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Citizen appeals supported Opponents criticize Ruppersberger plan to cut process


Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger can expect a battle from preservationists if he tries to shut them out of the appeals process they say is needed to fight demolition or renovation of county-owned historic buildings, the County Council was told last night.

Ruppersberger, who wants to convert the former Catonsville Middle School on Bloomsbury Avenue into a $6.3 million recreation center, is supporting legislation to eliminate citizen appeals to the county Board of Appeals of any proposed changes to county-owned historic properties

Opponents of the project say the proposed ordinance is an attempt by Ruppersberger to dampen their opposition to the Catonsville project and any future plans for the county's 23 other historic buildings.

"The issue tonight is not the Bloomsbury school, the issue is citizens rights, the people's rights," said Berchie Manley, former county councilwoman from Catonsville who is opposed to the Bloomsbury project.

Manely said the law would "close the door" on appeals that should be permitted.

"You will be denying citizens a right to appeal what is a political decision," said Manley, one of nine people who spoke against the proposed ordinance.

Opponents are scheduled to argue their case before the Board of Appeals in two days of hearings next month.

County officials say the ordinance clarifies the county code and that the project would give Catonsville a much needed community center while preserving the building's historic character.

"The Catonsville area is in desperate need of a community center," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat who has been involved in the dispute for years.

The building was erected in 1925 as a high school and was later used as a junior high and middle school. It has been vacant for eight years, and has been a litter-infested attraction for vandals, who have smashed nearly all of the glass in the building.

The project would require demolition of two wings that were added in 1928.

Robert Barrett, a lobbyist for Ruppersberger, said $4.2 million of the project would pay for preservation and renovation of the original school building.

"The core of that building, what's historic about it, is going to be preserved," Barrett said.

Barrett said the public has had about 18 months of input in meetings with county advisory groups, County Council members and hearings before the preservation commission.

"No one is being shut out of the process," he said.

County attorney Virginia W. Barnhart said the ordinance, introduced at the council's Dec. 7 meeting, is intended to clear up ambiguities concerning the rights of citizens to appeal changes planned for any county properties listed on the Landmark Preservation Commission's historic register.

One section of the county code says that citizens should have the right to appeal changes to county owned buildings to the Board of appeals and another says that the county council should have the last word, she said. Appeals of changes on private properties would not be affected, she said.

The bill is slated to be voted on by the County Council on Jan. 4.

Pub Date: 12/22/98

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