The revitalization of Baltimore County's eastern waterfront received a boost yesterday when officials began demolishing two dilapidated buildings and announced a plan to identify areas contaminated by petroleum products.
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. made the announcement at the demolition of two small vacant buildings that will be replaced by a tiny patch of green space near the headwaters of Middle River.
"This is the latest stop in our ongoing road toward revitalization here on the east side," Smith said.
Too cold to roll up his sleeves, Smith climbed into the cab of an excavator wearing his overcoat and brought down a chunk of the Essex Ice House, which will be razed along with Don's Crab House at Eastern Boulevard and Old Eastern Avenue.
The triangular parcel is about one-third of an acre.
Many in a small crowd held their breath when the large pieces of wood, sign and concrete block in the excavator's teeth unexpectedly zipped back toward the executive seated in the enclosed cab of the excavator. The tangled debris stopped just feet from Smith.
Years ago, the crab house and ice business served a generation of families who boated and crabbed in nearby waters. But the east side started an economic and social decline in the 1960s, and the area was targeted for a major revitalization in 1995.
As part of that initiative, officials purchased the two properties in 2001 for $480,000 and condemned them.
About the same time, officials found that the site had once been occupied by a service station and that the ground might have been polluted. But after soil and water tests that occurred over 18 months, officials found the site was safe for a tiny park.
In announcing the cleanup program, Smith said the county wants to eliminate uncertainties that could discourage redevelopment of similar sites in older communities countywide.
"We will work closely with county agencies and the state Department of the Environment," Smith said before a small group of onlookers that included state Sen. Andrew P. Harris and two local members of the House of Delegates, Richard K. Impallaria and Patrick L. McDonough.
Smith said the county would review land-use maps, aerial photographs, databases and field surveys to identify existing petroleum facilities and historical sites that might have been abandoned or converted.
Perhaps reflecting the economic times, Smith said the initial phases of the program to identify polluted grounds would receive no extra funding or personnel.
The revitalization of the county's east side, initiated under the previous executive, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, and supported heartily by Smith, includes the WaterView housing development, which is within view of yesterday's demolition.
Hopewell Pointe, a colony of single-family homes, condominiums, a restaurant and a marina is being constructed nearby on Hopkins Creek.
Two World War II-era apartment complexes, Riverdale and Villages of Tall Trees, were demolished to make way for WaterView and a large public park.
By 2006, the nearby Route 43 extension is scheduled for completion. Initial plans call for single-family housing and 600 acres of industrial development to straddle the road, which will be built from Pulaski Highway to Eastern Boulevard near Martin State Airport.
There is one troubling snag, however, in what has been described by officials as the centerpiece of the east side's makeover -- the so-called waterfront destination that would attract tourists and small businesses.
The site planned for the destination is on the site of three independently owned marinas: Buedel's, Cutter and Riley's.
Officials say that while potential developers have in the past expressed an interest in the site, there have been no inquiries or discussions for the past six months.
"All this will take time," said Ellen Jackson, an Oliver Beach resident since the late 1940s and secretary of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council. "All good things take time."