lights 2007 Best in Show presented by the Oliver Beach Improvement Association.

But the award from little Ava holds a place in the couple’s hearts, and it means a lot to them when kids stop by to “ooh” and “aah” and thank them for their efforts.

And those simple little gestures make the work - the careful unpacking, packing and storage of loved possessions, the danger of roof-climbing and the sky-high electric bills - all worth the effort.

read more

Tradepoint Atlantic introduces dredging project to public, hears concerns

Tradepoint Atlantic introduces dredging project to public, hears concerns
This image shows the Tradepoint Atlantic's proposed dredging project footprint (outlined in green) overlaid on a NOAA depth survey map. Image courtesy of Tradepoint Atlantic.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Interested members of the community heard Tradepoint Atlantic’s plan Thursday night, Dec. 14, to open up and revitalize their marine terminal through an extensive “maintenance dredging” project.

TA is seeking authorization from several government agencies, currently via a tidal wetlands permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment, to mechanically or hydraulically dredge the Sparrows Point Terminal access channels and turning basin, according to Andrew May, chief of MDE’s Tidal Wetlands Division.

Under the project guidelines, May said, TA would dredge a 48.1-acre area within the turning basin and a 29.6-acre area in the approach channel each to a depth of 42 feet. They would dredge a 53.6-acre area to a depth of 47 feet around the finger pier and its approach channel. A maximum of 1 million cubic yards of material would be dredged and deposited at facilities around the Baltimore harbor over a period of up to 10 years.

The company would also remove an existing 704-foot-long timber pier, conduct up to 100 offshore soil borings and replace a 2,200-linear-foot bulkhead as part of the project.

Although Tradepoint, which is in the process of redeveloping the Sparrows Point former steel mill site, has been touting their plan since at least September as vital to their goals for an intermodal logistics park, Thursday’s meeting was the first opportunity for some to give their feedback about the project proposal.

Peter Haid, TA’s environmental director, called the dredging project a “key component” to the company’s commitment to revitalize Sparrows Point and maintain the facility in a responsible manner. He said previous owners neglected their responsibility to maintain the port in particular.

“They’ve allowed the channel going into the port to shoal up,” Haid said. “They allowed sediment from throughout the harbor to settle into the channel.”

Haid stressed that dredging would be done “specifically and strictly” within the existing channels and would only go down to previously attained depths.

“The purpose of this project is simply to maintain port viability and to stay in business,” he said.

Criticism of or opposition to the project centered largely around fears that buried contaminants in the sediments could be stirred up by the dredging to then migrate around the area and the Chesapeake Bay in a much larger pollution event.

“The characteristics of the sediment surrounding the Sparrows Point peninsula are already heavily documented across 30 years as hazardous, toxic and radioactive waste...,” said area resident and Southeast Communities Against Pollution member Russell Donnelly. “I have to take exception; I can’t believe that [this] one magical spot is clean.”

Angela Haren, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper and director of advocacy with Blue Water Baltimore, was also concerned about the re-release of old contaminants buried in the sediments.

“Due to the close proximity of the Coke Point area to the proposed dredging for this project, in our minds, it stands to reason that elevated levels of these contaminants may also be present,” she said.

But Haid said models showed any sediment stirred up in the water column would settle back down within 700 feet of the dredge point, and they will monitor for turbidity throughout the project.

He also noted that sediments would have to travel a full mile east or west to round the tips of Sparrows Point and make their way into the nearest waterways of Old Road Bay/Jones Creek or Bear Creek.

“The scale of the area in which this dredging project will be taking place is fairly enclosed by Sparrows Point’s property itself,” he said.

Haid said TA will take some samples of sediment material from channel areas east of the finger pier to see if sloughing of material from outside the channel may have happened. He admitted that they do not have a lot of information on the water and sediments east of the channel, but do have wells inland on the property to sample ground water and soil that could migrate to that area.

“Those wells are relatively clean,” Haid said. “They don’t have contaminants that you would expect to be mobile that would impact the water [there].”

Doug Meyers, a senior scientist with the Chespeake Bay Foundation, stressed that it is unknown what pollution may be present in the dredge material unless there is sampling of the sediments within the channels.

“I think it’s a matter of getting the information from the soil borings first,” he said, and limiting the scope of the project for the time being to doing that instead of dredging.

Haid explained that TA dredged 80,000 cubic yards of material from the same channels in 2015 as part of another maintenance dredge.

“During that event, we observed no adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

Donnelly, Haren and Meyers each also questioned the description of the project as a maintenance dredge given its scale, and the latter two each maintained that more information is needed before a permit is granted.

Donnelly noted that when maintenance dredging is done biannually for the entire Baltimore harbor, it results in 1.25 million cubic yards of material. He said 1 million cubic yards from TA alone cannot be considered simple maintenance.

Meyers echoed that sentiment noting, “This is not a channel that has been active all along and it’s had a little bit of sloughing from year to year as it’s being actively used.”

Haren said BWB has both procedural and substantive comments and concerns about the project, but cannot express a position in support of or opposition to the plan due to the lack of information.

“We all need more information,” she said. “The public needs more information, and we believe the agencies, including MDE, need more information before you can make an informed decision.”

Aside from TA representatives, the only attendee to speak in favor of the project was Rupert Denney, who works for C. Steinweg Group, a fellow marine terminal operator in Locust Point. He said he was also informally representing the roughly 33 remaining private-sector terminals around the Port of Baltimore.

Denney admitted that his company uses TA’s facilities and has an interest in seeing them improved, and he said he was not there to talk about science or impacts to the community, but the “bigger picture.”

“The reason why the private terminals would support [granting] the wetlands license is the more ships that come into Baltimore, the more prosperous the whole port community becomes,” he said.

Denney noted it is 158 miles from the Francis Scott Key bridge to the mouth of the bay, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Maryland are tasked with keeping those channels navigable.

“The more ships we bring into the Port of Baltimore..., the more compelling argument the state can make to the feds that Baltimore is worth investing a lot of money in to keep those channels open,” he said. He added that with more ship traffic also comes more vendors to serve them, creating a larger economic impact for the region overall.

Francis Taylor, chair of Maryland’s Dredge Material Management Program Citizens Advisory Committee and president of the North Point Peninsula Council community group, took a more reserved approach while noting that both complacency and alarmism are counter-productive in this instance.

He said, though, that it is a well-documented fact that river sediment contamination is not as concentrated in areas where past dredging has occurred, such as in the Sparrows Point Terminal.

“The top layers of affected river bottom containing legacy metals, PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls] and so forth, have already been removed,” Taylor said.

He said he and other groups will advocate for communities to ensure that human health and the environment are protected, that there is economic benefit to surrounding communities and that there is adequate monitoring and enforcement as part of the project.

MDE will accept public comments on the project until 5 p.m. Dec. 29, after which the agency will make its recommendation to the state’s Board of Public Works. The board will then make the final determination on the permit.

read more

Edgemere Christmas spirit gives man and daughter a lift

Edgemere Christmas spirit gives man and daughter a lift
Edgemere residents teamed up to deliver a Christmas gift of Uber gift cards to a father and daughter in need of transportation.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Marge Neal -

How appropriate it is at Christmastime that a little town rallied to take care of some strangers to make their lives just a little bit easier.

Edgemere became a modern-day version of Bethlehem this week when residents presented not a stable in a barn, but some transportation gift cards to a father doing his best to take advantage of educational opportunities for his oldest daughter.

This story of caring began with a Dec. 13 Facebook post by Amy Schaeffer, in which she asked Edgemere residents to look out for a man and his daughter who each morning walk quite a distance to Sparrows Point High School.

Because she had given Jay, the father, a ride the previous day, she knew a little bit of the family’s story. The family, which includes five children, lives in Colgate. Jay’s oldest daughter applied to and was accepted into the environmental science magnet program at SPHS.

While it is a proud moment to be accepted by an academically rigorous magnet program, such selections can create hardships for any family because parents are responsible for getting their children to what is usually an out-of-home-district school if the limited system-provided bus offerings do not work out.

Jay, who asked that his last name not be published, and his daughter Zibreyea, known more simply as Z, catch a bus in Colgate each weekday morning and take it to the end of the line at Wise Avenue and North Point Boulevard, near Pop’s Tavern. They walk from there to the high school, and then Jay turns around and walks back to Pop’s where he catches a bus to go to work.

The school system does provide bus transportation from the original home school of magnet students, but in Z’s case, the timing does not work out, according to her father.

The bus that picks up kids in Colgate arrives at Dundalk High at about 7:15 a.m., according to Jay. The magnet bus that transports students from there to Sparrows Point leaves Dundalk High at 7 a.m.

“It just made more sense to take the MTA bus as far as we can and then walk from there,” he said in a phone interview. “And it’s working; she’s never been late and never misses a day of school.”

The system they have worked out puts Z at Sparrows Point at about 7:20 a.m., according to Jay, which gives her plenty of time to “meet and greet” friends and fellow students.

Last week, Schaeffer was moved watching the father and daughter brave the elements as the temperatures dropped for the first time to more winter-like conditions.

“He’s a very, very humble man and he’s not looking for a handout,” Schaeffer said. “He was even reluctant to accept a ride; he’s full of optimism and said he enjoys the time he gets to spend with his daughter on these walks.”

After giving Jay that first ride, Schaeffer put out her plea for help via The Edgemere Page on Facebook. In short order, nearly 200 people reacted to the original comment and too many comments to count were posted in response.

Rikki Wozniak, a cousin of Schaeffer’s, went and picked up the pair that morning. Subsequent conversation on the original Facebook thread included suggestions of starting a account for the man to help him buy a car before residents settled on collecting donations to buy Uber gift cards so Jay and his daughter could use the on-demand car service in severe weather.

Edgemere residents are known for quickly and passionately reacting to help someone with a need or a problem, and this situation was no different. Folks volunteered to take on a few tasks and the fundraising effort was underway.

Donations were collected at two restaurants in Edgemere on Dec. 16 and 17, which Wozniak collected and used to buy $325 in Uber gift cards. Two individuals each contributed $25 cards and Schaeffer kicked in one as well, according to Wozniak.

A Facebook post to the community made Sunday evening informed residents that $400 had been collected and would be given to Jay on Monday morning.

But the giving did not stop there, according to Schaeffer. In addition to the Edgemere page, Schaeffer posted the plea to her personal Facebook page. So many additional people reached out later on Sunday that she was able to buy another $240 in gift cards before she picked up Jay and Z on Monday morning.

“I think he was a little startled when I gave him the cards,” Schaeffer told the East County Times on Monday. “And I was worried that he was a little offended, but I think it was just a little much for him to take in at the time.”

It is not often, Schaeffer said with a laugh, that a stranger walks up to another person and hands him more than $600.

“I guess it could be a bit overwhelming,” she said.

“I was very surprised,” Jay said of the unexpected gift. “I wouldn’t think anyone would pay us any mind.”

Wozniak said she too was struck by Jay’s humility and emphasized that he did not ask for or seek out assistance.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do to take care of his family; he doesn’t want to be a burden and he doesn’t expect anything from anyone,” she said of the grateful man. “He said he considers it a privilege that his daughter got accepted into the magnet program and he’s just doing what he needs to do for her to be there.”

Wozniak has a daughter who is applying now to the environmental program, known as SPECIES (Sparrows Point Educational Center in Environmental Studies), so she talked to Z about her courses.

“She wants to be a forensic scientist and that’s what drew her to the program,” Wozniak said of the young scholar.

Schaeffer said she was impressed by Z’s well-roundedness and dedication to her education and told Jay that she’d like her 14-year-old daughter - also a freshman at Sparrows Point - to connect with Z to nurture a friendship.

“She is quiet and shy,” Schaeffer said of Z. “But then, in talking with her, I discovered she’s very well-spoken and just a nice girl.”

Wozniak played down the role she played in pulling off the gift card caper, wanting to focus on the community and the family.

“I just played a very small role; many others donated, collected money, and Amy really got all this going,” she said. “People just wanted to help and they made it happen.”

Jay said he is “very grateful” for the gift and wants to assure the community that he will not abuse the thoughtful act.

“I will still walk Z to school on nice days, because we make it fun and that gives me good time with her to talk and enjoy each other’s company,” he said. “But I did talk to my wife and these gift cards will make it much easier to go shopping at Sam’s Club... it sure will beat trying to load our little carts on a bus going home.”

As far as Schaeffer, Wozniak and many Facebook followers believe, their generous act is just another example of Edgemere doing what it does best - taking care of each other.

read more

Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast

Politicians outline legislative agendas at Chamber breakfast

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

With the 2018 legislative session set to begin in a matter of weeks, local officials gathered at By the Docks in Middle River on Wednesday, Dec. 13, to talk to business leaders about likely legislative efforts, with most of the time focused on the opioid crisis.

Hosted by the Chesapeake Gateway Chamber of Commerce, the annual breakfast usually draws strong numbers. But this year was a bit down due to extremely cold weather and committee hearings taking place in Annapolis. Only five local officials showed up, including State Senators Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) and Johnny Ray Salling (R-6), as well as Delegates Pat McDonough (R-7), Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Robin Grammer (R-6).

Klausmeier, the only Democrat in attendance, stated that one of her main focuses would be combatting the opioid problem that has gripped the county and state. She stated she is working with the Department of Health and local schools to try to bring awareness to the opioid problem. Besides meeting with the expected groups, Klausmeier also noted she was meeting with veterinarians.

“People are harming their animals and taking them to veterinarians to get [pain killers],” said Klausmeier, noting that she was working on a solution.

Those sentiments were shared by Impallaria, who noted that he recently spoke with the Harford County Sherriff’s office about giving more realistic anti-drug talks. He told the gathered crowd that instead of showing kids a successful story about someone beating addiction that they need to be shown the opposite. He went on to contend that the problem is under-reported in the county, and added that the per-capita deaths in the county are higher than the murder rate in Baltimore.

“These are our homes, these are our children that are dying,” said Impallaria. “We need to protect the next generation and make it cool not to do drugs.”

McDonough saw fit to note that it was “Mexican heroin” coming into the county, and promised to do what he could to curb the problem. He said it was a three-pronged issue, with education, health and law enforcement efforts all needing to be revamped.

While the individual agendas were different, all of the Republicans gathered asserted that there would be a lot of politically motivated legislation this session with an election on the horizon. Impallaria noted that the Democrat-led General Assembly will likely look to continue challenging President Trump’s agenda, while Grammer (R-6) predicted marijuana legalization would pick up steam through the session and end up being put on next year’s ballot as a way to increase voter turnout to unseat Governor Larry Hogan.

Salling spent his time talking about improving education at all levels, as well as improvements to the Tradepoint Atlantic property. Salling acknowledged that not all of the jobs coming into the property will be high-paying jobs, but that there will be a lot of jobs and opportunity. He touted the return of industy to the old Bethlehem Steel property as a win.

McDonough views Tradepoint along the same lines and contended that more needed to be done to draw in businesses. He proposed marketing the deepwater access to different nations, with the goal being getting those nations to bring jobs to the Sparrows Point property.

Grammer ended the morning laying out his thoughts, including the imminent passing of paid sick leave. “If you’re a business owner, be prepared,” he warned. The young Republican also told the audience he plans to press for more economic redevelopment in Essex and Middle River to revitalize that part of his district.

“This is not going to be something that happens this year, or even next,” Grammer conceded. “This is something that will take 10 or 20 years.”

read more

Wreaths laid at Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Memorial

Wreaths laid at Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Memorial
Commander Craig Jones of the Merchant Marines pays his respects at the memorial. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 12/20/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

More than 100 people gathered at the Lamky, Luther, Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River on Dec. 16 to pay tribute to those who have died or gone missing in the course of service.

The annual Wreaths Across America service, sponsored by the Glenn L. Martin Composite Squadron, Maryland Wing, Civil Air Patrol, takes place on the third Saturday of December every year. This year the service coincided with the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, adding extra gravitas to an already somber occasion.

“As I observed the hallowed grounds at Holly Hill, the masses of people, and bones of the hallowed trees, I realized how deep are the roots in this area for veterans and their families that have fought for our freedom,” said Delegate Ric Metzgar, who gave the opening prayer to start the event.

After a short program led by the Civil Air Patrol, representatives from each branch of the armed forces, including the marines, navy, air force,  coast guard and merchant marines, laid wreaths at the memorial. Two more wreaths were placed at the foot of the memorial as well, one honoring prisoners of war and the other honoring those missing in action.

As the wreaths for each of the branches was laid, active servicemen and women, as well as veterans, took their place at attention to pay their respects.

“Really it was just a beautiful service,” said Joe McBride, a Korean War veteran who recently moved to Middle River. “It really makes me proud to have served my country.”

The event ended with a plea from the Civil Air Patrol to learn about the local heroes who fought.

“We could quote the statistics of individuals buried around the country, but all you would have is a bunch of numbers,” said a Civil Air Patrol representative. “Instead we ask you to take a moment and visit a gravesite...; they are and were more than a statistic.”

read more

Essex community tree lights up the night

Essex community tree lights up the night
A large crowd braved the snowy and cold evening to enjoy the Essex community Christmas tree’s first lighting on Dec. 9. The tree was donated by Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service, and decorated by Cliff O’Connell of Cliff’s Hi-Tech/Direct Effect and others. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Community leaders, elected officials and residents of Essex and Middle River gathered Saturday, Dec. 9, for what has become a grand event in recent years - the lighting of the community tree at the Heritage Society of Essex and Middle River in Essex.

Feelings of warmth and community were evident as the tree was lit even though the weather was snowy and cold. And many in attendance agreed that the tree looked even more beautiful with its dusting of snow.

Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service, again donated this year’s tree, a 27-foot spruce which is three feet taller than last year’s.

Weaver, Cliff O’Connell of Cliff’s Hi-Tech and Cliff’s Direct Effect, and workers from Baltimore County combined their efforts to deliver and install the tree at the Heritage Society museum at 516 Eastern Blvd. And O’Connell, Back River Restoration Committee volunteers and others all helped to decorate the giant tree.

Joining the crowd on behalf of Governor Larry Hogan was Maryland’s deputy secretary of state and Essex resident, Luis Borunda, who remarked that the Heritage Society’s tree lighting is an excellent community tradition that helps - along with the snow - to put all into the holiday spirit.

Also in attendance were State Delegates Robin Grammer, Bob Long and Ric Metzgar and County Councilman Todd Crandell - all of whom represent Essex - as well as Del. Pat McDonough, who is running for Baltimore County Executive.

Crandell noted his awe at the size and beauty of the tree, along with the size and energy of the crowd gathered. He said although he is from Dundalk, “Essex is doing it better” when it comes to community Christmas trees.

Guests were also treated to cookies, tours and visits with Santa.

read more

Eastern Regional Park could get four new artificial turf fields

Eastern Regional Park could get four new artificial turf fields
The new turf fields would have replace existing grass fields on the eastern side of the park near the parking lots and the one existing turf field. Image courtesy of Huntley Sports Group.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A new proposal is at the forefront to improve both the facilities and event scheduling at Eastern Regional Park in Middle River as part of a public-private partnership between Baltimore County and a developer.

Under the proposal, the Huntley Sports Group would partner with the county to replace natural grass fields at ERP with four new, lighted artificial turf fields, bringing the park’s total number of turf fields to five.

ERP would then be the only public facility in the county - possibly the state - with five turf fields, according to Athan Sunderland, executive vice president of Pinkard Properties, which is a partner with HSG.

The project would not involve any of the baseball/softball fields in the park.

The county would split the project’s estimated $3.5 million cost roughly down the middle with HSG.

If approved, HSG would then be put in charge of scheduling and operation of the fields to optimize the use of the fields. But Sunderland assured that Baltimore County will still own, manage and maintain the park.

“It’s no different than the people cutting the grass,” he said. “The county doesn’t buy their tractors and they’re not responsible for cutting the grass.

“In this instance, the county isn’t paying for all of the turf, we are. And so we’re going to manage the turf. We are simply helping them solve a gap for the capitalization of something that we all want, which is turf fields,” he said.

Sunderland added that the county will put a contract in place to ensure that HSG operates in the park like any other contractor - and can be fired if they fail to fulfill their obligations.

Sunderland said HSG - which is a partnership between “lacrosse legend” David Huntley, Pinkard Properties and MFS Partners as the capital advisors - has studied the utilization of the fields at ERP in their current state and for the past several years and found that there is a lot of time when the fields are not in use.

“What we were able to determine was that there was an exorbitant amount of wasted time because of unused permits or permits that were put back into the general public for availability because they were held off for reserve,” he said. “Our job is to be sure that there isn’t wasted time there for this particular park.”

Sunderland explained that HSG would handle the scheduling for all sporting events seeking to use the fields. The recreation councils listed as priority users - Bengies-Chase, Middle River, Essex-Stembridge, Rosedale and Kingsville - would be guaranteed the same utilization rates, at the same cost, they have now.

In return, HSG would be allowed to sell unused time on the fields to other groups for profit.

“In other words, if we take the four or five priority users and we aggregate it... there’s more than enough time for these fields to be used by the rec. councils, as turf fields, just as they were in the past, and not even including the other fields out in the community,” Sunderland said.

“Our job is to be sure that when it’s not being used by the priority users, we drive additional consumption either by other people within our county, other counties or out of state through events and tournaments to generate localized revenue,” he said. “We’ll use those revenues to pay for our investment in the turf, and what is left over is ours for the operating company.”

In that leased-out time, HSG is hoping to bring in soccer, lacrosse, field hockey and football events, all while allotting space for the priority users to grow their programs and use of the fields.

And if the priority users’ programs grow to use up all of the allotted time, “we’ll build another park,” Sunderland laughed. “That would be a great thing.”

He said it is important for people to know, though, that the proposal is not expected to be “tremendously profitable.”

“It pays for the debt, and it pays for a little bit of the expense to run it,” he said.

HSG’s real objective through the venture is to prove that the model can work, “that it is replicable and scalable throughout the county,” Sunderland said.

“Because we only have nine municipally owned turf fields in the county,” he said. “This is adding almost a 50-percent increase in our current inventory.”

Charles Munzert, vice chairman of the county’s Board of Recreation and Parks and the Council District 6 representative on the board, clarified that recently installed turf fields in some areas, such as Perry Hall, were paid for by the recreation councils themselves, and use of such fields at schools is handled differently than at parks.

“And so if we can do it here and we can make it work, we have the opportunity to continue to expand,” Sunderland said.

He acknowledged that other parts of the county, such as Catonsville, Owings Mills and Towson, need more access to turf fields too. Therefore, this project could be a model for replication in those areas.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to demonstrate how we can use private capital to create a public benefit,” Sunderland said.

The project at ERP was originially proposed roughly two years ago as an adjunct to the 43 Fields project, which sought to develop an athletic field complex along the MD-43 extension in Middle River. It was a development project spearheaded by Pinkard Sports Development and Pinkard Properties.

That complex would have hosted sporting events and tournaments for profit, similar to what is proposed at ERP.

The 43 Fields project folded this summer, but Sunderland stressed that it was not a failure.

“It just was determined that its parts would be better off differently,” he said, “and that put Eastern Regional Park at the forefront” with HSG as the operator for programming and events.

“The 43 Fields project, while it did not come to fruition, its components were so important to getting us where we are today,” Sunderland commented. “And it gave birth to what could be a great road map to these public-private partnerships.”

Under the current proposal, HSG would have a 10-year lease to operate the fields, and all scheduling and permitting for field use would go through them, according to Sunderland.

He admitted that this would mean the recreation councils will have to cede control over that scheduling to HSG. But the group believes they can optimize field use simply by using a website to publish the available time slots for each field and having an online mechanism for interested groups to request time, potentially years in advance for large events.

“On [the website] will be a published schedule of all activities for each day on those fields,” Sunderland said. “So members of the community will be able to see what is being used, by whom and when.”

Regarding access to the fields by the general public, he said they will be open to anyone provided they are not booked.

“I never understand why we put fences around turf fields and you get chased off of there,” he said, adding that they want people, especially kids, to be able to use the fields.

“My approach to this entire park is that if you can go play and there’s no one on that field... whatever it is [you want to do], go for it,” Sunderland said. “If somebody’s got it booked, we’re going to come say you’ve got to move.”

County leadership has expressed support for the project, so long as the recreation councils are on board and in agreement, Sunderland said. And if they get approval, barring any hang-ups, HSG could have the new fields in place by Sept. 1, 2018.

Sunderland and Munzert both said the feedback they have heard from the priority user recreation councils has been positive and supportive.

“At this point, I basically feel comfortable saying the rec. councils approved it with some questions,” Munzert said.

He noted that those questions involved how parking would be handled at the facility and how it would work with the councils getting their field permits from HSG rather than the county.

“But I’m sure that’s going to be laid out [in the operator’s contract], he said. “The county’s going to put that together.”

Munzert said the Board of Recreation and Parks was scheduled to discuss the proposal at its meeting Wednesday, Dec. 13. However, he did not know if they would vote on anything related to it.

read more

BOE candidate Henn wants to continue the work she’s started

BOE candidate Henn wants to continue the work she’s started
Julie Henn has been a member of the Baltimore County Board of Education since being appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016. She is now running for popular election to the post. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Perry Hall resident Julie Henn has carved out a piece of Baltimore County electoral history for herself.

By filing her paperwork on Nov. 2, Henn became the first official candidate for Baltimore County Board of Education in that body’s first election that will result in a hybrid board of popularly-elected and politically-appointed members.

Appointed to an at-large opening on the school board in December 2016 by Gov. Larry Hogan, the passionate and energetic public education advocate hopes to retain her seat so she can continue the “important work” being carried out by the 12-member group.

Henn, 43, has lived in the Carney/Perry Hall area most of her life. She attended Harford Hills Elementary and Perry Hall Middle schools before graduating from Mercy High School.

She received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Marquette University and earned an executive MBA from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

The mother of two first started advocating for local schools because of seeing overcrowding in her children’s schools and problems with bus transportation.

“I got involved because I saw the immediate need to reduce overcrowding and fix transportation problems in our schools,” she told the East County Times. “I’m very much an advocate for smaller classes and less crowded schools.”

After speaking out locally on school-related concerns, Henn became a member of the Northeast Area Education Advisory Committee, a body of volunteers that provides a geographical voice to the county-wide school board. She eventually served as chairperson of the group.

She worked closely with Baltimore County Councilman David Marks to address Perry Hall-area school overcrowding and is proud that the dogged work of many is paying off, with two new elementary schools scheduled to open in the next couple of years and “a new middle school is on the horizon,” she said.

In addition to physically eliminating overcrowding with new schools and additions, Henn also sees the need to better police student residency to ensure students are attending the schools they are geographically supposed to be attending.

“I’d like to look closely at the residency verification process to see if that could be made more efficient,” she said. “We have students from outside the county attending our schools, and we have students attending schools that are not their assigned home schools.”

There is a process for students to apply for special permission to attend a school outside of their home boundaries, but many students are breaking the rules by attending selected schools without permission.

Henn is also concerned about the cost of out-of-county residents who are enrolled in county schools.

“I sympathize with Baltimore City parents who are concerned about the quality of schools there and are trying to do better for their children, but it places a burden on the county school system,” she said.

Henn would like to see an audit of the system’s residency verification process and change it, if necessary, to make it easier for residence investigators from the Pupil Personnel Office to do their job.

She also expressed concern with what she sees as systemic problems with discipline and the perception that students with behavioral issues are not properly addressed.

“Every school is different and each school’s kids are different,” Henn said. “We need to empower our principals to address discipline problems with the latitude they need to adequately handle those problems.”

She expressed concerns over classroom behavior that spills outside of the school, namely to school buses.

“The buses are overcrowded and do they all have aides?” she asked rhetorically. “Are the drivers getting the support they need? They can’t drive the bus and supervise the kids at the same time.”

She is concerned that reports of bullying take too long to address and believes the definition of bullying is too narrow.

“It very often takes multiple reports and parental intervention to get these incidents handled and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.

Henn believes that some schools do a much better job in responding to bullying incidents and would like to see a more consistent approach across the school system. The proliferation of technology and the popularity of social media websites can make bullying an environment from which children cannot escape, she said.

Because of the spillover of bad behavior to buses and into homes via the internet, Henn said the “classroom isn’t a bubble and that puts more demands on our teachers; we need to have more support for our teachers which in turn creates more supports for our students.”

Another concern of Henn’s is the system’s overall spending, and the amount of money that is being spent on technology, perhaps sacrificing other areas that need attention.

She is “very concerned,” she said, with the number of no-bid contracts that have been executed by system administrators, which “raises a huge red flag” in her eyes.

Henn, an information technology director at Baltimore City Community College, said she of all people understands the importance of technology in today’s world. But she wants the use of technology in the classroom to be balanced with other teaching methods.

“We’re so dependent on devices and software, but how much teaching can be happening if the teacher is constantly working with one student because their device isn’t working?” she said. “If not used effectively, devices can be a distraction to learning.”

Henn would like the system to look into using open education resources, or OERs, which are teacher-created and classroom-tested educational materials like informational handouts, test questions, quizzes and lesson plans, that are in the public domain and can be used at no cost.

She would like to see a wider ray of transparency within the system, and said she has already seen a change under Interim Superintendent Verletta White’s tenure.

Under former Superintendent Dallas Dance’s leadership, “there was no sense of accountability or response to concerns,” Henn said.

Dance resigned abruptly in April and has since come under investigation for paid educational consultation work that he did not disclose to the school board.

That said, she added that such a sense of secrecy and covert decision-making “transcends any one individual.”

“The system operates in many ways under a ‘this is the way we’ve always done it’ philosophy and we need a cultural shift in the school system,” she said.

There is no shortage of Henn’s ideas, concerns and passion for the county’s school system.

Now she just needs to have the support of voters: “I would never have thought of myself as a candidate running for office, but this means that much to me; I want to be able to continue what I’ve started,” she said.

read more

Two solar arrays proposed for Kingsville, third at Mt. Vista Park on hold

Two solar arrays proposed for Kingsville, third at Mt. Vista Park on hold
An existing solar array currently sits along Pfeffers Road in Kingsville near the proposed sites for new arrays. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Baltimore County residents and businesses who like the idea of tapping into the power of the sun will have a chance to sign up for two local solar projects now under development in Kingsville.

Turning Point Energy Inc., a private company based in Denver, has been working with Kingsville residents to fine tune its plan for a solar array on part of the former Huber farm at the intersection of Raphel and Philadelphia roads.

A public hearing on its request for a special zoning exception from a county administrative law judge for the site at 11956 Philadelphia Road is set for Monday, Dec. 18, at 1:30 p.m. in Towson.

A representative of the Greater Kingsville Civic Association did not respond by Monday to a request for comment.

“We have taken their feedback, questions and concerns and adapted our solar project design and development approach to ensure it is in alignment with our neighbors and community members,” wrote Turning Point in an email.

If the project is approved, Turning Point expects to start signing up subscribers in the spring.

Still to be scheduled is a hearing for a solar project on the northwest corner of the Raphel/Philadelphia intersection headed by Power 52 Energy Solutions on land owned by BGE, which operates a large substation nearby on the south side of Philadelphia Road.

Both commercial projects are participating in the Maryland Public Service Commission’s three-year “community solar” pilot program, which enables solar companies to build arrays and sell power to subscribers.

The program is intended to diversify the generation of power, encourage investment in solar projects and increase access to solar power for renters and others who don’t have panels on their own roofs.

Those who sign up would receive a credit for the energy they use on their BGE bill. Provisions also allow discounts for low- and moderate-income customers.

Power 52 Energy Solutions, based in Ellicott City, is a for-profit entity that hopes to sell 30 to 40 percent of the energy it produces to qualifying customers in south Baltimore.

The company was co-founded by former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose jersey number was 52. It is affiliated with the non-profit Power 52 foundation, which is introducing at-risk youth to the basics of solar array construction with the goal of preparing them for jobs in the industry.

In July, the Baltimore County Council passed Bill 37-17, which allows for solar arrays on land zoned for resource conservation, business and manufacturing under certain conditions. It does not apply to farms that use at least two-thirds of the energy generated for agricultural operations.

Under the law, solar panels cannot be more than 20 feet high, they must be enclosed by a security fence and landscaping is required if the array is visible from a residential neighborhood or public road.

Nine solar sites are currently registered with the county and another six are grandfathered under the bill, which does not affect sites under development prior to Oct. 19, 2016, according to a list of projects maintained by the county.

One of the approved existing sites is a privately run solar array in Kingsville located between two cornfields off of Pfeffers Road.

A Baltimore County government plan to install solar panels at Mount Vista Park in Kingsville, as well as sites in Woodstock, Parkton and Southwest Area Regional Park in Lansdowne, is on hold pending the selection of a new vendor.

Solar City, now owned by Tesla, was originally picked for the work but withdrew, according to county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.

“Tesla informed Baltimore County that it was terminating the solar projects in the face of previously unforeseen challenges that rendered these specific projects not viable,” wrote Kobler, who could not immediately provide more information, in an email.

“Baltimore County remains committed to the use of solar power and will be issuing a new [Request For Proposal] looking to utilize solar power at Baltimore County facilities,” she wrote.

The Turning Point hearing is set for Monday, Dec. 18, at 1:30 p.m. in the Jefferson Building, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson.

read more

New senior housing proposed for property near Josenhan’s Corner

New senior housing proposed for property near Josenhan’s Corner
The darkened area, located on Old Eastern Avenue in Essex between Back River Neck Road (right) and MD-702 and just north of Mars Estates Elementary School, is being eyed for an 84-unit senior apartment complex.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The owners of a piece of land in Essex, which has been eyed for development in recent years, are seeking approval from Baltimore County for a new planned unit development (PUD) on the site.

The property is located on Old Eastern Avenue between MD-702/Southeast Boulevard and Back River Neck Road, near what has historically been known as Josenhan’s Corner.

The plan, put forth by Herman and Kittle Properties, Inc., would see a senior living apartment complex built on the site consisting of 84 units for residents aged 65 and older.

“That means not assisted living; just apartments for seniors 65 and up,” said David Willmarth, director of development for H&K Properties.

The project would be built as a four-story building with a mixture of one- and two-bedroom units, Willmarth said. It would be funded using a combination of conventional mortgage through a local bank and housing tax credit equity, meaning the developer would receive tax credits from the state in a competitive process.

“If we win the process, we’re awarded credits that are syndicated to big companies” like banks or insurance companies, he said. “They purchase the tax credits and we get cash to help us build the building.”

