Community Groups Oppose Zoning Referendum Push

Community leaders claim referendum on zoning decisions would "render the work of communities and the council vote meaningless."

A loosely formed group of community associations said Friday that it has formed a coalition to fight developers attempting to force two county zoning bills to referendum.

The Don't Sign It! Coalition plans to begin a public education campaign to oppose a group calling itself the Coalition for Zoning Integrity, which is backed by David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies.

Cheryl Aaron, zoning chair for the Greater Greenspring Association and an organizer of the Don't Sign It! Coalition, said the attempt to overturn zoning decisions made by the County Council in August is bad for communities.

"Communities don't have the resources to file referendums and hire lawyers and organizers to go out and collect signatures," Aaron said. "It doesn't work that way. It will be a one-way road with devastating effects on communities."

The group plans on holding a news conference in Towson Monday to announce efforts to oppose the referendum effort.

David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies are seeking to overturn bills that rezoned nearby properties that could be redeveloped and ultimately compete with their projects.

Brown is the developer of Metro Centre at Owings Mills which is near the former Solo Cup plant that is to be redeveloped into a shopping center called Foundry Row. That project would feature a Wegman's grocery store as its anchor.

In Middle River, Cordish is opposing the redevelopment of the Middle River Depot. The depot, if redeveloped, could result in Walmart leaving its current location in the Carroll Island Shopping Center and moving to the new depot location, Cordish said in July.

Cordish owns the Carroll Island Shopping Center.

No county law, much less a zoning bill, has ever been petitioned to referendum in Baltimore County.

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 group has hired workers from the Philadelphia area to collect signatures.

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

David Cordish and representatives of the Committee for Zoning Integrity did not respond to requests for an interview.

The formation of the Don't Sign It! Coalition comes at the same time that another developer is buying time on local radio stations opposing the the referendum effort.

Middle River Station LLC began running the ads on WBAL radio Thursday. [Listen to the radio ad.]

Aaron said that unlike groups such as the Say No To Solo Coalition, her organization has no corporate financial backing.

"We just don't have unending sources of income," Aaron said. "Our members pay $50 a year to belong and they pay it when they can afford it."

The group does have the support of the Baltimore County Community Political Action Committee—an organization formed by Towson land-use lawyer Carroll Holzer and other community leaders.

Holzer, who frequently represents local community organizations in zoning issues, formed the PAC after it was reported that development attorneys David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith, son of former County Executive Jim Smith, were raising tens of thousands of dollars for County Council candidates in 2010.

Holzer is also the attorney for the the Greater Greenspring Association.

Aaron said the effort to educate county voters to not sign the referendum petition is bigger than zoning issues.

Ruth Goldstein, a Pikesville community activist agreed.

"This is a real affront to the zoning process," Goldstein said, adding that the process "could afford to be fixed but not by David S. Brown and David Cordish, who are probably the biggest two beneficiaries of it."

