Council approves Vanguard bid on Government Center
Wednesday, 04 December 2013 13:17


The County Council approved the sale of the Government Center on Monday.  photo by Ben Boehl

Dundalkians testify at work session on plan

by Ben Boehl

On Monday, the Baltimore County Council approved the sale of the North Point Government property to Vanguard Commercial Development Inc. by a vote of  7 to 0.
    County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. voted in favor of the Vanguard deal.
    “It allows the process to move forward. There will still be community input meetings as part of the PUD process,” Olszewski explained.
    The council also voted in favor of the sale of the Towson Fire Station and Public Works Facility and the Randallstown Police Substation.   
    Residents of Dundalk made the trip to Towson on Nov. 26 to testify in a council work session on the Vanguard proposal.
    One of the new leading voices against the Vanguard proposal is Norwood Holabird Community Association (NHCA) president John Ayres.
    He said that he had remained quiet during the proposal process, but now is speaking up against the Vanguard proposal.
    “There are high tension wires (at the site of the proposed 21,000-square-foot recreation center). Under federal law, you can’t build anything 65 feet within those towers,” Ayres said.
    According to Ayres, the Government Center and Grange Elementary are “grandfathered in” because the buildings were constructed before the towers were built in the 1970s.
    Ellen Kobler, a spokesperson for Baltimore County Government, said it will be the responsibility of Vanguard to follow all federal and state guidelines and that Vanguard must work with BGE.
    “Exploration of these issues would fall to the developer as part of its due diligence, and would occur prior to closing through feasibility studies and the development process and any such issues will be evaluated by the Department of Public Works during the development process,” Kobler said in a written statement.
    “Clearly, all development is required to comply with federal and state regulations.”
    Another concern that Ayres has is the pipeline that he says is underneath the property.
    Ayres claims that pipeline has not been inspected within the last 40 years.
    Rachel L. Lighty, a spokesperson for BGE, said that pipeline is new.
    “That pipeline was extensively inspected and upgraded in 2012, and the section of pipe that crosses under Wise Avenue was upgraded and replaced as part of our casing replacement program in 2012,” Lighty said.
    However Lighty confirmed Ayres’ claim there are restrictions on building beneath high-tension wires.
    “There are various codes that cover the minimum clearances to buildings from the energized live wires.  Generally, utilities and contractors follow the National Electric Safety Code.
    “BGE follows this code and also looks at the voltage of the line, the location of the wire on a hot day, and the location on a windy day, and uses these to evaluate clearances.  This just directly manages safety clearance, and often will restrict work,” Lighty said.
    “In the vicinity south of Wise (Avenue) and west of Church (Road), BGE has a right of way 205 feet wide, obtained through agreements from 1931 and 1959. 
    “These right-of-way agreements prohibit any building or structure from being erected within the easement area.”
    Ayres testified at the Nov. 26 work session but said he expected the council to approve the deal, which they did.
    “We gave it the old college try. I did what I had to do,” Ayres said.
    Kamenetz is scheduled to be the guest speaker at the next NHCA meeting on Dec. 16 and Ayres said he is hopeful that he will be given the answers to his safety questions.
    “If the County Executive can deliver to me an answer to my safety concerns (about the high tension towers and pipeline) in writing, I will put it up for vote at the meeting,” said Ayres, stating that the NHCA will take an official vote of its membership at that meeting.
    Debbie Staigerwald, director of the Sky is the Limit theatre program at the Government Center, also made her case to the County Council. She said she wanted more time for the community to look at the Vanguard plan.
    “We asked for an extension of six months (on a vote). I don’t think that is unreasonable, since the process has taken over a year,” Staigerwald said.
    Bob Long, a Republican candidate for the House of Delegates and a real estate broker, testified at the work session as well, and added that he believes that there might have been less animosity towards the sale of the Government Center if the county government had been more transparent about the deal.
    “Vanguard might be the best for Dundalk, but it is more about the lack of transparency,” Long said. “People don’t like change anyway, and they are mad that the process was not open.”
    Long said he is worried about the systematics of the deal. He said that he is concerned about what will happen after Vanguard takes over the deal.
    Even though Vanguard has to go through the PUD process, Long said that Vanguard will have more flexibility since they would already own the property.
    Long said he would like to see “a covenant and restrictions” placed in the deed of the Government Center property.
    Olszewski responded that the deal is not officially  done; it is just moving forward. He added that the community will have input at three to four public meetings and Vanguard still has to meet the proper regulations before the deal goes through.
    “Dundalk United tried to say the property couldn’t be [subject to] covenant, but the county still has control.”
    Not every Dundalk resident who attended the work session opposed the Vanguard plan.
    Amy Menzer, executive director of the Dundalk Renaissance Corp., asked the council to approve the Vanguard plan.
    Menzer said she spoke on behalf of the DRC board of directors in favor of the Vanguard proposal. Menzer spoke to The Eagle about some of the points she highlighted in the speech to the council.
    She said  the DRC supports the Vanguard proposal  because it enhances an existing asset — the North Point Government Center fields — and said it will add another new piece of development to the community along with the new high schools, the Yorkway redevelopment and Stansbury Shores.
    Menzer also said she told the council that the fields at the Government Center should not be considered a parkland, as has been argued by Dundalk United.
    However; Menzer said that the DRC agrees with Long and others on the county’s handling of the whole process.
    “The process for how this played out was horrible,” Menzer wrote in an e-mail.
    “But the opportunity to achieve something better at the Government Center site is before the County Council, and DRC supports the sale of the partial acreage at the Government Center to Vanguard.”