Willmarth said the tax credit equity could pay for roughly half of the project’s estimated $20 million total cost, and the combination of the two funding sources allows them to keep rents considerably lower than the market.

The developer noted that residents of the complex would earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, or about $38,000 per year, which he said is actually more than most of the seniors in that particular census tract.

At the Dec. 6 meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council where the plan was presented, the federal government’s affordable housing program, commonly known as Section 8, immediately came up with regard to the type of residents who would live in the new housing.

But Willmarth assured they would not seek those with Housing Choice (Section 8) Vouchers or any other kind of project-based rent subsidies, in fact agreeing to it in their contract with the owners.

“This is just folks paying their own rent,” he said.

However, they would not turn down someone who has a voucher, provided they pass a credit and background check.

“If they pass that and they have a voucher, they’re welcome,” he said, noting that the check includes criminal records. Felony or drug-related convictions would be turned away, but lower-level offenses would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The project would include some parking for residents who want to lease spaces, as well as abundant green space including several mature trees being preserved on the property, Willmarth said.

He added that they must meet the most current standards for building with respect to the environment, including stormwater management.

But the EMRCC membership pressed Willmarth to do so without seeking any zoning variances or waivers so the project fully complies with current codes.

The project is being pursued through the county’s PUD process due to the mixture of zoning classifications currently on the property, including residential, office and community business.

PUDs allow developers to skirt existing zoning in exchange for a better project and a benefit for the community.

Willmarth said they would leave it to the community to decide what community benefit they would like. And EMRCC members floated the idea of having it be something for the closest community to the site, or potentially something to support the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force’s efforts to revitalize the area.

A previous development proposal for the site, also sought as a PUD, called for “workforce housing” apartments which were staunchly opposed by many in the community due to the potential for it to become more Section 8 housing in an area that already has a lot of it.

To get the funding they sought, that project had to include a percentage of affordable housing, said Sandra Kwiatkowski, one of the site’s current owners.

“The moment that Section 8 was mentioned, it was jumped upon and that was the end of that,” she said.

Additionally, as workforce housing, the project was not required to provide an extra benefit since the county classifies workforce housing itself as a benefit.

The previous developer offered to refurbish and maintain a problematic bus stop nearby, but community members did not feel that was enough.

Kwiatkowski pointed out that she grew up in the area and currently lives on the subject property.

“This is my community too,” she said. “It’s not that I’m just here to sell and see everything torn down. I’m part of this community and I want to see good things happen here.”

Sam Weaver and Karen Wynn, two leaders in the aformentioned task force, said they support the concept plan as presented, but they could only speak for themselves because their entire group had not yet met to discuss it.

“What we’ve heard so far, it seems like it would be an improvement,” Weaver said. “If they’re willing to spend that kind of money it would start the ball rolling for an uplifting for the whole area.”

The EMRCC voted that they were not opposed to the project moving into the county’s development review process, but did not necessarily give support for the project itself.

Since the project is located in County Councilman Todd Crandell’s district, Crandell will decide whether or not to introduce a resolution to the County Council to allow the project to begin the county’s review process.

read more

Swimmer Long goes 8-for-8 with world championship gold medals

Swimmer Long goes 8-for-8 with world championship gold medals
Long does her best Michael Phelps impersonation, posing with her eight gold medals. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/13/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Each time Jessica Long jumped in the Francisco Marquez Olympic Swimming Pool in Mexico City at the World Para Swimming Championships last week, she emerged from the water having earned another gold medal to add to her growing collection.

The swimming phenom who grew up in Middle River went eight-for-eight in the competition to lead the American team in total and gold medals. She won six individual races and was a member of two gold-medal-winning relay teams.

Long’s medal haul might not be as significant as it would have been had the meet taken place as originally scheduled, but she put in an impressive showing, nonetheless.

The championships were supposed to be held in September but a major earthquake that hit central Mexico on Sept. 19 caused a nearly two-month delay of the meet. As a result, some teams originally scheduled to compete dropped out of the rescheduled event.

For example, in both relay races in which Long participated, the U.S. team was the only qualifier. A clean race with no disqualifications guaranteed gold for the team.

“There were a few other teams in those particular events that unfortunately couldn’t attend,” Olivia Truby, a spokeswoman for the United States Olympic Committee, said in an email to the East County Times. “However, it was still a very competitive field throughout the whole meet, and we are very appreciative of everything Mexico City did to put on an incredible event.”

When the six-day meet ended Dec. 7, the U.S. had banked 54 total medals, good for second place on the overall leader board, while Long’s eight golds made her the meet’s most decorated female athlete, according to United States Olympic Committee officials.

Queenie Nichols, director of high performance for U.S. Paralympic Swimming, said she was  pleased with the performance of both veteran athletes and program newcomers.

“We are incredibly happy with how Team USA performed at world championships, especially swimming at altitude,” she wrote in an email.

China claimed the team medal title, with 56 total medals, including 30 golds. Italy finished third behind the U.S. with 38 medals and an impressive 20 first-place finishes.

Team USA’s medals were won by 18 individuals, including Timonium’s Becca Meyers, who won four medals (one gold, two silvers and one bronze), and Mt. Airy’s Zach Shattuck, who was a member of a bronze-medal-winning relay team.

Long, the daughter of Middle River residents Steve and Beth Long, is no stranger to the awards podium, regardless of the level of competition. She said her experience in Mexico City was “awesome.”

“It’s definitely been a really wonderful world championship experience,” she said in a statement from the USOC. “To come away with eight gold medals, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Long started the meet with three gold-medal performances on Sunday, Dec. 4, and capped off her perfect outing Thursday, Dec. 7, with a first-place finish in the SM8 (disability classification) 200-meter individual medley.

Between those days, she also won the S8 100m backstroke, the 34-point 4x100m medley relay, S8 400m freestyle and the S8 100m butterfly.

“Jessica continues to show why she’s one of the most successful Paralympic swimmers,” Nichols said in an email. “To sweep her events and win gold in every event is truly a testament to how great a swimmer she is.”

Not only did Long win eight gold medals, she did so convincingly. While many swim races are decided by tenths and hundredths of seconds, Long defeated each of her nearest competitors by at least five seconds. She finished nearly 25 seconds ahead of the second- and third-place finishers in the 400m freestyle and bested fellow American Julia Gaffney by more than 17 seconds in the 200m individual medley.

But while she enjoyed big leads in the pool, she was considerably slower than her own world record times in two of her races. Her time of 2:49.93 seconds in the 200m individual medley was nearly 13 seconds slower than her world record of 2:37.11, set in Montreal in 2013. With a final time of 1:12.81 in the 100m butterfly, Long was three seconds slower than her world record time of 1:09.79, set in Scotland in 2015.

A year removed from the Rio Summer Paralympics - where Long won six medals - and three years from the next games in Tokyo, Long is not at the peak of training. She has told other publications she is enjoying a lighter training load and taking it easy for a while.

She is enjoying success outside of the pool as well. Long was recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, which names 30 young people to watch in a variety of categories, including sports.

She also looks forward to the June 2018 release of her book, Unsinkable, written with her sister, Hannah Long.

Long revealed a picture of the cover of the book on her Facebook page this fall.

“Crazy excited to reveal the cover of my new book, Unsinkable,“ she wrote in the post. “This book is so special to me... it’s been two years in the making and it’s written by my little sister, Hannah Long.”

Long has also signed on with the Fitter and Fastest Swim Tour, where she will join other high-profile and elite swimmers who conduct swim clinics for athletes looking to improve their performance.

The four-time Paralympian has plenty of time to “take it easy” before she ramps up her training regimen in preparation for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

read more

Star of Bethlehem once again lights the Christmastime sky

Star of Bethlehem once again lights the Christmastime sky
An event attendee inadvertently showed the scale of the behemoth decoration when he moved closer to take his own photo. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Placing the star atop a family’s Christmas tree comes with mixed emotions.

There is the poignancy of the moment, when the chosen family member delicately places the decoration in its place of honor. But there is usually some trepidation as well - that momentary fear that one wrong move will topple the carefully decorated tree.

As you’re carrying out that task this year, just be grateful your star is not 28 feet tall and doesn’t weigh in at more than 1.5 tons.

That is the size of the Star of Bethlehem, an iconic symbol with multiple meanings that graced the L-Blast furnace at Bethlehem Steel for decades.

The star was crafted to honor the steelmaking industry, Bethlehem Steel’s hometown of Bethlehem, Pa., and the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Saved from the recycle pile by Tradepoint Atlantic employees, the much-loved star once again shines over the Greater Dundalk area, even if it is from a temporary home on the side wall of the former steel plant’s wastewater treatment building.

More than 100 area residents joined elected leaders and Tradepoint officials on Nov. 29, when the star was brought to life for the third time under TPA’s ownership.

“This star at Bethlehem Steel was for decades a source of community pride during the holiday season,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said during the brief ceremony. “And as we know in 2012, that star dimmed with the closing of RG Steel and we lost 2,000 jobs.”

He thanked Tradepoint officials for their investment in Baltimore County and for ensuring that the Star of Bethlehem once again shines brightly over the Sparrows Point peninsula.

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint’s vice president of corporate affairs, called the star a “hand-crafted symbol of the Bethlehem Steel workers” and thanked the TPA employees responsible for its resurrection.

The behemoth decoration that is illuminated by 196 bulbs symbolizes the “strength and tradition and community” of the plant that provided jobs for multiple generations.

Noting that the star is in a temporary location - its perch atop the L-Blast furnace was much higher and could be seen from greater distances - Tomarchio said the star is still visible to many, including Francis Scott Key Bridge travelers.

After a countdown from 10, the switch was thrown, all 196 bulbs came to life and folks began taking selfies with the iconic star shining brightly in the background.

Because it’s all about the history and legacy of the generations of people who worked at “The Point.”

read more

Cowenton apartments to move forward despite councilwoman’s action

Cowenton apartments to move forward despite councilwoman’s action
Traffic at the intersection of MD-7/Philadelphia Road and Cowenton Avenue backs up heavily in the evenings, particularly in the eastbound direction on Philadelphia Road. SHA says light cycle adjustments and an added through lane could help solve the problem. File photo.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Although County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins moved in May to delay a planned development at a busy intersection in White Marsh, the project will now move ahead as scheduled after Baltimore County determined the project is vested.

Cowenton South, consisting of 325 for-rent apartments on Cowenton Avenue at MD-7/Philadelphia Road, was hit with a road block back on May 1 when Bevins, who represents the area, changed the county’s Basic Services Map to label the intersection as “failing” by traffic standards.

The intersection sees an average of 16,000 vehicles per day, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) - which controls the intersection because it is a state road - and traffic backs up on eastbound Philadelphia Road and westbound Ebenezer Road approaching the intersection beginning around 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Because the developer for Cowenton South, Keelty Homes, had not yet applied for their building permits at the time, Bevins’ action served to freeze the project until traffic improvements could be made to the intersection.

However, the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections (PAI) determined that the project is vested, meaning the developer had already completed enough work on the project to make it identifiable to the public by the time Bevins changed the intersection’s grade. Although the intersection is still labeled as failing, the project can now move forward.

PAI Director Arnold Jablon told the East County Times that the developer had done grading and installed the necessary utilities and roads on the property, and the project has actually been vested since 2009 or 2010.

“As far as the county’s perspective, the project was vested a long time ago,” Jablon said. “The plan that they have is protected.”

The director said when determining whether or not a project is vested, the county has to look at what kind of work has been done.

“There has to be sufficient work to be able to tell the public, according to the Court of Appeals, what’s going in,” he said. “When you put roads in and you do utilities and you do grading, that’s obviously giving notice to the public of what’s coming.”

Following her action in May, Bevins said she met with representatives of Keelty to discuss the issue and possible solutions since the added traffic will make problems there worse, and children living in the apartment complex will add to already-overcrowded schools in the area.

Despite being able to continue building, Keelty has promised to build only the first phase of the project - 185 units - and its community center until improvements are made to the intersection, according to the councilwoman. The developer has also agreed to contribute to the pot of money needed to fund the necessary traffic improvements, she said, which will incentivize the state to fix the intersection.

“The last meeting I had with them, they said they would make it a priority,” Bevins said of the SHA. “And I’m hoping that they do.”

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar affirmed that the proper solution to traffic congestion at the intersection would be the addition of a through lane on eastbound Philadelphia Road to get more vehicles through during each light cycle.

“But this is a long-term improvement which is not yet funded for construction,” he said. However, the agency did add the intersection to its list of congested intersections to address as funding becomes available, he added.

In the meantime, SHA has recommended changing the traffic light phasing there to allow eastbound Philadelphia Road traffic to turn left onto westbound Cowenton Avenue after yielding to oncoming through traffic, while eastbound through traffic continues on Philadelphia. Currently, the left-turn and through lights are independent of one another.

“This will help ease the delay time and level of service for the side street traffic, as well as improve overall intersection operations,” Gischlar said. “With this interim improvement, we should be able to roughly reduce the overall total intersection delay by about 20 seconds.”

He said SHA is reviewing the proposal and, if approved, the signal upgrade could be scheduled for installation by summer or fall of 2018.

Gischlar did not specify a cost for the long-term improvements to the intersection, but Bevins said the through lane would cost “millions of dollars” and that seven properties would need to give up land on the road frontage for the state right of way to complete it.

She said she planned to appeal to all of the other developers with planned projects in the area to see if they too will contribute funds for the intersection’s needed improvements.

It will take two years for Keelty to build Cowenton South’s first phase, Bevins said, and she is hoping the improvements can be completed by then.

read more

Crandell wants answers regarding Fort Howard environmental status

Crandell wants answers regarding Fort Howard environmental status
The dots shown on the map indicate the sites where contamination has been documented with regard to Fort Howard. The orange dots are the active, "medium risk" sites and the blue dots are inactive sites. Image courtesy of ProPublica.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) on Tuesday, Dec. 5, called on the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and any other relevant government agencies to explain the status of documented hazardous waste sites on the North Point peninsula at Fort Howard.

ProPublica on Nov. 30 published the first comprehensive map of sites across the nation, one of which is Fort Howard, that have been contaminated with toxic waste and explosives due to military use. The publication identifies four sites on the peninsula - two active and two inactive - where contamination has been found, all of which are within the county-owned Fort Howard Park.

The inactive sites - one a landfill and the other a site where contaminated fill was used - are those where military cleanup actions are complete, according to DOD records, which indicate the final cleanup actions were completed in September of 1998 and 1999, respectively.

The active sites are identified as “Multi-Use Range Complex No. 1,” a water site and a land site. Together, they represent a total estimated cleanup cost of $7.66 million, and the USACE estimates the cleanup to be complete in September of 2034 and 2035, respectively.

The sites, which are part of the USACE Military Munitions Response Program, are contaminated with heavy metals, including antimony, nickel, copper, zinc and lead, and are listed as a “medium” risk. However, the DOD and USACE have placed no limits on public access of those areas.

“This information, I don’t know if anybody knew about this,” Crandell told the East County Times.

“I am not an alarmist, but if this information is accurate, it is of serious concern,” he said in a statement.

Crandell noted that his office had contacted Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger’s office with a request that the environmental concerns be addressed so the community is as informed as possible on the potential future of Fort Howard.

The land making up the park was transferred to Baltimore County from the federal government in 1977, according to county tax records. The portion of the peninsula that is still owned by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is slated for future residential development, potentially including senior housing.

Crandell said the developer is nowhere close to having a plan in place for development of the VA property. But “if the site is contaminated or environmentally unsafe, I’m not even going to think about putting housing or senior housing there.”

The councilman also pointed to a recommendation from the Maryland Department of the Environment in 2010 that “the three landfill areas be further evaluated due to the pending planned use of the facility.”

“We know that MDE recommended further evaluation of the property as far back as 2010,” his statement read, “and if there is substantial remediation to be done, the Department of Defense is on the hook for that.”

Although the identified sites are all within the pub
lic park portion of the peninsula, Crandell took the stance that they could have implications for the rest of the peninsula.

“It’s still close enough to the VA property to cause concern, especially when MDE suggested years ago that further evaluation of the sites be undertaken due to the fact that housing was planned there,” he said.

Additionally, he has concerns about public exposure to the contaminants by nature of visiting the park.

“I’m going to err on the side of caution here because I’m not sure the public is aware that this munitions cleanup is even planned or occurring,” Crandell said. “I just need the answers. I need to know the environmental status of the sites.

“I want the DOD and the VA to be straight with us and address the concern,” his statement read. “I would love to be told this is not as serious as it looks and why, but until we get answers I will be on guard for the safety of the public.”

Crandell noted that sites in or near eastern Baltimore County such as Pooles Island and Aberdeen Proving Ground - some of which includes Carroll Island, as well as Battery Point near Gunpowder Falls State Park - are off limits to the public because munitions are or are suspected to be buried there.

“Until I’m told by the appropriate agencies and given assurance that it is safe for people to be around it and that we’re not contaminated or [have] the possibility of live munitions on the site, you’ve got to question people potentially living there, and now at this point, the safety of the park,” Crandell told the Times.

“At the very least, this is worthy of investigation,” he said, “which is why we asked Dutch’s office to look into it.”

read more

Officials take first step toward possible TIF for Tradepoint Atlantic

Officials take first step toward possible TIF for Tradepoint Atlantic
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Baltimore County Council members unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, Dec. 4, that could lead to helping Tradepoint Atlantic pay for needed upgrades to roads, bridges, water and sewer lines and other public infrastructure at Sparrows Point.

At the request of Tradepoint and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Resolution 109-17 designates the boundaries of a new development district to encompass the 3,100-acre former steel mill site that Tradepoint is redeveloping with distribution centers, manufacturing operations and port upgrades to handle bulk commodities.

It also enables the possible funding of upgrades through tax-increment financing (TIF), which typically involves the borrowing of money by issuing bonds, then paying the money back out of the higher taxes collected on higher assessments due to new construction.

If implemented, Tradepoint would continue paying property taxes to the county based on 2016 assessments with the added tax revenue from redevelopment being used to pay off bonds.

“The resolution establishes a development district which locks in the 2016 land values for the project,” wrote Aaron Tomarchio, senior vice president of administration and corporate affairs for Tradepoint, in an email.

With demand for industrial land currently high, Tradepoint argues that public help now to complete the upgrades will help it to better compete with other East Coast locations to attract employers and the resulting jobs that will benefit Maryland.

“Having the necessary infrastructure in place will allow TPA to attract marquee tenants and employers that value shovel-ready sites when evaluating where to locate,” Tomarchio wrote.

Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Sparrows Point, Dundalk and Essex, said Monday that the Tradepoint redevelopment promises to be “transformational” in reversing the loss of jobs following the demise of Bethlehem Steel.

He said the Monday vote sets the development district boundary but does not obligate the county to necessarily adopt a TIF. A lot of number crunching and a thorough cost-benefit analysis will need to be done before the county decides whether or not to get involved, according to the councilman.

“We’re a long way from doing a TIF,” Crandell said about a study period that is likely months away from starting. “We don’t yet have the information about the mechanics or dollar amounts.”

However, TIFs typically mean that the increase in tax revenue tied to higher assessments goes toward paying down the bond debt instead of going toward  the county’s regular spending on public services and projects such as roads, senior centers and parks.

Councilman Wade Kach, who represents northern Baltimore County, said Sparrows Point will continue to develop with or without a TIF and that if a TIF is implemented, it will mean less money for the general fund.

“It’s going to mean that revenue in the near future is lost to Baltimore County. You miss that income,” he said.

Kach said he is also concerned that the county’s debt service is expected to rise in the next five years, and that repaying TIF funds would only add to the burden.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a TIF is not the only option for Tradepoint, which is also researching other options.

“We are also looking at EB-5 financing, Private Activity Bonds and other potential federal grants that could assist in the massive infrastructure requirements needed to realize the full buildout of a multi-modal global center of commerce,” he wrote.

Under the federal EB-5 program, foreigners receive visas if they invest at least $500,000 in American projects that employ 10 or more workers. Private activity bonds are another way to raise money for a private company.

Tomarchio said if Baltimore County were to support a TIF, the Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), a private corporation set up by the state to raise money for capital projects, would issue the bonds.

“The county would only pledge future property tax revenues generated by the increasing value of TPA to MEDCO to pay off any bonds issued for key infrastructure like roads, water, sewer, etc.,” he wrote.

Establishing base value
Determining the added value created by new construction at Sparrows Point is made clear by including in the resolution the base value of the development as of a certain date, in this case as of Jan. 1, 2016.

“This solidifies the increment potential and places the project already on sound footing for bond repayment,” Tomarchio wrote. “Again, this just preserves the option at this point in time.”

Tradepoint purchased the land in 2014 and spent several years on demolition and cleanup. It only recently began work on the building of large distribution centers for Fed Ex, Under Armour and Amazon that will result in significantly higher assessed values and tax revenues.

For example, the only parcel of seven listed with the resolution that shows new construction and higher assessments so far according to state tax records is an industrial parcel totaling 66 acres.

For the tax year ending June 30, 2018, the assessed value on the parcel is $8.8 million, with $96,530 paid to the county in taxes. The assessed value for new construction in the third quarter is much higher at $58.2 million with $480,290 paid to the county in taxes.

Kach asked about postponing a vote on the resolution until the county has more information, but Tradepoint and the other officials want to at least set a possible option in place now.

Voting on the resolution in 2017 automatically sets the base value as of Jan. 1, 2016, according to state law, officials said.

Debate in the coming year over the pros and cons of a possible TIF will likely  include a broader discussion of spending priorities for the county, said some Council members.

A TIF approved by Baltimore City for Under Armour’s redevelopment of Port Covington also included public involvement.

“A TIF is going to take a lot of work and time,” said Council Chairman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville and Arbutus.

“This is just the first step,” he said about the resolution.

read more

Swimmer Long kicks off world championships with three gold medals

Swimmer Long kicks off world championships with three gold medals
Long with one of her gold medals and a bouquet next to the swimming event sign in Mexico City. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The World Para Swimming Championships kicked off about two months later than they were supposed to, but the delay apparently did not phase former Middle River resident Jessica Long.

The four-time Paralympian won three gold medals on Sunday, Dec. 3, her first day of competition.

The meet in Mexico City was originally scheduled for September but was postponed because of a major earthquake in central Mexico on Sept. 19. The delay caused some last-minute adjustments in training schedules, to say nothing of the logistics of canceling and rescheduling transportation and lodging arrangements. But the team took it in stride and hit the pool Saturday ready to compete, as evidenced by its medal haul over the weekend.

When the dust had settled on the first day of competition, held at the Francisco Marquez Olympic Swimming Pool on Saturday, Dec. 2, the U.S. team found itself atop the medal leaders board with nine medals overall, including three golds.

Long, a double below-the-knee amputee, and Tucker Dupree, a swimmer from North Carolina, were named captains of the team. Longtime disabled swimming presence and Atlanta resident Curtis Lovejoy was selected as the team’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony.

When she hit the pool on Sunday to begin her competition, Long did not look back. At the end of the day, she had made three trips to the top of the awards podium, claiming gold medals in the SB7 (disability classification) 100-meter breaststroke, the S8 100-meter freestyle and the 4x100 34-point freestyle relay.

Long, the daughter of Middle River residents Steve and Beth Long, posted a picture on her Facebook page Sunday night of herself wearing one of her medals.

“First day of racing done,” she wrote. “I am off tomorrow but back at it Tuesday. So, so happy with my races tonight. Three gold medals and lots of fun.”

Her sustained success no longer surprises family members and friends who witness her devotion to her sport.

“I expected Jess to perform well at World Championships because she expects to win and she works hard to make it happen,” Steve Long told the East County Times.

Once considered the baby of the swim team, Long at 25 is now the grande dame of the successful group that has made its mark in all levels of international competition. Her Paralympic career began when, as a 12-year-old, she was named to the team that represented the U.S. in Athens in 2004. She also competed in Beijing, London and Rio de Janiero and has her eyes set on Tokyo in 2020.

Though she set off for Athens as an unknown entity in international competition, she returned home as a swim sensation, with three gold medals in her suitcase. She has been a force to be reckoned with ever since.

She now owns 23 Paralympic medals, with 13 of them gold. She has also enjoyed abundant success in previous world championships, most notably when she won nine gold medals at the International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2006.

Her longevity in the sport, her work ethic and her dedication to the team all have combined to make her a role model for younger athletes, as evidenced by comments made by a fellow team member to USOC officials after she finished third in the S8 freestyle on Sunday.

“It feels really good,” team member Julia Gaffney said when asked to describe the experience of winning two medals in her world championship debut. “I’m really honored to swim on Team USA... It’s always been my dream to race against Jessica Long and now it’s amazing to share a podium with her.”

Through Monday night, Team USA remained the leader in the overall medal count with 23. Long and McKenzie Coan lead the team with three gold medals each.

Long was scheduled to race on Tuesday in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4x100 medley relay. The meet ends Dec. 7.

read more

Metzgar hosts church security conference in wake of Texas massacre

(Updated 12/6/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On Monday night, Dec. 4, approximately 75 pastors from Baltimore County, Baltimore City and elsewhere around the state gathered at the Eastern Assembly of God (EAG) in Dundalk. They were not there to discuss the teachings of Jesus, but rather to take part in a conference regarding how to respond to an active shooter situation.

“It’s really sad that it’s come to this,” Delegate Ric Metzgar (R-6), the event’s sponsor, told the East County Times before the event. “I never thought we would come to a day, come to a point, that we would have to have a church security conference... I’d rather be proactive than reactive.”

Metzgar cited the recent church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas as his motivation for holding the conference. The shooting, which occurred on Nov. 5, ended with 26 dead and 20 injured.

“I was flying on that Sunday, but by that Tuesday afternoon I had called the pastors, the Lord told me in my heart to prepare his people,” said Metzgar.

The delegate assembled a panel comprised of current and former law enforcement officers, as well as private security personnel, and reached out to EAG’s Pastor Ed Michael about hosting the event.

The two-hour conference kicked off with Maryland State Police (MSP) Master Trooper Michelle Workman giving a lengthy presentation on how to respond to an active shooter situation, using the guidelines designed in 2002 in the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Program at Texas State University. The program - which has become the standard since its creation - lays out a strategy called ADD, which stands for Avoid, Deny, Defend.

The program notes that people should avoid active shooter situations by taking in their surroundings, noting emergency exits and moving away from the source as fast as possible. If you cannot avoid the danger, according to Workman, you should try to put space and barriers between you and the danger. That includes turning off the lights, barricading doors and trying to keep hidden against walls to avoid being seen. If all else fails, defend yourself. That includes using uncommon tactics like throwing shoes and other objects at the attacker.

Most importantly, someone needs to take the lead.

“More often than not our first response is to deny that anything is wrong,” said Workman. “We continue to go about what we’re doing because we’re in a state of denial. You really need someone to stand up and take charge in these types of situations.”

Workman showed the crowd a clip from The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island that occurred in 2003, which killed 100 and injured 230. The video included a timer to show that people only started reacting to the fire 30 seconds after it started. By that time it had already begun spreading and concert-goers proceeded to make for the exit. Only, instead of using all of the exits, most tried to exit the same way they came in. That led to a jam in the exits and kept people inside, many of whom lost their lives.

“Not only do you need to take note of the other exits, but you also have to realize that in those types of situations you need to look for unorthodox escapes,” she said. “In this instance, there was a whole row of windows that people could have broken and jumped out of. In other cases we’ve heard of people punching their way through drywall. You just need to find a way out.”

After Workman’s presentation, she was joined on stage by Sergeant Fred Shiflett of the Anne Arundel County Sherrif’s Office, Christopher Boggs of Dignitary Security and Nick Paros, a retired major from the MSP.

Quite a few of the pastors in attendance told the panel they had parishioners working as security, but Paros advised against that. He noted that doing so puts a lot of liability on the church, and that the best course of action is to hire private security. Shiflett and Workman advised the crowd to reach out to local law enforcement to see what they could do.

When asked what to do about the elderly or disabled during an active shooter situation, Shiflett proposed coming up with a plan ahead of time.

“The way my church works, we have an area that most of the handicap people will get set up, right by the exit where there’s a ramp,” said Shiflett.

At one point, Paros stated that the most important aspect of keeping people safe from a shooter was keeping a potential shooter out.

“What you need to think about is how you’re going to mitigate that from getting inside, and that starts outside the front door,” said Paros.

The former MSP officer told the audience to try to take note of changes in the lives of others, whether it is relationship or employment related or anything else. He also recommended keeping the doors locked when possible. But when that is not a possibility, private security is the way to go.

“I know since you all represent churches you’re in the business of keeping your doors open,” he joked. “And if you are going to do that you need to make sure you’re protected in other ways.”

For information about church safety or to find out about upcoming active shooter conferences in the Baltimore County area, contact Del. Ric Metzgar at 410-622-5232.

Lighted boat parade dazzles thousands, collects donations for needy

Lighted boat parade dazzles thousands, collects donations for needy
This year’s finale boat, designed and captained again by Nick Hock of Middle River, was decorated like a biplane complete with a working propeller and pulling a banner reading “Merry Christmas.” Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The 15th annual Middle River Lighted Boat Parade continued its trend of growth and spectacle on Saturday, Nov. 25, while collecting donations for a good cause.

While parade organizer Jim High did not have official numbers yet as to the amount of toys and other donations they were able to collect during the event, he said each of the collection boxes at area restaurants was full when picked up.

The donation boxes had been placed at three local restaurants with views of the parade.

The charitable beneficiary for the event was Santa’s Elves of Dundalk. And Middle River Stand-Up Paddleboard, owned by High, also donated a stand-up paddleboard for each collection box, he said.

“It was really kind of flawless,” High said of the show.

He joked that he “couldn’t count that high” when asked how many boats ended up participating in the event.

Some 95 boaters had registered to be in the parade, according to High, but some ended up not being able to make it. And as expected, because of the good weather, others decided to join in on the day of the event.

As a result, High said he could only put the final count somewhere between 80 and 100 boats.

He noted as well that the line of boats stretched three to four miles long, and “thousands and thousands of people lined the shorelines all over, from Bowleys Quarters to Wilson Point, to Hawthorne and down into Bauernschmidt and Turkey Point and Middleborough” to see the show.

“The area has a fantastic Christmas tradition,” High said. “Calling it the Mid-Atlantic’s largest lighted boat parade didn’t disappoint.”

Visit us on Facebook for more photos from the parade.

read more

In Dundalk, planes, trains and automobiles to welcome the Christmas season

In Dundalk, planes, trains and automobiles to welcome the Christmas season
The Hoopla festivities are set to begin with the unveiling of the intricate train garden at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. File photo.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Dundalk will roll out the green and red carpet this weekend for Holiday Hoopla, a comprehensive collection of events to welcome the holiday season.

Many organizers brag that an event offers “something for everyone,” but Holiday Hoopla is one of the few events that truly seems to meet that description.

Do you enjoy holiday train garden displays? Check. Never miss a parade? Check. Want to have pictures taken of the kids with Santa Claus? Check. Do the kids like to express their creative sides with crafts and other fun activities? Check. Do you have the need to rub shoulders with neighbors in a festive street fair atmosphere? Want to eat lots of great Christmas cookies without the hassle of baking them yourself? Want to get some early Christmas shopping done and support locally-owned small businesses at the same time? Check, check and check.

Throw in some seasonal music, roaming characters, a moonbounce and some face painting, add vendors and free ice cream courtesy of Turkey Hill, and there really is something for everyone, according to Chris Pineda, community engagement coordinator for the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, one of the sponsoring organizations of the day-long celebration.

The day’s festivities kick off at 4 Center Place in downtown Dundalk at noon on Saturday, Dec. 2, with the opening of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society’s 18th annual train garden. The multi-tiered display consumes about 300 square feet of space and employs about 90 animated figures that create many themed scenes, according to a statement from the group.

Also popular with train garden visitors is a scavenger hunt that encourages them to search the scenes to find designated objects and characters.

At 2:30 p.m., DRC officials will celebrate the restoration of a historic advertising mural painted on the side wall of 20 N. Dundalk Ave. The mural was discovered when the neighboring building was torn down, and DRC offered $7,500 in grant funds to have the painting professionally restored.

The celebration will include the unveiling of a commemorative plaque and refreshments, according to Amy Menzer, DRC’s executive director.

Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council’s annual Christmas parade will kick off at 4 p.m., according to chairman Alan Holcomb, who said he is looking for a “park stretcher” because the parade continues to grow from year to year.

While many crowd favorites are scheduled - including equipment from the Baltimore County Fire Department and the Wise Avenue and North Point-Edgemere volunteer fire companies, the Department of Natural Resources, Civil Air Patrol and lots of antique cars - Holcomb is excited about several new entries as well.

“I just talked with the folks from Mystic Moon Farms and we are going to have horses in this year’s parade,” Holcomb told the East County Times. “And no, I will not be marching behind them on cleanup duty.”

Baltimore County Animal Control will participate with its new Cuddle Shuttle, a mobile animal adoption center. Sparrows Point High School’s marching band will provide instrumental music and the Encore Girls will wow the crowd with their singing, according to Holcomb.

The parade, traditionally anchored by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and a certain famous group of reindeer, winds through Old Dundalk and the Dundalk Village Shopping Center before ending on Trading Place at the entrance to Heritage Park.

Santa and Mrs. Claus then set up shop at the park’s gazebo, where they will greet hundreds of children before the night is over. Each child will receive a small gift after visiting with the benevolent duo, and free refreshments will be served from Mrs. Claus’ kitchen.

At the same time - roughly 4:45 p.m. - the DRC’s Holiday Cookie Tour and Center Place Street Fair will begin.

In addition to children’s activities and vendor displays, visitors are encouraged to participate in the popular Cookie Tour. Thousands of donated cookies will be available at many shopping center businesses, and visitors can collect their free cookies in a bag available across from 11 Center Place, according to organizers.

Some bakers opt to participate in the cookie recipe contest, with judges getting the tough job of tasting the entries and bestowing a variety of prizes to winners.

There will be some spillover from the parade to the street fair, according to Angel Ball, one of Holcomb’s “happy little helpers.”

“We’re going to have Andy the Armadillo from Texas Roadhouse there and the Chick-fil-A cow and they will walk around and be available for photos,” Ball said.

The street fair generally shuts down around 7:30 p.m., according to Menzer, while Holcomb said Santa will stay until the last child has had a chance to visit and share their holiday wishes and dreams.

read more

Council passes bill to allow new residential development in White Marsh

Council passes bill to allow new residential development in White Marsh
The site, shown here on the left, is the last undeveloped parcel as part of the Town Center area. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Last Monday, Nov. 20, the Baltimore County Council passed Bill 66-17 which allows for residential development in the vicinity of the Town Center district of White Marsh.

