By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
8:02 PM EDT, October 24, 2013
Baltimore County officials, looking to sell off public property for private development, have selected proposals to build a Royal Farms gas station in Towson, a shopping center in Dundalk and expanded parking for a nursing home in Randallstown.
Thursday's announcement follows months of deliberation by a committee that was assembled to evaluate the eight bids the county received for the three taxpayer-owned properties. The proposals now go to the County Council, which will decide whether to grant final approval. A council vote is scheduled Nov. 18.
The buildings for sale are the North Point Government Center in Dundalk, the fire station at York Road and Bosley Avenue in Towson, and a police substation on Liberty Road in Randallstown.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the county would use proceeds from the sales to build facilities in other locations, and the winning bidders would expand the county's tax base by redeveloping sites along heavily traveled commercial corridors.
"We're faced with a dilemma of having aging infrastructure, aging schools that require tremendous capital expense," he said.
The plan to sell the Dundalk center sparked outrage among some residents, who felt the county was secretive during deliberations and objected to selling recreational facilities for private use. Residents use the center for sports activities, theater performances and choral practice.
Officials said they did not base their selections solely on bidding prices, but also on such factors as how the developments would fit into the community.
The committee chose Vanguard Commercial Development to redevelop the Dundalk site. The company, which bid about $2.1 million for 15 acres of the 27-acre site, has proposed a "retail town center." It plans to keep the ballfields at the site and build a 21,000-square-foot recreation center that would include a theater, as well as a playground and an amphitheater with a gazebo pavilion.
"It retains all of the existing field space and allows all of the uses to occur without disruption," Kamenetz said. "Those who were concerned about losing what they have don't lose a thing."
But a group called Dundalk United said Thursday it would keep fighting. The group, which formed to oppose the sale, said the center "connects and binds generations to the Dundalk area."
"The total lack of transparency displayed by Mr. Kamenetz and others involved with this issue is most troubling," the group said in a statement.
Sollers Investors LLC was the only other bidder for the Dundalk site. The group, which includes developer John Vontran, bid $5 million for the property and proposed "big-box" retail. It proposed relocating the athletic fields and recreation center to the site of the former Seagrams whiskey distillery owned by Vontran on Sollers Point Road.
Kamenetz said he understood Dundalk residents' frustration over the process but that the county had to be tight-lipped to protect the committee from outside influence.
"I was very careful to avoid any participation in the process," he said. "Most of [the bidders] are prominent developers who are known in this county."
In Towson, CVP-TF LLC, a company associated with the development firm Caves Valley Partners, bid $8.3 million for the firehouse property. It proposes a Royal Farms gas station and convenience store, as well as 10,000 square feet of retail and a 4,200-square-foot space that could be a restaurant or bank.
Other bids for the Towson property, which drew the most interest of the three sites, ranged from $75,000 for a fraction of an acre to about $6.1 million.
The Randallstown property is adjacent to a 160-bed skilled nursing center operated by Genesis HealthCare, the only company to bid on the site. It bid $275,000 and has proposed razing the police substation to make way for more parking at the center.
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