The nine candidates running for legislative office stressed community input when asked about the future use of the Spring Grove Hospital Center during an open candidate forum hosted by the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce Thursday night.
All seven candidates — six Democrats and one Republican — contending for two open seats in the newly redrawn District 44B attended the event, along with the two Democrats vying to be the next senator to represent the newly configured District 44.
The seven candidates running for state delegate include Democrats Aaron Barnett, Barry "Bishop Barry" Chapman, Rainier Harvey, Charles Sydnor, Pat Young and Frederick Ware-Newsome as well as Republican Michael Russell.
Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, who currently represents District 10 that includes part of Catonsville, is running against incumbent state Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell for the District 44 senate seat.
Candidates had two minutes to respond to the question: "What are your feelings about the best future use for the Spring Grove property and what efforts will you take to ensure that vision?"
The Spring Grove Hospital Center is a 200-acre campus with a 425-bed complex that provides psychiatric services to adults and adolescents owned and operated by the state.
What will happen with the property has been a hot button issue for some Catonsville residents who were unhappy with plans for its development.
Jones-Rodwell, who currently represents District 44 in Baltimore City, said she'd bring all parties to the table to, "make sure that any type of development that happens in Catonsville is done with the input of all parties."
"I don't believe developers should come in and mandate what should be developed on a property, especially a property that large — a property that has been in the government's hands. It should be done for the betterment of the community," she said.
Nathan-Pulliam said it should be a community collaboration.
"There's many things that could happen on that space, but I think we need to work together...and have our state and local government come together," said Nathan-Pulliam, a business owner and nurse.
Barry "Bishop Barry" Chapman, 56, a businessman and resident of the Villa Nova community off Liberty Road, said he doesn't want to see the land unused.
"We need to really study this. We need input from the community. We need to have input from the businesses here in Catonsville," Chapman said. "We don't need sprawling acres of land owned by the state just sitting there, not being an economic engine in Catonsville."
Pat Young, a 30-year-old Marine Corps war veteran and Catonsville native, said, "It's not just about what I want, what the developers want in this area. It's about what we want as a community for this space.
"In Catonsville, there's this feeling of being in a small town and we're afraid of getting away from that and we should," Young said. "If we want to grow into a vibrant area and be strong, we know there has to be development in this area, but it's about sensible development."
Aaron Barnett, a Woodlawn native who is vice president of the International Longshoremen's Association Local 333 Port of Baltimore, said he believes community collaboration is important in making decisions about what to do with Spring Grove.
Barnett, who serves as vice president of the Woodlawn Parks and Recreation Council, said, "I think we should have a multi-purpose center here in Catonsville"
Rainier Harvey, a retired Baltimore County police officer who serves as a member of the Baltimore County Planning Board, said, "One of the things I want to do as a legislator...is to look at the different avenues that can be used to move a development project into a community and have the community itself have the opportunity to weigh in on it."
Harvey said he'd want to look at the planning process, because he doesn't want to see another division in the community over a development project.
Charles Sydnor, a senior attorney for Enterprise Community Partners who lives in Catonsville, said, "I don't know what the answer is in regard to this parcel of land."
Sydnor said he understands both sides of the issue, that there are those who want the area to be used as recreation space and developers who want to bring businesses to the area.
He'd seek community input to decide what should be done with the land, he said.
Frederick Ware-Newsome, a Pikesville resident who works for Baltimore City Social Services, said, "It has to be a community effort and it has to be a community decision."
Ware-Newsome explained his experience as president of the Villa Nova Community Association, and said, "Nothing is going to happen in that community unless I know about it."
Michael Russell, the lone Republican running in District 44B said, "I was told many times before 'If you don't know the answer don't say I don't know, say I will find out'. That's exactly what I'm going to do...I'm going to ask community members and residents...to find out what they want to do with this space."
"I want to make sure you, as residents, have input and a say on what goes into your community," said Russell, a 23-year-old University of Maryland, Baltimore County, student.
The primary election will be held June 24.