WHEN I FIRST HEARD about Baltimore County's proposal to revitalize areas around the county, I thought it was a good idea. Then I read Senate Bill 509, which gives government the authority to condemn viable homes and family businesses and turn them over to a developer to redevelop for profit.
Is it fair for government to disrupt the lives of some in order to raise the quality of life for many? The Baltimore County government's answer was SB 509.
However, one of our founding fathers, James Madison stated, "Government is not just government, nor is property secure under it, where property which a man has is violated by arbitrary seizures of one class of citizens for the service of the rest."
We're familiar with eminent domain for public roads, schools and utilities. Although we sometimes don't like it, we understand the traditional uses are for the common good. However, SB 509 expands this power tremendously.
Maryland's constitution allows for property to be taken for redevelopment purposes in slum and blighted areas. But the properties listed in SB509 do not fit the constitutional definition while other properties that are not in the bill do.
Paul and Annabelle Vleck's beautiful 10-room rancher, in the family since the late 1880s in Essex-Middle River, was taken off the hit list in large part because officials could not defend this home as blighted. But the county still wants the seven waterfront cottages they own on Punte Lane and rent out to supplement their retirement income.
One resident said, "This is what the county wants, the working man's waterfront, my million-dollar view." These homes may not be $1 million mansions, but working class citizens deserve the right to enjoy waterfront property. This right should not be reserved just for the rich, wealthy or well connected. It's not government's choice to decide where you should or should not live. That choice should be yours.
There are 60 acres in the same area that are not slated for condemnation. Possibly that's because the husband of a state delegate owns this land.
Bob and Ann Klohr's business, in the family since the early 1900s, is listed in SB 509. They watched the Liberty Road Corridor grow from a rural community into a bustling suburban area. They stuck it out through bad times and, now that the good times are here, the county government has decided they cannot participate.
Why didn't the county include working families in the process?
Michael Davis, former assistant to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said, "The county didn't ask many who live and work in the community to be involved in its revitalization because they didn't fit the administration's vision for the area."
I don't believe it's government's role to decide who fits the vision of an area and who does not.
The county talks about crime-ridden areas to justify taking innocent people's homes and businesses and points to 4,000 police calls from Riverdale. But that was 1994, and in 1997 the county condemned these properties under current county code. Mr. Ruppersberger attended the ceremony when an owner of the Tall Trees apartments received a governor's Citation of Merit for Crime Prevention.
But let's say the county is correct and criminals infest Tall Trees. County officials said, "Eighty percent of the individuals will be relocated in the same ZIP code, within five to seven miles." This doesn't address crime! It simply relocates criminals into your neighborhoods.
If this bill is not defeated in November, it becomes law. Only the authority to take properties listed in the bill expires; the rest of the bill will stand.
In order to take additional properties, the county would only have to introduce another bill in Annapolis. Who knows who is going to succeed Dutch? Are you willing to take a chance on an unknown politician looking for political favors, deciding who can live or work in certain areas according to their vision?
County officials say this bill is the same as laws in every other jurisdiction in the state. Not true. Not one county has the right to redevelop property for reasons listed on Page 2 of SB 509. When the county says SB 509 is not precedent setting, it's not telling the truth.
Dana Berliner, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, has said, "SB 509 violates the property rights and security of everyone in Baltimore County and sets a dangerous precedent for every Marylander."
Mr. Davis acknowledged, "If it works here, we may duplicate the strategy for the whole county."
We're not spreading fear; we're spreading the truth about the real intentions of the county administration.
SB 509 should not be the vision for improving the well-being of working families. I believe there are less disruptive ways for government to achieve these worthy goals. My vision includes citizens in the process and allows people to become partners in the revitalization effort, not simply casting them aside and starting over without them.
I believe SB 509 destroys the American dream and threatens every family's ability to pass their home or business along to their children and other loved ones.
James F. Ports Jr. is a Republican representative to the Maryland House of Delegates from District 8, which includes Baltimore City and Baltimore County.