Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger came a step closer yesterday to obtaining condemnation power to redevelop Essex-Middle River and two other aging neighborhoods, despite a three-week push by residents to derail the effort.
After more than an hour of emotional debate, the House of Delegates voted 90-35 to approve legislation that would enable the county to take properties at more than 300 addresses in the Essex-Middle River waterfront area, the Yorkway area in Dundalk and parts of the Liberty Road corridor in Randallstown. The land would be sold or given to developers.
The legislation, which was amended in the House to provide more generous relocation benefits to displaced residents and businesses, returns to the Senate, where passage is expected.
"I can't believe that the state would allow this to happen -- to take homes and businesses," Del. Diane DeCarlo, a Baltimore County Democrat who led the fight against the bill, said after the vote.
DeCarlo complained during the floor debate that she put herself at political risk by resisting Ruppersberger's effort to push the legislation through.
"I'm considered a leper and a turncoat by the Democrats in the House, the Senate and by the county executive," she said.
Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a Howard County Republican, presented a slide show of well-maintained properties that would be condemned, and of derelict properties that would not be affected.
He also showed photographs of senior citizens on a park bench and children playing.
"This is indeed a viable community," he said. "Maybe we as a government have the power to destroy this community, but as a government, maybe we should not use that power."
Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat and vice chairwoman of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee, defended the legislation and urged that it be approved out of "local courtesy" to the Baltimore County delegation.
McIntosh conceded that the placard-carrying protesters who have pleaded with lawmakers for weeks to reject the measure had charged the debate.
"Although this is an emotional bill, one that causes us to take pause, it is a local bill and one that deserves your support," McIntosh said.
During the committee discussion, she registered concerns about whether the legislation was fair, but had it amended to increase relocation benefits.
Del. James F. Ports, a Baltimore County Republican, argued that the legislation would confer powers beyond those allowed by the Maryland Constitution because it provides for condemnation to benefit a developer -- not for eliminating "slum and blighted areas."
Defending the measure, Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat, said that Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties have condemnation powers and that Baltimore County was seeking similar rights, but "on a more limited scale."
DeCarlo pledged to continue the fight when the condemnation proposal comes before the Baltimore County Council -- and beyond.
Some property owners are considering a court challenge and have said they might push for a countywide referendum on the November ballot.
Several property owners watching yesterday's proceedingsexpressed disappointment with the outcome.
"I am getting crazy. This is cheating, this is dishonest, this is not good," said Jigantree Pasram, 70. She and her 75-year-old husband own a 1-plus-acre lot off Old Eastern Avenue.
The lot, which is among the addresses specified in the bill, is the site of a carry-out shop and package goods store, a rooming house, and the brick home where she raised her eight children.
"I don't want to move," she said. "I want to die there."