The new law, introduced by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins who represents the area, allows for residential uses by right on land currently zoned for light manufacturing if it is at least 10 acres in size and within 525 feet of White Marsh’s Town Center district.

The Town Center district of White Marsh centers on White Marsh Mall and is bounded by White Marsh, Perry Hall and Honeygo boulevards.

The law also applies to similar districts in other parts of the county.

Bevins said the bill applies to an undeveloped parcel bordering Sandpiper Circle between Corporate Drive and Honeygo Boulevard. The site’s owners, Owings Mills-based Chesapeake Realty Partners, have proposed a project to build “high-end,” luxury apartments there, but could not do so under the zoning prior to the new law.

CRP also built the Winthrop apartments in Towson, which the councilwoman called a “spectacular project.”

However, Bevins said she limited the White Marsh project to a maximum of 325 residential units.

“By right they could do like 500 and some,” because of the site’s nearly 13-acre size, she said. “But I put a limit on it.”

Last year, when the subject property was owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust, the real estate trust requested a zoning change for the site through the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process to allow a similar project to the current proposal.

Bevins said she met with the would-be developer for that project and was impressed with his previous projects and the proposal but could not come to an agreement with COPT on the size of the project.

“What happened with that deal, it wasn’t the developer, it was COPT,” Bevins said. “They wouldn’t give me a covenant or declaration on the total amount of units. They were almost 600 units and I just thought that was too much.” Therefore, she did not change the zoning.

But she reviewed all the documentation from the rezoning cycle on that particular zoning issue, she said, to see how the public had reacted to it.

“We went through all the testimony and we kept files on every single issue,” Bevins said. “There was no opposition to it.”

She said she took that as a sign that most people did not care about having housing in a Town Center district. She also noted that the site is “kind of in a donut hole” as it relates to community representation, with neither the South Perry Hall Improvement Association, the Linover Improvement Association nor the White Marsh-Cowenton Community Association covering the area.

The councilwoman admitted that the new developers missed the rezoning cycle, “but I didn’t want to miss that opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s really good timing with [all the new development on Route] 43.”

Bevins recognized some preconceptions some people have about apartments, but defended the proposal for its quality.

“They said that they are planning on bringing the highest rents in Baltimore County - $1,850 [per month] for a one-bedroom,” she said. “They think they’re going to be able to get more there than in the Winthrop in Towson.”

She added that The Arbors, another luxury apartment complex on the White Marsh Boulevard extension in Middle River, is not far behind the new project in rental price.

“And they are 100-percent leased all the time,” Bevins said, adding that the average income of residents there is about $90,000 per year.

She said CRP has already done a market study as to the viability of the White Marsh project.

“They’re not going to build that kind of quality and not know that they can get that [rent].”

Bevins said the developer is also thinking in terms of the site’s proximity to other amenities in the area. She said that is why she “bought into” the project.

“They’re looking at what [Route] 43 is bringing, they’re looking at the jobs, they’re looking at, logistically, how close it is to [Interstate] 95, downtown, the airport, the MARC [train],” she said.

Bevins noted as well that the project would be built and marketed for people who want to live in an urban, city-like setting, particularly young people.

“They park their car, they like walking to the bars, walking to the restaurants, walking to get their hair cut, they walk to the liquor store, walk to the movies - they want to walk to everything, and they like to get on their bikes,” she said.

Regarding schools, Bevins said this type of development would likely have little impact on area class sizes, again using The Arbors and Winthrop as examples.

“Not to say there aren’t any kids, but it’s very few,” she said of The Arbors. “And at the Winthrop, there’s less than three children in that building.

“This is for empty nesters, young professionals, couples, people that haven’t started a family yet,” she added.

The project is also planned to have copious amenities, according to Bevins, such as a fitness center, pool, billiards room, conference center and more - “all those things that are what people want,” she said.

Bevins said the project could have a positive effect on businesses in the area as well, pointing specifically to nearby White Marsh Mall, which she said is “failing.”

Although the site is not within any particular community association’s boundaries, Bevins said she suggested the developers meet with the White Marsh Volunteer Fire Company to discuss a contribution to their new station to benefit the community, which they did.

“We’re working on a big number there,” Bevins said.

read more

‘Little church food pantry’ needs big community support

‘Little church food pantry’ needs big community support
Lucy Leimbach (left) instructs volunteers on what to give out to each recipient. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The food pantry run by the Chase and Piney Grove United Methodist churches might be small in size and scope, but it is a mighty lifeline for the families that regularly depend on it to make ends meet from month to month.

“We have about 20 people who depend on us regularly, and our shelves pretty much get wiped clean each month,” pantry volunteer Sherrie Tester told the East County Times. “We start over from scratch each month.”

With donations low and need for nutritional help high, the Times has partnered with the two churches to serve as a food donation drop-off point through Dec. 31. Nonperishable food items, including boxed pasta, bottled sauces, canned vegetables, soups, fruit, tuna and chicken, peanut butter, pudding and fruit cups and bags of beans and noodles can be dropped off at the Times’ office, 513 Eastern Blvd. in the heart of Essex, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

While the pantry is open just one Saturday each month, residents in need can call either church and an administrator will make sure the immediate need is met, according to pantry volunteer Lucy Leimbach.

In addition to nonperishable foods, volunteers try to have a package of frozen meat to give out to each person when the pantry opens each month.

“And at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we give out turkeys to the first 15 visitors,” she said. “We’d like to be able to give turkeys to everyone, and that’s Sherrie’s goal, but 15 is about all we can afford to buy.”

Local grocery stores will often give the pantry shoppers a discount and they shop around to catch the best sales. Leimbach said they usually can buy turkeys for about 49 cents a pound to get the most from their cash donations.

Chase UMC, which is a new name for the merged Ebenezer and Sharp Street Methodist congregations, is a small church with about 50 worshippers each Sunday, according to Leimbach.

Sharp Street’s historic building on Eastern Avenue burned in 2009, and Ebenezer’s leadership opened its door to Sharp Street so they could continue their worship services, according to Leimbach. Two churches resided in one building and held separate services before deciding to merge as one congregation, leading to the birth of Chase UMC, according to Leimbach and Tester.

At Chase, congregants are family members, according to Leimbach.
“We are family and we are helping family with this pantry,” she said. “We don’t refer to our family members as needy, we don’t tell them to get a job, we don’t judge, we’re just giving a little help to family members who need it from time to time.”

At a recent food distribution in time for Thanksgiving Day, food recipient Sandra Lyons echoed that sentiment.

“There is no judgement here; I don’t feel ashamed coming here,” the Hawthorne resident said. “These are the sweetest people and I really appreciate what they do for us.”

Lyons, who suffers from a host of medical problems that prevent her from working, uses the pantry each month. The food she receives can usually last at least a week, and longer if she needs to “stretch it out.”

Parkville resident Gail, who asked that her last name not be printed, receives the food to help stretch the budget for her family of six, which includes an adult child with autism and three young children.

“It makes a huge difference to us and it helps keep food in the house,” she said. “We make do; we’re not starving and the kids are growing.”

As grateful for the help that recipients are,  it is also important to know, Leimbach said, that many people who use the pantry also give as they can. She cited one man who was gifted with a case of pudding cups. He kept a few for his family and donated the rest to the pantry, stating that he would like to share when he is able.

“They might be getting but they’re giving as well, and that’s just so precious to me,” Leimbach said of pantry clients. “And they’re giving from their heart; it makes them feel good when they are in a position to give back.”

The pantry ministry might be small, but volunteers do everything they can to make sure the shelves have at least the bare minimum to help keep local residents afloat. In addition to food items, volunteers try to keep a stash of personal hygiene items, like toothpaste and tooth brushes, toilet paper, paper towels and deodorant on hand.

“We always run out of those items first, but they aren’t a priority,” Leimbach said. “They’re important, and people who depend on food stamps can’t use that money to buy anything other than food, but we think it’s more important to feed our people.”

The volunteers are hoping to build the pantry’s stock as the major fall and winter holidays approach. Tester said she would love to get enough donations so the shelves are not bare when the pantry closes each month.

Leimbach said she had no idea what a lifeline a small, rural church’s food pantry could be.

“I didn’t realize how important these little church pantries are to folks who just need a little boost from time to time,” she said. “We’re just doing what God asked us to do and we enjoy doing it; we’re happy and honored to do it.”

Editor’s Note: Nonperishable food, personal hygiene and grocery store gift card donations can be dropped off at the Times office, 513 Eastern Blvd. in Essex. To make other arrangements, call Chase UMC at 410-335-2172, or Piney Grove UMC at 410-335-6927.

read more

BRRC updates members on status of midge treatments at fall meeting

BRRC updates members on status of midge treatments at fall meeting
BRRC and DNR sampling of midge larvae in the Back River sediments has found their numbers to be much higher than what is considered a nuisance. Photo courtesty of BRRC.

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Midges were top on the agenda at the fall general meeting of the Back River Restoration Committee last Tuesday, Nov. 21, and organization leaders gave updates on what has been done so far to address the swarming nuisance.

Many residents who live on or near Back River have likely seen midges covering their boats, in their pools or on their houses, according to Tom Parham of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“They look like mosquitoes, but they’re a little bit bigger than that,” he said.

He added that they do not bite or carry diseases so they are not a health issue. But in high concentrations they can impact businesses.

“They are certainly a nuisance,” he said. “You go out there on a summer night... when you walk by the river and it’s just a cloud of midges. That’s something we wanted to try to deal with.”

Parham said Essex marina owner and BRRC President Sam Weaver first contacted him in 2014 about the swarms of midges affecting his business and several others in the area during the summer.

“Back then, we hadn’t heard of this before so we put together an expert panel to figure out how to deal with this,” Parham said.

Then early this year, Governor Larry Hogan appropriated $330,000 to fund a pilot program to try to cut down the midge numbers in and around Back River.

Midges exist all around the world, but eradication treatments had never been done before in tidal waters or on such a large scale, according to Parham.

“Like everyone else, we’re learning,” he said.

He noted that midges eat algae, which thrives in nutrient-rich waters and sediments, making Back River the “perfect habitat” for the bugs.

“When we sample out in the river, [midge larvae] are a large percentage of what is on the bottom,” he said. Their life cycle is less than two weeks. But adults only come up when it is warm.

Since their funding is limited, BRRC, DNR and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, which is leading the program, had to figure out what the most cost-effective way to get the job done was - using the best treatment dosage at the right time to knock down the midge populations.

Bti - a naturally occurring bacteria that only affects midges, mosquitoes and black flies - is the substance being used to kill the midge larvae in the river.

“So this is a safe substance when it’s applied properly,” Parham said. “It doesn’t affect fish or other vertebrates.”

Regarding their methodology, he said they are not trying to treat all of Back River right now.

“It’s kind of a proof of concept,” he said, noting that Back River is about 4,000 acres. The desired result is simply for people to be able to enjoy their outdoor areas more during the warmer months.

During the first treatment administered on the river in September, about 260 acres were treated, stretching from near Virginia Avenue to about Thompson Boulevard. And prior to the treatment, nearly all of the test areas showed the amount of midge larvae to be above what is considered nuisance levels, according to Parham.

“In the grand scheme of things, if you looked at an area... of maybe two square meters, that would probably have 1,000 or 1,500 larvae in just that little area,” he said, pointing out that anything above 500 per square meter is considered a nuisance.

Following the treatment, sampling done within a week showed midge larvae populations to be below the nuisance levels for nearly all of the test area.

Additionally, residents at the BRRC meeting said they did notice a reduction in midges they saw near the test area.

Because midges are dormant in the winter, the next treatment - the second of five total - will not occur until April, Parham said. They will then stagger the treatments to carry on into the summer, and after those they will have a better idea of how effective the treatments have been and what is working or not working.

“But it’s a promising sign that [people] are seeing less midges after one treatment,” he said.

Those involved will be doing more planning during the winter, according to Parham, such as for how to improve their equipment and how to go about sampling adult midge numbers.

Weaver noted that the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant has begun operating its Enhanced Nutrient Removal system which reduces the amount of nutrients going into the river, cutting the food source for the algae and, thus, the midges. Reconstruction of the Stemmers Run stream bed near the I-95/I-695 interchange is also nearing completion, which should stem the flow of nutrient-rich clay sediments into Back River.

While the Bti treatments will not eliminate the midges for good and must be repeated regularly, Parham explained, reducing the nutrients and the food source for the bugs will take care of the problem more naturally in the long term.

“So this is kind of the stop-gap measure as we work to reduce the nutrients in the river itself,” he said.

read more

Royal Farms continues to expand, gains approval at Fullerton Bingo site

Royal Farms continues to expand, gains approval at Fullerton Bingo site

(Updated 11/29/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A Royal Farms request to allow a gas station at its planned convenience store in Fullerton was approved by a county administrative law judge on Oct. 31 with conditions.

The store, which will replace the existing Fullerton Manor Bingo at 7560 Belair Road, will also include gas pumps but will not include a car wash as originally proposed. Neighbors objected to a car wash at a rezoning hearing in 2016.

Per the order, fuel delivery trucks are prohibited from using the narrow, residential Glade Avenue, which borders the south side of the property, to enter and leave the convenience store site.

Royal Farms is also required to hire a third-party contractor to inspect and maintain the planned on-site storm water management system to control runoff. It  must also submit a lighting and landscaping plan for county approval.

In addition, the company, which is expanding regionally, plans to build a store on Philadelphia Road across from the General Motors plant in White Marsh.

The store will be located on the north side of Nottingridge Road as part of a retail area that also includes space for three restaurants, according to a KLNB site plan posted online and shown above.

Also planned is a new store at the corner of Perry Hall and White Marsh boulevards in Perry Hall and a relocated, expanded store on North Point Road in Dundalk.

read more

County officials break ground on new Northeast elementary school

County officials break ground on new Northeast elementary school
In keeping with a recent trend, the school's ceremonial groundbreaking took place well past the beginning of actual construction on the school. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

More than a dozen local elected and school officials gathered at the site of the new Northeast elementary school on Monday morning, Nov. 20, to break ground on the project.

While a large portion of the structure has already been put in place, the groundbreaking represented the ceremonial kickoff to the project. The school is slated to open at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.

The $49 million school is located at 4816 Joppa Road, near the intersection of Honeygo Boulevard. Most of the cost was footed by Baltimore County, with 71 percent of the funding coming from the local government.

For years now, parents, teachers and stakeholders in the Perry Hall area have been clamoring for overcrowding relief. Plans to build the school were announced in 2015, with the design work beginning in early 2016. The school will have a state-rated capacity of 725 students.

“We’re actually adding 10,000 seats [around the county] while taking children out of trailers and into modern learning environments,” said Kamenetz, citing his administration’s $1.3 billion construction initiative.

Councilman David Marks (R-5), who has been fighting for a new school since he took office in December of 2010, expressed his delight with the new school.

“This is Perry Hall’s first new school in a quarter-century, and one of three additional schools that will reduce overcrowding in northeastern Baltimore County,” said Marks, who represents the area. “It is a significant milestone for the families of Perry Hall and White Marsh.”

Charlene Behnke, who was named principal of the new school earlier this year, opened the remarks on Monday morning, highlighting her own experiences living and working in the Perry Hall area.

“Families have a strong pride here and they love their schools,” said Behnke, who previously held the position of principal at Vincent Farm Elementary. “Very soon we will be joining that strong community of schools and adding yet another school in Perry Hall where teaching and learning are at the highest possible level.”

Behnke has been working in the Baltimore County Public School system since 1991, starting off as a teacher. She took over as principal of Vincent Farm  in the beginning of the 2013 school year.

“This is amazing, it’s such a beautiful place,” said Behnke. “And with my children having grown up in Perry Hall schools, I know what a great education boys and girls get here, and I’m ready. We’re going to bring it here too.”

The new school, which has yet to be named, is going to be the prototype for new elementary schools moving forward, according to Edward Gilliss, chair of the Board of Education.

According to Gilliss, the school will  not only bring great relief to the area, but will also launch the area into the 21st century.

“The communty will have a school to be proud of, the students will be able to benefit from the best of instruction and the most updated technology, and all in the most nurturing and inspiring of learning environments,” said Gilliss.

With a new school comes redistricting, and over the last couple of months the school system has been working to solidify plans and present options to community stakeholders. In total, nine elementary schools are taking part in the boundary process, including Carney, Chapel Hill, Gunpowder, Joppa View, Kingsville, Oakleigh, Perry Hall,  Seven Oaks and Vincent Farm.

All of the information about the boundary process, including a breakdown of the proposed plans, a running log of community feedback, video archive and survey submission form can be found at

The excitement over the groundbreaking was palpable, with many displaying both relief and anticipation at the thought of reducing overcrowding in the area’s elementary schools.

“Our rezoning decisions have lightened the impact of development on overcrowding, and now we have officially broken ground on the first of three new schools to eliminate this problem,” said Marks. “I grew up a half-mile from this school site.  It will serve the bulk of central Perry Hall, both older neighborhoods and the newer Honeygo communities.”

read more

Middle River Lighted Boat Parade to hold toy drive this year

Middle River Lighted Boat Parade to hold toy drive this year
One of the more unique displays from the 2016 parade included a sailboat shooting off fireworks as it moved along its route. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Middle River Lighted Boat Parade has grown in participation nearly every year since it began, indeed experiencing more rapid growth in recent years.

Now in its 15th year, the parade - an area favorite held each year on Middle River on the Saturday after Thanksgiving - already had 80 boats registered to participate as of Nov. 16 and could potentially see even more.

“If the weather is nice we should have somewhere between 80 and 100 boats,” said Jim High, one of the event’s chief organizers.

That number would top last year’s total which was in the 70s, according to High. It would also make the parade the largest of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region and likely among the top five in the nation.

He attributed the growing success of the event at least partly to the $325 “captain’s package” that each boat captain receives for their participation. The package includes $25 gift cards to each restaurant on the parade route plus Pizza John’s in Essex, as well as paddleboard rentals from Middle River Stand-Up Paddleboard and kayak rentals from Stansbury Yacht Basin.

“That captain’s package is what’s making this such a big deal,” High said of the increased participation each year. “So if we have 100 boats, that’s [more than] $30,000 worth of stuff [given away]. That’s what’s paying for the party.”

There is also no cost for participants to enter the parade, he said.

The event is scheduled to begin at approximately 5:45 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 25, when the procession will depart from Stansbury Yacht Basin.

As a way to give back and not just entertain the community, parade organizers will hold a toy drive during this year’s event as well, High said. Donation boxes have been placed at three waterfront restaurants - The River Watch, The Crazy Tuna and Carson’s Creekside - along the route so that people going to view the boat parade can donate a toy, canned good or a coat while there.

“[The donations] will be distributed to local families before Christmas,” High said. “It adds a little bit of a charitable aspect to the Lighted Boat Parade which is something that we haven’t had in the last couple of years.”

Prior to the 2016 parade, the event benefitted a group called Captains Sharing and Caring.

In the same vein, event organizers also held a “Christmas in July” charity toy collection event which brought in roughly 4,000 toys for needy children.

“And they’re getting donated right now to a Dundalk charity called Santa’s Elves,” High said.

To kick off the event, boats will gather and line up at Stansbury Yacht Basin, then depart toward Carson’s Creekside restaurant, which they are expected to pass at about 5:50 p.m. before heading toward Wilson Point Park, according to High.

Public viewing will again be limited at Wilson Point Park due to Lockheed Martin’s ongoing environmental remediation work and Dark Head Cove being closed to boats as a result.

But after turning around at Wilson Point Park’s boat launching ramp, the procession will then pass Kingston Point Park in the Hawthorne neighborhood, where additional public viewing will be available, High said. He added that anyone viewing from that park should get “a real nice view of the party” at 6 p.m.

Next, the parade will round Hawthorne Point to pass by Middle River Yacht Club, The Crazy Tuna and The River Watch between 6 - 6:30 p.m., he said.

From there, “We will go into Norman Creek, passing Norman Creek Marina and Crescent Yacht Club,” High said. “As we exit Norman Creek, if the weather, the tide, the current and the waves are minimal, we’re going to come out to the [mouth of Middle River] out in front of Sue Island, Rockaway Beach and Bauernschmidt [neighborhoods].”

He stressed, though, that those stops will be a “game time” decision at the time the parade begins.

The parade will then cut across the river toward Bowleys Quarters and head up into Frog Mortar Creek past Sunset Cove - which High noted will be open the night of the event despite its ongoing renovations - and turn around again in front of Conrad’s Ruth Villa.

Finally, they will pass Strawberry Point and Wilson Point before dispersing back at Stansbury Yacht Basin at about 7:45 p.m.

“At that time, most of the boats will go back to one of the original restaurants they got started from,” High said.

Typically the parade also includes an extravagantly lit or engineered “finale boat” as the last boat in the line. But High said he will not know about that for this year until the night of the parade since he does not maintain contact with Nick Hock, who has been the architect of many of those designs in the past.

High called Hock the “genius” behind the finale spectacles. “He is the Tony Stark of the Middle River zip code,” he said. But “we don’t talk too much. He just shows up and does what he does.”

High described the annual boat parade “a great Middle River Christmas tradition” which was started as a way to get people to patronize local restaurants on what is typically their slowest night of the year.

“I’m so happy with this the way it is,” he said. “It’s a good gig.”

read more

Democrats looking to use testimonials to influence healthcare votes in Congress

Democrats looking to use testimonials to influence healthcare votes in Congress
Robert Rose (left) offered his story during the forum about how Medicaid saved his life. MCHI President Vincent DeMarco said Rose's story was typical of others heard around the state. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and U.S. Senator Chris VanHollen joined healthcare advocates and eastern Baltimore County residents last Thursday, Nov. 16, to talk about healthcare - specifically Medicaid - at the Ateaze Senior Center in Dundalk.

While the forum’s organizers brought people together with information and resources regarding healthcare, they stated that their purpose was to hear people’s stories and experiences with Medicaid more than anything else. The elected officials could then use those individual stories to advocate on Capitol Hill when trying to persuade others to vote their way on legislation related to healthcare.

“If we’re going to advocate for positions [on legislation], instead of just saying ‘We’re for Medicaid...’ I find it’s more effective when you’re trying to get other individuals in Congress to listen to you, it’s better to talk about specific cases,” Ruppersberger (D-2) said.

Ruppersberger and VanHollen said Thursday’s forum was particularly timely because the tax cut bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was working its way through the U.S. Senate, could have devastating effects on Medicaid.

VanHollen (D-Md.) said the tax bill would add $1.5 trillion to the national debt. And to make up for those losses, the upcoming 2018 budget proposal would seek to cut Medicare by $473 billion and Medicaid by $1 trillion.

“The reason they’re out there looking for cuts [to Medicaid] is because there’s a lot of money in it,” Ruppersberger said. “But every time you cut Medicaid you hurt people.”

The congressman also said the largest amount of money the federal government gives to Maryland is in Medicaid grants.

“That’s really relevant and important, because if in fact they start cutting Medicaid, the state will have to pick it up,” he said. “And if the state picks it up, that means taxes are going to have to rise.”

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the forum was the fifth in a series they have been holding across the state to highlight the benefits of Medicaid. He said the most important thing they have done in the series was to hear from people who have benefitted from the program.

“At each of these events, people talked about how Medicaid saved their lives, made them much healthier, kept them from financial ruin,” DeMarco said. “It’s a story that the people of Maryland, the people of America, need to hear.”

Robert Rose, who MCHI and the other organizers arranged to speak at the forum, said he had always had employee-based health insurance, but lost all of that when the company he worked for folded. And the prices of private insurance plans were “atrocious.”

“So I was without insurance for almost a year,” he said, during which time he became “extremely obese.”

Rose said he weighed more than 400 pounds before getting healthcare again, and as a result his blood pressure was “through the roof” and his knees were “completely blown out.”

Rose eventually worked with Healthcare for the Homeless to get healthcare through Medicaid and his life began to turn around. He got access to blood pressure medication and was able to see a doctor who he said treated him like a human being.

“It pretty much saved my life,” he said, noting that his weight and blood pressure are now under control, he is back to work and has even gone back to school to further his education.

DeMarco said Rose’s story is similar to what they have heard around the state, and it exemplifies the importance of Medicaid.

“The Medicaid program saves lives and it helps all of us,” he said. “People with jobs, they lose them, the Medicaid program keeps them on their feet.”

DeMarco also said that since the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, went into effect, there has been a drop in uncompensated care - people going to hospitals without insurance - of more than $300 million in Maryland alone.

“And they can’t pay, so who pays - all of us with higher healthcare premiums,” he said. “It’s what we call a hidden healthcare tax.”

He added that premiums have increased a lot more slowly under the ACA.

Dr. Bonita Taylor, who represented MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society, said she has been a family practitioner for the last 30 years. She said MedChi members are hopeful and are fighting to make sure that Medicaid is successful.

“Nothing is more frustrating to a physician than to make the diagnosis and set up a treatment plan... and then to watch as the patient deteriorates because there wasn’t insurance and things weren’t covered,” she said.

Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said in 2013, the year before the ACA went into effect, about 140,000 people in Baltimore County were eligible for Medicaid. That is compared with 190,000 people in 2017, he said, and the increase is largely a result of Medicaid expansions done by the state and federal governments.

Branch also commented that Medicaid is a “significant” factor in combatting drug addiction, noting it is “one of the best coverages” that helps pay for substance abuse and mental health services.

VanHollen said the ACA resulted in more than 400,000 Marylanders getting healthcare who had not had it before. Some were able to purchase healthcare through the exchanges and others got access to care through expanded Medicaid, he said, noting that in Maryland more than half were the latter.

The senator also said that two-thirds of the money spent through Medicaid program is spent for seniors in nursing homes or families with someone with a disability.

“It is a major source of funding to help people who are in... fragile situations due to their age or because of a disability,” he said.

The other third helps lower-income families access care.

VanHollen said it would be wrong for people to think that because efforts to repeal the ACA were defeated that they had also stopped the efforts to cut Medicaid or roll back access to affordable healthcare.

“I just don’t want anyone to think that we’re out of the woods when it comes to proposed big cuts to Medicaid or Medicare because it’s right there in the budget,” he said.

read more

Neighbors oppose Pulaski Crossing townhouse plan; hearing scheduled for Dec. 8

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A plan for 150 townhouses on Pulaski Highway in White Marsh is scheduled for review by a county administrative law judge at a public hearing in about two weeks.

Known as Pulaski Crossing, the project of one-garage townhouses on 31 acres is set to replace an earlier plan for a Carmax auction center at 11301 Pulaski Highway that was previously used by the Schwaber family for a drive-in movie theater.

The Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association of about 150 single-family homes located to the south between the cleared site and Bird River is opposed to the project, which it argues is in stark contrast to the existing commercial and industrial businesses along that stretch of the highway.

In 2016, the County Council rezoned a small adjacent agricultural parcel to allow 5.5 housing units per acre. The change enabled the rest of the commercially zoned Pulaski Crossing site to be developed residentially instead of commercially per regulations in the County Code.

The public hearing is set for Friday, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. in the Jefferson Building in Towson.

The development plan shows two entrance/exit points without traffic lights on a section of Pulaski Highway that is divided by concrete median barriers.

Neighbors say that residents who want to head toward the Beltway will need to turn right, drive east to Allender Road and then turn around to head in the opposite direction toward Baltimore.

However, there is a break in the median barrier at the current entrance to the property.

Still to be undertaken is a traffic study of the failing intersection at Pulaski Highway and Ebenezer Road due to already heavy traffic, said county reviewers, who discussed the plan at a pre-hearing conference on Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Builders will not be able to get building permits for Pulaski Crossing until improvements are made to the nearby intersection to relieve backed-up traffic, they said.

Also requested is a study to determine compatibility with the surrounding commercially zoned areas that include Shemin Nurseries and the Brooks-Ramsey automotive businesses.

The plan shows a large stormwater pond close to the highway, and a smaller pond toward the southern end of the site near residences. The ponds on the plan comply with regulations, according to reviewers.

However, they also noted potential problems with preparing the site for construction.

“The contours on the plan reveal rather excessive grading,” according to a comment by the Bureau of Development Plans Review.

“Development of this property through stripping, grading and stabilization could result in a sediment pollution problem, damaging private and public holdings downstream of the property,” the comments read.

The Office of Planning recommends that the plan include more amenities near the southern end of the site such as a playground and swimming pool, and also recommends new fencing to improve the appearance of the stormwater ponds.

Also still required is a school impact analysis to determine whether the new townhouse population will add to already overcrowded classrooms at Perry Hall High and Middle schools.

Library toy drive ‘makes all the difference’ in a child’s life

Library toy drive ‘makes all the difference’ in a child’s life
White Marsh branch Assistant Library Manager Olivia Mirot (left) and circulation assistants Dawn Filippou and Vanessa DiGregorio help to wrap gifts for the toy drive. Photo by Will Malkus of BCPL.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Each year at Christmastime, many local churches and organizations organize toy and gift drives to help neighbors in need. And far too often, supplies do not keep up with need.

For the fourth year, Baltimore County’s public libraries are partnering with community groups and homeless shelters to help fill that gap with their annual Connecting the Community Toy Drive.

Through Dec. 6, library patrons can drop off new, unused toys, books, games, dolls, puzzles and any other item a child might enjoy at any of the system’s 19 neighborhood branches, including seven in eastern Baltimore County.

Each branch has named a local nonprofit organization or church to be its beneficiary, and those groups are grateful for the extra boost the drive supplies to their efforts, according to organizers.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Essex holds an annual Christmas season toy giveaway that is so popular that people camp out the night before the “shop” opens.

“We tried to discourage the overnight camp-outs,” the Rev. Charlene Barnes told the East County Times in a phone interview. “We tried giving out numbers one year but that caused some arguments so we stopped that.”

St. John’s collects toys year-round thanks to donations made to Miss Ann’s Closet, a ministry that distributes clothing and other needed items monthly to those in need, according to Barnes.

Closet founder Ann Brooks, a St. John’s member, goes through donations each month and sets aside the toys in the best condition for the December giveaway.

St. John’s is the beneficiary of the Essex branch’s toy drive. The roughly 10 bags of new toys the church has received from past drives “makes all the difference in what we are able to offer in new toys,” Barnes said.

The toy drives at the Rosedale and White Marsh branches both benefit the residents at the Eastern Family Resource Center, where the donations “make a huge difference,” according to April Stevens, volunteer coordinator for the Community Assistance Network, which oversees the homeless shelter at the center on Franklin Square Drive.

“Many of these children wouldn’t have a Christmas otherwise,” Stevens said. “These families struggle to put food on the table; gifts are out of the question.”

The shelter, which now can house 250 people thanks to the new facility that opened in October, is home to children from birth to age 18, according to Stevens.

“We need everything, from clothing and diapers for newborns to toys, clothing and toiletries for older children and adults,“ she said.

The toys and gifts the children receive for Christmas are special because they belong to the child, Stevens said. To have something that they can take with them when they leave is “huge,” she said.

Library staff members get as much enjoyment out of the collections as the recipients.

“This project links back to our strategic plan of connecting with the community on many levels,” Rosedale Branch manager Justin Hartzell said. “It’s a great initiative and everyone rallies around it.”

Sandy Lombardo, White Marsh branch manager, said her library’s effort has grown from the original toy drive to include a hat and mitten tree and toiletries.

“We try to be mindful of a very loved stuffed animal and get toys that will become that special, loved toy,” she said. “We also encourage donations of items that don’t have a lot of parts that can be lost and to choose things like small, hand-held electronic games that a child can play by themselves if no other children are around.”

Staff members even wrap all the gifts and put tags on them to denote the appropriate gender and age group, Lombardo said.

The library has partnered with Honeygo Village Dentistry, which has donated toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss to the cause.

The drive “is a good thing to do,” Lombardo said. “People are always looking for ways to give back to the community and this is a feel-good way to do that.”

To Stevens, the toy drive results in a priceless gift for children whose young lives have experienced only struggle and difficulties.

“With these gifts, on Christmas morning, a child gets to be a child, for a moment anyway, without worrying about adult things,” she said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”

Other local library branches collecting toys and their beneficiaries are North Point and Perry Hall (Family Crisis Center of Baltimore County); Parkville-Carney (House of Ruth); and Sollers Point (Turner Station Conservation Teams).

read more

Royal Farms announced as first tenant at Shoppes at Tradepoint

Royal Farms announced as first tenant at Shoppes at Tradepoint
An artist's rendering of what the new store could look like when completed. Image courtesy of Royal Farms.

(Updated 11/21/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Tradepoint Atlantic has announced that Royal Farms will be the inaugural tenant of its retail center to be known as the Shoppes at Tradepoint.

The convenience store chain will build a retail store, gas pumps and a car wash on a 3.7-acre parcel of land along Bethlehem Boulevard at the foot of Peninsula Expressway, according to Roger Sauerhaft, a spokesman for Tradepoint.

“Royal Farms has signed a long-term contract and will be the first tenant at the Shoppes of Tradepoint,” he told the East County Times in a phone interview.

Tradepoint officials successfully petitioned Baltimore County last year during the quadrennial rezoning process to get about 70 acres of former steel plant land rezoned for retail use. Royal Farms will occupy one of seven free-standing retail pads, according to a statement issued by Tradepoint officials.

“We are excited to welcome Royal Farms, which is a brand both highly recognizable to Baltimore-area consumers and is known for its consistently impressive quality,” Eric Gilbert, Tradepoint’s chief development officer, said in the statement.

The location will be easily accessible to Baltimore Beltway travelers, with the southbound ramp on Peninsula Expressway and the northbound ramp around the corner on North Point Boulevard.

Both Royal Farms and Tradepoint officials expect that “thousands of people who work at Tradepoint Atlantic and the tens of thousands that travel I-695 every day will welcome this highly accessible retail development to the area,” according to the statement.

The Tradepoint Royal Farms store will offer nearly 5,400 square feet of retail space, a car wash bay and a total of 15 fueling pumps, including 10 multiple-product pumps and five high-flow diesel pumps, according to Shelby Kemp, a spokeswoman for the chain.

Until just recently, the North Point Peninsula had only two small, family-owned, independent gas stations. Convenience store chain 7-11 this year opened a new store with gas pumps at 5230 North Point Blvd., resulting in more competitive prices that local residents were happy to see, if comments made on social media sites are any indication.

