April 14, 2014 5:13 pm ET
Heated meeting produces hot tempers but little progress
“Take your battle stations!” The battle for the North Point Government Center has officially begun.
As I sat in the meeting, I thought, “Who needs an amphitheater for fireworks when you have the Dundalk High School cafeteria?” That was where plenty of explosions were heard as the first battle over the fate of the Government Center raged.
Attorney David Gildea must have read the crowd’s mood as members of the community gathered to hear what was going to happen to their beloved Government Center. To that end, he started off singing all the right notes: Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
“This is just part of the process. We are in the early stages and we want input from the community.”
(Blogger’s note: Good luck with that.)
I’m not a mind reader, but I could swear I heard a sigh of relief in Mr. Gildea’s mind, as in, “Hey, I’m still standing here in one piece. Whew!”
With that, Mr. Gildea continued to strum his tune. “This process has a long way to go.”
The crowd was still silent at that one. Silence is usually seen as golden, but this time was an exception.
Then Mr. Gildea introduced Mr. Len Weinberg, the head of Vangaurd, who will change the Government Center into The Merritt Pavilion.
Oops! There needed to be a “spoiler alert” mentioned there.
So much for there being “a long way to go.”
Mr. Weinberg recognized the history of the Government Center and what it meant to the community. Unfortunately for him, the crowd knows all too well what the history is, and those in attendance let him know what the Government Center means to them.
Mr. Weinberg tried the conciliatory act and said there will be many meetings. He then offered his card to anyone who wanted to chat about any issues.
I didn’t see if anyone took a card, but I have to imagine that there are a few folks that would love to get Mr. Weinberg on the other end of the phone.
At this point in the fireworks display meeting, people in the audience started to move forward, armed to the teeth with their opinions. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), those opinions were not in the same key as when the meeting started. Sensing he was in the eye of the storm, Mr. Weinberg decided that Silence is Golden. And, for him, it was.
Enter Democratic Council candidate Brian Weir, representing Recreation and Parks, who set off a blast of words that riled the audience.
“The building will not house all of the programs,” he said. “This Center is used by the entire community.” Mr. Weir continued to echo much of the same sentiment as he spoke. His words seemed to resonate with everyone, especially when this gem came out of his lips: “The county is selling us out.”
With that the crowd erupted in applause. I believe that quite a few people believe that statement.
More things came to light throughout the course of the bloodbath meeting. There was the issue of a traffic study that had not been conducted. Wait, where have I heard that one before?
(Theme from “Jeopardy” plays…”
Ah yes, now I remember. The Fort Howard community meeting. I guess car counters are hard to come by these days.
The crowd got upset (a common theme for the meeting) when it was announced that the 650-seat theater will not have seats, but rather folding chairs will need to be set up before every event.
There were some naughty words uttered by some members of the audience until a referee facilitator stepped in and told the highly charged audience to be respectful of the proceedings.
I don’t think that helped matters…
Next on the firing line was another Recs and Parks representative—former County Chief John Weber. Mr. Weber lamented about the lack of square footage for the development and said that there must be more open green space provided for the community.
Some other members of the audience chimed in with more naughty words before etiquette was restored (albeit temporarily).
A short boil over occurred when blogger Cary Quintana stood up to speak in favor of the development and mentioned a comment posted to his blog. Debbie Staigerwald took exception to Mr. Quintana’s comments and rather sternly scolded him before order was restored, again temporarily.
Folks, it would be an understatement to say that much of the meeting featured some intense shouting.
People yelled blurted out that the sale of the Government Center is a sweetheart deal for the developers. The voices at the meeting were also sternly opposed to any more retail space.
Local community activist Russell Donnelly asked the crowd to stand up if they were in support of the Vanguard proposal. Guess how many people stood? No, seriously, go ahead and guess. (Waits.) No guesses? How about if I give you a hint? The number was between “zilch” and “zippo.”
(For you laymen, that means nobody.”
Then he asked everyone opposed to stand up and, like spring flowers, the whole blooming place became standing room only.
(FYI—This moment was caught on film by Dundalk TV’s Scott Collier, who also spoke out against the development. I recommend going out of your way to watch it happen.)
Among the many citizens that spoke up/out about the development were the local citizens running for an open county council seat.
Buddy Staigerwald said that people were deceived by the county, and he spoke in an ominous tone when he issued this warning to the crowd: “Hear what they say and when they say it.” Buddy also said that the county doesn’t listen to the community; if they did, these types of projects would not go through.
Another noted speaker was Dundalk’s Bob Staab, a writer and author, who said he is tired of Dundalk being dumped on. He pointed out that the community did not ask for a parking lot.
One of the last speakers was former president of Norwood/Hollabird John Ayers, who chastised the audience for voting the same people into office time and time again. As I have often said, you get what you vote for, folks.
Delegates Mike Weir and Joseph J. “Sonny” Minnick both appeared. Mr. Minnick spoke briefly and said that he wants more community input that is actually heard by the county.
There were too many people present for me to mention all the names. I did receive some political information that will be discussed in a later blog.
Also, be sure to check out the photos from the meeting.
With up to 18 months of negotiating facing the community, the county, and the developers, this already hot topic is bound to get even hotter.
Buckle up folks, it is going to be a bumpy ride…