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Donation of land to developer irks councilmen

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County's plan to donate a parcel of undesirable land in Essex to a developer for the construction of affordable housing is being challenged by two councilmen who question why the county would get no money for the land and instead would help pay for the project.

Under the plan, the county would give the former site of Kingsley Park Apartments to a partnership of Enterprise Homes and Mark Building, officials said yesterday, and would agree to contribute an undetermined amount for loans and for roads and other improvements. The developers would build housing for senior citizens and modest-income families on the 18-acre site.

The agreement, which officials expect to be completed in coming weeks, requires County Council approval.

The county has spent nearly $5 million on acquiring the land, relocating tenants and demolishing the buildings.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder questioned the deal, saying officials have told him repeatedly that the county would get money for the land.

"I'm for east-side revitalization and everything, but I want to be able to look at the taxpayer of the county in the eye and say we have not promoted a corporate welfare system," said Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said that a community plan placing restrictions on the site has likely scared off potential buyers. He said the county should consider loosening the restrictions and keeping the land on the market until a buyer surfaced.

"I have a problem voting for something when I think it's irresponsible," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. "I'd rather see the plan changed than to lose money on it."

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has made redevelopment of Kingsley Park, long a hotbed of crime, a key piece of his initiative to revitalize older communities. After the county acquired the property in 2004, officials held community meetings to plan the future of the property and hoped to have the land sold to a developer by September 2005.

Smith's spokesman said federal requirements that three-fourths of the site be devoted to affordable housing made the land a tough sell. In the end, the team of Enterprise Homes and Mark Building was the only bidder willing to take on the project, and then only after the county agreed to hand over the land and contribute financially to the project.

Officials said the value of the land, which has not been determined, would be counted as part of the county's financial contribution.

"Had we had our druthers, we would have preferred the money coming the other direction," said the spokesman, Donald I. Mohler. But he added that the project would provide affordable housing and spur redevelopment nearby.

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