Dundalk residents filled a high school auditorium Thursday night to speak out about the redevelopment of the North Point Government Center, many saying they fear they will lose out when restaurants and offices replace the community building.

Vanguard Commercial Development wants to build a retail center called Merritt Pavilion at the site on Merritt Boulevard. The firm hosted a community meeting at Dundalk High School that became heated at times, with some speakers shouting at each other.

For years, the community has used the government center for youth sports activities, performing arts events and other recreation activities. Vanguard bought 15 acres of the 27-acre site from the county last year for about $2.1 million. Residents said concerns about the Baltimore developer's proposal involve traffic, the loss of green space and disruption to the adjacent neighborhood.

"I see a lot of empty stores," said resident David Wile, questioning why a new development would attract customers when other businesses in the area are failing.

Vanguard Principal Len Weinberg said his company wouldn't invest in the project if he didn't think it would succeed. The firm has received interest from national chain restaurants that want to locate there, he said.

He said the company plans to upgrade the center's ball fields and build a 21,000-square-foot arts and recreational facility for community use.

Plans call for more than 60,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, plus about 16,000 square feet of offices. A group called Dundalk United formed last year to oppose the sale of the center, but the Dundalk Renaissance Corp. supports the proposal, saying it could help revitalize the area.

The center was one of three public properties that County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration put up for sale in 2013 for private development. The others were the Towson firehouse and a police substation in Randallstown. Throughout the bidding process, some Dundalk residents complained that county officials were secretive about their plans.

The developers are asking that the project be considered a Planned Unit Development, which gives flexibility in zoning rules if the project provides a community benefit. The County Council has not yet decided whether to grant that status.

On Thursday, many said they were angry not with Vanguard but with county leaders and politicians they felt had not listened to their concerns before the land was sold.

"You are not the bad guy," Linwood Jackson, a retired Sparrows Point shipyard worker, told Weinberg. Jackson said he feared selling off parkland for private interest set a bad precedent for public policy.

Maggie Gregory told the crowd she was disappointed more residents had not spoken out when the County Council was considering the sale.

"I think Baltimore County is not treating us fairly — they are selling off parkland," she said. "Where were all of you?"

alisonk@baltsun.com

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