Baltimore-area residents have always raved about the quality of the store’s fried chicken, but that reputation got a national boost this past summer when Food & Wine magazine named the popular fast food as the top entry on the list of “10 Gas Station Foods Across the Country That Are Worth the Detour.”

The article says that, while many people think only items like “Slim Jims, Twinkies and watery coffee” are available in gas station shops, “some remarkable food and drink is coming out of those little convenience stores.”

The new store and fueling station are expected to open in late 2018, according to the statement. Royal Farms, headquartered in Baltimore since 1959, manages more than 180 stores in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Tradepoint will continue to pursue other tenants for its retail complex. Officials have said at past TPA open house sessions that hotels, a grocery store, fast-food restaurants and other retailers will be courted.

read more

State veterans commission honors vets at war memorial

State veterans commission honors vets at war memorial
Ron Holcomb (right) and Todd Miceli delivered a proclamation from the governer recognizing veterans for their service. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Lamky Luther Whitehead Veterans Memorial at Holly Hill Memorial Gardens in Middle River was the site of an intimate gathering on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, to celebrate and honor all veterans and remember those lost in their respective conflicts.

Saturday’s informal gathering, held each Veterans Day at the monument, was spent honoring and remembering veterans through song, prayer and telling stories of their service.

The tradition began in 1989, the year the monument was dedicated, according to LLW Veterans Committee member Keith Roberts.

The veterans memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 29, of that year. And on the following Veterans Day, there was no official service planned at the monument, Roberts said. But the monument’s founder, the late Al Clasing Jr., and his late wife, Marie, decided to visit the site on their own to say a prayer for veterans.

“When they got here, they found that there were a couple other veterans that had the same idea,” he said during the gathering. “And thus began this informal service every Veterans Day.”

During the service, representatives from the Maryland Veterans Commission, Todd Miceli and Ron Holcomb, delivered a proclamation from Governor Larry Hogan which recognized that veterans are the reason for the freedoms that we enjoy. It also stated that, following their service, they returned home to be responsible and productive members of society and honored them for that.

Also held Saturday at the LLW memorial site was the annual Luminary Service in the evening, which features red, white and blue lights to illuminate the stone monoliths, along with luminary candles positioned around the monument, each representing a name engraved onto the stones.

Roberts said he and the monument committee decided to dedicate this year’s informal Veterans Day ceremony at the monument specifically to Korean War veterans.

The Korean War began in June 1950 and ended in July 1953, with a total of 1,789,000 American soldiers sent to Korea during the conflict, Roberts said. Of that number, 36,000 were killed and 103,000 were wounded.

U.S. troops in Korea were part of the United Nations forces in the country, which included soldiers from 21 nations around the world. However, 88 percent of the troops sent there were Americans. And the U.S. spent $67 billion for its involvement in the conflict.

Perhaps most striking about it, Roberts said, is that 77,000 American soldiers who fought in Korea are still unaccounted for.

“That’s an incredible figure,” he said. “We still are finding and, through the use of DNA, identifying the remains of some of those soldiers.”

Roberts pointed out that the remains of Louis Damewood, Edward Saunders and David Wishon - three of the last four names listed under the Korean War deceased on the monument - were recently identified using DNA evidence.

The names listed on the stone slabs at the center of the monument are those eastern Baltimore County residents who gave their lives in military service during the respective conflicts. Those on the stones in the outer circle are veterans who have honorably served in any branch of the U.S. military.

read more

Brochin, Olszewski spar in first Democratic county executive candidates’ forum

Brochin, Olszewski spar in first Democratic county executive candidates’ forum
John Olszewski Jr. (left) and State Senator Jim Brochin (right) took their places separated by an empty podium marked for no-show Councilwoman Vicki Almond. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The first candidates’ forum of the election season was held last Tuesday, Nov. 7, at Loch Raven Recreation Center, with former Delegate John Olszewski Jr. and State Senator Jim Brochin squaring off.

Notably absent from the event was Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who formally announced her candidacy in Owings Mills on Nov. 1. An official from the forum’s organizers, the Baltimore County Grassroots Coalition, noted that Almond had twice stated that she intended to be present at the forum, but pulled out at the last minute for an undisclosed reason.

With an empty podium marked for Almond in between Brochin and Olszewski, the evening proceeded without her.

Immediately, Brochin and Olszewski laid out their respective visions for Baltimore County. Olszewski won the coin toss and gave his opening statement first, stating that there was a hungry optimism in Baltimore County that he was looking to harness. He was quick to move to the left of Brochin, stating he was “proud to be a blue-collar progressive,” before highlighting aspects of his platform that included universal pre-kindergarten, campaign finance reform and more public/private partnerships to build jobs.

“As a teacher, I knew what it was like to see a kid who didn’t come to school with a meal. I knew what it was like to learn in a classroom without air conditioning. So we’ll give every kid the best possible start and the education they deserve by doing things like enacting universal pre-K in Baltimore County and expanding access to school meals,” said Olszewski.

In Brochin’s opening statement, he highlighted his efforts to be a voice for his constituents. Pointing to his environmental record, Brochin stressed the importance of keeping green space in the county and building more recreation fields. He also pledged to build the first opioid treatment center in Baltimore County, noting that “you would be hardpressed to find anybody who doesn’t have a friend, a family member or a loved one that has an addiction problem.”

But where Brochin pushed especially hard in his opening statement was on developer contributions to political campaigns. For the better part of a year, Brochin has been deriding contributions to Baltimore County elected officials since the County Council is the gatekeeper with development projects. Brochin contends that contributions from developers and their immediate family should be banned, citing similar legislation passed in Prince George’s County back in 1992.

“We have a system in Baltimore County, that predates this executive and council, where developers give campaign contributions to the council and country club memberships to the executive,” said Brochin. “They build whatever they want, wherever they want, and we are the collateral damage. And it’s got to end, and as Baltimore County Executive I will aim to end pay-to-play.”

Being a Democratic primary, there was plenty of agreement between the two candidates on the night. Both men agreed that there needed to be more investment in school construction and that there needed to be increased transparency. But there were often minor differences in approach.

Sticking with campaign contributions, Olszewski touted his plan to completely overhaul campaign finance and shift to public financing when Brochin was finished presenting his plan to limit developer contributions. Olszewski highlighted the use of public funding in Governor Larry Hogan’s successful 2014 gubernatorial run, as well as the implementation of a public campaign funding law in Montgomery County in 2014. He told the crowd that there needed to be a “more holistic” approach that curbed all special interests.

“We know it works, we know that it encourages competition, and we know it takes not just developer money out politics; it provides a real alternative to all special interest money,” said Olszewski. “There’s a lot of special interests in Baltimore County.”

Brochin disagreed with Olszewski’s assessment of special interests in the county, saying a look at the financial contributions for County Council members and the county executive reveals that the contributions are predominantly coming from developers. He went on to stress how inappropriate the contributions are, especially with the council often invoking “councilmanic courtesy,” which sees the rest of the council defer to the councilperson who represents the district where development is being discussed.

Aside from disagreeing with Olszewski’s assessment of special interests, Brochin also argued that the former delegate’s public campaign funding plan would require raising county taxes.

“What do you cut? Do you cut police, do you cut school counselors?” Brochin asked, noting that campaign finance just adds “another expenditure.”

Later in the evening, Brochin would again question Olszewski on how he planned to implement his vision to enact his school construction initiatives, his push for more school programs and meals, campaign reform and more, without increasing taxes.

Olszewski stated that, if elected, he would look at ways to shift money around and make things more efficient. He also questioned some of the spending decisions made in the past, including the decision to commit $330 million for students to receive laptops in Baltimore County Public Schools. He would not say whether or not he would do away with the program, but stated that initiatives like that should take a backseat when, citing issues like those at Dulaney and Lansdowne high schools where they have brown water or are sinking into the ground.

There were other times during the night when things got heated. On the HOME Act, a proposed piece of legislation that would see landlords forced to accept Housing Choice/Section 8 vouchers, Brochin was put on the defensive. Olszewski stated he supported the legislation and framed the argument as one of discrimination, stating that he would be an advocate for all.

Brochin, who opposed the legislation in its most recent form, stated that he could not back it because it would be unfair to landlords who only own a handful of units. He told the crowd that oftentimes the payments from the government come three or four months late, and that landlords who only own a few units can’t take that financial hit.

On minimum wage, Brochin took a cautious approach, saying that he would not support a $15 minimum wage right now. He referred to it as a “job killer” that would send jobs to other jurisdictions, and that any such initiative should be statewide.

“And I support the state raising that wage to $15 an hour and I hope that all of our legislators from Baltimore County and across the state are sponsors of that legislation this upcoming session,” Olszewski said. “Some of the jobs are changing and we need to make sure there’s a chance for people to earn a decent wage to provide for their families.”

When pressed by Brochin about if he  would push for a $15 minimum wage at the county level if elected, Olszewski expressed doubt that it could be passed in Baltimore County, agreeing that a push would need to happen at the state level. He countered by asking Brochin if he would sponsor that legislation next session, but Brochin said he would not.

“We’ll hit $10.10 in 2018 and I think we’re on the right path,” he said. “I want $10.10 to be enacted in 2018 and we can move forward after that.”

When given a chance to remark on the current administration as the evening came to a close, both men praised County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for his fiscal stewardship of the county and promised to show the same restraint.
When pressed about how they would differ from the current administration, Olszewski was measured in his response, simply stating that if elected he would push Baltimore County into the future. Brochin was a bit harsher in his response, saying that there’s a “culture straight out of the 1950s,” and that his administration would be the most diverse administration ever assembled.

read more

MDE recommends dredging Man-O-War Shoal; others still opposed

MDE recommends dredging Man-O-War Shoal; others still opposed
The location and general shape of Man-O-War shoal. Dark lines indicate the boundaries of oyster bars mapped by Yates (1911). Yellow rectangles within the outline of the shoal illustrate the types of cuts anticipated as shell is removed by dredging along the perimeter. However, cuts on the western third of the shoal are no longer planned since those areas were seeded with oyster spat within the last 10 years. Image courtesy of MD DNR.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Maryland Department of the Environment has recommended granting a permit to dredge fossil oyster shell from Man-O-War Shoal to be used as a base for restoring oyster reefs around the Chesapeake Bay, despite objections from many local residents and environmental advocates.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources applied for the permit to dredge the shoal after the Maryland General Assembly passed a law in 2009 requiring them to do so. And in its review of DNR’s permit application, MDE has concluded that the proposed project would not have enough of an adverse effect so as to outweigh their desired goals.

The permit, if granted, would see the removal via hydraulic dredge of up to 5 million bushels, or about 300,000 cubic yards of oyster shell from the shoal in two phases over a five-year period. Each phase would be preceded and followed by monitoring periods to determine the ecological effects of the project. And if no significant negative impacts are found, DNR could apply for a new permit to increase their total haul to 30 million bushels or about 1.8 million cubic yards.

That amount would constitute approximately 30 percent of the available shell currently on the shoal, according to the MDE report.

Fossil oyster shell is widely regarded as the best surface for new oysters to attach and grow, but it is in short supply around the bay due to sedimentation and degradation of oyster shell, the report states. Therefore, many see Man-O-War as an abundant source of shell to form a base for new and replenished oyster bars in both sanctuaries and managed public harvest areas, as well as for aquaculture.

However, others see the program as a wasteful repeat of past failed programs which could potentially do more harm than good.

David Sikorski, government relations chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association, pointed to the oyster “repletion program,” which took place from 1960 to 2006 and was an effort to dredge fossil oyster shell throughout the upper Chesapeake Bay with the purpose of rebuilding oyster reefs elsewhere.

Between 185 million and 200 million bushels of shell were dredged during the program, “and what happened to it?” he asked.

“It ended for good reason,” Sikorski said. “It was the destruction of habitat in one place to attempt to replenish habitat in another by removing that shell. And after all those years and all those public dollars being spent and the upper bay being changed forever, we have no tangible benefit to the public from that program.”

Sam Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Marine Service on Back River and president of the Back River Restoration Committee, echoed those sentiments and said that for environmental reasons there is no reason to disturb the shoal.

“I don’t know why they would want to destroy one of the last real shoals around,” he said.

In its report, MDE acknowledged concerns that the project could negatively impact the shoal habitat and the value of the location for commercial and recreational fishing. But the department concluded that oyster production on the shoal currently is “very limited.”

“The existing Man-O-War oyster population has been supported primarily through seed plantings,” the report states, noting that no dredge cuts are proposed for any areas of the shoal that have been seeded with oysters within the past 10 years.

Additionally, while dredging is likely to result in a loss of benthos, according to DNR, “benthic communities probably will recover to pre-dredging levels of abundance, biomass and number of species within [six] to 12 months after dredging is completed,” they stated.

They also concluded using past fish surveys that those communities would not be substantially altered by the dredging.

Sikorski said supporters of dredging the shell say it is to support the oyster fishing industry and for restoration of the oyster population to benefit the bay as a whole.

“But [DNR] has admitted that the amount of shell available or proposed to take from Man-O-War doesn’t even meet half of the immediate need,” he said.

DNR’s application indicates that the shell dredged under the initial permit would be enough to recreate approximately 7 percent of the acreage of oyster bars estimated to be lost each year. And by their numbers, the total 30 million bushels to be dredged could recreate about 40 percent of that lost annually.

“That sounds like an awfully expensive proposal for a very limited return,” Sikorski said. And he attributed the massive need to DNR not ever putting proper and sustainable limits on harvest for oysters.

He also criticized the oyster fishing industry for being unwilling to adapt their harvesting techniques to the use of alternate substrates for growing oysters, such as stone or reef balls.

Sikorski said granite has been shown in Harris Creek and other sanctuary reef projects to be a good base for oysters to attach to.

“Oysters love to attach to it; they succeed by connecting to it,” he said.

Additionally, the BRRC through its Boy Scout venturing crew has been working with CCA to build and distribute concrete reef balls around the bay for oysters to grow on, Weaver said.

Sikorski noted that stone makes it more difficult for oyster harvesters using power dredges because it has a lot of vertical reliefs and they would then have to sort through a lot of the stone that comes up with the oysters. It is also a concern for fishermen using trot lines in those same creeks to catch crabs in the summer because the lines can get worn out or hung up on the rocks.

“They’re realistic concerns, but sometimes, if you’re going to better the bay as a whole, you might as well use a technique and materials that can make it work and are available,” Sikorski said.

The permit application is now being considered by the state’s Board of Public Works. Additional written comments regarding the project can be sent to William Morgante, Wetlands Administrator; Maryland Board of Public Works; 80 Calvert Street, Room 117; Annapolis, MD 21401 or emailed to by Nov. 21.

After that deadline, anyone submitting comments will be notified of the date of the BPW meeting at which the application is scheduled to be considered.

read more

Sixth District council candidate Geelhaar to run ‘campaign of the people’

Sixth District council candidate Geelhaar to run ‘campaign of the people’

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Parkville native and current resident Glen Geelhaar is a consistent sort of guy.

The public schools and special education advocate attended Parkville Elementary, Parkville Junior High and Parkville Senior High schools and earned two associate’s degrees and a bachelor’s degree, all from Villa Julie College, now known as Stevenson University.

With the exception of a stint of residency in Harford County, Geelhaar, 53, has lived in Parkville his entire life and now wants to be the Baltimore County Council representative for the community in which he was born and raised.

The lifelong Republican was among the first candidates to file for the 2018 election when he filed his paperwork to run for the Sixth Councilmanic District seat on March 23. He has since been joined in filing by Deb Sullivan and Eric Lofstad, while Ryan Nawrocki has announced his intentions to run but has not yet filed.

A staunch supporter of public education, Geelhaar credits a ninth-grade social studies class assignment with igniting his lifelong interest in politics. The students were told to follow the 1980 presidential race and Geelhaar jumped into the assignment with gusto.

“I was hooked; I was impressed with a candidate named George H.W. Bush and I fell in love with Reagan,” he said. “I couldn’t vote for them then because I wasn’t old enough to vote but I did get the chance to vote for them both in 1984.”

His run for the council seat is his first personal campaign, but he is no stranger to political campaigns, having served as a volunteer for Helen Delich Bentley while he was still in high school. Since then, he has aided several local Republicans, including Fifth District County Councilman David Marks and state Delegate Chrisitan Miele and former Delegate John Cluster, each of the Eighth District, with tasks like door-knocking and envelope stuffing.

In discussing his political agenda, Geelhaar refers to what he calls the “three Es.”

“I’m most concerned about education, economic development and emergency services,” he said.

He believes the Baltimore County Public Schools system is in good shape but has room for improvement.

“The schools have a good reputation, but we have to protect that reputation; we can’t let it slide,” he said.

He points to school overcrowding and the number of schools that have much of their campuses eaten up by “rows and rows” of trailers that provide overflow classrooms. He is a strong advocate of a new elementary school in Parkville, something he says could be accomplished by reopening the former Parkville Elementary or by building a new school on one of several county-owned parcels in the Hiss Avenue corridor.

Geelhaar is disappointed by the “turf wars” that exist along district lines, particularly with regard to school issues.

While he understands he would be elected to advocate for the Sixth District’s issues and concerns, he also believes the council should work together to prioritize needs and make sure the most egregious problems are taken care of first.

He cited recent media coverage of a tour of Lansdowne High School, which has a mold problem and other serious structural deficiencies.

“[State Comptroller] Peter Franchot was quoted as saying that if you kept your pets in that building, you’d go to jail,” Geelhaar said. “So while I would certainly advocate for new schools in my district, if Lansdowne is making kids sick, that needs to be taken care of first.”

Geelhaar said he would promote some different thinking in the administration and running of the public safety departments. He supports the idea of an elected police chief (as opposed to the individual being politically appointed) and would like to implement a pilot program for police officers to take cars home.

“If you let police officers take their cars home with them, perhaps that presence of that car in the neighborhood or at the grocery store deters crime,” he said.

He also would like to see the county test out some hybrid police cars that get 38 miles per gallon of gas, as opposed to the 18 miles per gallon that the Tauruses now in use get.

“Our officers have to keep their cars running to keep their equipment charged up and much of that gas is burned up by idling,” Geelhaar said.

By contrast, the hybrid would stop running its combustion engine and keep the equipment charged with its battery, with the engine coming back on only when the battery needs charging, he said.

In terms of economic development, Geelhaar said he recognizes the value of the MD-43/White Marsh Boulevard corridor and acknowledges that many county officials see the area as a “jobs engine.”

But he also believes that other, older retail districts are being ignored and is concerned by the high rate of vacancies along many of the country’s traditional Main Street corridors, including Eastern Boulevard, Harford and Belair roads and Pulaski Highway.

He cited the success achieved by Marks, who targeted a failing shopping center in Perry Hall, where the high number of vacancies was threatening the well-being of the remaining businesses, including a bowling establishment.

“Councilman Marks targeted that center with an effort to boost occupancy and now that center is thriving again and the bowling lanes are no longer in danger of closing,” Geelhaar said. “We need to do that for more of our neighborhood retail places.”

If anything sets Geelhaar apart from his opponents, he believes it is his ability and willingness to try a different approach when it comes to problem-solving.

“I have ideas and I have back-up ideas,” he said. “I’m a plan B and Plan C kind of guy.”

Geelhaar also said he plans to hold fundraisers at a price point for everyone to be able to participate if they choose.

“I don’t have developers writing checks for $6,000; I’m getting donations of $20 and $100,” he said. “I see my campaign as a campaign of the people.”

read more

Freezing weather programs open early for homeless people

Freezing weather programs open early for homeless people
The North Point Government Center will now only be used as a standby center for homeless individuals when the Eastern Family Resource Center in Rosedale reaches capacity during freezing temperatures. File photo.

Dundalk center now on standby

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

For the first time in eastern Baltimore County this winter, the county is providing 35 overnight beds for single homeless men when temperatures drop below freezing, as they did last Friday night.

The newly created beds in the recently relocated and expanded Eastern Family Resource Center on Franklin Square Drive in Rosedale mean that the North Point Government Center in Dundalk will no longer offer beds in freezing weather except as a backup facility.

“It’ll be on standby,” said Terri Kingeter, homeless shelter administrator with the Department of Planning, which oversees shelters in the county.

Normally, the county’s freezing weather facilities open Nov. 15, but this year they opened early because of the freezing temperatures experienced in the area over the weekend, she said.

Kingeter said she alerted the police and fire departments, and also called Prologue, Inc. which is contracted by the county to reach out to homeless people with information about shelters and other services.

Staff at the Medstar Medical Center also referred some homeless individuals to the Rosedale shelter.

As a result, eight people stayed there on Friday night and five on Saturday night, according to Kingeter.

“Normally when we open, we get nobody on the first night because nobody knows about it,” Kingeter said.

Every year the county’s shelter for men in Catonsville offers beds on a drop-in basis without requiring a referral from the Department of Social Services when temperature and wind chill factor drop below freezing.

The county also traditionally opened beds during freezing temperatures at the North Point Government Center, a former school at the southeast corner of Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard.

Now, instead of using the Dundalk site, the department will be referring single men to the Rosedale center, a three-story building on Franklin Square Drive that replaced a smaller center closer to the Medstar center. That center had previously only served women and families.

Homeless people looking for shelter services are advised to call the county at 410-853-3000, option 2, to check if beds are available that night on a drop-in basis due to freezing temperatures, Kingeter said.

Calling in advance also helps the county decide whether to activate standby beds, including those at the North Point Government Center, if needed.

People can arrive after 6 p.m. and stay until 9 a.m. the following morning, she said.

Administrators will try to inform overnight visitors before they leave in the morning about whether the shelter is expected to reopen again that evening because of expected continuing cold.

“That way they won’t have to leave and wonder [if they can return],” she said.

The county’s annual freezing weather shelter program is scheduled to run through April 15, 2018.

For more information, visit and search for “shelter and housing.”

read more

Dreamers liquor license in limbo; other bars fined for violations

Dreamers liquor license in limbo; other bars fined for violations
Dreamers is located at 4000 North Point Road in Dundalk. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/15/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The Dreamers adult entertainment bar in Dundalk recently went on the market for sale, but without its income-generating liquor license, at least for now.

The Baltimore County Board of Liquor License Commissioners denied the owners’ request to extend the license on Oct. 30 after they failed to pay their annual $1,500 renewal fee and outstanding fines.

The owners have since appealed the decision to Baltimore County Circuit Court, which puts the potentially lucrative license in limbo pending the outcome of that case.

In the meantime, the marketing of the land and building at 4000 Old North Point Road is actively going forward with the hope of getting a good offer with or without the license.

Even if they win the appeal, the owners want to get out of the business, said agent Harry Cohen with ReMax First Choice in Essex, which is marketing the property and license.

A former president of the Baltimore County Licensed Beverage Association, Cohen said if the owners win the appeal and the license is preserved, it could be sold as a regular tavern license without its current designation as an adult entertainment license.

He also said it could be used on Dreamers property or anywhere in the 15th Election District. The number of licenses is capped in each district based on population, making them valuable commodities when they become available.

Cohen said some potential buyers have shown interest in the property since it went on the market, but added “the license is important to these people.”

On Monday, Nov. 13, the liquor board fined several other bars in eastern Baltimore County, including the Malibu Beach Bar in Dundalk, Gussie’s liquor store in Essex and Brix Sports Bar and Grill in Rosedale.

The Malibu Beach Bar on Eastern Avenue was fined a total of $1,250 for a public disturbance after failing to control a fight between a security guard and a patron in the parking lot, for selling alcohol to a minor and for having an employee under age 21 on the premises after 9 p.m.

Gussie’s on Old Eastern Avenue was fined $750 for selling alcohol to an under-aged police cadet. The owner said he failed to card the cadet because he was dealing with an influx of customers at closing time. The owner was also fined $250 for selling cigarettes to a minor, but the fine was waived because he had paid a fine to the state Comptroller’s office for the same violation.

Brix Sports Bar and Grill on Pulaski Highway was fined $500 for failing to card an under-aged customer. No action was taken on a charge of selling to an intoxicated person after the owner said he stopped serving the patron, offered him food and also offered to get him a cab.

read more

Kushner Cos. fined by Baltimore County as negligent property owners

Kushner Cos. fined by Baltimore County as negligent property owners
The Commons at White Marsh in Middle River had by far the most violations on the east side of the county with 49 citations. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Patrick Taylor - 

A property management company co-owned by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been fined by Baltimore County after racking up more than 200 county code violations.

Baltimore County threatened to withhold HUD (Housing and Urban Development) subsidies if the Kushner Cos., the property management group, failed to meet standards. Kushner Cos. made the necessary changes to the HUD subsidized properties, but failed to meet the deadline on three other properties for code enforcement issues. The company was fined $3,500 for the violations.

Kushner Cos. did not respond to requests for a comment.

“Contrary to the assertions of the Kushner Cos. that they are in compliance with local laws, our inspectors identified and cited more than 200 code violations in properties owned by Jared Kushner,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “Repairs were made only after the county threatened to withhold rent or issue fines. And in nine instances, we had to carry through with threatened sanctions. We expect all landlords to comply with the code requirements that protect the health and safety of their tenants, even if the landlord’s father-in-law is President of the United States.”

From 2015 to June of this year, Kushner Cos. has received $4.8 million in HUD subsidies on behalf of 197 low-income renters.

Kushner, who currently acts as a senior advisor to President Trump, has repeatedly found his name in the news for shoddy living conditions in the apartment complexes his company owns. A ProPublica/New York Times article published back in May was the first to shine a light on the negligence. Since then, multiple Democrats, including Attorney General Brian Frosh and Rep. Elijah Cummings, have launched investigations and inquiries into the property management group. The move by the  Kamenetz administration to fine Kushner Cos. adds the county executive’s name to the list.

On the east side, Kushner Cos. owns a wide array of properties, including Carroll Park, Cove Village, the Commons at White Marsh, Essex Park, Morningside Park, Whispering Woods and Charlesmont Apartments. Violations have been found at each of these locations since the beginning of the year, with 49 HUD and four code enforcement violations found just at the Commons at White Marsh.

Overflowing trash cans and rodent infestations were among the violations found at the properties during routine inspection, according to a release sent out by the county.

While the Commons at White Marsh was the most neglected site, Kushner Cos. had violations at all of the aforementioned sites. Whispering Woods was found to have seven HUD violations, while Charlesmont, Cove Village and Essex Park were each found with five or less HUD violations. There are no HUD units at Morningside or Caroll Park, but both were fined for code violations. Morningside was found to have five code violations. Five more complaints about conditions at the various Kushner-owned properties are still being investigated by the county.

A spokesperson for Kushner Cos. previously told The Baltimore Sun that the property management group was “in compliance with all state and local laws,” but that assertion was rebuffed by Kamenetz.

“It is a stretch of truth to assert they are in compliance with all laws when more than 200 code violations were observed by our inspectors in just the past 10 months,” said Kamenetz.

read more

County Council approves purchase of land in Essex for open space

County Council approves purchase of land in Essex for open space
The land to be purchased is located off Barrison Point Road on the lower Back River Neck peninsula. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Baltimore County Council voted on Monday, Nov. 6, to unanimously approve the county’s purchase of more than 160 acres of land on the Back River Neck peninsula to be preserved as passive open space.

The county plans to purchase eight contiguous parcels of land off Barrison Point Road in Essex using $950,000 of Program Open Space funding from the state and $50,000 from its own capital budget, according to a county spokesperson. What the Council approved Monday was a contract of sale between the county and the property owners as part of the passive open space program.

Because the property will remain as passive open space, it will remain largely in its natural state with no park amenities installed.

County Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents the area, said the land acquisition represents a “significant” open space investment in the Seventh District on the Back River Neck peninsula.

“I’ve advocated to various members of the administration for a couple of years now to make such investments in our district,” he said. “I think this is the first Program Open Space investment in the Seventh District since 2007.”

Crandell called the agreement “a pretty big deal,” adding, “160 acres at $1 million is significant and welcomed on the Back River Neck.”

County spokeswoman Fronda Cohen pointed out that the subject property is located within the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area in a Resource Conservation zone. She added that the county specifically identified this tract as a good candidate for open space preservation.

“Certainly the county is very aware of our responsibility to be sure that we protect any environmentally sensitive areas, as well as providing increased open space and protected open spaces,” Cohen said.

She noted that the zoning currently on the property protects it from intensive development, but also that zoning can change.

“We felt that if these properties were under county ownership it would clearly signal the intent that this remain open space for the community, but most importantly for environmental protection and conservation,” Cohen said.

She, too, called the amount of land a “significant” size, adding that it “can make a difference.”

“It was a real opportunity to do the work of being able to put together those eight parcels and make that purchase,” the spokeswoman said. “We’ll all literally breathe easier when you have more wooded areas that are preserved and protected as open space.”

The property is primarily forested, according to Cohen, and the only structure presently on it is an unoccupied building which will be demolished at the current owner’s expense prior to the county’s purchase.

Last month, the County Council approved a similar purchase of just over 12 acres of land in Middle River, also to be used for passive open space.

That property, located off Bird River Road, consisted of 14 unimproved residential lots and non-buildable wooded parcels. The county agreed on Oct. 16 to purchase that tract using a combined $490,000 of county and POS funds.

The Middle River property was zoned for residential development at a rate of two homes per acre, which explains its higher value than the Essex parcels.

“This purchase will ensure that the property... will be used for passive open space rather than new homes,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the area, at the time. She added that the acquisition would help strike a balance between new development and open space.

“Middle River is an area in the county that is lacking in open space so I have been working with the administration to bring more open space to the area,” she said.

Air cannons bill
Also approved Monday by a unanimous vote of the council was a bill, sponsored by Bevins and Councilman David Marks, to restrict the use of air cannons on agricultural land in response to complaints from residents living near the Bird River.

The bill as passed prohibits the firing of air cannons in certain Resource Conservation (agricultural) zones within 500 feet of an adjacent residential dwelling between the hours of 10 p.m. and sunrise as defined by the National Weather Service.

Air cannons create loud bursts of air to scare birds and other animals away from crops, and Councilman Wade Kach pointed out that the sound level from such cannons can reach 125 decibels.

“That can cause physical damage to the ears,” he said, stressing that the legislation came about because of one individual in Bevins’ district - along Stumpfs Road in Middle River - “who insists on using these air cannons, shooting them off every two or three minutes.”

Bevins said the cannons were in use “around the clock” during planting season and harvesting.

“It was very disruptive to the community,” she said. “The community and the farmers have been living in the same area from the beginning of time and this was never an issue until this past year.”

Bevins initially introduced the bill in September, but withdrew it to give the farmer and residents a chance to undergo mediation through the Baltimore County Farm Bureau.

“That mediation took place and there was no resolution,” Bevins said.

Prior to the vote, Bevins and Kach together sponsored an amendment to the bill, creating a sunset for the legislation after two years without further action from the council.

Bevins said the reason for the sunset was that they believe the new regulations will “set the tone” and will not be necessary after the time period is up.

“We didn’t want to punish all farmers because of, so to speak, one bad apple,” she said, “so we’re hoping that this remedies itself. If not, we’ll take a look at it again in two years.”

read more

Community hears update on Water’s Landing at Middle River PUD project

Community hears update on Water’s Landing at Middle River PUD project
This concept drawing shows how the community could look when complete. Image courtesy of Curry Architects.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Devin Crum -

For months, community members following the progress of the Water’s Landing at Middle River planned unit development (PUD) have waited to hear more details and updates from the developer about the status of the project.

They finally got that chance, as well as the opportunity to express concerns about the adequacy of the project’s stormwater management (SWM) plan at the Nov. 1 meeting of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council.

The most updated Water’s Landing plan shows 189 total homes to be built on a 53-acre waterfront parcel along Weber Avenue in Essex, according to Richard Alter, president of Manekin, LLC and developer for the project. The homes would be a mix of mostly townhomes and some single homes constructed across a tract formerly known as the Huber property.

Alter said site plans have been stable for about the last 15 months, and they have been working with the state’s Critical Area Commission to gain their approval for the plan.

The CAC’s approval is necessary because the project seeks to use nearly all of what remains of Baltimore County’s growth allocation for Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas. The growth allocation allows somewhat more intensive land use in waterfront areas in exchange for water quality benefits rather than having to abide by stringent regulations and shoreline setbacks.

“That has required us to submit to the county drawings and specifications” for the project, Alter said, which has been time consuming.

Using the growth allocation, homes can be no closer to the shoreline than 100 feet. However, without it they would be required to maintain a 300-foot buffer between buildings and the shoreline.

Alter said the closest home to the shoreline in the plan is 119 feet, while others are up to 250 feet away. And development counsel Sam Neuberger said the average distance of all the buildings from the shoreline will be about 200 feet.

Neuberger said the justification for using the county’s remaining growth allocation is that rainfall that hits the site after the development is built will actually be more clean than before the development took place, as is required by the CAC.

To accomplish this, the regulations require reforestation on site as much as possible, especially within the 100-foot buffer, and off site in the same watershed if it cannot all be done on site. They also require wetland mitigation and myriad other environmental remediations, according to Neuberger.

Eric Chudnicki, environmental services manager for the project with Daft McCune Walker civic engineering firm, said they are doing all they can on site to meet the reforestation and other remediation requirements.

What they cannot do on site, they will do on another property about 2.5 miles to the southeast, where they plan to “take 17.6 acres and put nothing but trees on it,” he said, adding that the property has been in agricultural production for a long time and the owners have decided not to farm it anymore.

They also plan to do about nine-tenths of an acre of wetland mitigation, which Chudnicki said is triple the amount of impact the project will have.

“The only impacts we have are really associated with some roads and some outfalls,” he said. “Everything else is as managed as possible, especially around the peninsula and the point.”

Some residents, however, expressed concerns that the SWM plan as designed for the project is inadequate.

EMRCC’s lead environmental advocate, Dan Doerfer, relayed an independent environmental engineering firm’s belief after looking at the plan that the SWM facilities for Water’s Landing would only treat about 60 percent of the rainfall they should for a project of this size.

Chudnicki assured, though, that they have devised a SWM plan that meets the county’s regulations for capturing and filtering stormwater, and he noted that the plan has already been approved by the county.

“We are trying to protect the water,” he said. “We are treating all of our impervious [surfaces], and we are doing it in a manner that we are required to in the critical area.”

Doerfer noted that there are both county and state requirements for SWM.

“The state language says to the maximum extent practicable, you should use Environmental Site Design,” Doerfer said, which is currently accepted as the highest standard for SWM.

“But the county generally holds developers to the minimum extent practicable,” he said, adding that county officials have already told him they are satisfied with the design.

