Resident groups oppose proposal to build senior complex at CCBC Essex


Community leaders in Baltimore County are strongly criticizing a proposal by the Community College of Baltimore County to lease land on its Essex campus to a private developer for a senior housing complex, and a college official said widespread resistance to the idea may hurt its chances for approval.

In letters, officials with several community associations and at least one county councilman have expressed concerns about the proposal. And the attentions of CCBC's board of trustees will soon have to turn toward the search for a replacement for Chancellor Irving Pressley McPhail, who announced this week that he plans to leave his job in June, said Francis X. Kelly, a former state senator who chairs the trustee board.

"We've got a lot of fish to fry, and I'm not going to let the board get bogged down in something that's not going to fly," Kelly said this week.

He said he has not yet polled other trustees about the proposal, and the board will likely discuss the idea again at their April meeting. But the college depends on the county and the community for support, and the proposal has generated "negative feelings," he said.

"My sense right now is it's not looking good," he said.

In a letter to the board, Dennis Eckard, president of the 1,600-member Perry Hall Improvement Association, called the idea a "travesty." The Essex-Middle River Civic Council, an umbrella group of 20 east-side community organizations, and the Oliver Beach Improvement Association in Chase also criticized the idea.

In an interview, Eckard, a retired county school counselor, said, "The original idea of an Essex campus was exclusively for a college, and to give it away or sell it is very troubling."

He said community members had significant input, including on-site selection, when the college opened in 1957.

Hope Hall Davis, a CCBC spokeswoman, said that the board received the letters and that they "will be taken into consideration." She said the potential developer, Friends Care Inc., would meet with residents.

William "Rocky" Jones, leader of the Essex-Middle River group, wrote in his letter, "Once this land is taken away for the purpose of something that was not intended, it is gone forever. And who benefits?"

Sherman C. Nichols, president of the association in Oliver Beach, wrote, "For a campus as small and restricted in size as Essex, we find it ludicrous to think of leasing the 5 (five) or so acres to a developer for $1.00 (one dollar) per year to build senior housing."

Brenda Becker, a spokeswoman for Friends Care, said the organization held a meeting for community groups in October, but it was not well-attended, and the nonprofit organization has been asked to "reach out to communities again."

"I think once people hear more about ... what we want to do, they won't be opposed," she said.

The critical letters, including one from Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, come as CCBC officials explore leasing a 5-acre lot on the western corner of the Essex campus for a proposed 133-unit elderly housing complex. Community opposition scuttled a similar proposal for the Dundalk campus four years ago.

Officials with Friends Care have proposed a four-story, 117,000-square-foot building, part of which would be used to house offices for CCBC's Senior Institute and include space for arts events and courses, according to an information packet presented to the community college trustees.

The $13.55 million complex would be built on part of an athletic practice field, but Friends Care would pay to reconstruct and improve a second field as part of the plan, Becker said.

College officials have said a senior housing project could blend lifestyles and generations on campus and bring revenue to the college.

Sun staff writer Lisa Goldberg contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad