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Developer Takes Zoning Referendum Opposition to Local Radio

Ad urges Baltimore County residents not to sign petitions on zoning issues.

The owners of the Middle River Depot are going toe-to-toe with developers David Cordish and David S. Brown Enterprises over an attempt to force two rezoning decisions to referendum.

The media campaign highlights an already unusual attempt by two area developers to force zoning bills affecting Owings Mills and Middle River to the 2014 ballot—something that has never been done before in Baltimore County.

Middle River Station LLC began running ads on local radio Thursday. The ads urge Baltimore County residents to refuse to sign the petitions. [Listen to the radio ad.]

The ads called the signature collectors "hired guns who will do almost anything to get your name, address, social security number and signature."

The ad goes on to say "powerful developers" want to stop the redevelopment of the Middle River Depot and Solo Cup properties "just because they don't want competition."

David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies are seeking to overturn zoning bills approved in August by the County Council through its Committee for Zoning Integrity. The group is also looking to collect signatures on petitions at area shopping centers.

Solo Cup, which is being redeveloped by Greenberg Gibbons under the name Foundry Row, would include a Wegman's grocery store. David S. Brown Enterprises, the developer of nearby Metro Centre at Owings Mills, opposes the Foundry Row project.

Cordish is the owner of the Carroll Island Shopping Center, which is near the proposed Middle River Station project.

Sal Smeke, a managing member for the New York-based Middle River Station LLC, said Friday that his partners are trying to present the public with their side of the story.

"We're not fighters," Smeke said. "We're very surprised that developers are against this project. Maybe they're doing it to save their old malls."

Smeke said the plan is to build a complex that includes a mix of retail, residential, and sports and entertainment that he said will bring 5,000 jobs to the Essex-Middle River area.

Smeke hinted that the group might run other ads, possibly on television and in print, in the next few weeks but declined to discuss specifics.

Cordish didn't respond to a request for an interview but in emails to a reporter in July, the developer said the Middle River Station project would hurt business at his shopping center and lead to the relocation of Walmart—his anchor tenant.

"How does it help the public, the County, or the residents to move a Walmart a few hundred yards, and close an existing shopping center, turning the existing center into a cancer in the community?" Cordish wrote, adding that "if [Middle River] Depot gets rezoned Walmart will close in Carroll Island and relocate. Carroll Island will be entirely vacant without Walmart anchor and the center will be a cancer in the area. That is why there is so much opposition from residents and civic groups. If there is no rezoning Walmart will be in Carroll Island for years to come. It is very successful store."

Brown and Cordish have until Oct. 15 to collect 28,826 verified signatures of baltimore County voters. They can extend the deadline by an additional 30 days if they turn in about one-third of the total required amount—9,513 verified signatures of registered voters.

The Board of Elections usually recommends that petitioners collect twice the required signatures in order to overcome typical rejection rates.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Dongarra October 05, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Developers work to elect candidates they feel will support their agenda. Clearly, their support taints the councils ability to make unbiased landuse decisions. Its also reducing our local government's effectiveness. We have so many important issues in the county, yet, all this money and effort is being spent on what? To protect the rich and powerfull? I challenge all the developers to donate a large sum of money to the Baltimore County Community PAC a group which seeks to limit a councilperson's unilateral power to make land use decisions. If land use decisions were made because they conform to all aspects of the Master Plan, we would not be in this situation and our elected officials would be able to turn their attention to more important matters like crime, reducing performance gaps in our schools, and making goverment more efficient. This political reality is eroding the public's trust in the institutions of our County and it's elected officials. If you agree, try to do the following. Save $100 to support an honest council candidate who commits to refusing developer financing. Put June the 24th 2014 on your calendar to work a poll for an honest candidate. Be willing to register across party lines to support honest candidates. Responsible land use isn't a partisan issue. It is, however, the largest part of a councilperson's job.
Walter M Ambrose October 06, 2012 at 03:51 PM
We can see how important we are to these  people, they hired Philadelphia people to gather their signatures
Charles Kane October 08, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Paul, what's ironic is that Howard Brown and his affiliates were Vicki Almond's biggest benefactors in her fundraising efforts. She had the moxie to stand up against him. The fact is that countless community groups wanted the Solo Cup property to be rezoned, and she followed their wishes, not the wishes of her developer fundraiser. Now that Howard and David aren't getting what they want, they act like spoiled little rich boys who don't want someone else playing with their toys. Pure and simple, that's what it is.
Paul Dongarra October 08, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Charles, I think the main point of my comment was that it appears that developer meddling in land use decisions is increasingly playing a part to reduce government effectiveness. Regardless of what side you are on, I think this is clearly self-evident. I stand by my comments, but I respect your right to disagree.
Charles Kane October 08, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Paul, I think I understand what you're saying, but in the case of Solo Cup, we have a decaying industrial use, which the Baltimore County Master Plan encouraged adaptation to mixed uses (including retail). A developer comes along willing to make the investment to improve this vital piece of property, in accordance with a government approved master plan. How is this meddling?

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