Doerfer acknowledged that it is too far along in the process to do anything about this project now.

“So I think our issue is with the county,” he said. “The county should be looking at these developments and holding them to a higher standard for Environmental Site Design and not meeting [just] the minimum water treatment.”

Neuberger stated, though, that after this project the county will no longer have any new large-scale waterfront projects because the growth allocation will be gone.

Another aspect of the project for which both the developer and community members have expressed their desires is the relocation of the county-owned bus lot adjacent to the property. Neuberger updated the group on that issue in that the county is willing to relocate the facility, but the new location must be comparable in size to the existing lot.

He said they had a list of several possibilities for a new location that were outside the critical area, that have running water and where the facility will not be a “nuisance.”

“Then the county changed their requirement a little bit,” Neuberger said. “What they said is, ‘instead of just building one new bus facility, we have a bunch of antiquated school bus facilities in eastern Baltimore County; we’d like to have one really big one that just serves a wider area and is more in the growth area.’”

He said the county has identified some potential sites near Franklin Square hospital and other areas for such a facility.

However, the bus lot is a school board issue and has not been high on the board’s priorities list which is why progress has been slow, according to Neuberger.

Alter had originally estimated an 18- to 24-month timeline for the project to be completed, but now puts it at more like 36 to 40 months since they must get approval from the CAC to use the growth allocation, then must finish working through the county’s PUD process for final approval.

As part of the PUD process, the developer is required to provide a community benefit, for which they have chosen to contribute $50,000 toward the refurbishment of a SWM system at Chase Elementary School, which Neuberger said has been a failing system.

“The way it exists now, it does cause a fair amount of harm to the watershed,” he said.

He pointed out that the benefit was suggested to them by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, in whose district the project will be built.

read more

Battle of North Point monument proposed for state battlefield

Battle of North Point monument proposed for state battlefield
A meeting to discuss the Society of the War of 1812’s proposal for a Battle of North Point monument was held Oct. 27. Attendees included members of the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society, the Heritage Society of Essex-Middle River and elected leaders. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Marge Neal -

If the Society of the War of 1812 has its way, a new monument commemorating the Battle of North Point will soon grace the North Point State Battlefield in Dundalk.

And the group is willing to put its money where its mouth is, having committed to the estimated cost of $30,000 needed to create the marker as envisioned by members.

Similar to organizations like the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution, the 1812 group’s membership is limited to those who are documented descendants of participants in the War of 1812.

Society leaders held a meeting at the Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society and Museum Friday, Oct. 27, to discuss proposed verbiage for the marker and to talk about any concerns, inconsistencies or suggestions.

Many hurdles still remain before the monument can become a reality, according to Christos Christous Jr., who spoke on behalf of the 1812 society.

The process to get the marker approved is an arduous one, he told those at the meeting, which included historical society members, elected leaders and the recently retired Charlesmont Elementary School principal.

Maryland Park Service officials have yet to even agree to accept the plan for review. They first must ensure it meets all of their requirements, according to Christous. The 1812 society cannot submit a formal proposal until the state says the project meets those standards and purposes.

For example, a suggested monument cannot duplicate information already on a particular site. In this case, it means the suggested marker verbiage cannot repeat information already on educational placards at the battlefield.

Another requirement is that the monument, because it will be placed at an unstaffed park site, require little to no maintenance, Christous said.

The 1812 society originally planned two monuments - one at Battle Acre, a Baltimore County-owned parcel, and one at the state battlefield. County officials nixed the one at Battle Acre immediately, citing priorities in other areas around the site. That caused the society to rethink its plans and design one monument that would incorporate all the intended information, which includes a short history of the battle, a list of troop strengths on the American and British sides and a list of all Americans known to have been killed in the local battle or died of battle-related injuries within one year.

The committee originally envisioned a tall, slender monument but current events put an end to that vision, according to Christous. In the initial design, a two-sided, “extremely tall” granite slab would list all of the war dead on one side and background information and troop strengths on the other.

“But in the current climate regarding monuments, we didn’t want to put something up that could be toppled or vandalized,” Christous said. “So we asked for new designs for something much longer, wider and closer to the ground so it can’t be toppled.”

Historical society member Patricia Paul expressed several concerns about the monument. She said she and several others do not think the monument as planned is appropriate for the site.

“I think this is way too much verbiage for this site,” she said at the meeting. “It’s not [user] friendly - people will not take the time to read all that.”

She also expressed a concern that the cost of the project is too high, to which Christous replied the cost is “irrelevant’” given his organization’s willingness to foot the entire bill.

He said the society would accept donations from community members if they have a desire to have “ownership” or otherwise support the effort, but the money is already committed and the society is prepared to move its plan forward.

“There are people who believe this isn’t appropriate for the land,” Paul said, lamenting that others in opposition had been unable to attend the meeting. “And there are other issues there with that land - there are homeless people living there at times.”

Christous told Paul he understood her stance but added that many people do want the monument erected and do believe it will be an appropriate, educational tool that honors those killed in the North Point skirmish.

“It is our mission to propose this monument,” he said at the meeting. “I will propose this and DNR will hold hearings and solicit community input. And then they will make the final decision to move forward or not.”

The 1812 society has solicited design proposals from three different monument crafters, according to Christous. Members are still waiting for two of those design proposals as well as the state’s decision to even allow further consideration of the plan, given the conditions that have to be met.

The main purpose of the monument would be to provide educational information about a battle that many do not know about, meeting attendees agreed. Marsha Ayres, the retired Charlesmont principal, said she wishes more classroom time could be devoted to the local history and suggested that many General John Stricker Middle School students do not know the story of the man for whom their school is named.

Paul Blitz, a member of the Essex-Middle River Heritage Society, said, “The purpose here is to educate.”

Christous agreed and said he wants to bring more attention to the role the North Point battle played in the defense of a young nation. North Point stands in the shadow of Fort McHenry when it comes to special events and the public eye, he believes.

“This was a significant event that changed the course of our nation and we want to bring attention to that,” he said. “This monument will be a big step toward that.”

read more

DRC receives $800K in neighborhood revitalization funds

DRC receives $800K in neighborhood revitalization funds

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The Dundalk Renaissance Corporation has once again received significant grant funding from the state’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program.

The organization will receive $800,000 from the program’s Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative, according to a statement from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

“These investments will help revitalize cities and towns across Maryland, leading to an increase in economic development and more jobs for Marylanders,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in the statement. “The awards will help local communities achieve their unique redevelopment goals and improve the quality of life for our citizens.”

The DRC is no stranger to these awards and appreciates the continued financial support of the program.

“We’ve received these funds in the past and they have really increased our ability to expand the impact we are able to have in the community,” DRC Executive Director Amy Menzer told the East County Times in a phone interview.

DRC first received similar grant funding in 2014 when Dundalk was selected as one of four communities to participate in a pilot program. Dundalk was the only one of the four areas not in Baltimore City, according to Menzer.

“I think it speaks highly of what we are doing as an organization in the community that we continue to receive these funds,” Menzer said.

As with past grant funds, the 2018 fiscal year money will be spent in targeted areas to increase the “real, visible impact” of the additional funding, Menzer said.

Focusing on the historic downtown Dundalk area, the targted neighborhoods include Old Dundalk, both the city and county sides of St. Helena, Dun-Logan, Turner Station and the historic commercial Main Street, Menzer said.

“We are specifically targeting communities that feed in to Dundalk Elementary School in an effort to encourage home ownership and help build up the elementary school,” Menzer said. “The county is making a $31 million investment in a new Dundalk Elementary and we’d like to make an effort to improve the chances of attracting more homebuyers to that area, as well as help current residents make improvements to their property.”

DRC received $150,000 for operating support; $250,000 for the Vibrant Neighborhoods 2.0 Revolving Loan Fund; $200,000 for home purchase incentive forgivable loans; $100,000 for commercial improvement grants; and $100,000 in Main Street business incubator gap funding.

Menzer is particularly excited about the business incubator funding, which will allow the organization to complete renovations at its 11 Center Place office that will result in a business incubation lab on the first floor.

“Plans call for retail incubation space, as well as flexible desk, office and training space on the first floor of our building,” she said. “Our offices and staff will move to the second floor and this money can be used to help with those renovations.”

Another draw to many of these funds is that they do not come with income restrictions or matching fund mandates.

For example, the commercial improvement grants will help business owners make visible investments in their properties with money that does not have to be paid back and does not have to be matched with private funds, Menzer said.

Though details are not finalized, Menzer anticipates awarding grants in the $3,000 to $10,000 range to local business and property owners. The program and application deadline will be publicized, and a committee will judge the proposals and select the recipients.

“We expect more competition without the matching requirement,” Menzer said.

A goal of DRC is to attract a greater economic diversity in Dundalk, according to Menzer, and the award of grant funds without income restrictions lends itself to that goal.

“We can’t build economic diversity with HUD monies that have income restrictions,” she said. “This new money will allow us to offer incentives so that more middle-income people are attracted to buy in Dundalk or encourage current residents to stay here and invest in their properties.”

The forgivable loan program is targeted at potential home buyers who make 80 to 100 percent of the area median income. The loans are forgiven after a resident has lived in the house for at least five years. With the $200,000 pot of money, DRC plans to give loans of $5,000 to buyers in the general greater Dundalk area, and loans of $10,000 to homebuyers in the targeted, Dundalk Elementary School feeder neighborhoods, according to Menzer.

Interest-free loans made through the revolving loan fund must be repaid when the property is either sold or refinanced.

“These grant funds are a tremendous opportunity for DRC and Dundalk,” Menzer said. “The scale of these resources far exceeds what we would normally have available to us and allows us to help homeowners and business owners to make visible investments in our community.”

DRC is achieving tangible, positive results in the business community and the community’s housing stock and the continued awarding of money from this funding source is a vote of confidence in DRC’s ability to carry out its mission, Menzer believes.

For more information on any of these grant or loan programs, call the DRC office at 410-282-0261.

read more

New plan submitted for Shops at Perry Hall site

New plan submitted for Shops at Perry Hall site
The new commercial development is slated for the southeast corner of Belair Road and Honeygo Boulevard in Perry Hall. Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Developers have submitted an alternate development plan for the Shops at Perry Hall site at the southeast corner of Belair Road and Honeygo Boulevard.

An earlier plan for the 14.5-acre site controlled by the Baltimore-based Southern Land Company was previously approved in 2009 for a big-box store, according to information presented at a meeting of the county’s Development Review Committee on Oct. 31.

“Market conditions in this part of Baltimore County require greater flexibility to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of the consumer,” according to a letter to the committee from the plan’s engineer about the alternate plan.

The site, which also borders a small section of Forge Road, is across Belair Road from the Honeygo Crossing shopping center.

A preliminary concept plan presented at the meeting shows a large fitness center, a gas station and convenience store, two restaurant buildings, a restaurant/retail building and another small building, as well as 542 parking spaces.

The developers have also proposed a carwash, which will require an approved special exception from a county administrative law judge after a public hearing.

The plan shows one access point from northbound Belair Road and two access points from the south side of Honeygo Boulevard.

Representatives from the Perry Hall Improvement Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the proposed development.

read more

Royal Farms awaiting approval at Fullerton bingo; Perry Hall site approved

Royal Farms awaiting approval at Fullerton bingo; Perry Hall site approved
The bingo manager did not respond to a request for comment regarding the future of the operation. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 11/8/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Royal Farms is waiting for county approval to replace the Fullerton Manor Bingo building at 7560 Belair Road with a full-service convenience store including fuel pumps, carryout service and outdoor seating along the front of the building.

The company dropped a proposed car wash from the plan after running into opposition from neighborhood groups at the time the site was up for rezoning last year.

Fuel pumps require approval of a special exception by an administrative law judge, for which a public hearing was held on Wednesday, Oct. 25, in Towson.

Four neighbors attended the hearing, and several asked questions about traffic and stormwater management. A decision is expected within a few weeks. Pending approvals, the planned Fullerton store is expected to open in late 2018.

The operator of Fullerton Manor Bingo did not immediately return a call for comment on Monday about the future of the bingo operation.

The store is part of an ongoing Royal Farms’ regional growth plan that also includes a relocated, expanded store on North Point Boulevard in Dundalk. An administrative law judge also recently approved with conditions a plan for a new store and fuel pumps at the northeast corner of Perry Hall and White Marsh boulevards.

Conditions require submitting landscape and lighting plans to the county and a review by the state and the Army Corps of Engineers about an adjacent floodplain and wetlands.

Only commercial special event temporary signs will be permitted at the store, and only signs permitted by the county will be allowed to be permanent, according to the decision.

Fullerton store plan
The former site of an A&P supermarket, the 1.7-acre property is located on the west side of Belair Road. To the south is residential Glade Avenue and to the north is Belair Beltway Plaza shopping center.

Proposed is a 24-hour store with seven pump islands and parking for 56 cars. It would employ about 20 full-time and 20 part-time people, said a company representative at the hearing.

The plan is to replace the bingo hall with a smaller, 5,200-square-foot building that would result in less paving - a drop from 87 to 74 percent impervious surface. Plans also call for replacement sidewalks and increased landscaping along the edges of the property.

Regarding vehicle access, there is currently access off Glade Avenue and Belair Road. Plans call for a second access off Belair Road that will enable fuel trucks to turn around on-site and not exit onto Glade Avenue.

Concerned about existing heavy traffic, neighbors said cars routinely back up on Belair Road during peak times, making it difficult to turn out from Glade Avenue. Resident Tom Clocker also noted frequent accidents at Belair and Thorncliffe roads and MTA and school bus stops in the area.

A traffic engineer said vehicle volume is not likely to increase, because most customers who will pull into the Royal Farms regularly drive Belair Road anyway. He also said there are no failing intersections in the area.

Clocker also asked about the maintenance of the proposed storm drain system designed to filter grease and oil runoff from the parking lot before it flows into a drain on Belair Road toward Stemmers Run.

There is currently no storm drain system on the site, which until now has not had fuel pumps or 24-hour vehicle traffic.

read more

Bill Clinton dedicates ‘Talking is Teaching’ panels at Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center

Bill Clinton dedicates ‘Talking is Teaching’ panels at Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center
Bill Clinton stopped by Turner Station in conjunction with early education outreach efforts launched by the Clinton Foundation’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative. He joked in the beginning of his remarks that the children present were thinking “when are all of these old people going to shut up so I can go play on the playground?”

(Updated 11/1/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Former President Bill Clinton stopped by the Sollers Point Multi-Purpose Center in Turner Station Monday, Oct. 30, to cut the ribbon on an education-themed playground.

Joining representatives from the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail initiative, as well as Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) officials, Clinton stressed the importance of new signs that were designed to raise awareness among parents about the importance of talking and reading to their children, as well as getting their children talking.

“The purpose of Too Small to Fail is to empower parents and caregivers to talk, read and sing with children from the day they are born to help them to build the framework on which they can become everything they ought to be,” Clinton said.

The informative panels, which were placed as part of BCPL’s participation in Too Small to Fail’s “Talking is Teaching” public awareness campaign, include prompts to get children to talk about shapes, colors, numbers, feelings, the weather and a whole lot more.

“So many of the neural networks needed to support learning are formed by the time children are three years old,” Clinton said.

The former president told the crowd of people gathered at the unveiling that he has long had an interest in early childhood learning, and that the extra year his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spent in law school studying early childhood development pushed his interest further.

Clinton told the crowd that the work being done by the Too Small to Fail initiative is to show that learning does not need to be restricted to the classroom. He noted that whether it is on a playground or on a bus, getting children talking about their surroundings can work wonders for their development.

Sollers Point is the 83rd playground to receive the panels, which were funded in full by the Foundation for Baltimore County Public Libraries. BCPL becomes the first public library to partner with the Too Small to Fail initiative.

“The Foundation for Baltimore County Public Library views reading as a critical and fundamental tool for all ages,” said Greg Jones, president of the Foundation’s board of directors. “Supporting early learning is a natural first step.”

The library foundation also committed $12,000 to expand the program, with both Storyville at Rosedale and Storyville at Woodlawn being underwritten by the foundation.

“This project is yet another example of our wonderful foundation supporting Baltimore County Public Libraries’ most important priorities,” said BCPL director Paula Miller. “We are proud to be the first public library system to install these panels, which facilitate conversations between children and their parents and caregivers.”

Clinton stressed during his remarks that no child should be at a learning disadvantage due to economic issues, whether they live in rural or urban areas.

“You can never know what’s in the head of a child. You can do a lot to make sure whatever they imagine, they live,” Clinton said in his closing remarks.

Clinton’s visit to Dundalk was a bit of a surprise to Miller and others. They knew that the Clinton Foundation would be coming for the event, Miller said, but it was unclear whether or not the former president himself would be joining. Last week, a team was sent out to Sollers Point to scout the location, hinting that the former president might stop by.

After remarks were given, Clinton, Miller and Jones posed for a ribbon cutting with a number of children. After the initial ribbon cutting, Clinton stayed a bit longer to cut off individual pieces of the ribbon for each child present to have as a keepsake.

read more

New site chosen to replace Fort Howard outpatient clinic

New site chosen to replace Fort Howard outpatient clinic

(Updated 11/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has selected a new location in Rosedale to replace its shuttered outpatient clinic at Fort Howard which closed last year.

The new clinic is slated to open in August 2018 in 12,000 square feet of leased space within the newly constructed Franklin Square Professional Center at 5235 King Ave., not far from Franklin Square Medical Center.

The building is owned by the development firm Cignal Corp., the principal of which is Armando Cignarale. Cignarale expressed interest in taking over the redevelopment of the former Fort Howard VA hospital property - the former home of the outpatient clinic - during a community meeting in June 2016.

The Fort Howard clinic was prone to flooding from rain and high tides, according to a VA spokesperson, but originally closed on March 9, 2016, due to flooding from a broken water heater. Patients using the location were transferred to the Loch Raven clinic in Baltimore. The facility was closed for good after mold was and other structural issues were found upon subsequent inspection.

At 50 percent larger than the Fort Howard location, the new facility will feature spacious exam rooms and comfortable patient waiting areas, the VA Maryland Health Care System announced last Wednesday, Oct. 25. They also touted its proximity to major highways, including I-95, I-695, U.S. Route 40 and Maryland Route 7, as well as mass transportation - a feature lacking at the old location.

“One of the things with Fort Howard, besides it being an older building…, was that it wasn’t as easily accessible to people using public transportation,” said VA spokeswoman Ming Vincenti.

Additionally, she said, “There was one road in and one road out. So when that road flooded, it was no business for the day.”

As one of six community-based outpatient clinics operated by the VA Maryland Health Care System, the Eastern Baltimore County VA Outpatient Clinic will also provide outpatient primary care services, mental health care, women’s health care, social work assistance, preventive health and education services, various medical screenings and referrals to specialized services available throughout the health care system. The clinic, which will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., will also feature a free weekday shuttle service to and from the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

Vincenti said a lot has been put into choosing the new location, which is right in the center of eastern Baltimore County and will offer free parking and readily available clinic appointments for veterans living in Bowleys Quarters, Carney, Chase, Dundalk, Edgemere, Essex, Fort Howard, Fullerton, Kingsville, Middle River, Nottingham, Overlea, Parkville, Perry Hall, Rosedale, Sparrows Point and White Marsh.

“So instead of it being kind of on the outskirts of one of those areas, it’s smack in the center,” she said.

The spokeswoman mentioned that a number of eastern Baltimore County residents who use VA services were choosing to go to the Loch Raven clinic rather than the Fort Howard location because of its inaccessibility.

“So when you think about driving downtown to go to that facility versus having one right in your own community or right down the road, that’s going to make a big difference,” she said.

Vincenti said the next 10 months will be used to get the new space set up for the health care system’s needs and standards of care.

During the VA’s fiscal year 2017, which ran from October 2016 to September 2017, the system determined that they saw 3,123 visits from 1,570 veterans who would have used the Fort Howard clinic had it been open.

When the new clinic is up and running, they anticipate nearly tripling those numbers with about 9,000 visits from 4,500 veterans coming twice per year to the facility.

Asked if there is a plan yet for the old building at Fort Howard, Vincenti said not at this point.

“We’re focusing on getting a clinic back open for the veterans who were going there,” she said.

read more

Rosedale residents looking to resolve issues surrounding methadone clinic

Rosedale residents looking to resolve issues surrounding methadone clinic

(Updated 11/1/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The Riverside Treatment Services methadone clinic has operated at 8359 Pulaski Highway/US-40 in Rosedale for about the last year and a half. But residents living in the area are growing frustrated with the problems they see as related to the facility.

The Rosedale Community Association held a meeting on Oct. 18 to give residents and business owners a forum to air their frustrations and to try to devise a plan to address the situation.

One resident of Berk Avenue said at the meeting that it looks like “the walking dead” at 5 a.m. as patients are making their way down the street to the clinic. He also said he nearly stuck his finger with a discarded syringe buried in a pile of leaves on the street near his home as he was picking them up.

“That’s what I put up with,” he said.

Kathy McCoury, of the Baltimore County Business Association, said she hears from a lot of the businesses in the area, including some of the nearby motels, that they do not support having the treatment center there because of what it draws.

“We’re on a main highway, and there’s no reason why we need one of these kinds of facilities on a main drag,” she said, adding that she has witnessed two near-accidents there due to drivers exiting the facility. “It’s just too busy of an area to have it.”

One supporter of the clinic said a lot of the people receiving treatment at RTS go there and then go to work and do not stick around in the area.

Another supporter asked, “If not here, where?”

He said some of the people seeking treatment there are just trying to get help, such as a particular woman who is a wife and a mother. “Where would you suggest they go?”

To that, RCA President Russ Mirabile and other attendees replied that they should go to a hospital to receive treatment where they would not be a burden on area residents.

Capt. Chris Kelly, commander of the Baltimore County Police Department’s Precinct 9 which services the area, remarked about the severity of the opioid crisis when he noted that as of the night of the meeting there had been 228 fatal overdoses in the county. He said 134 of those were fentanyl related and added that there had been 1,252 non-fatal overdoses in the county year to date.

Kelly informed the crowd that he is limited in what he can do as law enforcement to police methadone clinics because they are regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“There really is no difference, in the eyes of the law, between that and a dialysis center,” he said.

Further, Kelly had concerns that excessive enforcement around the clinic and those who use it could be construed as harrassment and interrupting the care of sick people.

“At a certain point, we could be liable for interrupting their care,” he said.

The captain acknowledged that they have seen a few car accidents in the area of the clinic, and they do enforce impaired driving laws. But he admitted he did not know how methadone would show up for field sobriety or blood tests.

However, Kelly said they are increasing bicycle patrols in the area to help officers patrol the smaller side streets.

The residential side streets have experienced the problems because many people traveling to and from the clinic on foot must travel through the adjacent neighborhoods to make use of public transportation along Philadelphia Road. They must also cross the busy US-40.

There are no bus stops directly on Pulaski Highway in the area near the clinic, some residents lamented.

Baltimore County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7), who represents the area, made mention of this during the County Council’s meeting with state transportation officials on Thursday, Oct. 26, while discussing the state’s Consolidated Transportation Program, asking why the buses only use Philadelphia Road.

A representative from the Maryland Transit Administration said while he did not know the definite answer, it could have to do with a lack of pedestrian structures or safe places for people to wait for a bus.

Crandell said not having a bus stop close to the clinic has led to other issues such as trash or other things making their way from the facility into the neighborhoods.

“Most of these patients are just walking down the street,” he said. “Some of them are causing disruptions in neighborhoods where they’ve never had disruptions before.”

The councilman acknowledged the need for such clinics. “However, they do have an impact,” he said.

Asked what can be done to get bus stops strategically located nearer to such facilities, the MTA representative said the agency has actually consciously moved bus stops away from methadone clinics.

“That has to do with people falling into the roadway,” he said. “In some respects you don’t want bus stops right next to methadone clinics.” He added there is a healthy balance they need to find.

At the community meeting, Mirabile said he disagreed with the police captain about the amount that could be done, noting that the ADA only covers the building which houses the clinic and the government cannot permit a nuisance that is detrimental to residents’ quality of life.

“This affects our insurance premiums, property values, and we consider it a public nuisance to the community and a public safety issue as a result of the [ADA],” he said. “That act or any other act cannot disturb all of our quiet enjoyment and peace of mind.”

Instead of working through elected officials and bureaucratic avenues to try to find a solution, Mirabile suggested the community should hire a zoning attorney to litigate the issue in court.

“This will take action immediately,” he said. It will not have to wait a year or two years.

“All we’re asking them to do is let them go some place where they won’t bother all of us,” Mirabile said.

State Delegate Robin Grammer (R-6), who also represents the area, said he has been working on the issue for about a year and researching what other states have done or tried to do.

He said these types of facilities operate under a “very loose” regulatory framework, and they are not required to inform the community when they come in.

“What we’re essentially seeing is they’re going in without any warning, without any notice... and you really start to see a lot of community problems that you can’t control,” Grammer said.

The delegate opined that they should be required to be in more of a “protected” space and that an “isolated” space where there is no residential would be best.

He noted that several states have passed bills to try to regulate where these centers can be or apply a state regulatory framework for them.

“And every single bill that we found has been overturned in the courts because these are considered protected by federal law,” Grammer explained.

Methadone clinics are licensed and regulated federally through the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And while SAMHSA has in place rules that the centers must adhere to, they also have broader “guidelines” under which they operate.

“But the guidelines aren’t binding,” Grammer said, adding that they include things like putting in place policies and protocols to prevent the types of issues communities have experienced.

He noted that he has also consulted with the National Conference of State Lawmakers to see what information they can find, and he hopes to introduce legislation in the 2018 General Assembly that would “make certain requirements” of the state’s Behavioral Health Administration regarding the clinics.

“But it seems that our options are very limited without having someone from our federal delegation sponsor a change to federal law,” Grammer said, which he acknowledged would be difficult in today’s political environment in Washington, D.C. “I’m still looking for options here, but we may have to get our congressional delegation involved on this one.”

Del. Bob Long (R-6) said he has met with the owners of RTS and found the meeting productive.

“RTS has committed to work with the community,” he said. “RTS wants to be good neighbors and encourages Rosedale residents to report any problems.

“The most important goal is to keep our neighborhoods safe and clean,” Long said.

read more

Medical marijuana store relocates within Dundalk

Medical marijuana store relocates within Dundalk
The former Burger King on Rolling Mill Road at North Point Boulevard is slated to be the new location for the cannabis dispensary previously planned for German Hill Road. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 11/1/17)

Colgate community meeting set for Saturday

- By Virginia Terhune -

The group of investors that planned to open a licensed medical marijuana dispensary on German Hill Road in Dundalk has relocated to an alternative site in a more commercial area on North Point Boulevard.

The group is leasing a long-shuttered Burger King restaurant at Rolling Road across from the Bob Bell Chevrolet car dealership near the Baltimore City line and plans to open in early December, pending a final inspection by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

Located near a car dealership, a self-storage business, a commercial vehicle repair shop and a bar, the dispensary project has the support of the nearby Colgate residential neighborhood.

“It’s the first building to be renovated in more than 20 years,” said Donna Metlin, president of the Colgate Improvement Association, who also cited the benefits of medical marijuana products to treat pain and chronic conditions.

“I think it’s a real asset for Colgate,” said Metlin, who has invited representatives of the Health for Life dispensary, affiliated with CGX Life Sciences, to speak at a community meeting set for Saturday, Nov. 4, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church at 7834 Eastern Ave.

Project Manager Julie Winter said she will make a presentation and answer questions about the dispensary, one of nearly 100 expected to open around Maryland under a law that allows the growing, processing and sale of medical marijuana to registered users.

The parking lot has been repaved, landscaping is complete and a new roof and HVAC system will be installed in the building, according to Winter.

Work has started on the interior renovations and the dispensary hopes to open by the pending deadline set by the commission.

“We’ll be fixing the inside and the outside over the next six weeks and hope to be ready by the Dec. 9 date,” Winter said.

In the meantime, the German Hill building and property are set to go up for sale next week, she said.

Neighbors of dispenaries are typically concerned about security, parking and customers who use such facilities, which are sometimes confused with methadone clinics.

Metlin said she is impressed with the level of security required in the dispensary, ranging from surveillance cameras, a vault to store products and a secured vestibule where customers must present identification before entering.

“It’s tighter than Fort Knox,” she said.

Winter said she is also working with Metlin to schedule a job fair to help fill 30 to 40 positions with preference given to local residents and veterans.

Needed are people with experience working in reception areas, pharmacies or holistic centers as well as managers with retail experience, she said.

The Health for Life dispensary is one of six pre-approved dispensaries in eastern Baltimore County under regulations that allow two dispensaries in each state legislative district.

Also located in District 6, which includes Dundalk and Essex, is the Charm City Medicus dispensary farther south at 717 North Point Blvd. in a commercial center across from Eastpoint Mall.

Renovations are under way and the site is expected to open soon pending final inspections by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.

CGX initially bought a two-story brick building next to the Speedy Mart convenience store on German Hill Road but was denied requested relief from parking and landscaping requirements by a county administrative law judge.

The group appealed the decision and a hearing was set for Oct. 18, but it was canceled after the group found what it saw as a more suitable location on North Point Boulevard.

In addition to limited parking and other site constraints, the group was also dealing with opposition from the Berkshire Community Association because of its proposed location next to residences, a park and a daycare center.

“It was smack in the middle of our neighborhood,” said Nora Baublitz, president of the BCA, which like Colgate supports the alternative site in the more commercial area off North Point Boulevard.

For more information about dispensaries and the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission, visit

read more

Tradepoint open house offers food, reunions and information

(Updated 11/1/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Tradepoint Atlantic open houses continue to attract a near-capacity crowd.

Maybe it’s the draw of a free dinner, catered by Costas Inn; maybe it’s the keen desire to stay informed of progress at the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point; maybe it’s the opportunity for retired steelworkers and shipyard workers to catch up while visiting their old stomping grounds; maybe it’s a combination of all of the above.

In any case, Tradepoint officials are happy to see the great attendance at the semi-annual gatherings. Stating the desire to communicate as often and openly as possible with the surrounding communities, Eric Gilbert, Tradepoint’s chief development officer told the crowd, “It’s important to us to have you here.”

The most recent open house was held Oct. 25. Attendees were able to hear updates on the demolition of old steel-industry buildings, new construction, dredging, existing tenants, proposed bus service to the campus and soon-to-be announced new deals being negotiated, though the latter subject was shrouded in cryptic teases.

Gilbert said about 20 percent of the campus’ usable space is in use, and having Under Armour select Tradepoint for a distribution center is a “really big deal to have.”

The goal is to turn the 1.3 million-square-foot warehouse over to the company this month. Under Armour will then build out the interior to meet its needs, with the expectation to be operational by May 1, 2018, according to Gilbert.

The industrial center’s FedEx Ground distribution center has been fully operational for about three months. A building is under construction on a parcel that company officials refer to as “TPA 5,” and Tradepoint officials are in the final stages of negotiations with what Gilbert would refer to only as “another blue-chip company.”

“Expect more information on that later this year,” he told the crowd.

The company is also building several “speculative” buildings without specific tenants in mind. One “spec” building is a warehouse and two others are “port-centric” which can accommodate bulk marine-related commodities.

The spec buildings would allow companies to make a quick move without waiting for custom construction, and they are versatile enough to meet the needs of the kinds of companies Tradepoint is trying to attract, Gilbert believes.

He also told the crowd the company was able to rezone a portion of land closer to the beltway and Bethlehem Boulevard to allow for retail space. He cryptically told the crowd the first retail tenant has been signed, but would say only that it is a well-known name in the convenience store/fueling industry. Again, he said more details would come later in the year.

Pete Haid, Tradepoint’s environmental director who gave an update on a planned dredging project, got a laugh out of the crowd when he said he did not have any fancy photographs to show.

“Dredging is one of those jobs that, no matter how good a job you do, it looks pretty much the same when you’re done,” he said.

Some extensive dredging is needed at the site mainly because over the years, previous tenants did not keep up with maintenance dredging and silt carried by a slow current has built up in many areas. He emphasized that no new channels are being dredged; the purpose of the project is to return the turning basin, approach channel and the finger pier area to the previous depths to accommodate cargo ships.

The desired depths are 42 feet around the east berth and 47 feet around the finger pier, Haid said. He anticipates removing 200,000 cubic feet of dredged materials a year for five years.

While additional silt testing will be necessary before a final decision is made, Haid said preliminary tests show the sediment to be a good candidate for “innovative reuse.”

The project is going through the permit process now, according to Haid. He spoke of the arduous, sequential process involving many agencies, including Maryland Department of the Environment, the Department of Public Works and the Army Corps of Engineers, in addition to the Maryland Port Authority.

A denial at any of the sequential steps in the process could shut down the project or cause changes in the plan, Haid said.

Tom Hewitt, director of the Maryland Transit Administration’s Office of Service Development, gave an update on a proposed bus line to serve the Tradepoint campus.

He said his office has been working on a bus route with Tradepoint officials for about two years.

“This is a major opportunity to get workers to the job opportunities here,” Hewitt said.

The main trunk of the proposed route will run from the Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital campus to Tradepoint via Eastern and Dundalk avenues, Dunmanway, Peninsula Expressway and Bethlehem and Sparrows Point boulevards, according to maps handed out by MTA.

Two options of the route are being considered, with one offering an alignment with Boston Street. Public hearings - including one at the North Point Library from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15 - will be offered for bus riders to weigh in on the two options.

Hewitt said he expects the new bus route to go live Feb. 4.

Tradepoint officials said that, currently, more than 800 employees are working for about 75 tenants. They anticipate having more than 2,500 workers on site by the end of 2018, which would equal the number of steelworkers employed when the plant closed for good in 2012.

After the formal presentation, attendees were invited to visit stations around the room staffed with experts who would be able to individually answer questions and concerns.

And they were encouraged to dig in once again to the Costas Inn spread.

Dreamers in Dundalk loses liquor license

Dreamers in Dundalk loses liquor license
Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 11/1/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Closed since April, the Dreamers Female Review adult entertainment bar on Old North Point Road in Dundalk could be up for sale soon after owners failed to pay their liquor license renewal fee of $1,500 and outstanding fines imposed by the liquor board in February.

On Monday, the county Board of Liquor License Commissioners denied a request by the owners to extend their liquor license due to financial hardship, citing lack of evidence to support the request.

The decision means the owners have lost the lucrative license unless they appeal to the Baltimore County Circuit Court and win a reversal or file for bankruptcy, which would put a hold on the board’s decision.

