Baltimore County officials are seeking permission to condemn nine apartment buildings in a Dundalk neighborhood to make way for new housing - the first time in years county government would seize private property in the cause of economic development.
The county's land acquisition chief asked County Council members yesterday for the authority to condemn the buildings in the crime-ridden Yorkway neighborhood. The council is scheduled to vote on the request Monday.
With council approval, the administration would have to go to court before seizing the properties. Such a move would break a pledge by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. never to attempt to seize land that would be sold to a developer.
"The county executive is doing this reluctantly," said Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for Smith. "He believes this is absolutely in the public good. This slum has existed, and this slum has tortured the neighborhood, for years and years. It's been a blight on the community."
Mohler said the county hopes to reach deals with the property owners and avoid condemnation. But he said officials have become frustrated in the negotiations.
Several council members raised the possibility of condemnation last month after the administration agreed to purchase a Yorkway parcel for twice its appraised value.
In the county's condemnation process, a jury determines the price the owner will be paid.
Three council members said in interviews yesterday that they would support the use of condemnation in Yorkway to keep the project moving forward. "No one wants to go this route, and it should only be used in very rare occasions," said Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "But if a property owner is being a little too greedy, we have an obligation to protect the interest of the taxpayers."
Council Chairman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley said he opposes the use of eminent domain powers to acquire land for anything other than public uses, such as a park or a road. "I don't think that we should condemn property to then turn it over to a developer," said Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.
Redeveloping the World War II-era neighborhood has been a goal of the government for years, seen as a key to revitalization on the east side. The county expects to spend about $20 million on the project. Once all the properties are acquired, the county plans to sell the 8-acre tract to a developer who would build new housing. No detailed plans for the property have been drawn up.
The county has bought 47 buildings and must acquire nine more before it can turn over the neighborhood to a developer.
Administration officials say they have offered $1.58 million for seven buildings owned by Robert A. Knoll, who countered with a price of $2.82 million. They say an offer of $263,000 for a building owned by Fuller & Sons LLC was countered with a price of $453,000. And an offer of $187,000 for a building owned by James and Dreama Cavoures was countered with $375,000. County officials say the prices offered were set by independent appraisers.
Attempts yesterday to reach Knoll and Joseph A. Fuller Sr. - listed in state records as the registered agent for Fuller & Sons LLC - were unsuccessful.
The Cavoureses said their counteroffer is based on the county's purchase for $350,000 of another Yorkway building that they described as uninhabitable, while theirs is an active rental property.
"I'm not asking anything more than what they paid for a boarded-up building - a little more, but not that much," Dreama Cavoures said.
She added that the county's offer of $187,000 is not enough to compensate for the rental income they would lose.
"This is the business I run so I can stay home with my children," said Cavoures, a mother of two teens.
She said she and her husband are planning to meet again with county officials.
"If we have to sell it, we have to sell it," she said. "They're going to bulldoze whether we want to or not. The main thing is if they're going to give us a fair and equitable price at this point."