Rul­ing dims hopes for Dun­dalk cen­ter sale

Court says any deal needs OK from top state of­fi­cials

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Pamela Wood pwood@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/pwoodreporter

A state ap­peals court this week dealt a blow to Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz’s plan to sell an old gov­ern­ment cen­ter in Dun­dalk to a devel­oper to trans­form into a shop­ping cen­ter.

The Mary­land Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals ruled Wed­nes­day that the deal needs ap­proval of top state of­fi­cials — a step Gov. Larry Ho­gan has not been willing to take.

Kamenetz con­tends that re­de­vel­op­ing the gov­ern­ment cen­ter will of­fer an eco­nomic boost for Dun­dalk.

Ellen Kobler, a spokes­woman for the county ex­ec­u­tive, said af­ter the court rul­ing: “We re­main hope­ful that the Board of Public Works will do its job and ap­prove the project.”

Kamenetz de­cided in 2012 to sell the North Point Gov­ern­ment Cen­ter at the corner of Mer­ritt Boule­vard and Wise Av­enue, as well as two other county-owned prop­er­ties, to pri­vate de­vel­op­ers. Van­guard Com­mer­cial De­vel­op­ment, a Bal­ti­more­based firm that de­vel­ops shop­ping cen­ters and drug­stores, sub­mit­ted the win­ning bid for the gov­ern­ment cen­ter.

Van­guard would pay $7.6 mil­lion to the county in a com­bi­na­tion of cash, a pay­ment plan and for­go­ing fu­ture tax cred­its. The com­pany has en­vi­sioned a mixed-use project called Mer­ritt Pav­il­ion that would in­clude med­i­cal of­fices, re­tail stores, ca­sual restau­rants and a gas sta­tion.

The deal faced op­po­si­tion, first from res­i­dents who didn’t want the gov­ern­ment and com­mu­nity cen­ter turned into a re­tail project, and later from Ho­gan and Comptroller Peter Fran­chot.

State of­fi­cials say sell­ing the prop­erty to a pri­vate com­pany re­quires ap­proval of the state Board of Public Works be­cause the gov­ern­ment cen­ter was once a ju­nior high school — and be­cause the state is­sued bonds to build that school.

Van­guard chal­lenged that po­si­tion in court, say­ing the state shouldn’t have a say in the mat­ter, and Bal­ti­more County sup­ported that ar­gu­ment. Ear­lier this year, a Bal­ti­more County cir­cuit judge agreed, rul­ing the Board of Public Works ap­proval was not needed.

But the Court of Spe­cial Ap­peals’ 45page opin­ion re­v­erses that de­ci­sion.

“The reg­u­la­tion re­quires Bal­ti­more County to seek and ob­tain the ap­proval of Board of Public Works be­fore dis­pos­ing of the for­mer school prop­erty,” Judge Kevin F. Arthur wrote for the court.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Ho­gan and Fran­chot, who hold two of the three seats on the Board of Public Works, say the gov­ern­ment cen­ter sale is not likely to be ap­proved as cur­rently pro­posed.

“The gover­nor will not sup­port a scheme that was hatched be­hind closed doors and is op­posed by the vast ma­jor­ity of Dun­dalk res­i­dents,” Ho­gan spokes­woman Amelia Chasse said in a state­ment. “If the county wants to move this project for­ward, they will do what the Board of Public Works rec­om­mended over a year ago and de­velop a new plan with in­put from the lo­cal com­mu­nity.”

Peter Hamm, a spokesman for Fran­chot, said the county “needs to ap­proach the po­ten­tial de­vel­op­ment ... in a more in­clu­sive and trans­par­ent man­ner than it has in the past.”

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