The owners’ attorney, David Mister, said they have defaulted on their mortgage and that there are judgments against them totaling more than $106,000. As of last week, they were working with a broker to sell the property, the business and the license to pay off the debt.

Dreamers was fined $4,000 in February for violating dancer dress codes and for drug violations. In addition to the fines, the license was also suspended from Feb. 15 through March 7.

The board previously fined the bar $2,000 for similar violations after a hearing on Dec. 19, 2016.

License holder Virginia Borsella said Monday that the financial problems were in large part due to the three-week suspension in February that temporarily closed down the business.

She also cited a decline in customers since the Bethlehem Steel mill in Sparrows Point closed down years ago and recent construction work on North Point Road that blocked customer access.

The president of the Wells-McComas Citizens Improvement Association, Robert Zacherl, disputed the latter claim. He also noted problems with drug violations and with patrons or possibly renters who appeared not to be sober, yelling and causing disruptions outside the bar.

“It’s our opinion that the hardship is on the community,” he said.

The board, however, was limited to considering only the circumstances that lead to the request for the hardship extension, according to commissioner Les Pittler.

Pittler argued that there was not enough evidence presented and that the license had expired because the 180-day period to file a request for hardship had ended.

Mister countered that the owners filed their renewal on time and that the license still existed but had simply not been issued as of May 1 because of the outstanding renewal fee and fines.

In other business, the commissioners dismissed charges made in a police report that Putty Hill Liquors on Belair Road had sold liquor to a minor.

The board took into consideration that the officer was not present Monday to testify which denied the defense a chance to cross examine, and that the owners had since started using a scanner to regularly check all IDs.

read more

Patapsco High School celebrates groundbreaking for $42.3 million renovation

Patapsco High School celebrates groundbreaking for $42.3 million renovation
Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 10/25/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

The atmosphere was celebratory at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts on Tuesday, Oct. 24, as county government and school officials gathered to break ground on a comprehensive renovation project for the school.

The $42.3 million project has been in the works for approximately five years, according to Craig Reed, principal at Patapsco. Reed joked that what put the ball in motion five years ago on the renovation plans was showing a school official the poor conditions of the bathrooms.

Projected to be finished for the start of the 2019-20 school year, the renovation includes air conditioning, roof replacement, a new front entrance, updated classrooms and technological improvements, plumbing and much more. Work on the renovation began immediately as school let out for the summer last year.

“This is a $42 million reinvestment in this high school, and it comes on top of a $100 million brand new Dundalk High School, the three new elementary schools that are about to break ground at Berkshire, Colgate and Dundalk, and that comes on top of the other air conditioning projects we have,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “Altogether, this is more than a $300 million investment in the southeast area.”

Some of the work has already been completed, including upgraded health suites, a refurbished main office area and a wing of classrooms and lockers.

Chris McGuinness, a science teacher and the school’s athletic director, noted that while classrooms are being renovated around the school, students are moved to temporary classrooms until the work is done.

Although most of the completed improvements so far have been made to the interior, there is one big, noticeable difference outside - a real front entrance.

“It corrects a long-standing issue here at Patapsco, giving the school a proper entrance rather than having to come in the side doors and down a long hall before you get to the front office,” said Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Board of Education Chair Edward Gillis.

Delegate Bob Long was the only member of the Sixth District Delegation in attendance, and he expressed to the East County Times that improvements to the facility have been a long time coming.

“This is something that was a big issue when I was elected back in 2014, so to see it finally be addressed  is a good thing,” Long said before wondering aloud  whether the timing of the renovation for the school was politically motivated.

Kamenetz spokesperson Ellen Kobler dismissed the claim, however.

“The much needed Patapsco High School comprehensive renovation is part of the county executive’s $1.3 billion schools for our future program. This project has been in the planning stages for a long time,” Kobler said.

Interim Superintendent Verletta White noted that she spoke to current students who were excited about the upgrades even if they wouldn’t experience the changes themselves. She said the students took it as a point of pride and something for the underclassmen and future students to look forward to.

The school, which was built in 1963, was bumped up on the renovation list when funding for renovations at Dulaney High School were pushed back.

Despite the renovations being completed, the school still has the issue of overcrowding to deal with. Enrollment at Patapsco is expected to increase dramatically in the coming years, with the school projected to be 12.8 percent over capacity by 2019 and 18 percent over capacity in 2026. County officials have stated that just because they are getting renovations now does not mean additional renovations will not come in the future.

read more

‘Public servant’ Sullivan enters race for District 6 County Council seat

‘Public servant’ Sullivan enters race for District 6 County Council seat
Deb Sullivan has filed as a candidate for Baltimore County Council in District 6 and officially announced her campaign at a kickoff event on Oct. 19. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 10/26/17)

- By Marge Neal -

Rosedale resident Deb Sullivan will be the first person to say she is not a politician.

But after much personal thought, family discussion and encouragement from mentors who suggested she consider running for office, the relatively new Republican finds herself a candidate for the Sixth District Baltimore County Council seat.

Sullivan announced her candidacy in front of about 80 supporters at a fundraiser Oct. 19, at the Olde Philadelphia Inn, a locally-owned business not far from her Rosedale home.

She told the crowd that she was a Democrat from the age of 18 until about four years into the tenure of Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. She said it became apparent that her values and concerns were not lining up with those of Democratic leadership and decided to change her affiliation.

“I became more aware of spending and waste,” she said.

Citing glaring differences in design and architecture of public amenities like bridges and overpasses as one travels from one side of the county to the other, Sullivan said, “Our side of the county deserves to look better. I want to make our residents proud to live in District 6.”

She filed her candidacy with the Maryland State Board of Elections on Sept. 20.

The staunch public education advocate was lauded by supporters for her service to community, her years of PTA leadership while her three children attended Baltimore County Public Schools and her ability to “get things done.”

Longtime friend and fellow volunteer Judy Zuk described Sullivan as “down to earth” and someone who is able to empathize with the plights of people from many different walks of life.

“She has already been a public servant for many years,” Zuk said in her remarks about Sullivan’s candidacy. “She is passionate about helping the residents of District 6.”

Former Eighth District Delegate John Cluster introduced several Sullivan supporters in attendance, including State Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer, a candidate for Baltimore County Executive; Delegate Joe Cluster (R-8); Sixth District Delegates Ric Metzgar and Bob Long; and former Delegates Joe Boteler - currently running in District 8 - and Jim Ports.

“Their attendance just shows you the support Deb has here in this district,” John Cluster said.

In his remarks, Redmer laughed as he recalled he and Ports being approached by Sullivan to discuss school issues while they were in the state legislature.

“It became apparent we had two choices,” he said of Sullivan’s impassioned pleas. “Either say yes or get a restraining order.”

For her part, Sullivan said she is humbled and overwhelmed by all the support she is receiving.

After talking about some of the projects she spearheaded in her various PTA leadership roles, she thanked her supporters and family for encouraging her on this journey.

The candidate was born and raised in the Overlea area and is a 1976 graduate of Overlea High School. She and her husband of 41 years, Wayne, are the co-owners of Sullivan’s Garage, which was founded by Wayne’s father in 1958. With a son now managing it, Sullivan is proud to say the family business is a third-generation entity.

In addition to her advocacy on behalf of public education, it is her business experience that makes Sullivan a perfect candidate, according to Cluster. He pointed to her knowledge of running a business, including coordinating payroll and billing, her knowledge of regulations that affect small businesses and her familiarity of the district she has lived in her entire life as strengths that will serve her well on the council.

Redmer said he believes a run for office is a “natural extension, a natural progression” of what Sullivan has already spent her adult life doing.

“She will not need training wheels when she gets to the Baltimore County Council,” he said. “She’s been there, done that.”

Sullivan said she has grown more comfortable with the identity of candidate after realizing that many people don’t want “politicians” in office; they want people who serve.

“And I am definitely a community servant,” she said. “I have worked on behalf of all segments of the population - schools, children, senior citizens, small businesses,” she said. “My husband and I are very involved with the Maryland towing association and I lobbied to get tow trucks included in the state’s move-over law.”

Asked about the top issues she sees facing the district, Sullivan listed schools, crime and development.

She said schools still have a lot of room for improvement, especially with regard to overcrowding and discipline; residents shouldn’t have to be afraid to venture out to a neighborhood store by themselves; and development should occur only after extensive thought, research and community input.

“Development should be responsible and it should occur because of it meeting a need in the community,” she said. “There shouldn’t be development for the shear sake of development.”

While she has embraced her new role, she told the East County Times she originally hesitated because she would never want to pursue something she felt unqualified for.

But, she told her enthusiastic reporters she would be responsive and diligent in serving the Sixth District.

“Your concerns will never fall on deaf ears as they have in this community and this district in the past,” she said. “Your phone calls will be answered.”

Sullivan joins a crowd of candidates seeking the seat of Democratic incumbent Councilwoman Cathy Bevins. Republicans Glen Alan Geelhaar and Erik Lofstad have filed with the Board of Elections. Ryan Nawrocki, who lost to Bevins in a close contest in the 2010 general election, has announced his intentions to run again.

“This is going to be an extremely difficult, competitive and expensive race,” Redmer told those gathered at the event. “Incumbents are always very well funded but we believe this campaign is winnable.”

read more

Lofstad to officially launch County Council campaign for District 6

Lofstad to officially launch County Council campaign for District 6
Erik Lofstad has filed as a candidate for the Baltimore County Council in District 6 and plans to hold a campaign kickoff event on Sunday, Oct. 29. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 10/25/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Rosedale resident Erik Lofstad has become the third official Republican candidate for the Baltimore County Council’s Sixth District seat, having filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections on Monday, Oct. 23.

Lofstad has planned a campaign kick-off event for this Sunday, Oct. 29, from 2 - 5 p.m. at Lighthouse Gardens in Bowleys Quarters.

On the council, the information technology (IT) professional hopes to address issues such as financial responsibility, public safety and government transparency and access to the public, according to his campaign website.

Lofstad joins a crowd of at least three other candidates vying for the District 6 seat, currently held by Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.

Other Republican candidates so far include Glen Geelhaar of Parkville and Deb Sullivan of Rosedale, each of whom has filed. Middle River resident Ryan Nawrocki announced his intention to run this month but has not yet filed. White Marsh resident Heather Patti is also rumored to be considering a run but has not yet filed or announced her intentions publicly.

Lofstad differentiated himself from the other candidates, though, in two ways. First, he said he is probably the only one with a website that details his platform and values.

“Most local candidates keep it pretty vague,” he told the East County Times. “I just kind of put it all out there.”

Second, he has been using data to work smarter, he said, noting there are tools that can help target his message for the highest efficiency using social media and “solid demographics.”

“I see some people who are running for office who are incredibly wasteful,” Lofstad said. “There are ways that you can fine-tune your audiences and even moreso than most peole know. I only know of a few people who are doing it properly.”

State Delegate Christian Miele (R-8), who attended Towson University with Lofstad, told the Times in August that he is using those same types of tools in his bid for his district’s State Senate seat.

Lofstad said the results he has seen so far have been positive. However, he noted he has only been knocking on Republican doors since they are the voters he will have to win in the primary election, which will take place June 26.

Some may recognize Lofstad’s name from his run against Kathy Klausmeier (D-8) for State Senate in 2014. But he admitted that he only ran because the party had no one else to do it.

Despite his admission that he did next to nothing for that campaign, Lofstad received nearly 40 percent of the vote. He lost to Klausmeier, but earned some valuable name recognition in the process.

He said he still meets people sometimes who say they voted for him four years ago simply because he was the Republican on the ballot.

In the time since, he has worked as a member of the county’s Republican Central Committee, helping to raise money for other candidates and networking within the political world, in addition to his job as an IT programmer and business analyst.

Lofstad said he chose to run for County Council this time around because that is what he wanted from the beginning. He has goals for county government, including making it more cost efficient.

He noted that there are other jurisdictions in the U.S. that are similar in size and demographics to Baltimore County, but are able to provide certain services at half the cost.

“Why is that?” he asked, adding that he wants to come up with ideas and best practices from around the country and the world to get the best returns on investment for the county.

Lofstad said a lot of development also seems to be closely tied to political contributions without thinking about the long-term health of the local economy.

“I do believe in property rights,” he said, “however, there’s a balance with the needs of the community.”

Referring to the scrapped Paragon outlet mall project in White Marsh, he said, “I just think it was poorly handled,” commenting on the environmental sensitivity of the area and that economic trends are not going in that direction.

Regarding the key initiatives he would push for as councilman, Lofstad explained his platform as largely about making sure individuals are enabled with the tools to do things for themselves.

“Instead of forcing them to do x, y and z, [we can] kind of enable them to do things they might have done anyway by making it a little bit cheaper for them,” he said.

Using security cameras as an example, the candidate posited that some sort of property tax credit for homeowners and businesses purchasing that type of equipment could be beneficial.

“Eventually, as dumb as we think criminals are, they would know the neighborhoods where pretty much everyone has those outside cameras,” he said. “And it’s way more cost effective if it’s privately owned and run than if we had some [Baltimore] City-like system where it’s centrally controlled.”

Lofstad said he will be “incredibly honest” throughout the 2018 campaign and that he thinks people are starting to pick up on and like that.

“I care a lot about the community,” he said, “and I think I’m the best person for the job.”

read more

Brochin makes executive run official with filing, dual announcements

Brochin makes executive run official with filing, dual announcements
State Senator Jim Brochin has officially filed and announced his candidacy for Baltimore County Executive. Courtesy photo.

(Updated 10/26/17)

- By Marge Neal -

State Senator Jim Brochin (D-42) has made no secret of his intentions to run for Baltimore County Executive.

The four-term state legislator has been taking his message to community and service organizations since the spring, talking about the issues he believes most threaten Baltimore County, its governance and its citizens’ quality of life.

On Oct. 19, he made it official. After filing his candidacy with the Maryland State Board of Elections early in the day, he followed that up with not one, but two public announcements: one at Towson Manor Park and one at the Essex-Holly Neck VFW Post 2621 hall in Essex.

He has two major campaign messages that he believes resonate with the majority of Baltimore County voters and that set him apart from his Democratic challengers.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-2) and former Sixth District State Delegate John Olszewski Jr. have announced their intentions to run, though neither had filed as of press time.

“We have to stop pay-to-play in Baltimore County,” Brochin told the East County Times in a phone interview Monday, Oct. 23. “We have to take away the power of developers to call all the shots in Baltimore County.”

He called the decision to sell off the North Point Government Center and its surrounding open space a prime example of the results of pay-to-play. The plan to hand that land to a developer was crafted in secrecy, with no input from the surrounding neighborhoods that have used the building and open space for much-needed organized recreation space for decades, he said.

“I can assure you that, when I become Baltimore County Executive, the plans for that center and that property will go back to the community,” Brochin said. “The community knows what’s needed there and that’s where the plan will come from.”

The other major issue being championed by Brochin is that of illegal immigrant status.

“I don’t think Baltimore County should be a sanctuary community, but let me explain what I mean by that,” he said.

Brochin does not believe that officials should be able to approach anyone on the street and demand to see immigration papers or ask about their status.

As executive, he will not permit citizens - whether they are walking on a sidewalk, have been a witness to or a victim of a crime and went to the police for help, or are students enrolled in public colleges and school - to be “harassed” by officials about their legal status.

However, he said, a resident that has been arrested and charged with a crime is a different story.

“If someone is at the detention center and has been arrested for a crime, and we find out there’s an [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detainer for them, we need to work with ICE,” he said. “ICE is simply asking for them to be held for 48 hours so they can come in to interview the person.”

Someone who has been arrested and has an ICE detainer has been arrested for at least a second crime, and as such, should be subject to deportation, Brochin said.

“I believe my stance represents the vast majority of Baltimore County citizens and the vast majority of Democrats,” Brochin said. “But more importantly, it’s common sense; government shouldn’t be allowed to harass anyone.”

Brochin said he believes it is important for all residents to know where our candidates stand on the important issues facing the county. Candidate debates provide a forum for residents to learn where candidates stand, and he said he will do everything in his power to participate in as many as possible.

“As long as my schedule is clear and the sponsors are flexible, I will be there,” Brochin said of potential future debates. “I want voters to know where I stand and why - not because a developer stuffed my pockets with cash, or how my party told me to stand, but because I considered an issue with lots of thought and research and sought input from constituents before coming to a thoughtful, well-balanced stance.”

Brochin, alongside Olszewski, is scheduled to appear at a Democratic county executive candidate forum at Loch Raven Recreation Center in Parkville on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. Almond, however, has declined to attend.

Almond has stated publicly through a spokesperson that she will not participate in candidate forums or debates at this point in the campaign season because it is too early.

“It’s not appropriate to have a forum or debate so early when the field isn’t clearly defined,” spokeswoman Mandee Heinl told the Baltimore Sun.

Brochin said he has a busy week on the campaign trail, with a fundraiser, a meeting with Dundalk Renaissance Corp. board members during the group’s fall festival scheduled for Oct. 28, and door-knocking in Dundalk this weekend.

“I love the door-knocking; I love getting out and listening to people,” Brochin said. “Someone has to stand up for Essex and Dundalk and I believe I’m that person.”

read more

Save A Lot out, ALDI in at Dundalk Plaza shopping center

Save A Lot out, ALDI in at Dundalk Plaza shopping center
The Dundalk Plaza shopping center began a major improvement project this past spring. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 10/25/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Renovations to the Dundalk Plaza shopping center on Merritt Boulevard are happening at a fast and furious pace, with major upgrades to the storefronts and a major new store arriving to add to the tenant mix.

Moving out of the center on Oct. 25 will be the Save A Lot grocery store, which is reopening the next day in the Merritt Park shopping center farther south at Wise Avenue.

Moving in will be an ALDI grocery store relocating from near the Walmart on North Point Boulevard. It will occupy a remodeled space of nearly 20,000 square feet reflecting its modernized store design.

“It’s a new prototype [store],” said Laurie Mazzotta, president of the Mazzotta Group based in Towson that manages leasing for the center. “It’ll be a shining star in Dundalk.”

A global company based in Germany, ALDI operates 1,600 stores in the United States, including locations in Dundalk, Essex, Rosedale, Perry Hall and Towson.

In February, the company announced a $1.6 billion investment to remodel and expand more than 1,300 stores by 2020 to create space for more fresh produce, meat and bakery items.

The stores will feature open ceilings, natural lighting, as well as energy-saving refrigeration, LED lighting and recycled materials, according to a Feb. 8 company press release.

Other new retailers will also be opening in Dundalk Plaza by spring or sooner, including Aspen Dental, America’s Best Contacts and Eyeglasses and Boost Mobile, Mazzotta said.

Within the center, Planet Fitness recently moved to a larger space near the ALDI end of the center from a space near Octapharma Plasma. Nearby, Lendmark Financial Services has returned to its newly renovated space after having temporarily relocated to another space in the center.

Meanwhile, work continues this week on the outside building façades, and planned is new striping in the parking lots and a new sign to replace the existing pylon sign.

“It’s going to look great as you’re going down Merritt Boulevard,” said Mazzotta, about the renovations to the center long recognized for its Ollie’s Bargain Outlet store.

Nothing had been done for years, and the center appeared to deteriorate further when the TJ Maxx clothing store relocated to Nottingham Commons in White Marsh in August 2016.

Unknown to the public, the shopping center owners, Ekos Realty based in Columbia, began planning the renovations two years ago but had to schedule the work around the pending expiration of the Save A Lot lease on Oct. 31 this year.

“Their hands were tied until they were able to redevelop,” said Mazzotta about the major upgrade set in motion by the expiration of the lease.

Ekos and Save A Lot talked about staying in the center, but ultimately Save A Lot decided to relocate to the Merritt Park center, which has been revived with the arrival of new tenants.

“We’re excited about bringing to Dundalk the new and improved Dundalk Plaza,” Mazzotta said.

Jeff Baehr, division vice president for ALDI, said plans for when the company will close the store on North Point Boulevard and open the store in Dundalk Plaza have not yet been solidified.

ALDI is also modernizing its Old Eastern Avenue store at the corner of Stemmers Run Road in Essex.

The store plans to expand into its parking area, extending the building a short distance toward Old Eastern Avenue.

A hearing set for Monday, Oct. 23, on its request for a variance to allow 84 parking spaces instead of the required 91 parking spaces has been postponed.

ALDI also has plans to open new stores in the United States, increasing the number to 2,500 by the end of 2022, according to a June press release.

read more

County celebrates new comprehensive shelter, resource center

County celebrates new comprehensive shelter, resource center
Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 10/25/17)

- By Marge Neal -

With a “heart for the homeless,” Baltimore County officials and community advocates celebrated the grand opening of the new Eastern Family Resource Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 19.

The gleaming new building on the sprawling MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center campus in Rosedale replaces an aging facility that housed a shelter for women and children only.

The new, 80,000-square-foot center, built at a cost of $26 million, offers a greatly expanded capacity for women and families and adds space for as many as 50 men, plus a transitional shelter program for as many as 10 families.

The improved and expanded facility is an idea that was in the making for a long time, according to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. He procured $5 million in state assistance while Martin O’Malley was governor and the groundbreaking was held in December 2015. Franklin Square contributed $5 million and the county invested $16 million.

“This is a feel-good moment,” he said to an enthusiastic crowd excited to celebrate the opening of the state-of-the-art building.

The center represents a “sea-change” in Baltimore County, with the emphasis on a center that offers not just a place for sleep but also a place for support, Kemenetz said.

In recognizing the increased need for services, training and counseling, the county has increased its funding to a variety of programs serving the homeless and has upped its commitment to the Maryland Food Bank and other programs, according to the executive.

Coupled with the creation of a new shelter on the west side of the county, Kamenetz said his administration has invested $30 million in modern shelter facilities. The Westside Men’s Shelter, opened in July 2015, was built at a cost of $3.4 million.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, who believes her job in the community is “where the rubber meets the street,” said she is “especially grateful” for the expanded capabilities of the new and much-needed center.

“I breaks my heart to be meeting with a family about to be evicted, only to be told the shelter is full,” she said at the ceremony. “This facility will change that.”

The shelter is run and staffed by Community Assistance Network, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of services and programs for low-income residents.

While the ribbon-cutting ceremony was last week, the center has been in use for about three weeks. Nearly 160 clients have settled in to the center.

“It feels good to have space,” Megan Goffney, CAN’s director of homeless and housing services, told the crowd. “We have work space for our staff, we have a break space and the kids have their own computer space.”

She said 157 residents are in place now, with 87 children among them. She was particularly excited to announce that men and older male teens also have “real beds” to sleep on, as opposed to mats on the floor supplied previously.

The center is an ambitious collaboration of many agencies, including the Baltimore County Department of Health, Healthcare for the Homeless and CAN, according to county officials. In addition to shelter services, community residents will be able to access family planning services; dental, mental health, substance abuse and sexually transmitted infections clinic services; and the Infants and Toddlers and Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition programs.

Kamenetz reminded the crowd the economy still has not rebounded for many segments of the county’s population. Homelessness affects everyone, he said. Someone who is homeless today was someone’s neighbor, perhaps, someone’s work colleague or relative.

Losing a job leads to losing a car, housing and self-esteem, he said.

“They’ve lost everything but hope, and Baltimore County has that,” Kamenetz said. “Some folks need a helping hand and we’ve got that. Here are the tangible results in bricks and mortar.”

read more

Royal Farms building new store in Perry Hall

Royal Farms building new store in Perry Hall
The site of the new Royal Farms is at the corner of Perry Hall and White Marsh boulevards, with access off Perry Hall Boulevard across from Southfield Drive. Image courtesy of The Mazzotta Group.

(Updated 10/25/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A county decision is expected soon on a Royal Farms plan to build a new convenience store with a carryout restaurant and gas pumps at the northeast corner of Perry Hall and White Marsh boulevards.

The State Highway Administration will not allow access roads close to the busy intersection near White Marsh Mall, according to testimony presented at a hearing before a county administrative law judge on Oct. 12.

As a result, Royal Farms proposes to build a main access road slightly north of the intersection of Perry Hall Boulevard at Southfield Drive that will pass under BGE overhead power lines to reach the store.

A second, right-only access to the south of that is also planned for northbound Perry Hall Boulevard traffic only, according to testimony.

The access plan will require the creation of southbound and northbound turning lanes at the Southfield Drive and Perry Hall Boulevard intersection, which is not presently controlled by a traffic light.

To create the lanes, adjustments may be made to the concrete median that exists there, according to an engineer with Morris & Ritchie Associates.

Located near the proposed store are the Southfield and Burnam Woods apartments, as well as townhouses to the north.

No one from the surrounding community spoke at the hearing, and a representative of the Perry Hall Improvement Association did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Royal Farms is asking for relief from parking and landscaping requirements, and it also requires approval to build the access road across undeveloped land that is zoned for residences and not commercial use.

It will also need a special exception for the fuel pumps as well as approval for a fourth outside sign. County Code allows three signs, but the company wants to put up two signs each on two facades of the building.

Activist Michael Pierce of Kingsville, who voluntarily monitors development projects for compliance with sign regulations, spoke at the hearing and asked for assurances that Royal Farms would only erect the signs noted in its development plan.

A decision by the judge was expected within a week, but as of Oct. 24 it had not been posted to the county’s website.

read more

Officials break ground for new Victory Villa Elementary School

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those sentiments were shared by Bevins.

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

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

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

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

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

read more

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

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Task force recommends new regional park for Kingsville

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Charter commission wraps up charter review, finalizes recommendations

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay plan for exempt employees

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

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

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

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

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

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

No changes for other issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Zion UCC celebrates roots, people with sesquicentennial events

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Marge Neal -

An organization founded predominately by farmers certainly respects its roots.

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

The “chapel upon the hill,” as it is affectionately known, officially marked its 150th anniversary with a gala banquet on Oct. 21 and a special worship service Oct. 22, and church members are reflecting upon a heritage that has its feet in three centuries while also looking to the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

East side Neighborhood Heroes honored at ceremony in Towson

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

(Updated 10/18/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Seven Oaks Elementary celebrates 25th anniversary

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

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Wise Avenue VFC celebrates 75 with a proud and noisy presence

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

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Marge Neal-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Nawrocki announces bid for Sixth District council seat

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

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Revitalization task force applies for grant to help beautify Essex

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

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Greenleigh at Crossroads starts to grow in Middle River

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

(Updated 10/11/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Council members withdraw bills dealing with parking, air cannons

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Proposed medical marijuana dispensaries running into roadblocks

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Bevins requests update on status of Gunpowder River train bridge

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Parkville woman wins writing prize for ‘unnerving’ story

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local vendors will sell beer, wine and food.

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

Tickets can be purchased online at

read more

Local volunteer companies receive grants for equipment upgrades

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Devin Crum -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

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

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

(Updated 10/4/17)

- By Marge Neal -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

read more

Redmer and McDonough officially announce candidacies for county executive

Redmer and McDonough officially announce candidacies for county executive

(Updated 9/27/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

On Saturday evening, Sept 23, Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer Jr. put months of speculation to rest, officially announcing his candidacy for county executive.

Redmer was joined by Governor Larry Hogan and a slew of elected officials at Boumi Temple in White Marsh when he announced his candidacy, touting himself as someone with a unique perspective having worked in both the legislative and executive branches at the state level, coupled with a successful record in the private sector.

The former delegate from Perry Hall joins current Delegate Pat McDonough (R-7) in the race for county executive. McDonough hasn’t been shy about his intent to run, putting up signs and holding fundraisers. After learning that Redmer was planning to announce his campaign, McDonough scheduled his official kick-off for the same day, holding a more reserved breakfast gathering at  The Boulevard Diner in Dundalk.

Both candidates spent time talking about increasing transparency at the county level, with McDonough highlighting the thousands of constituent cases his team has handled during his time as a delegate and promising to provide the “gold standard” of service when in office.

“I am deadly serious about this philosophy of putting people first,” said McDonough.

Redmer called out perceived cronyism at the county level, saying that in order to get things done under the Kamenetz administration, connections are necessary.

“We are going to clean up those good ol’ boys’ sweetheart deals,” Redmer told a crowd of over 600 to thunderous applause.

While the two took the same position and spent about the same amount of time discussing transparency and a more open government, the two Republican candidates took different approaches to the rest of their remarks.

McDonough spent a good portion of his speech touting a tough-on-crime agenda, which he sees as something even regular citizens can have an effect on through groups like Citizens on Patrol. At the top of the ladder, he proposed instituting sector policing and putting an end to sanctuary policies.

County officials in the Kamenetz administration repeatedly stated throughout the hearing process for Councilman Todd Crandell’s 287(g) bill proposal - which would have seen Baltimore County Correctional Center officers trained to work directly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement - that Baltimore County is not a sanctuary county by definition.

Still, McDonough promised the county would look to work more closely with the Jeff Sessions-helmed Department of Justice to ensure the county is as compliant with federal law as possible.
The brash delegate from Middle River also promised to crack down on gangs and drug dealing, all while looking to keep crime in Baltimore City from overflowing into Baltimore County.

“After one year in office they will say, ‘I am not going to Baltimore County, because that guy will lock you up,’” said McDonough.
Redmer largely stayed away from the issue of crime, but told the audience that if elected he would make sure that first responders are operating with top-of-the-line equipment, including GPS. He said that when officers go to respond to a crime, the first thing they do is pull out a map book to find their way, which cuts into response time.

The Perry Hall Republican also spent time promising to deal with quality-of-life issues that have plagued the east side, like rats and midges.

But by and large, Redmer was touting his decades of experience and closeness to Hogan, who has proven to be a thorn in the side of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on issues ranging from school air conditioning to the sale of the North Point Government Center and the “Rain Tax.”

When it came to economic development, both McDonough and Redmer spoke highly of Tradepoint Atlantic and other ventures in the county, but both stated that more needed to be done.

Redmer took the position that there needs to be a more sound long-term jobs plan, while McDonough spoke of the need to bring back vocational training and increase apprenticeships.

McDonough also took a hard stance when it came to Baltimore City, saying that Baltimore County should be fighting for the new Amazon headquarters instead of backing Baltimore City’s bid. He also pointed to hundreds of thousands of dollars the county gives to the National Aquarium in Baltimore as well as multiple museums in the city as money that would be better spent in the county. He promised that, if elected, the $500,000 the county spends on those institutions would be immediately shifted into the county’s tourism budget.

McDonough wound down his time pointing out that by running for county executive, he’s giving up a seat in the House of Delegates that he could easily hold. He said it was his obligation to run after the last eight years of the Kamenetz administration. Redmer welcomed the challenge from McDonough, ending his remarks by telling his opponents to “brace yourself because we are going to bring it.”

While a lot of time will be spent analyzing both men’s positions, it is worth noting that Redmer’s event included some powerful politicians aside from Hogan, including Delegate Kathy Szeliga, who is the Minority Whip in the House of Delegates but has served the Seventh District with McDonough since 2011. Other politicians on hand included Delegate Joe Cluster (R-8) and Councilman David Marks (R-5).

McDonough had support of some local officials as well, including delegates Ric Metzgar (R-6) and Rick Impallaria (R-7) and Councilman Wade Kach (R-3).

Elsewhere in the county, Democratic hopeful Johnny Olszewski Jr. officially opened up his campaign headquarters, located at 4050 North Point Blvd. in Dundalk. Surrounded by a host of Democrats vying for different elected positions, Olszewski spoke about his mission to the volunteers gathered outside.

“People in our county are hungry for leadership that’s going to get back to basics again,” said Olszewski. “And it’s time that we give them that, and that only happens going person to person, door to door, phone conversation to phone conversation.”

Olszewski, a former educator, stressed the need for providing the right learning environment for children, including up-to-date facilities and meal programs. He also highlighted the need for economic development to “make the future bright again.”

Like Redmer and McDonough, Olszewski harped on transparency, promising to enact campaign finance reform to eliminate special interests as well as changing the county council session schedule “so you can participate in our government.”

“I’ll expand the number of work sessions we have and budget hearings we have so that there aren’t zero people testifying on the Baltimore County budget,” said Olszewski.

read more

County gives Depot owner 60 days to clean up tires, other debris

County gives Depot owner 60 days to clean up tires, other debris
Large piles of tires have remained on the property’s back lots for at least three months. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/27/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A code enforcement complaint about masses of tires stored illegally on the Middle River Depot property has resulted in an order from a Baltimore County judge to resolve the issue or face a $6,000 fine.

Following community complaints dating back to June and a code enforcement complaint filed by County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins’ (D-6) office about the conditions on the former industrial property, Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stahl on Wednesday, Sept. 20, gave Depot owner Middle River Station Development LLC 60 days to bring the site into compliance.

According to county attorney Melissa Merrick, a code enforcement inspector visited the Depot property, located at 2800 Eastern Blvd. in Middle River, on Aug. 23, finding “open junkyard conditions, including tires, wood, junk, debris and boats on the sides and rear of the building.”

Merrick also noted that she had received a call from the county fire marshal’s office regarding the state of the property.

“Their concern is primarily based around the piles of tires that are located behind the commercial building on the property,” she said. “Obviously the concern is that it’s a fire hazard.”

Merrick noted that the $6,000 fine resulted from fines of $200 per day for 30 days. But “We’re looking for compliance,” she said.

The tires remained on the site as of Tuesday morning, Sept. 26.

Baltimore County and the State of Maryland prohibit storing tires outside and uncovered - as they have been at the Depot - because of the potential for water to collect in them and create a breeding ground for mosquitoes, as well as the potential fire hazard they pose.

Stahl referenced a months-long tire fire years ago in Baltimore County as an example of the reason for concern.

Timothy Manuelides, attorney for Middle River Station Development, explained that the tire situation came about as the result of a lease between his client and Summit Point Kart LLC, a former tenant. SPK was planning to use space in the building to operate a go-kart facility and they brought in several trailer loads of tires to line the track.

“And for some reason, they abandoned the lease earlier this year and they left all of their tires behind,” he said.

Manuelides added that litigation between the Depot owner and SPK has since followed and they are trying to get the former tenant to remove the tires.

“Even though the litigation is going on, it’s still a dangerous situation which can be taken care of,” Stahl countered. “The answer ‘we’re in litigation’ isn’t going to fly if there’s a fire.”

“The predicament we’re in is that they claim these tires have value,” Manuelides responded, “that this is not discarded property, this is not recycling.”

Merrick questioned if the landlord should be able to remove the tires on their own and store them at the tenant’s expense during litigation.

