Hess Corp. has agreed to buy eight duplexes in Loch Raven and demolish them to settle homeowners' claims of contamination from a nearby gas station, the company said Friday.
Residents of Yakona Road had filed more than a dozen lawsuits against the company over the past two years. Terms of the settlement were confidential, but a Hess spokesman said the agreement includes razing the buildings — likely in the spring — to make way for green space. The gas station, which is still open, is located in the 1600 block of E. Joppa Road.
"Hess Corp. agreed to purchase eight duplex buildings on the north side of Yakona Road to settle a claim with homeowners who were concerned about residual amounts of gasoline on or near their properties," Hess spokesman Jon Pepper said. "This is in addition to the remediation efforts Hess has undertaken under the review and approval of the Maryland Department of the Environment, and in compliance with state and local requirements."
Pepper said the company "felt that the best course to address any remaining neighborhood concerns was to demolish the houses, ensure that the cleared land is safe for use with [state environmental] oversight, and transform the land into an attractive public space, which will be donated to a local organization that has expertise in maintaining such properties."
Residents in the 1600 block of Yakona Road had contended that a leak in the underground storage tank at the service station caused health and environmental hazards and produced strong vapors that permeated the area.
The cases were pending in Baltimore County Circuit Court when the settlement was reached and were dismissed as part of the agreement. Pepper would not say exactly when the settlement was finalized, but said it was recently.
Attorney Roy L. Mason, whose Annapolis firm concentrates on environmental law, represented the residents and said he could not discuss details of the settlement.
"I can say this is an excellent result for the entire community," Mason said.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks said he's been communicating with Hess officials, community leaders and state environmental officials about the issue. Hess plans to assemble an outreach team to keep residents informed, Marks said.
"I don't want the Loch Raven community to be surprised when the houses start to get demolished," said Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. "I want them to know what's happening and to understand there's a plan for preserving the site as usable open space."
Turning the area into an attractive space could become "a net positive for the neighborhood," he said.
"This is a neighborhood that's had some challenges from time to time with crime and other things, and maybe this is a way to improve and stabilize the community," he said.
The gas station was the site of a shooting in 2010, in which owner William R. Porter was killed. His wife, Karla Porter, was accused of ordering the killing and is awaiting trial.
Barbara Hopkins, executive director of NeighborSpace, said her nonprofit is considering taking over the land once the homes are razed after lawyers representing Hess approached the organization. The decision will hinge on whether the land is safe for the public after the state Department of the Environment issues cleanup requirements to the oil company, she said.
"Our primary interest in coming into any community and acquiring land — whether we buy it or it is given to us — is what does the community want," Hopkins said. "The process has a while to play out for us to understand what the existing level of contamination is. We want to make sure it's safe for people."
Hopkins said if NeighborSpace were to preserve the land in a trust, the organization would seek feedback from the community about how to proceed. Area residents would need to be willing to help take care of the land, she said.
"We can't do it by ourselves," she said.
Preserving land for open space is of big interest in the congested area of Baltimore County, including Loch Raven Village, she said.
"It's a real opportunity for this community to get some open space," Hopkins said. "There is a cluster of homes; there is no open space. There is no park that people can walk to."
The nonprofit spends an estimated $1,300 a year per property it maintains on expenses such as liability insurance. It is funded from a mix of sources, including private donations and a portion of waiver fees from developers that do not meet the county's requirement for open space.
Earlier this month, Exxon Mobil Corp. asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to erase most of the more than $1.5 billion awarded in two lawsuits over a large gasoline spill in 2006 at a service station in Jacksonville, in Baltimore County. Residents contended that gasoline that leaked from a tank there had polluted their well water, put their health at risk and ruined property values.