County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. signed off on new bylaws Thursday that give Baltimore County greater authority over land use decisions in greater Woodlawn and establish a new quasi-public authority to hasten progress on the county’s preeminent redevelopment project.

Flanked by Maryland and County Council lawmakers and western Baltimore County community leaders at the O.W.E. Center in Security Square Mall Thursday afternoon, Olszewski said the authority will “transform our capacity to invest in western Baltimore County.”

“It will take the work that we’re already doing here at Security and will really equip it to go to the next level,” Olszewski said.

The General Assembly during its 2022 session broadened Baltimore County’s land acquisition and conveyance powers within 13 square miles of greater Woodlawn, but required council approval to codify them. The council unanimously greenlighted the changes earlier this month.

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In the same state law, legislators permitted the council to create the quasi-public West Baltimore County Redevelopment Authority, which will be able to redevelop, sell, transfer or dispose of any residential, commercial or industrial property, for any use. The county’s expanded land oversight allows it to acquire private property in greater Woodlawn “by purchase, lease, gift, condemnation, or any other legal means,” according to the law.

Sen. Charles Sydnor III, who brought the redevelopment authority bill before the State House last year, said western commercial redevelopment in his district has been top of mind. The Democrat proposed the Senate bill after the Randallstown NAACP pushed for lawmakers to intervene and redevelop the 51-year-old Security Square Mall into a worthy community gathering space.

The authority is expected to focus first on Security Square, which state and local officials have put up roughly $30 million to redevelop. The mall in Woodlawn has seen better days — it has lost anchor tenants, and whole corners sit vacant. Western community advocates say the mall’s several owners have done little to maintain its upkeep or bolster security after high-profile incidents on mall grounds.

Sydnor sees Security Square as just one part of officials’ overall goal to reinvest in historically neglected areas of western Baltimore County.

“There’s a lot of communities that need attention,” he said in an interview, noting Woodlawn Village and the west side of the Liberty Road corridor.

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Gov. Wes Moore has already committed $750,000 in operating funds and $250,000 for capital projects for the redevelopment authority. Baltimore County’s capital budget earmarked $500,000 for the authority to begin any projects it undertakes “immediately,” Olszewski said in an interview.

Per an amendment, the council must sign off on projects included in the authority’s capital improvement plan. Additional projects not included in the authority’s capital improvement program do not need council approval.

Under the new bylaws, the authority must appoint an executive director, who may then appoint a treasurer and counsel. Until then, the county executive’s office may designate members of his administration to “support the authority on an interim basis.” A prior draft of the bill established that the county’s chief administrator (currently Stacy Rodgers), the budget director and the county attorney would head authority staff, and did not require new hires.

Ultimately Olszewski wants the authority to be staffed with non-county officials, he said in an interview. Interim appointments will help “get it [the authority] off the ground,” he said.

Eleven “public members” will constitute the redevelopment authority’s voting decision-makers, for a four-year term, and must live in any of the three west-side council districts. They will be selected from a list of nominees put forth by nonvoting members, which include elected officials who represent greater Woodlawn, the county administrative officer, and a county executive appointee.

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“We’re all little tugboats here,” said Councilman Izzy Patoka, who co-sponsored the council bill along with Councilman Patrick “Pat” Young, council chair Julian Jones and Republican Councilman Wade Kach, during the Thursday press conference.

“West side redevelopment is the ship we’re pulling in,” Patoka continued. “All our tugboats are now pulling in the same direction.”

Sydnor, who is among the authority’s nonvoting members, said he wants to see the authority overseen by experts in urban planning, real estate and financing.

“The bottom line is, this is about building a good, stable community where people want to stay, want to move into and live, work and play,” Sydnor said.

taylor.deville@thebaltimorebanner.com

Taylor DeVille covers Baltimore County government for The Baltimore Banner with a focus on the County Executive, County Council, accountability and quality of life issues affecting suburban residents. She previously covered Baltimore County government and breaking news for The Baltimore Sun. 

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