Manuelides said they could only do that if they are deemed abandoned property. He added that they plan to declare the tires as abandoned property if they are not removed by the tenant.

“But if we remove the tires, they could sue us later and say we converted their property,” he said.

Stahl advised that since the tires were left by the tenant and they have already been the subject of a citation and are a fire hazard, the attorney should file a motion as part of their litigation to remove the tires.

Regarding the boats and other debris, Manuelides said they are also from a former tenant who had leased space in order to bring in, then discard boats. He said action has been taken by the property owner against that tenant as well, and they had begun to remove the trash around the boats.

“Being a landlord is tough; being a commercial landlord is even tougher,” Stahl said, although he empathized with anyone having trouble with their tenants. “However, you can’t let something like this go on.

“This doesn’t happen overnight. This happens over a period of time,” he said of the boats and trash. “That tells me that your principal didn’t really supervise the use of the property because, when these piles started to happen, the landlord should be doing something about it before it gets to this.”

Manuelides said the boat tenant would be coming back to clean up the mess “and for no other reason.”

Stahl said in delivering his order, “We’ve got to straighten this thing out. I’m going to make it easier for you.”

The judge imposed the full fine for the record, but suspended $5,250, leaving only a $750 fine and 60 days to resolve the issues. He then suggested that when Manuelides receives the order for compliance, he take it to the court handling the SPK litigation and ask for a temporary order allowing the Depot owner to remove the tires and do whatever else is necessary to secure the property.

read more

Two invasive species could threaten Bird, Gunpowder rivers

Two invasive species could threaten Bird, Gunpowder rivers
The tiny snails can be easy to overlook but reproduce quickly and can carpet a stream bottom. Photo by Theaux Le Gardeur.

(Updated 9/27/17)

- By Devin Crum -

One plant and one animal not native to the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries have caused concern after being found in the Bird and Gunpowder rivers, respectively.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources announced last Thursday, Sept. 21, the first confirmed presence of New Zealand mudsnails in the upper reaches of the Gunpowder River in northern Baltimore County.

Likewise, residents along the Bird River have complained that the non-native hydrilla plant has spread rapidly through the upper river, creating a challenge for boating and other recreation and “choking out” native underwater grasses.

The snails have currently only been seen within the first five miles downstream of Prettyboy Reservoir in the Hereford area. And although they are far from the tidal Gunpowder at present, there is real concern among some that they will eventually make their way to it.

Gunpowder Riverkeeper Theaux Le Gardeur said temperature, salinity and turbidity do not seem to be limiting factors for the snails, which only grow to four to six millimeters in length.

“So I imagine we’re going to see them sooner rather than later down there” in the tidal Gunpowder, he said.

Jay Kilian, with DNR’s Resource Assessment Team, affirmed that the snails are tolerant of brackish water.

“So theoretically, they could make it there and sustain populations,” he said. However, he could not give any indication of how long that might take.

“They move rather quickly,” Le Gardeur said, noting that each of the tiny mollusks can produce about 100 offspring every three months. They can also occupy a stream bottom in numbers as high as 300,000 per square meter, he said.

Judging by years of sampling done by DNR for another purpose in the stretch of river where the snails were found, Kilian believes they are a “relatively recent introduction.”

He said they monitor the area regularly for trout populations and the presence of an invasive algae called didymo. However, it is also possible the snails were introduced years ago and it has simply taken this long for them to be observable.

Kilian said the suspicion of how the creatures got to the Gunpowder is that they were introduced inadvertently by a recreational fisherman or fishermen. He explained that the upper Gunpowder is well known regionally as a popular trout fishery, used by anglers from both in and out of state.

“Odds are very good that it came in on recreational gear, possibly by anglers moving from an infected water body somewhere to the Gunpowder,” Kilian said. He added that they are tolerant of harsh conditions and can survive out of water for extended periods.

Kilian noted that the nearest known population of the mudsnails is in Spring Creek, Pa., also a popular trout fishery.

Regarding the snails becoming a new food source for trout and other fish in the river, he said he is sure fish will consume them.

“But from what I understand, they are of very poor nutritional value to fish,” Kilian said.

While the potential ecological impact remains unknown, he said the snails will also compete with other, likely native species - which may be more nutritional food sources for fish - for the available resources. “And given their density, they’re locking up a lot of biomass.”

“What happens is they eat a lot of them but they don’t digest a lot of them,” Le Gardeur said. “So the fish actually lose fitness because they’re occupied eating these snails and they really can’t digest them.”

Le Gardeur added that this could have implications for bass in the tidal Gunpowder, as well as the anglers who seek them there.

Methods to control the snail population in an open system like the Gunpowder River would likely be ineffective and “I don’t even know if it’s possible,” Kilian said. “I think the goal now is to keep it from being moved inadvertently by anglers, kayakers, anybody coming into contact with the river.”

He said additional signage about the issue has been placed around the area to notify users of the river to de-water their equipment on site and wash it thoroughly before using it again in another body of water.

Brooke Landry, a natural resource biologist with DNR, also did not have an indication of how long hydrilla has been in the Bird River. But residents have said it has been there at least the last few years.

Landry said its first sighting in the Chesapeake Bay, however, was in 1982 in the Potomac River, adding that it has since found its way to “pretty much” every fresh water tributary of the bay.

As far as how it got into the Bird River, she said, “Generally, it’s probably the same as how it has gotten everywhere else. It’s one of those plants that’s easily transported on boat trailers and propellers and things like that.”

She added that birds can sometimes carry it around as well, and it is assumed that it was first introduced after being in someone’s home aquarium.

Residents using the river have complained that the plants, which seem to double in mass each year, have made the waterway unnavigable except in the existing dredged channels.

However, Landry said the hydrilla is not necessarily an environmental problem in the Bird River or in the bay.

“It’s [a type of submerged aquatic vegetation] SAV in the bay and SAV are all considered good,” she said. “Where it shows up, it is generally welcome.”

DNR does not manage specifically for hydrilla, she said, adding that it actually counts toward the state’s bay restoration goals.

Landry said the plant can also tolerate poor water quality better than many native species.

“So oftentimes what you see is our native species have died back in an area because they can’t tolerate the lack of water clarity, but hydrilla usually can,” she said, adding that it may look like it is taking over because it fills in and reproduces quickly.

But then what will generally happen after a while is the return of the native plants because the hydrilla have stabilized the sediments and cleared the water, she said. “So when the seeds of native plants float by, they are better able to establish in that area.”

Landry noted that DNR only considers a species “invasive” when it is out-competing natives, which is not always the case with hydrilla because it has simply colonized empty areas. It does not typically displace healthy native SAVs.

DNR does, however, encourage people to be mindful of their equipment and transport the grass as little as possible.

“We still don’t want to move it around any more than necessary,” Landry said.

read more

Lacks Legacy luncheon to honor namesake, Turner Station leaders

(Updated 9/27/17) 

- By Marge Neal - 

Turner Station is determined to make sure the legacy of Henrietta Lacks is never forgotten.

This year, when residents and other guests attend the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group’s annual luncheon on Oct. 6, they will do so by driving or walking along Henrietta Lacks Way on the way to the Fleming Community Center.

Lacks was memorialized over the summer when Baltimore County officials dedicated the Main Street/New Pittsburgh Avenue corridor in Turner Station in her honor and state officials did the same with a stretch of Broening Highway.

The second annual HLLG luncheon will again serve to remind the community of Lacks’ contributions to modern medicine while also honoring the group’s man, woman and business owner of the year.

State Delegate Adrienne Jones will be the guest speaker, according to event organizer Adele Newson-Horst. Jones has represented the Legislative District 10 in the Maryland General Assembly since 1997. She recently was reelected by her peers for a 10th time to serve as Speaker Pro Tem. Jones serves on the House Appropriations Committee, is chairwoman of the Capital Budget Subcommittee and is the House chair of the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and Personnel Oversight. She also is a member of the Health and Human Resources Committee.

In addition to using the event to raise money for a wax likeness of Lacks to be placed at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, the luncheon will also honor David Marshall as Business Owner of the Year, Mary Branch as Woman of the Year and Larry Bannerman as Man of the Year, according to Newson-Horst.

Marshall represents the third generation to lead Marshall’s Trash Removal, which was founded in 1951 by his grandfather, Willie D. Marshall Sr. David Marshall assumed the helm earlier this year after the retirement of his father, Willie D. Marshall Jr.

“Faithful servant” Branch has been honored many times for her service to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Sacred Heart of Mary parishioner is a recipient of the Dame Commander of St. Gregory Medal for outstanding service to the local archdiocese, according to information from event organizers.

She enjoys thrift shopping, reading and enjoys collecting clothes and other items for the area’s needy and homeless. But her biggest claim to fame is serving as leader of Cub Scout Pack 270 for more than 53 years. Branch’s service to scouting resulted in her receiving the Silver Beaver Medal, scouting’s highest honor for adult leaders.

Since retiring after a 38-year career with BGE, Bannerman has been active in many community organizations and efforts, including the Turner Station Conservation Team, HLLG, Rebuilding Together, Boy and Girl Scouts and various youth sports and recreation programs.

The luncheon will be held at the Fleming Community Center, 641 Main St. in Turner Station, from noon to 3 p.m., Friday, Oct. 6. Tickets cost $50 each. Many levels of event sponsorships are available as well. To reserve tickets, contact Carlisa A. Jones at

New FedEx Ground distribution center roars to life in Sparrows Point

New FedEx Ground distribution center roars to life in Sparrows Point
The FedEx racecar was the real star of the show last Wednesday as a symbol of the speed of the new facility. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 9/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

FedEx Ground recently held the requisite ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new distribution center on the Tradepoint Atlantic campus in Sparrows Point.

But event organizers jazzed up the mundane tradition held Sept. 20, with the roaring entrance of the company’s No. 11 NASCAR racer into the state-of-the-art automated package handling center that opened for business in July.

It was fitting that a racecar capable of speeds of more than 200 miles per hour was used to celebrate a facility where packages can race in and out in as few as six minutes.

During the ceremony, many superlatives were used to describe the automated warehouse capable of handling up to 15,000 packages per hour.

FedEx Ground President Henry Maier referred to the “amazing new facility” as a “shiny, new, state-of-the-art” station that is the “most automated operation in the industry.”

The company was the first to commit to leasing and building at Tradepoint Atlantic, the 3,100-acre multimodal logistics center that is the successor to the steel industry that occupied the tip of Sparrows Point for more than 100 years.

FedEx is proud of its part in restoring a contaminated site for renewed use in the community, Maier said, and the new station created jobs for local citizens while providing improved service to businesses and individual delivery customers.

The company employs about 275 full- and part-time workers and 150 contracted service providers at the 307,000-square-foot warehouse on Bethlehem Boulevard. The East Baltimore Station, as the facility is dubbed, is part of a national network that handles 8 million small packages a day, according to Maier. Locally, it links with two existing centers in White Marsh and Halethorpe, according to a statement from the company.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who received a rousing and extended standing ovation when he was introduced, thanked FedEx for its investment in Maryland, which he said is “breathing life into this site with a storied past.”

He thanked FedEx for its significant financial investment in Sparrows Point, noting the new center adds “to an already large footprint” the company has in Maryland.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz thanked Tradepoint Atlantic officials for embracing the vision of the Sparrows Point Partnership, a commission created to explore the potential use of the land after the 2012 closure of the steel plant.

Kamenetz said that since it was clear that steel would not be coming back to the property, it was time to take a look at what the next generation of jobs would look like.

The same qualities that made the land a perfect site for the manufacturing of steel - deep port access and its close proximity to major interstate highways and rail systems, also make it a perfect site for the creation of the logistics, light manufacturing and distribution center that Tradepoint officials envision.

Eric Gilbert, chief development officer for Tradepoint, noted that steel officials selected the farmland 120 years ago for those attributes which are still relevant today, although for quite different uses.

In addition to FedEx officials and elected leaders, many clients were invited to the event and to tour the plant that ships many of their products.

John Cooper, warehouse manager for Head USA’s distribution center in Curtis Bay, said he attended the event to check out the new facility, which he said provides better service for his company and, consequently, Head’s customers.

The Curtis Bay center is one of two national distribution centers for the company that manufactures sporting goods equipment, including skis, snowboards, a variety of racquet sports equipment and swimming gear, according to Cooper, a Middle River resident.

“We’ve been with FedEx almost exclusively for our ground packaging for about three years,” Cooper said. “We’ve experienced better service since using FedEx exclusively and we’ve found it’s easier for our customers to track their deliveries with the FedEx tracking system.”

FedEx announced in January 2016 its intention to build on 50 acres of the Tradepoint campus. It has since been joined by several other companies, including Harley Davidson, Host Terminals and Under Armour, which is in the process of building a 1.3-million-square-foot e-commerce center near the FedEx site.

U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2) said he was pleased to see FedEx choose another site in eastern Baltimore County, which he said is one of the most patriotic areas in the state and whose residents are known for their strong work ethic.

He noted the creation of 275 new jobs and said he understands there is potential for job growth as FedEx grows into the capabilities of the new center.

“I think you hit a home run here,” Ruppersberger said.

read more

Most Back River rec. programs opt to join ranks with Middle River

Most Back River rec. programs opt to join ranks with Middle River
Although administratively merged with Middle River, Back River programs will retain preferential use of local facilities. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/27/17)

- By Marge Neal -

The Middle River Recreation Council family grew considerably larger Monday night as the bulk of Back River Recreation Council programs agreed to merge with their 21220 counterpart.

Back River has suffered financial, volunteer manpower and administrative setbacks for several years and was the victim of a nearly $36,000 theft three years ago at the hands of Shane Gleason, a former treasurer.

Baltimore County Board of Recreation and Parks members in July voted to recommend merging the two recreation councils after reaching the conclusion Back River would not be able to achieve and maintain all of the requirements of being recertified by the advisory board.

Middle River officers invited Back River program officials to a question-and-answer gathering Sept. 25 before the group’s formal board and general council meetings. Back River volunteers were given copies of Middle River’s volunteer chairperson manual and the group’s constitution and bylaws.

President John Creswell explained the council’s general fundraisers, which include an annual carnival, and how they benefit individual programs.

“We try to incentivize volunteers to participate,” Creswell said of fundraisers. “Each individual program gets a portion of the profit based on the level of volunteer participation.”

The group also introduced a new volunteer fundraiser and event coordinator, who is planning a Breakfast with Santa event Dec. 9.

“She’ll be looking for two volunteers from each program to help,” Creswell said of the coordinator of the event that will also celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Victory Villa Community Center, the longtime home of the Middle River group.

When the regular meeting convened at 8 p.m., Creswell asked each Back River program chairperson to introduce themselves and state whether they would join the Middle River group.

After the dust had settled, all but three programs had opted to merge. Still mulling the decision are the boys basketball and girls softball programs, plus a club for senior citizens.

On board with the merger are several unique programs, including a miniature airplane flying club that takes advantage of the amenities at Essex Skypark, a children’s theatre program that refers to its participants as BRATs, playing on the group’s moniker of Back River Acting Troup, and the Baltimore Metro Horseshoe Club that boasts of “12 professional pits with flood lights” in a fenced-in area behind the Back River Community Center.

John Volz, who represented a karate program, said he believes the merger is a positive move because it will open his program to a larger pool of potential participants.

Throughout the summer-long discussions of a merger, county board Vice President Chuck Munzert emphasized that most Back River programs could make the transition from one group to another without any bumps. With rare exception, programs will continue to use indoor and outdoor facilities in the Back River Neck community. They will keep their current program funds and schedules.

“I would say that, as of now, the Back River Rec. Council is no longer in existence,” Munzert told the East County Times Tuesday morning. “There are still a few things to tie up and some paperwork to take care of, but we are confident all of the programs have found a home and will be taken care of.”

Girls softball and boys basketball volunteers from each group are in communication, and Munzert said he is confident that compromises can be reached to satisfy all involved.

For example, the girls softball program will stay together and practice and play home games in Back River, according to Munzert, though they will travel to Middle River for away games.

Many Back River children ride their bikes to practices and games, and moving all games to Middle River might mean many children couldn’t participate.

“That’s not our purpose,” Munzert said. “We want to make this as painless as we can for everybody.”

Based on conversations he heard after Monday’s meeting, when program volunteers from Back River and Middle River huddled with each other, Munzert said he remains hopeful everyone will join Middle River.

While individual program participants are free to join any recreation program offered by any council, organized Back River programs that refuse to merge with Middle River will cease to be affiliated priority users of recreation facilities, according to Munzert.

“If you don’t belong to a rec. council, all you can do is request to use a building, but that use is not guaranteed,” Munzert said. “That’s one of the main advantages to being affiliated with a council.

“Overall, I think it went very well and I didn’t hear any negativity,” Munzert said of the meeting. “There are some people who aren’t real happy about it but that’s to be expected. I’m hoping in two months everyone will be happy and that things are going smoothly.”

read more

NFWF awards $12.6 million in funds to benefit Chesapeake Bay

NFWF awards $12.6 million in funds to benefit Chesapeake Bay
Clear Creeks Project volunteers and community members, including County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (fourth from right), joined in celebrating the six-figure sum awarded to the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy for bay restoration projects. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/20/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Government, business and volunteer organizations gathered in Middle River’s Miramar Landing community Tuesday morning, Sept. 19, to celebrate millions of dollars in grant funds awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

NFWF will award 44 grants this year totalling a record $12.6 million for environmentally focused organizations to be used toward restoration projects within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Those grants all come with matching funds from the organizations that receive them, which tallied an additional $21.3 million for a total of $33.9 million for projects to benefit the bay.

Locally, the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy won $200,000 through NFWF’s Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund, which joins nearly $600,000 in matching funds.

GVC, through their Clear Creeks Project, plans to use the money to install stormwater best management practices including rain barrels, rain gardens, micro-bioretention practices, conservation landscaping and forest buffers. The project will mobilize communities to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff, manage stormwater and restore forests and streams in the Middle River, Bird River, tidal Gunpowder River and lower Gunpowder Falls watersheds, according to their project plan.

Miramar Landing Homeowners Association board member Purnell Glenn said the event gave his community an opportunity to showcase what they have already done in partnership with the Clear Creeks Project and with prior grants from NFWF and others.

The community has planted several large bayscape gardens and many native trees in their common areas to help capture and control stormwater runoff. In addition, many residents there have installed their own rain barrels and/or had their properties certified as Bay-wise.

“This is the product of some of the work that gets done as part of the Clear Creeks Project” and that the NFWF grants have helped fund in the past, said GVC President Jim Martin.

He noted that the Clear Creeks Project’s efforts have reached more than 18,000 local residents, and 3,100 residents have volunteered to do work such as planting trees or gardens.

Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2), who represents the area, said the grants announced Tuesday are about government, business and conservation groups coming together to develop practical methods to minimize urban, agricultural and commercial impacts on the bay.

“Here in Middle River, the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy will be working to encourage nearby residents to plant trees, clean up streams and install stormwater management with the goal of reducing harmful runoff,” he said.

Ruppersberger, who sits on the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee which helped make the grants possible, said he will continue to fight for this type of funding from the federal government.

He pointed out that the bay contributes $1 trillion to the region’s economy each year through fishing, farming, boating and tourism, and that 18 million people currently live within its watershed.

“So a collapse of the bay would be both an ecological and economic catastrophe, and we’re not going to let it happen,” the congressman said.

Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the message from the state has been and continues to be to fight federal cuts to Chesapeake Bay restoration funding, “to keep the backstops and to grow the partnerships.”

He said Governor Larry Hogan is also working in his capacity as chair of the Chesapeake Executive Council to make sure there is regulatory accountability and strong science backing it all up.

Jake Reilly, NFWF’s director of Chesapeake Bay programs, said this year alone, the foundation is also providing more than $2 million in grant funds directly to units of local government, such as Baltimore County - “those folks charged with managing and implementing local environmental programs,” he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the county has a proud history of protecting the environment as he referenced the creation of the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line (URDL) nearly 50 years ago.

The URDL serves to focus more intensive development in more urbanized areas and preserves 2,000 miles of streams and tributaries in the county through conservative land use and environmental restrictions outside the URDL, he said.

Kamenetz noted that the county’s Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability spends more than $25 million every year doing “simple” things like planting trees and “not-so-simple” things like rebuilding stream beds.

Reilly observed that, of the $12.6 million in grants awarded Tuesday, $10 million came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and nearly $1 million came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, plus additional funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

Corporate partners such as Altria Group and CSX also contributed funding.

Reilly said the projects being funded by the grants will be able to reduce nutrient sediment pollution by a combined 8.4 million pounds

“For local water quality, we’re going to be restoring 160 miles of streamside habitat across the Chesapeake Bay watershed through riparian buffers, livestock exclusion and restoration of degraded stream reaches across the watershed,” he said.

Reilly added that the funds will help to permanently protect 2,000 acres of sustainably managed agricultural land, implement best management practices on another 40,000 acres, treat stormwater from more than 200 acres of urban and suburban impervious surfaces and restore more than 140 acres of wetlands. More than 4,000 volunteers will be involved in these efforts, he said.

read more

Back River Rec. Council mulls merger with Middle River

Back River Rec. Council mulls merger with Middle River
Although administratively merged with Middle River, Back River programs will retain preferential use of local facilities. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/20/17)

- By Marge Neal - 

The ball is in Back River Recreation Council’s court, so to speak, as the volunteer group considers a suggestion to merge with the Middle River Recreation Council.

Citing a number of administrative, clerical and financial concerns, the Baltimore County Board of Recreation and Parks in July made the merger recommendation as a way to head off the more serious move of decertifying the council that plans and organizes a variety of recreation programs for children and adults in the Back River Neck area.

Decertification would mean the end of the group and its programs as they currently exist, while a merger would allow all of the programs to continue, with most able to stay at the same neighborhood facilities, according to board Vice President Chuck Munzert.

Munzert, who represents the Sixth Councilmanic District on the board, has been working with the Back River group, first in an attempt to help it become compliant with board policies, then to communicate the board’s recommendation to members when it became apparent the council would not be able to complete the tasks necessary to remain an independent, board-certified council.

After meeting with council officers and program chairpersons Sept. 6, Munzert said most people involved seemed to be on board with a merger.

“We met last week and I told them it would be in their best interest to merge with another council and we suggested Middle River,” Munzert told his board colleagues at their Sept. 13 meeting. “They understand they’ll keep everything as is if they move as a group. I really think it went very well.”

A merger would allow most programs to remain at their current facilities, with the exception of two - youth softball and basketball - according to Munzert. Softball, which has already joined forces with Middle River to create a larger, more competitive league, would just merge completely with Middle River. The basketball program is still considering its options, Munzert said.

The Ballestone Preservation Society, charged with preserving and maintaining the historic Ballestone-Stansbury House on the grounds of Rocky Point Golf Course in Essex, would also be affected by the merger. While it maintains its own bank account, it operates under the non-profit umbrella of the Back River council, according to Ballestone President Cas Groth.

Groth said she met with Department of Recreation and Parks Director Barry Williams on Sept. 15 to discuss the future of the preservation group. Ballestone has been encouraged to obtain its own non-profit status, which Groth said members are investigating.

“We have a member who’s an accountant, and she’s looking into what we need to do,” Groth told the Times. “We know it’s a complicated process and we’re going to need some help.”

Williams said at the board meeting that staff members would be available to assist the group with the non-profit application process.

Middle River council officers expressed some concern over potentially being saddled with any Back River debt, and Munzert said he assured them that would not be the case.

While Back River experienced a theft of nearly $36,000 by Shane Gleason, the group’s former treasurer, the council has somewhat rebounded financially and each program is solvent, according to Munzert.

Gleason, who was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 18 months in the county’s detention center, was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount stolen, but repayment has not yet begun, according to board chairman Eric van den Beemt.

A judgement in favor of the Back River council in the amount of $35,852.41 was recorded June 29, 2016, according to online court records.

The proposed merger is expected to be discussed again at the Sept. 25 meeting of the Middle River Recreation Council.

“I think the meeting [with Back River] went very well,” Munzert said at the board meeting. “If everyone comes on board with Middle River, it will be a done deal.”

read more

Dredging planned for marine terminal at Tradepoint Atlantic

Dredging planned for marine terminal at Tradepoint Atlantic
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 9/20/17)

- By Devin Crum -

A permit application is currently under review by the Maryland Port Administration, the Maryland Department of the Environment and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which would allow Tradepoint Atlantic to dredge their port at Sparrows Point to its previously achieved depth.

Tradepoint, the company in charge of redeveloping the former steel mill site into a 21st-century industrial logistics park, is seeking to perform “maintenance dredging” to bring their turning basin and approach channel back to their previous depth of 42 feet. In addition, the area around the finger pier - the former ore pier - at the mouth of the turning basin would be dredged to its previous depth of 47 feet.

“This is not new dredge, this is not new material,” said Peter Haid, Tradepoint’s environmental director. “This is basically sediment that has come in from the estuaries, brought in and moved around by tide or waves.”

The permit application specifies 1 million cubic yards of material to be dredged. But Haid said they only plan to dredge about 200,000 cubic yards per year over a five-year period.

The project would begin with the “business section” of the shipping berth, Haid said, inside the turning basin where the depths are currently the most shallow at about 36 feet. This would be done over the first year.

In the second year, the approach out to Brewerton Channel - the Port of Baltimore’s main shipping channel - would be dredged, followed by cleaning out the remainder of the turning basin in the subsequent two years. In the final year, they would dredge the area around the finger pier, Haid said.

The material to be dredged, according to Haid, is consistent with what is present elsewhere around the Baltimore harbor and has been found acceptable not only for dredge material containment facilities, but also for innovative re-use techniques which seek to cut down on landfilling of the material.

He said the material is not highly contaminated with pollutants found landside at Sparrows Point because there is no direct stormwater discharge from the property to the water along its southern frontage, which includes the marine terminal.

“It’s all burm,” he said. “The water either runs back or percolates.”

Aaron Tomarchio, Tradepoint Atlantic’s vice president of corporate affairs, said in the steel mill’s declining years, they did not invest much money in infrastructure.

“It was just [left] there to age. So after years of use and not a whole lot of attention, it needs some attention,” he said.

Tomarchio explained that the dredging would coincide with other “extensive”renovations of the terminal to achieve their port goals, noting a four-phase plan to improve the east and west shipping berths.

The area around the berths and the turning basin will eventually all be paved, he said, and high-mast lights will be installed. They will also install heavy-lift cargo pads to load and unload cargo from ships and are hoping to restore the rail crane on the dock. They plan to remove an old pier along the west berth as well to provide additional frontage for the turning basin.

“The whole redevelopment of Sparrows Point hinges on our ability to provide multiple layers of logistic support to a tenant,” Tomarchio said, listing the marine and rail cargo handling capabilities alongside their development arm, which is building the “vertical” parts of the project, as pieces of the puzzle. “All three work together to create a logistics solution for prospective tenants and manufacturers that we’re looking to have locate to Tradepoint Atlantic.”

He said they are hoping to announce a manufacturing tenant in November, and that tenant requires a 42-foot shipping depth which would need to be available within four years.

“There’s a market driver for this right now,” Tomarchio said. “It’s all in preparation for what we hope is a really good commercial opportunity to generate jobs and bring businesses to Sparrows Point.”

The executive noted that despite the need for dredging, the terminal has remained active, moving about 1.6 million tons of bulk material cargo through their port last year.

“And we’re on pace to probably exceed that this year,” Tomarchio said.

read more

‘Town center’ dropped from Sheltered Harbor plan

‘Town center’ dropped from Sheltered Harbor plan
A total of 94 townhouses are proposed for the southern half of the Sheltered Harbor planned unit development at 8100 Stansbury Road in Dundalk (shaded area overlooking Lynch Cove). Originally planned for the section were 183 condos, a restaurant and office and retail space.

(Updated 9/20/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

A cluster of new waterfront townhouses are in the pipeline for Dundalk, pending county approval of a revised planned unit development (PUD) for the remaining half of the Sheltered Harbor complex overlooking Lynch Cove.

The county’s Development Review Committee recently concluded that the proposed 94 townhouses are a “material change” to an earlier, higher-density PUD project that had included a “town center” of condos, a restaurant, shops and offices.

Although smaller in scale, the change in types of buildings is significant enough to require a public hearing before a county administrative law judge.

“I have been working for a while now on getting this blighted property cleaned up and getting a development project that fits in with the surrounding community,” wrote County Councilman Todd Crandell (R-7) in an email.

“I think that this has been achieved by significantly downsizing the scope of the project, but the community should still have a chance to be heard,” he wrote about the chance for public input at the hearing.

The project was originally introduced in 2004  by Crandell’s predecessor, John Olszewski Sr., with a County Council resolution.

PUDs allow alternate uses from those of the underlying zoning, provided developers offer some sort of community benefit.

A benefit can be a “green” building, higher quality design or building materials, workforce housing or a capital improvement for community residents or a local volunteer fire department, according to the County Code.

In this case, redevelopment itself was considered a benefit because it would improve a deteriorating property, developers argued at the time with county agreement.

It will replace the “partially dilapidated, outdated, sparsely used, partially abandoned industrial warehouse and boat yard,” wrote county hearing officer William Wiseman in his 2006 ruling on the concept plan.

County Planning Board records also indicate that a payment of $30,000 was promised to the community for improvements to nearby Chesterwood Park.

The 11-acre former commercial boatyard at 8100 Stansbury Road was first approved about 10 years ago as a two-phased PUD with high-rise condos, office and retail space, a restaurant, boat slips and a public walkway along the shoreline.

The Phase I plan on the northern section included 144 condos in three four-story buildings with a clubhouse, pool and 64 boat slips, according to Planning Board records.

The project was later scaled down to 89 small townhouses that eventually became 69 larger townhouses with garages on the first level built by Ryan Homes as the Waterfront at Sheltered Harbor. Due for completion by February are the final 14 Ryan townhouses, and all but one of the 69 units had been sold as of early September.

Envisioned for Phase II on the southern section was the larger, more commercial complex to include about 190 condos, three townhouses, office and retail space, a restaurant and about 170 boat slips for “transient and residential use.”

The southern section has since been purchased by Fairway Capital Partners, an investor group based in New York. Proposed now for the site are 94 townhouses in 13 buildings, which preliminary plans state will result in less traffic in and out of the site than the original town center plan.

Local schools affected by the development include Grange Elementary, General John Stricker Middle, Dundalk Middle and Patapsco High School.

Sheltered Harbor townhouse owner Ashlee Ecker, who can see the undeveloped Phase II section from her deck, said she prefers to see the townhouses because they will probably generate less traffic than a restaurant.

Ecker, whose father worked at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, said she moved to the Waterfront at Sheltered Harbor because of its closeness to her job in Baltimore City. Living close to the water is also a plus; her boyfriend is looking forward to getting a boat, she said.

As of Sept. 1, the Phase II site had been cleared except for two rubble piles. Asbestos was removed in May and still required is the cleanup of contaminated dirt that contains arsenic and elevated levels of petroleum components, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Pilings from former boat slips also remain in the water off the eastern end of the site.

Courtney Cox, whose family has operated the Anchor Bay East Marina at the end of Cove Road near Sheltered Harbor for decades, said she welcomes new development along the Dundalk shoreline.

Her parents opened the Hard Yacht Cafe at the marina in 2007 after Cox graduated from culinary school, and it has been growing ever since, she said.

Residents of the nearby Lakes at Stansbury Shores subdivision south of Stansbury Road have become regular customers. And in return, her father volunteers to plow their streets during the winter, she said.

More recent Sheltered Harbor residents also frequent the restaurant, along with paddleboarders who come in after spending time on the water. A church group regularly meets there, and the cafe’s outdoor deck enjoyed some national exposure after appearing in a Season 3 episode of “House of Cards.”

“We’re so excited about getting to meet some new neighbors,” Cox said about the pending buildout of the Phase II section.

“Dundalk is becoming a much more desirable place,” she said. “[Investment] is doing great things for the area and increasing the property values.”

Having lost thousands of jobs with the shutdown of Bethlehem Steel and other industrial plants, Dundalk is poised for an economic upswing fueled by the ongoing redevelopment of Sparrows Point by Tradepoint Atlantic and other new investment in the area.

“Every place has a cycle, and Dundalk’s is overdue,” Cox said. “My grandmother remembers when Canton [in east Baltimore] was a scary place where people did not want to go, and now it’s where everybody wants to be.”

read more

New hotel wins liquor license

New hotel wins liquor license
The new Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel on Crossorads Circle in White Marsh is due to open in March 2018. Photo by Virginia Terhune.

(Updated 9/15/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

The new Marriott SpringHill Suites hotel now under construction in the emerging mixed-use Greenleigh at Crossroads community off Route 43  in White Marsh is set to open early next March, according to developers.

Developers of the four-story hotel, featuring 120 rooms, were granted a liquor license to operate the hotel bar by the county Board of Liquor License Commissioners on Monday, Sept. 11.

The hotel plans to hire about 50 people, said Thomas Lee of USA Management II - the developer for the project - after the board's hearing in Towson.

About two-thirds of those will be full-time jobs, including positions for housekeepers, bartenders, kitchen workers, front desk people and others. The jobs will be advertised on social media closer to the opening next year, Lee said.

The new hotel located on Crossroads Drive is part of the developing 200-acre Greenleigh at Crossroads community of stores, 1,500 townhouses and apartments, and office and flex commercial buildings along the four-mile extension of Route 43 from Pulaski Highway in White Marsh to Eastern Avenue in Middle River.

read more

Chapel Hills to host some new facets for same great festival

Chapel Hills to host some new facets for same great festival
Chapel Hills owner Russell Berk (right) always adds something new to the Perry Hall Apple Festival each year. Festival sponsors (from left) State Delegate Joe Cluster, Joe Norman and County Councilman David Marks, along with State Delegate Christian Miele (not pictured), contributed funds for entertainment such as live music and apple butter making demonstrations. Photo courtesy of David Marks.

(Updated 9/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The annual Perry Hall Apple Festival, co-hosted by Chapel Hills Farm and Nursery and the Perry Hall Improvement Association, is set to return this weekend, Sept. 16 and 17, bringing with it all the apple- and fall-related entertainment one could possibly imagine.

The festival has enjoyed increasing popularity over the years, but its organizers never cease to bring new and exciting aspects into the mix.

This year, the main new attraction will be the Amish apple butter demonstration on Saturday.

“The ladies from Chester County, Pa., are going to make apple butter from scratch,” said Chapel Hills owner Russell Berk, adding that they will use a copper kettle and other specialty equipment.

