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Developer drops pursuit of Dundalk government center project

Vontran to focus on senior housing, offices at former distillery, won't look to build 'big box' stores at North Point site

By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

7:15 PM EDT, June 13, 2012

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A Baltimore County developer said he has abandoned pursuit of building "big box" stores at the site of the North Point Government Center in Dundalk and moving those offices to the site of a nearby former whiskey distillery that he owns.

John Vontran of Perry Hall said this week that he had dropped the idea, which received mixed reviews in the community and no public backing from county officials, including the district councilman.

"It was just an idea," Vontran said after a public hearing at Patapsco High School at which opponents outnumbered supporters of his remaining project: a mix of senior housing and offices at the old Joseph E. Seagram & Sons property on Sollers Point Road in Dundalk. The hearing was held before the County Council, which is considering a revised zoning map in a process conducted every four years.

Vontran's 14 acres with several vacant buildings are designated for houses, but he wants that changed to allow a mix of residences and offices, a move that has been recommended by the Office of Planning staff and the Planning Board. The final decision is up to the council, which is expected to vote by mid-September.

He never filed any formal plans with the county, but starting in January, Vontran held several meetings with community organizations in the Dundalk area to present his idea. He proposed razing the Government Center at Merritt Boulevard and Wise Avenue, using that land for stores such as Target or Lowe's, and moving the offices to Sollers Point Road. According to several people who attended the meetings, Vontran presented drawings showing possible positions of the buildings on the lots, but no detailed plans.

County officials never signed on publicly. A county spokeswoman would say only that in pursuit of greater "efficiency" in operations, the administration was "evaluating the future of the North Point Government Center."

County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Democrat who represents the Dundalk area, said he had taken no position on the idea and urged Vontran to gauge community reaction to it.

The Dundalk Renaissance Corp. — a nonprofit established to revitalize the peninsula — wrote letters in April to the county's Department of Economic Development, the Office of Planning and Olszewski that did not mention Vontran by name but said the Government Center site was worth serious consideration for commercial development.

Opponents argued that there were already too many empty stores in the area, that they did not want to see the police precinct move and were concerned about the potential loss of ballfields used by local youth leagues.

One of those opponents, Rose Mary Tallon of Dundalk, said she was pleased to hear of Vontran's decision to abandon the idea.

"I applaud it," Tallon said in an email. "I look forward to his redeveloping the Seagram's site with senior housing," said Tallon, who said she opposes rezoning the spot for offices.

Tallon, who said she has 15 years of experience in evaluating commercial real estate, said "there is no market for new office space in Dundalk, and this economic condition will likely remain unchanged for at least the next generation."

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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