Dundalk government center sale heads to Board of Public Works for approval

Sale of North Point Government Center in Dundalk needs state's blessing.

Baltimore County will seek approval from state officials this week to sell the North Point Government Center in Dundalk to a private developer who plans to build a shopping complex.

The state's Board of Public Works will consider whether to approve the sale when it meets in Annapolis on Wednesday morning.

The sale has landed before the Board of Public Works because of the board's role in overseeing school construction issues. The government center was built as North Point Junior High School, and the county school system turned over the property to the county government in the early 1980s.

When the county took over the property at the corner of Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard, the deed and the Board of Public Works required the county to come back to the board if it planned to sell or transfer the site.

Opponents of the government center sale are hoping it will be rejected by the Board of Public Works, which consists of the governor, comptroller and the treasurer.

The opponents also are pursuing two court cases in an attempt to block the project. They have contended that the sale of the government center is short-sighted and will result in a loss of open space in Dundalk because some sports fields on the property will be lost if the shopping center is built.

The government center has housed sports programs, a theater program, county offices and a police precinct, though most of them have moved out.

Developer Leonard Weinberg II of Vanguard Commercial Development is proposing a complex called Merritt Pavilion that will include offices, retail shops, restaurants, a gas station and a pharmacy.

Vanguard would pay the county $7.6 million, to be paid in a combination of up-front cash, a payment plan and forgoing lucrative future tax breaks.

The county will retain some of the land and plans to build a new recreation center.

The state agency that advises the Board of Public Works on school construction issues is recommending that the sale be approved. The sale of the land was approved by the Baltimore County Council and the state wouldn't be owed any share of profits from the sale, according to the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

While the sale price is $7.6 million, Baltimore County would spend more than that building the new recreation center and upgrading remaining fields at the site, said David Lever, director of the school construction committee.

The school construction committee doesn't have the legal authority to weigh in on the merits of the redevelopment proposal, he said.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has maintained that the government center sale will benefit Dundalk residents.

In a statement, Kamenetz's spokeswoman, Ellen Kobler, said the sale would result in new shops, additional jobs and the new recreation center. The government center is old and would need expensive repairs if it were to stay open.

"This project is good for the economic and recreational health of Dundalk," Kobler said.

Kamenetz won't make his pitch to the Board of Public Works himself. He's sending three staffers to Wednesday's meeting while he hosts a "Coffee with Kevin" event at the Essex Senior Center.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, still must respond to a request from the Board of Public Works to discuss the lack of air conditioning in dozens of Baltimore County public schools.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, sharply criticized Kamenetz at a BPW meeting last month for slow progress on renovating schools to add air conditioning, after parents and teachers complained of overheated classrooms at the beginning of the school year.

Kobler said the county executive is working to find a suitable date to meet to discuss the issue.

pwood@baltsun.com

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