The freshly made apple butter will also be for sale at the festival.

While the apple butter demonstrations will only be held on Saturday, most of the festival’s attractions are scheduled for both days, such as the pie eating contests (11:30 a.m.), live music (noon to 4 p.m.), chainsaw sculptures, face painting, sack races, pony rides, hay rides and more.

Many of them even stay in place for Chapel Hills’ Fall Festival Days which take place every weekend through October. See more information on Fall Festival Days on page 13B of this week’s Essex Day supplement.

“And then, of course, we have the [haunted] trail all done up with all the figures,” Berk said. He noted the trail is always a big draw with some visitors coming back every week to go around it.

“It’s better, it’s fun; my nephew keeps adding to it,” he said.

Live music this year will be provided by the same band as last year, albeit under a different name. Arrow Horse - formerly The Lovesick Hillbillies - will crank out the bluegrass tunes on stage from noon to 4 p.m. each day of the festival.

Berk said the band has been quite popular in the past for the apple festival and other events around the area.

“It’s a lot of local people tied to that,” he said.

Another popular attraction returning this year will be the Masters of the Chainsaw - professional chainsaw carvers - entertaining crowds with their expert wood sculptures.

The festival truly offers something for everyone, adults and kids alike, including a large petting zoo, sack races, pony rides, tractor-drawn hay rides, the Gator wagon train, a miniature hay maze and pedal tractors, plus the excellent and intricate face painting.

“A big draw is the face painting all the time,” Berk said. “She does a good job and brings a couple of people with her.”

The masterpieces are done by Face Painting by Fantasy Artz, which accepts both cash and credit cards at the festival.

“She does real exotic jobs,” Berk commented. “She can do your whole head. It’s amazing.”

Another big part of the event is the craft show, which includes some 50 vendors and are a also a popular aspect, according to Berk.

“They’re real crafts,” he said of the quality of the goods for sale. “And they almost all re-book year to year.”

Also back for their sixth year at the festival are the ever-popular wine tastings with something for all tastes, including apple wines and hard apple ciders.

And let’s not forget the apples! For sale at the festival and in the Chapel Hills store will be a wide variety of apples, apple sauce, apple butter, candy apples and apple baked goods like pies, along with apple cider donuts made fresh on site.

Berk mentioned other apple products and baked goods as well. “But apple cider donuts, that’s a big thing,” he said. “That’s our main baked good.”

Other treats visitors will find at the festival include Thunder Ridge kettle corn, funnel cakes, apple cider and more. Or if you’re in the mood for something savory, pit beef and turkey, pulled pork and hamburgers will also be available.

The 2017 Perry Hall Apple Festival is sponsored by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and County Councilman David Marks, as well as Perry Hall resident Joe Norman and state delegates Joe Cluster and Christian Miele.

The festival will be held at Chapel Hills Farm and Nursery, 4350 Chapel Road in Perry Hall, from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sept. 16 and 17.

A full list of vendors is available on the event’s website at Visit the website or call Chapel Hills directly at 410-256-5335 for more information.

read more

Local residents sacrifice time, goods for Harvey relief efforts

Local residents sacrifice time, goods for Harvey relief efforts
Jacob Nelson (left) gets help unloading a car filled with baby supplies. Nelson noted that while Harvey was tragic, the community’s response was uplifting. Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 9/13/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

As Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas, an effort to provide relief swiftly got underway, and the North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Company (NPEVFC) teamed up with the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Company (BQVFC) for a supply drive. Last Friday, Sept. 8, a 53-foot tractor trailer filled with food, water, hygienic supplies, clothes and more left from White Marsh headed to the Houston area.

The two volunteer companies collected materials for days leading up to last Friday, with donations still pouring in throughout Thursday evening and early Friday morning. So much was donated that all of the surrounding storage buildings at the North Point facility were filled with donated goods.

“It’s really the least I can do,” said Miriam Summers as she dropped off a bag with diapers, soap and other hygiene products. “I know it’s not much, but it’s something.”

Clothing seemed to be the most frequent donation, but the NPEVFC ended up posting on social media that clothing was no longer a necessary item. Instead, they were looking for food, water and hygiene products.

“Clothing you can get from anybody,” said NPEVFC member Jacob Nelson. “The water and the food, that’s more important. We want people to know we’re always here to help.”

State Delegate Ric Metzgar, who stopped by the station with the rest of the Sixth District Delegation, noted that they were told clothing is too heavy and bulky in transport, and that space is often better used for necessities.

“This is what our community is all about,” said Delegate Bob Long.

The truck and transportation were donated by Harry “Buddy” McGowan and his company, White Marsh Transport. Originally the plan was to leave the large trailer by the North Point fire station, but it was a logistical problem given the size of the truck. Instead, McGowan parked a smaller truck around the back of the facility, and when it would get full he would take it to White Marsh where the supplies would be transferred into the larger trailer.

But it wasn’t just supplies that were sent down to aid with relief efforts, as Baltimore County Fire Department personnel also headed down south to help out. One of the volunteers, Perry Hall Improvement Association President John Amrhein, has been serving with Maryland 1-Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT), first in Texas and now on standby in Florida.

According to Amrhein, who works as a paramedic and lives in Perry Hall, he and his team were primarily working in a medical support capacity.

“We basically set up a M*A*S*H,” he said. “One tent was for basic treatment, small wounds and prescription refills, and the other tent was for urgent care treatment where we were able to do everything from sutures to looking after unconscious folks.”

During the time Amrhein spent in the Texas town of Beauxmont, the DMAT team treated somewhere from 200 - 250 people, including two people who needed to be intubated and a few people suffering from heart attacks and strokes. But mostly, the injuries come in the aftermath when the cleanup is taking place.

“A lot of injuries we had were people tearing apart their houses in the aftermath,” said Amrhein. “And with hospitals flooded and without clean water, we essentially take over for them.”

Some of those who were deployed to Texas have now been redeployed to Florida and Alabama. Amrhein was redeployed on Saturday, arriving in Florida via a C-130 aircraft, courtesy of the military, since all other air vehicles were grounded. They’re currently awaiting instruction on what their role will be, but for the time being Amrhein is providing logistical support and helping responders get measured for respirators. He noted that breathing equipment is necessary in the aftermath of a disaster because of molds, spores and other toxins that might be airborne.

“We’re still trying to figure out what the state and local needs are,” said Amrhein. “Our primary thing is to be the support to keep local services going until they can get back on their feet.”

On Monday, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz praised the county’s five emergency responders offering their services in the south and touted improvements to the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), including a $152,000 technical upgrade featuring two video walls capable of displaying up to 16 different media sources. The upgrade also included new air conditioning and upgraded emergency power.

“Working through a disaster is difficult under the best of circumstances,” Kamenetz said. “It’s critical that our personnel have modern facilities and reliable, state-of-the-art technology. Every citizen has an interest in this investment.”

read more

Revitalization advocates walk through Essex with county government, elected reps

Revitalization advocates walk through Essex with county government, elected reps
From left: Tim Dunn of the county's Bureau of Solid Waste Management, Tom Hargis and Randy Shifflet of the Bureau of Highways, local business owner Gary Jennings, Ron Metzger representing Councilman Todd Crandell, former judge Robert Romadka, State Delegate Robin Grammer, Bryan Sheppard representing County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, business owner Cliff O'Connell, BRRC President and business owner Sam Weaver and BRRC Executive Director Karen Wynn all joined for the walkthrough. The county representatives were about to answer many of the advocates' questions and suggest possible solutions.

(Updated 9/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Just one month after the Eastern Baltimore County Task Force revealed its laundry list of desired improvements for Essex’s main corridor, they have gotten enough notice from government representatives that they feel they can begin working toward their goals.

Members of the task force, together with pertinent county and state representatives, walked a portion of Essex’s business center along Eastern Boulevard Thursday, Sept. 7, to get input on how best to fix the issues they have identified.

The East County Times reported on Aug. 10 the task force’s desire to spruce up the Eastern Boulevard business corridor and increase economic interest in the area, at first through small but noticeable projects to improve aesthetics and quality of life.

The team, consisting of business owners Gary Jennings and Cliff O’Connell, former judge Robert Romadka Sr. and Back River Restoration Committee leaders Sam Weaver (also a business owner) and Karen Wynn, identified issues hindering businesses in the area. They pointed out things like trees blocking business signage, eyesores like graffiti, lack of walkability and lack of code compliance among businesses and residents.

Bryan Sheppard, community outreach representative for County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said the 400-block of Eastern Boulevard is one of the worst blocks in the area, adding that the alley behind it is also one of the worst.

Tom Hargis, of the county’s Bureau of Highways, said what he can do in the alleys is limited. While the county does own some of the alleys in the area, they only have right of way in others. Specifically, they can only trim back overgrown weeds that are directly over the alley’s paved surface. Anything else would be on private property.

However, Hargis said he could do more with the trees along the boulevard’s streetscape and had several suggestions about what can be done there.

For example, Hargis said he can remove any dead or unwanted trees along the streetscape, but actually recommends not having them at all because of the problems they cause.

“If you want them removed, I’m your guy,” he said.

Hargis noted that trees require a lot of maintenance and cause the problems seen along the corridor today when not kept in check. The holes left behind after they are removed also become a tripping hazard and must be filled in, as was the case in many spots.

Sheppard commented that the county “is now on notice” for the holes after being made officially aware of them and could be liable if someone were injured.

As a result, Randy Shiflett, also with the Bureau of Highways, arranged for all of the empty tree holes to be filled in before the walkthrough even ended.

Hargis suggested a better alternative to trees would be large flower pots along the streetscape that could be moved if needed and would be easier to maintain.

In the same vein, the brick pavers that make up much of the sidewalks are problematic because they are more difficult to maintain.

“Brick doesn’t work; it gets jagged, the tree [root]s push it up,” Hargis said, adding that the county’s solution would be to tear it up and replace it with concrete. They would then add a two-brick “ribbon” along the walkway’s road edge.

Asked about Americans with Disabilities Act compliance of the brick walkways around tree grates, Hargis said, “Most of it fails.”

Another major issue was the trash cans along the main drag, many of which are rotted out or otherwise defective, leading to trash spillage which attracts rats.

Tim Dunn, with the county’s Bureau of Solid Waste Management, said he thinks a lot of the issues pointed out are justified, but he would need to look into the budget to be able to replace the defective cans.

The county has always been responsible for emptying the cans, but has not replaced them because they did not install them in the first place, according to Dunn. If the county replaces them, they will then also maintain them, he said.

Open and overflowing dumpsters as well as graffiti, particularly in alleys, were explored as well. But those were largely recognized as issues for county code enforcement to address.

However, Sheppard said a recent code enforcement sweep of the area had begun to address the problem.

Jennings, the business owner, was excited to see a code enforcement citation posted on a business in the 400-block for failure to remove graffiti from a back wall. He also admitted that he had received such a citation for a building that he owns.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

O’Connell said the task force’s next steps would be to try to drum up more support from the surrounding neighborhoods by explaining they want to invest in improvements in the area and want to find funds for them wherever they can, from both public and private sources.

The Baltimore Sun recently reported that the downtown Towson area received a $75,000 grant from the state's Community Legacy program to install new street recycling and trash containers.

On that effort, the Towson Chamber of Commerce worked with a local state delegate to write a grant application for the funding, the Sun reported.

Sheppard stressed that any county funding for new improvements would not come until at least the next fiscal year’s budget, which will take effect in July 2018.

“But if you get the community support, that gives you some time to get working on some things” privately, he said.

O’Connell said he is hoping the group can make some improvements they can show people and get other residents and business owners to join them.

“Right now if you talk to them they say, ‘What difference does it make?’” he said. But he was optimistic that they can make progress now.

“I think something is really going to happen,” O’Connell said. “It just feels like with the amount of people and departments involved we can get something done here.”

read more

BRRC raises, pays out thousands during annual rockfish tournament

BRRC raises, pays out thousands during annual rockfish tournament
Troy Cook (center) and his team, the Wallhangers took home the top prize of $3,000. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/13/17)

- By Devin Crum -

The sun was shining, spirits were high and passion for the health of Back River and the Chesapeake Bay was on full display Saturday, Sept. 9, for the Back River Restoration Committee’s 10th annual rockfish tournament.

And while the tournament’s winners took home thousands of dollars in prizes, many more thousands were raised to benefit the BRRC and its mission to restore Back River and keep it clean for all to enjoy.

The event, which is one of the BRRC’s major yearly fundraisers, enjoyed some 84 sponsors and a record 78 boats signed up to fish starting at daybreak. And when the tournament ended at 3 p.m., three anglers were able to stand tall with their catches and prizes.

Coming in third place on the day was Ron Balding with his fish measuring 31 and five-eighths inches. For his catch, Balding and his team took home a $750 prize. They were also the winners of the $250 Riverside prize for having the largest fish caught on a boat either purchased from or docked at Riverside Marine in Essex.

Ranking second place in the tournament was Chris Mohn with his 32-inch rockfish. For his fish, Mohn and his team received a $1,250 prize.

And filling out first place was a 32 and one-quarter-inch rockfish hauled in by Troy Cook. Cook and his team, the Wallhangers, earned the top prize of $3,000 for their bounty, which weighed in at 11.56 pounds.

Cook said the waters were a little rough in the morning, but calmed down and became nicer - along with the weather - in the afternoon. He noted that the winning fish was eventually caught near Love Point on Kent Island, at the mouth of the Eastern Shore’s Chester River.

“We stayed there pretty much all day,” Cook said.

Asked what would become of the winning fish, Cook said it would not be preserved and mounted, as the team name might suggest. Instead, he planned to divide both the meat and the prize money among the team members.

While the cash prizes were a big draw for boaters and anglers to enter the tournament, the real prize for many ended up being the after-party, where there was plenty of food, drinks, camaraderie and, of course, raffles and other prizes to further benefit the BRRC.

All told, the event brought in around $20,000 for the nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, according to Executive Director Karen Wynn.

Add that to $12,000 they received from the proceeds from the annual Rockin’ on the River music festival in June and their highly successful golf tournament the same month and it has been a great year for the BRRC. And they still have their annual shrimp feast coming up, which is another of their major events, according to BRRC President Sam Weaver.

However, he stressed that the more funds they raise, the more they will be able to do for the health of Back River, which ultimately benefits the Chesapeake Bay.

“And it all goes to cleaning up Back River and the Chesapeake Bay,” Weaver said. “It’s not like any of us is making money on this.”

The BRRC has conducted frequent cleanups of the river since its founding in 2005, in addition to their operation of the Back River trash boom since 2010.

As of April this year, the group’s activities had combined to remove 2.8 million pounds of trash and other debris from the Back River watershed, which includes a large swath of Baltimore City and stretches as far north and west as Towson. According to the BRRC’s tally, they removed 801,568 pounds of trash from the river and the bay in 2016 alone, about 556,000 of which was collected at the trash boom.

They have also removed untold tires and bulk items fouling the river and its tributaries, and they acquired two new barges for use this year which have helped them haul up to 10 tons of material at a time.

The BRRC also recently received funding from the state to begin treating Back River for midges to reduce the nuisance they pose to area residents and businesses.

Midges are non-biting, mosquito-like insects present in numbers considered to be beyond nuisance-level on and around the river due to excess nutrients in the mud on which they feed. The nutrients are believed to be a result of the last century of operation of the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

BRRC volunteers, in coordination with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources, were scheduled to begin applying a larvacide to the river Monday, Sept. 11, which kills the larvae of midges and other nuisance insects like mosquitoes and black flies. The larvacide consists of a naturally-occurring bacteria which is only harmful to those larvae and does not affect humans or other animals or fish.

read more

County officials apply ‘hammer’ to ensure Seagram’s demolition continues

County officials apply ‘hammer’ to ensure Seagram’s demolition continues
Workers began taking down buildings on the property Wednesday, Aug. 30. But the county plans to enforce a $100,000 fine for failure to meet the demolition deadline, and is proposing an additional $140,000 fine to be sure the job gets done. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Marge Neal -

John Vontran, an owner of the former Seagram’s distillery property on Sollers Point Road in Dundalk, did not make his county-imposed deadline of Aug. 30 to have the abandoned buildings torn down and the debris hauled away.

Little to no visible work took place on the campus until a fire late Monday night, Aug. 28, significantly damaged one of the remaining distillery buildings. That fire came on the heels of another that occurred early in the morning of July 3, which was the catalyst for county officials to issue a fine of $100,000 and call for an expedited code enforcement hearing July 12 to force Vontran and his partners to demolish the neglected buildings.

While Vontran applied for a permit to raze the buildings in early May - about two months before the first fire - it did not get approved until Aug. 30.

Maryland Building Permits, a permits expediting company headquartered in Towson, on May 4 filed the application for a permit to raze the structures, according to a copy of the document.

As the application wound its way through the county’s process, it was approved by Planning the day it was received and by Sediment Control on May 24. It then appeared to sit dormant in the system for more than 12 weeks before the permit was issued Aug. 30 after being approved by the Environment and Permits agencies that same day.

But Arnold Jablon, director of the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, said the delay occurred because the razing permit couldn’t be approved and issued until asbestos abatement was completed.

“We needed the certification of asbestos abatement and when that came in, we issued the building permit to raze,” he said.

A sign was posted on the property’s main gate on Aug. 23, stating that asbestos removal would begin Aug. 26 and was expected to be completed in early October. The work was apparently able to be completed in four days, given the approval of the razing permit on Aug. 30.

Jablon, citing the “lack of good-faith effort” to complete the required work by the Aug. 30 deadline, said he stands by the $100,000 fine levied in July and a lien has been placed against the property for that amount.

To encourage the owners to continue the demolition and cleanup work being done, code enforcement officials have issued new citations for many of the previous violations and have recommended an additional $140,000 fine.

“This is just a hammer to make sure they keep doing the work they’re doing,” Jablon said. “Code Enforcement is not in the business of making money - we want conformance with the law.”

In the July 12 code enforcement hearing, Administrative Law Judge Lawrence Stahl ordered that the building damaged by the July 3 fire be torn down by July 26 and the rest of the remaining buildings be demolished and have all debris properly disposed of by Aug. 30. He also ordered that a $100,000 fine be levied against the owners if those deadlines were not met.

On Monday night, Aug. 28, with little to no visible work done on the property to meet the demolition deadline, the second fire in less than two months broke out in yet another structure. The new fire brought renewed attention to the looming deadline to have all the buildings demolished.

Jablon on Aug. 29 said he would move to immediately enforce the $100,000 fine and order new code enforcement citations to be issued.

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, heavy equipment and demolition personnel were on the property, beginning the razing process. Word spread quickly through the community via social media that demolition had begun.

Nearby residents expressed appreciation of the work in their online comments, and several noted they were tired of looking at the neglected buildings and fearing for the safety of their homes every time a Seagram’s building burned.

Sollers Investors has a county-approved plan to build 185 townhomes on the roughly 12-acre parcel. The owners have also entered into a voluntary agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment to perform environmental remediation on the land that is contaminated with toxins resulting from distilling processes. That remediation must be completed before home construction can begin.

Vontran did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

read more

Restored historic cannons dedicated to veterans on Defenders Day

Restored historic cannons dedicated to veterans on Defenders Day
Despite the sometimes-heavy rain, dignitaries and community representatives laid wreaths around the restored cannons in honor of all U.S. veterans. Photo by Devin Crum.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Although much of the annual Defenders Day festival was rained out on Saturday, Sept. 2, community members were still able to dedicate two fully restored historic cannons in a ceremony that kicked off the day’s events.

The cannons - two World War I-era M1906 artillery guns - have stood their post in front of Battery Harris in Fort Howard Park for more than four decades save for a one-year absence during their restoration. They were taken away in November 2015 and returned in November 2016.

Previously placed directly on the ground, the cannons’ wooden wheels had begun to deteriorate, and their metal bodies showed their age with chipping paint and rusting components.

So as part of the Keeping the Promise for Another 100 Years, community members worked with various government entities and businesses to restore the 100-year-old cannons to their former glory and preserve them for the next century.

Scott Pappas, chairman of the Keeping the Promise committee, said the project and the day’s ceremony were made possible through the generosity of the Maryland Army National Guard, Chesapeake Woodworking, Sherwin Williams and the United States WWI Centennial Commission, with additional contribution from Midway Lumber, Staples, the taxpayers of Baltimore County and the Defenders Day committee.

“The weathered cannons symbolized the American people keeping the promise to honor and care for our veterans,” Pappas told the crowd. “And the newly restored cannons serve as a tangible symbol of our veterans’ service and sacrifice, ready to stand for another 100 years.”

Pappas explained that a second phase of the project, planned for completion by Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2018, is slated to consist of a WWI memorial in the park complete with a promenade, interpretive signage, landscaping and a granite monument.

Pappas also said the project would not have happened without the leadership of committee co-chairman Sgt. First Class Leslie Ernest (ret.) of the Maryland Army National Guard.

National Guard personnel under Ernest’s command carried out much of the restoration of the cannon bodies at their installation near Havre de Grace while Chesapeake Woodworking in Baltimore restored and restructured the wooden wheels. Sherwin Williams donated all the paint needed for the project.

Ernest, a Dundalk resident, said the project started for him on a walk through Fort Howard Park in May 2015 when he noticed the cannons had fallen into disrepair.

“And being a history buff and a 31-year veteran of the military, I felt that my duty and my honor was to get the Maryland Army National Guard involved in restoring the cannons,” he said.

The long process was completed, Ernest said, “with the help of a lot of key people.”

“I think they turned out pretty decent,” he said to a round of applause. “I hope that we can continue to preserve them because, me being a history buff and being in the military and being a patriot, I can’t stand to see our cannons and our war memorials not being taken care of.”

Brig. Gen. Sean Casey, director of the Joint Staff of the Maryland National Guard, said what struck him Saturday was the history - “the history of where we’re physically located right now.”

Casey noted that both the fort and the park were named after John Eager Howard, a militia colonel and hero during the American Revolution, as well as an eventual governor of Maryland.

The British also landed on the North Point Peninsula in the area in 1814 with the intention of burning and pillaging the city of Baltimore, he said.

“But as they moved up the peninsula, they met the Maryland militia,” and the Battle of North Point ensued, Casey said, calling it a “turning point” in the war.

In addition, Francis Scott Key wrote what is now our national anthem while aboard a ship just offshore as he watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry.

“Now today, we’re honoring our veterans by dedicating these cannons, keeping the promise for another 100 years,” Casey said.

He asked all to remember the 62,000 Marylanders that answered the call for WWI, particularly the 2,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice and never came home alive.

“Today we dedicate these guns to all veterans of all wars, but specifically those from the great State of Maryland,” he stated.

read more

Access World applies for new crushing equipment at Sparrows Point

Access World applies for new crushing equipment at Sparrows Point
Image courtesy of Google.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Devin Crum -

Access World, a metals warehousing company formerly known as Pacorini Metals, is seeking a permit from the Maryland Department of the Environment to install crushing equipment at Sparrows Point to process more of their materials.

The company, which does business internationally but is headquartered on Broening Highway, operates five warehouse locations in Maryland, two of which are at Sparrows Point and employ a total of over 100 workers.

According to Len Crescenzo, Baltimore location manager for Access World, the company leases a warehouse in the former New Cold Mill building left behind from the days of steelmaking and owned by Tradepoint Atlantic. They also operate out of space at the marine terminal at the Sparrows Point Shipyard, which is separate from Tradepoint Atlantic.

They have had a presence on the site for nearly two years handling bulk and break-bulk materials.

“We’re a company that primarily, originally, had done warehousing of metals and metal-type products,” Crescenzo said, adding that the company is “a growing operation at this point” and is entering the “value added service” position in business.

“We’re very new to this part of the industry,” he said.

But in order to continue their expansion, Access World needs new crushing and screening equipment to process the bulk commodities which are brought to the Sparrows Point site to be processed then shipped out to its customers. As a result, they have applied for a permit needed from MDE before they can proceed.

“This particular permit is for two 500-ton-per-hour crushing plants and four 200-ton-per-hour screening plants,” said Michael Cirri, president and chief financial officer for Jenkins Environmental, Inc., Access World’s environmental consultant who wrote the application.

Cirri said all of the crushing activities under the permit would be conducted inside of a building, which would go a long way to help limit fugitive emissions. Both crushing plants could be operated on either electricity or diesel engines, he added.

The types of materials they plan to process in the plants include but are not limited to various commodities such as aggregates, metallics and grain, Cirri said.

The MDE permit application, available on the MDE website, includes a full list of the commodities to be processed.

Cirri also noted that the permit would allow Access World to carry out similar operations to what was permitted and conducted by Kinder Morgan at Sparrows Point and to what MCM Management Corporation currently does on the industrial site.

MCM has worked at Sparrows Point for the last five years processing slag from on-site. They applied for a MDE permit in June for use of similar equipment.

Access World would only be processing materials from other places, however, be they domestic or international.

“As of right now, we don’t have anything in-house from The Point,” Crescenzo said. “Everything that we’re looking at to crush will all be brought from somewhere else.”

In addition to the crushing operations taking place indoors, the company plans to use wet suppression on any outdoor activities to control fugitive dust, Cirri said.

The screening operations will take place outside and will make use of wet suppression techniques, as well as a water truck for wet suppression of haul roads.

“In this type of operation, the primary concern is to control dust,” he said.

Cirri described the project as a non-major source of emissions.

“That means our pollutants of concern are all below the major threshold limits,” he said. The pollutants would result from the operation of diesel engines.

And all emissions calculations, Cirri said, were based on the maximum throughput that each piece of equipment is capable of processing.

In addition, Access World is committed to maintaining a 12-month rolling average of emissions for all of their equipment, Cirri said. “So they’re going to calculate the emissions every month, and this level of record keeping is going to ensure that they don’t exceed the major source threshold.”

Shannon Heafey, an administrator with MDE’s Air Quality Permits Program, said following the informal meeting, which was held Aug. 24, the department began its technical review of the proposal. Taking into consideration concerns raised at the meeting, she said, they would determine if it would meet their standards. Any resulting draft permit would be available for public review before being issued.

read more

New school year, new superintendent, new challenges

New school year, new superintendent, new challenges
Interim Superintendent Verletta White stopped by a science class at Woodlawn High School Tuesday, telling the freshmen to “relax and have fun while focusing on the road ahead.” Photo by Patrick Taylor.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Patrick Taylor -

Baltimore County Public Schools kicked off the school year on Tuesday, with over 110,000 students returning to classes around the county.

Verletta White, the new interim superintendent of BCPS, spent the first few days touring schools across the county, including Chesapeake and Kenwood high schools, Perry Hall Middle and Seneca Elementary, which were planned for Wednesday.

“I want to be in schools as often as possible,” said White. “There’s an excitement that comes with the first day of school, and I have that this year.”

That excitement has been palpable since she spent the day greeting teachers at the supply giveaway two weekends ago, and it was echoed by Board of Education member Julie Henn.

“I’m excited about working with our new superintendent,” said Henn. “Having worked her way up from a teacher to an administrator I think she brings a really great background and has shown a great willingness to work with the Board on what we feel needs to be addressed.”

Henn stated that this year one of the main focuses of the Board will be on disciplinary issues within the schools, citing concerns expressed by administrators and community stakeholders in schools across the county.

The issue of student behavior and violence has been of concern to legislators, including the entire Sixth District Delegation, Delegate Pat McDonough and Councilman Todd Crandell. In letter sent out by Crandell and the Sixth District Delegation, they wrote that “there have been many incidents throughout our district - in elementary, middle and high schools - that include criminal violence, bullying and other forms of harassment that have no place in our schools.” The letter goes on to say that they are “troubled by the lack of consistency in consequences and sound disciplinary policy.”

According to Henn, the public will have a chance to give their input at an open meeting in the fall, but she acknowledged that she already knows some changes need to be made.

“We hear from certain schools that student behavior is a problem and we need to address that,” said Henn. “The Board will be revisiting that. I’m looking forward to [the input meeting] and what the public has to say. Hopefully we can get a lot of teacher input as well and we’ll be able to revisit the policies and strengthen those.”

But according to a recent press release sent out by Grammer, any plans for a hearing have yet to reach the ears of legislators.

“Fall is here, schools are about to reopen, no planning has been executed and the entire issue has been written off as hearsay by the ‘Education Establishment’ in Towson,” Grammer’s release reads in part. (The rest of his letter can be found on page 8 of this week’s issue.)

While it seems that the main issue of the year will be discipline, Henn also noted that there is still a lot of work to be done with regard to facilities upgrades and alleviating overcrowding. She noted that Dulaney, Towson and Lansdowne high schools all need to be replaced and also that overcrowding at the middle school level still leaves a lot to be desired.

“I’m trying to work with the superintendent to find out what short-term relief we can put in place until we get the new [Perry Hall] middle school up in 2021,” said Henn.

The beginning of this school year also saw the completion of a lot of school air conditioning projects on the east side, with Orems, Pleasant Plains, Chapel Hill, Kingsville and Oakleigh elementary schools, as well as Golden Ring and Middle River middle schools, all getting their installations finished over the summer.

“I am so excited for the students, teachers and staff who will be starting off this school year with air conditioning in their classrooms. This is a great win for students and teachers who deserve a comfortable learning and teaching environment,” said Councilwoman Cathy Bevins (D-6).

Councilman David Marks and Henn also expressed their excitement, with Henn adding that she could “not only see the difference, but also feel the difference,” after touring Kingsville and Chapel Hill.

The only schools left without air conditioning are schools that are being replaced or renovated, which includes Berkshire, Colgate and Dundalk elementary schools, as well as Kenwood High School.

read more

New homes planned for off Philadelphia Road in White Marsh

New homes planned for off Philadelphia Road in White Marsh
The new development would have access off Holter Road rather than Thirteen Mile Lane, which is a private road. Another piece on the far side of Thirteen Mile Lane would be designated for forest conservation. Image courtesy of Little & Associates, Inc.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Virginia Terhune -

Gemcraft Homes, based in Bel Air, plans to build 17 new houses off Philadelphia Road in White Marsh.

The wooded site, which also includes two existing houses, will be called Overlook at Honeygo. It is located east of Interstate 95 between Thirteen Mile Lane, a private road, and Holter Road, which serves an existing residential neighborhood.

Several residents said they would have preferred access via Thirteen Mile Lane, but that would likely mean making that road public with consent from abutting property owners.

County Administrative Law Judge John Beverungen held a hearing about the development plan on Thursday, Aug. 31, in Towson, and his decision is expected in about two weeks. His approval is needed before the project can proceed.

Most affected is the neighboring community of 13 houses called Honeygo Springs at the southern end of Holter Road, which currently dead-ends in a T that terminates in two cul de sacs.

One resident, who lives on the northern cul de sac that will be eliminated to make way for the extension of Holter Road to the new homes, attended the Thursday hearing.

She said that young neighborhood children routinely play in the cul de sac and that she is concerned about truck traffic passing through the neighborhood during construction and residential traffic once people move in.

County officials testified that they have approved most of the concept plan except for stormwater management plans, which will be addressed in more detail later in the development process.

Proposed is a bio-retention area and a sand filter area, as well as bio-swales to contain water runoff, according to the site plan.

Trees will be cut down on much of the site except for two forest buffer areas, according to the plan. A special variance from forest buffer requirements to allow the removal of three “specimen trees” was approved in May by the county Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.

Specimen trees are those whose trunks are 30 inches or more in diameter roughly chest height from the ground.

The developers have also agreed to pay the county a $39,100 fee in lieu of meeting open space requirements, according to an approval from the county Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

At the hearing, the Holter Road resident said Chapel Hill Elementary is already considered officially overcrowded, which can in some situations require that a hold be put on new construction.

Gemcraft representatives said a new elementary school, which is funded and under construction at East Joppa Road and Chapel Road, is due to open in August 2018 before the new houses are completed, probably within 15 months to two years from now.

That includes an estimated nine to 12 months until a grading permit is issued, followed by four to six months for installation of roads and utilities, plus four to six months for home construction.

The new subdivision will also need to comply with the county’s Honeygo building design guidelines, which will be reviewed for compliance as the project gets closer to construction.

Decisions by the county administrative law judge are posted at

read more

Chorus of the Chesapeake to offer lessons in perfect harmony

Chorus of the Chesapeake to offer lessons in perfect harmony
Kevin King (left) directed a recent performance of the Chorus of the Chesapeake at the 200th anniversary of the dedication of the Aquila Randall monument in Dundalk. Photo by Marge Neal.

(Updated 9/7/17)

- By Marge Neal -

If you sing in the shower or car, are always up for a night of karaoke or have visions of performing in community theater or singing in a church choir, the Chorus of the Chesapeake has a deal for you.

The venerable men’s barbershop harmony group, headquartered in Dundalk, is offering a free vocal music education program called “Ready? Set, Sing!”

Chorus director Kevin King will lead five weekly vocal lessons at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Sept. 26 through Oct. 24, at the North Point Government Center, 771 Wise Ave. in Dundalk.

King, a 30-year music educator, has music in his blood. He’s the son of the late Fred King, who was a long-time music teacher for Baltimore County Public Schools and a nearly six-decade barbershopper with extensive directorial experience. Fred King directed the Chorus of the Chesapeake from 1966 to 1996. The group won the international chorus competition in 1971 under his leadership.

The free lessons are being provided with no strings attached in part to celebrate the chorus’ 60th anniversary, according to Bill Day, a member of the group.

“We did this in the spring and it was pretty successful so we thought we’d try it again,” Day said. “And while we picked up a couple of guys then, there is absolutely no obligation to join the chorus.”

The a cappella chorus was chartered in 1957 as the Dundalk chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society, according to an online history of the group. The group now has about 120 members “on the rolls,” according to Day, with about 50 active members.

“Some guys can no longer get out to performances but they continue to pay their dues because of their devotion to the group,” Day said.

The chorus is known for its community involvement, with performances at events such as the Dundalk Heritage Fair and other public gatherings. A small portion of the chorus performed at the July celebration of the bicentennial of the Aquila Randall monument - a Battle of North Point historical marker - in Dundalk.

The group is honored to be singing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Baltimore Orioles baseball game on Sept. 19, Day said.

There is no minimum or maximum age to join, according to Day, though most members are 21 and older.

“Every once in a while, we get a high school student, and they are welcome to join,” he said. “But most members are of adult age.”

Each participant will be assessed and lessons will be tailored to meet each person’s ability and goals. Space is limited. Interested male singers should register before Sept. 26 by calling Linden White at 410-836-7594 or sending an email to

read more