Opposition to Government Center plan continues
Wednesday, 02 April 2014 15:41

 

A post-submission community meeting about plans for the North Point Government Center site will be held on April 10. photo by Ben Boehl

Meeting to start early stages of PUD process

by Ben Boehl

    The first three months of 2014 have been mostly silent when it comes to the future of the North Point Government Center, but it appears the planned unit development (PUD) process is about to get underway, with a post-submission community meeting to be held at Dundalk High School on Thursday, April 10 from 5:30 to 9 p.m.
    The Baltimore County Council approved the sale of the Government Center property to Vanguard Commercial Development Inc. after the developer’s bid was selected by a Baltimore County panel.
    Vanguard bid $2.1 million for 15 acres of the 27.8 acres of the North Point Government Center property.
    Vanguard co-founder Len Weinberg told The Eagle that he has never been through a PUD process as extensive as the Government Center property.
    “I don’t know what to expect,” Weinberg said. “We do need to talk about the process, and I’m hoping to hear from the community.”
    The Vanguard plan calls for the company to turn those 15 acres into a retail center along the Wise Avenue front of the property, which will be called Merritt Pavilion.
    Vanguard would then build a new 21,000-square-foot facility for Baltimore County recreation programs including indoor soccer, wrestling, theater and singing groups.
    The athletic fields would be retained by the county, with enhancements to baseball dugouts and spectator bleachers provided by Vanguard.
    An amphitheater was included in plans, but there have been rumors that Vanguard might drop the idea of an outdoor theatre.
    According to Weinberg, Vanguard still plans to build the amphitheater.
    “Hopefully the design of the amphitheater will stay, as it was included in the RFP,” he said.
    Weinberg said he hopes the new recreation center will be open by mid-to-late 2015 and that Merritt Pavilion will be open and have stores operating by fall 2016.
    The Government Center site has been the center of controversy since the county announced it was putting the property up for sale in December 2012.
    The opposition group Dundalk United was formed by residents opposed to the county’s proposal to sell the Government Center. When Vanguard was announced as the winning bidder, the group initially appeared  divided, with some Dundalk United members saying they still completely opposed the Vanguard plan, and others saying they wanted to work with Vanguard on the project.
    Now that the PUD process is starting, members of Dundalk United again appear unanimously opposed to the Vanguard plan.
    Former Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks Director and Dundalk United member Bob Staab  said that he attended Vanguard meetings on three separate occasions but is not happy with the feedback he has received.
    “In essence, the potential sale of North Point has set a precedent for Recreation and Parks property being sold for commercial development in Baltimore County .... North Point was one of the most utilized recreation properties, both indoor and outdoor,  in the southeastern section of the county.”
    He said he is concerned about space, since under the Vanguard plan, less than 13 acres will be dedicated to the recreation center and athletic fields.
    He believes something closer to 20 acres will be needed to provide open space for the outdoor multi-purpose courts and the unmarked acreage at the corner of Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard that is used for events like carnivals and flea markets.
    “It is not likely that we will be able to fit 20 acres into 12.7 acres, and the Vanguard representative has said several times that they have a finite amount of dollars to work with on the recreation site,” Stabb added. 
    “Therefore, any amount of space that is forced upon us will eat up our square footage and available dollars.”
    Staab said if Vanguard is going to leave less than 13 acres for recreational use, he wants the company to remove some elements of the project.        “At each meeting, opinions have been voiced in opposition to the outdoor-theater, the ‘tot lot’ area, the 90-foot [baseball] diamond and the parking area next to Merritt Boulevard,” he said.
    Staab argued that the outdoor theatre is not a “community priority” and that a “tot lot” is not needed because there are already two playgrounds at Grange Elementary School and the one at Moorgate Park.
    He added that the baseball diamonds are mostly used by younger children and thus a regulation-size field is not necessary.
    Dave Patro, president of the North Point Village Civic Association and a Dundalk United member, told The Eagle that he was not aware of the meeting Staab had with Vanguard and was unhappy that all members of the Dundalk United group were not included.
    “I’m flabbergasted if people had a meeting behind close doors. If you are going to have a group, we are going to have to stand together,” Patro said.
    “I was not informed [about the meeting]. That meeting should have been open to the public, and we all needed to sit down together.”
    Staab responded that the community was not invited to any of the meetings and that the first meeting was a general meeting at Logan Elementary School. Staab said the other two meetings were held for the recreation councils to discuss matters such as individual program space needs. Staab said he went to the meetings.
    “I did not have any personal meetings with Vanguard and for the most part, [neither] members of Dundalk United nor the community in general were invited,” he noted.
    Weinberg acknowledged that he has met with a small group of people on one occasion and that his architect has met with a local group on multiple occasions.
    Weinberg also said that the plan is in its early stages and he looks forward to hearing from community members at the meeting.
    Staab said the uncertainty is why he believes the county should never have put the Government Center up for sale.
    “In general, the community has been given a horrendous task to attempt to replace a Recreation and Parks facility that is non-replaceable and should never have been sold,” Stabb noted.
    “The facility belonged to the people of Baltimore County, and the county should never have had the discretion to sell off such a valuable asset.”
    Patro said he still opposes the sale of the Government Center, but did not want to comment on the specifics of the Vanguard proposal until he saw the presentation in its entirety at the April 10 meeting.
    “I have no idea if it is a good or bad thing,” Patro noted.