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Bevins: Referendum Decision 'Good Day' For County

The Baltimore County Board of Elections announced Tuesday that the petition drive against two county zoning maps were legally deficient.

Baltimore County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins had said she had long been frustrated with the petition drive against the zoning map for the 6th district, but pending legal challenges, that drive may be over.

Patch reported Tuesday that according to Baltimore County Board of Elections decision, the petition drives against the zoning maps for the 2nd and 6th districts were legally deficient.

"I believe that the form of the petition, as circulated to potential signers, was insufficient to alert them to what exactly they were being asked to petition to a vote," wrote Andrew Bailey, an attorney for the county board of elections who reviewed five challenges to the petitions from an Owings Mills developer.

That matches what Bevins said she heard from constituents, who she said felt misled by people who asked them to sign the petition.

"Everyone I talked to that signed that petition was given wrong or bad information, and I just feel like people were duped and we'll move forward from here," she said. "I think it's a good day for the citizens of Baltimore County."

In the 6th district, the petition drive targeted Middle River Station. When it's completed, the former Glenn L. Martin Co. factory at the corner of Eastern and White Marsh boulevards will include housing, retail, sports, entertainment and a MARC train stop, relocated from just down Eastern Boulevard.

In an October interview, Sal Smeke, managing member for Middle River Station LLC, which bought the property from the federal government in 2006, characterized the petition drive as "a little bit of resistance" from someone who "wants to stop the growth of Middle River for his own intentions."

"At the end of the day it's all in the hands of the community, so if the community believes they would like to see an abandoned spot there or an empty site, it's up to really them to decide," he said at the time.

The petition drives were funded largely by developers angry about Middle River Station and Foundry Row, a development at the former Solo Cup plant in Owings Mills. In Middle River's case, much of the opposition came from the Cordish Companies, owner of nearby Carroll Island Shopping Center.

October filings with the Baltimore County Board of Elections on the petition drive. Roughly 170,000 signatures were turned in. The maps would have been the first county laws in recent memory sent to the ballot.

A website for the petition effort claims both properties will be redeveloped in a way that does not meet the standards of the areas' master plans and that the maps were the result of a "corrupt rezoning system."

"How do you say, 'Don't you want to give the process from the developers back to the people?' when it's the developers driving the petition?" Bevins asked.

The county's quadrennial rezoning process, most recently completed in 2012, includes public hearings and input but ultimately, final decisions rest with the County Council.

Bevins said constituents have told her petitioners asked residents to sign the petition while using many untrue claims. One was told, Bevins said, "If she signed the petition, she was helping not to have 100 acres of forest mowed down on Route 43 and there were all these endangered animals."

A petition drive continues for December legislation that would, regardless of the zoning map's fate, allow the Middle River project to continue.

Stuart Kaplow, an attorney representing the Commitee for Zoning Integrity, told Patch Tuesday that the board of elections misinterpreted the law.

"The insistence that the County Charter some how requires petitioners to do what is not only impossible to do but is also contrary to state law is wrong," Kaplow said. "Claiming 78 pages of zoning maps should have been attached to the petition is clearly wrong."

Kaplow said Tuesday that the committee is likely to file for a judicial review of the board of elections' decision.

Associate Regional Editor Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.

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