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Dundalk Unites Against Baltimore County Property Decisions

Dundalk residents are not happy with plans to sell the North Point Government Center and to close Eastwood Elementary Magnet School.

It was anything but quiet in the North Point Library meeting room Saturday morning.

More than 125 people packed the room to air their concerns about recent Baltimore County decisions to close Eastwood Elementary Magnet School and sell the North Point Government Center property at the corner of Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue.

Emotions ran high among residents who said they are tired of being ignored, tired of being lied to and tired of being told by outsiders what's best for their community.

And most of all, they said, they are tired of closed-door meetings in which major community decisions are made without community input.

"We're pretty tired of people not giving us a say, not asking our opinion and having other people tell us what's best for Dundalk," John Long, an organizer of the meeting, said. "And they don't live in Dundalk—most of them."

The meeting was called by Dundalk United, a new community coalition created to present a unified voice for community concerns regarding the property decisions.

Rich Foot, a parent of two Eastwood Elementary students; Debbie Staigerwald, the director of The Sky is the Limit community theater in residence at the government center; and Long, the founder of Clean Bread and Cheese Creek, coordinated the meeting.

"Who here loves Dundalk?" Long asked the crowd. He was answered in cheers and whoops.

"Who's tired of us being the back seat of Baltimore County?" he asked, and received a similar response.

At issue are the decisions to sell the government center, a former junior high school building that is now home to North Point Police Precinct 12, the community theater program, many indoor community sports and other recreation programs, elected officials' offices and other government organizations and services.

The site also includes outdoor athletic fields that are used by organized leagues and by children in the community, according to Eastfield-Stanbrook resident Patricia Paul.

The property also abuts the Lynch Cove stream, which is an environmental concern, according to Long.

Dundalk's annual Independence Day fireworks are launched from the center's campus, and crowds gather there to watch the production.

The story surfaced just about a month ago that Baltimore County officials planned to sell the property.

At the same time, parents of students at Norwood and Eastwood Elementary schools and Holabird Middle School were invited to a meeting to hear of county plans to close Eastwood and consolidate the three schools' populations at Norwood and Holabird, although under a new name.

Residents are concerned that they were brought in to the game way too late, and believe the decisions are done and they are now being given "lip service" in regard to now being allowed to voice their opinions.

The Request for Proposals that was issued by Baltimore County for the North Point property calls for an acceptable replacement recreation center of at least 21,000 square feet and fields comparable to the existing fields.

Baltimore County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., who came to the meeting about 40 minutes after it started, appeared angry and flustered when he addressed the crowd.

He said the community had misinformation regarding his stance on the topic,  and he wanted to "put to bed" those rumors. He accused a newspaper of taking some of his comments out of context.

Olszewski said the community would not be losing anything, and stands to come out ahead, with better facilities than it has now. Conditions are not good at the government center, which suffers from roof leaks and mold problems, he said.

The councilman said he would not support a bid that did not promise equal or better facilities than currently exist, and said he was in control of the decision.

"I'm not going to let them take anything away unless it's equal or better," Olszewski Sr. said of the RFP process. "I won't support it, period."

Staigerwald told the councilman that the community wants guarantees now that replacement facilities will be provided, and not sometime "down the road."

"And we want to be part of the process," she said.

"You will be," Olszewski said. "And you always have been."

At that point, the crowd erupted in jeers and a chorus of "No."

The crowd got vocal several times. A woman in the back of the room called out that "Kevin Kamenetz is not for us," and called him a "coward."

Another resident called out, "Do you trust these people?" referring to elected leaders, and the response was a resounding "No" from the crowd.

Olszewski said he "can't stress enough" that if the bids don't meet the needs of the community, he won't support the sale of the property.

"I have control over what happens to the government center," he said. "It has to come to the county council."

In what has long been known as "councilmanic courtesy," the six other councilmen would be supportive of Olszewski's stance on the RFP, with the understanding that individual councilmen know what's best for their respective districts, he said.

"We'll support whatever you decide as a community, and that's my pledge to you today," Olszewski said.

Laura Quintana January 17, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Mr. Beeler, I'm neither suggesting "sinister reasons" nor "discrimination" of any kind when it comes to not having answers to inquires on vacant properties for lease. I was actually wondering if there was a reason for this that someone may suggest. I would actually suspect this is more about an unprofessional approach to business than anything else. But I do agree that in a time when the real estate business is a bit slow it is bad business not to answer serious inquiries about a property.
Buzz Beeler January 17, 2013 at 11:46 PM
Laura, just some thoughts. There is no reason why they don't answer the phone especially if you contacted multiple firms. I would take a trip to the office if possible and see why they are not getting back to you.
Jay Fitzgerald January 18, 2013 at 01:25 PM
Actually Buzz's 'discrimination' comment may be right on target. Don't think for a minute realtors, bankers, business don't look at the phone exchange number or run a' quick check on your name to see whether or not they feel it's worth their time or not. When trying to secure a loan a few years ago, having perfect credit and borrowing on the home we had paid off many years prior for another property for which we had 50% down...we had one bank literally laugh at us and say 'there's NO home in Dundalk worth your perceived appraisal'...hung up on me!!!! FYI...our home appraised OVER what I thought it would and we easily got the loan elsewhere. Trying to get realtors to SHOW us properties was also a problem. Keep after your hunt for a good lease and NEGOTIATE!! Good luck!
Buzz Beeler January 18, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Jay that goes right to Laura's issue. I was not aware of that protocol involving banks and how it impacts real estate issues in this area. It seems thy are prejudging without looking at the facts.
Beacon Pointe May 25, 2013 at 03:46 AM
Johnny O. Should be ashamed for letting the community become run down, stay out of the seahorse n help the community's that have rat infestation. i believe there will be less votes for him if people realize he is not doing anything to help the community, its to benefit himself and other politicians.

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