Paul Dongarra October 05, 2012 at 07:27 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.
JDStuts October 05, 2012 at 07:47 PM
FYI - petition gathering firms have been known to employee ex-cons. In Montgomery County, one recent paid gatherer was discovered to be wanted on a felony warrant. Careful who you give information like your SSN to.
number9dream October 05, 2012 at 10:40 PM
What exactly is "responsible land use"?
Paul Dongarra October 05, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Responsible land use refers to making zoning decisions that conform to the master plan, insuring that future development is sustainable and maintains adequate open space and recreational amenities for our residents. It protects our drinking water and enhances our quality of life instead of decreasing it. Some good resources are 1000 Friends of MD, http://friendsofmd.org Smart Growth America, http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org and even the Baltimore County Masterplan, http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/planning/masterplanning/masterplan2020.html Too often decisions are made without adhering to important Smart Growth Concepts. I hope that helps clarify what I mean when I say "responsible land use."
carollert October 06, 2012 at 02:48 AM
There are some young people collecting signatures on petitions in the Giant St. Thomas parking lot. I was told that it was a petition to get a resolution on the ballot requiring more community input before zoning changes could be made (specifically solo cup). When I actually read the petition, it was a resolution requiring repeal of all zoning maps. The young woman was very persuasive, saying that she just thought we needed more community input before decisions like this could be made. That seemed a little misleading to me, and I'm glad I didn't just sign the thing.
Steve October 06, 2012 at 04:17 AM
LOL You Boneheads can't have your cake and eat it too. We had the Anti DREAM Act Petition which was supported by out of state interests. We had the anti Same Sex Petition which was supported by out of state interests. Now all of a sudden we are supposed to think Petitions are bad??
Chuck Burton October 06, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Baltimore Business Journal has indicated that Brown and Cordish wanted to develop the SOLO property, but I guess they must have offered less for it than Greenberg-Gibbons. Now they are trying to get the county voters to do their dirty work and overturn G-G. Wonderful people, aren't they?
Arbutus Town Crier October 06, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Coalition plans to begin a public education campaign? Intelligence Vs. “Higher Education” All these projects I don’t see any citizens Petitions for any changes in there in the vision the neighborhood wants. The Companies & Government and not the people requesting these changes! We have to petition to stop them? We are not Free anymore Intelligence and common sense is being over run by the educated. Separating classes documentation that all can not understand by from everyday citizens (call it secret code). While these political groups run our lives, we the everyday blue collar citizens loose or freedom and liberty. We have to petition Government to stop them? While we have to jump thru hoops to get speed bumps at school bus stops? Speeding cars thru neighborhood while government officials talking to the neighbors see the issue in person, children safety is not priorities! I was unfortunate I could not put my 2 cents in at the time. Petition, install speed & traffic lines counter down to determine an issue when its in the face of officials and neighbors? Loss of common sense! School children! A truck of asphalt, yellow paint saves tax payers time and money and a life. But a Coalition plans to begin a public education campaign? Remind me of the old Mash’s commercial but politician(s) S is for Sense (common sense) they throw that away! Government take care of the infrastructure and let our neighborhood request our Necessity’s.
Ann Miller October 06, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Everyone has a right to petition. It's an essential constitutional right and gives the people veto power over our legislature. The burden rests with the people to discern whether or not to sign a petition and understand (by reading the back of the petition form that has the bill summary) what the petition is challenging. The petition itself does not overturn the legislation, it just puts it on the ballot for the people to decide. Educate yourself before voting. Just because one group may be looking to abuse the right, does not make all petitions bad. It takes an incredible effort to collect the required signatures, and only a tiny fragment of our laws are petitioned to referendum. BaltoCoPetitions.com
Chuck Burton October 06, 2012 at 05:15 PM
And it's the right of anyone who wants to spend the money and effort to mislead people as to what sort of petition they are signing, in order to profit themselves. Obviously the sponsors think it is likely to be worth it.
Bryan P. Sears October 06, 2012 at 06:44 PM
JDStuts: On that note, I just wanted to say that I spoke with Katie Brown, the county's elections director, who confirmed for me that no one needs to provide a social security number in order to sign a petition. Refusing to provide your social security number will not invalidate your signature on a petition.
PerryHallParent October 07, 2012 at 07:22 PM
Yesterday, while leaving the Sugarloaf Craft Festival, there was a group asking people to sign a petition to "get Wegman's into Owings Mills". I didn't sign, since I am not a member of that community.
kptocs October 08, 2012 at 01:30 AM
what i don't get about the Solo cup development is.... where is the need? i can easily get to Food Lion, Mars, two Giants, a Safeway, and an Aldi's - all within 5-10 mintues. There are 2 great fresh fruit and vegetable markets. Trader Joes and another Wegman's are also very close. Development at Solo cup site will only bring congestion, and give every one one more reason to avoid the congestion in that area. Eventually, it could result in one of the existing buisnesses going under - taking all the small buisnesses down with them.... and our community having to deal with the problems of vacancy.
Buck Harmon October 08, 2012 at 12:52 PM
I don't think that congestion would be an issue...( I really don't care which way the property is developed either), but it would seem that with the number of businesses just described that there are only so many shoppers in the area to fill the roads. Unless the population is increased by Wegmans presence the congestion should be about the same, and having read the plans I'm pretty sure that the intersection will undergo improvements to improve traffic flow.
Chuck Burton October 08, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Wouldn't existing business be more likely to go under if lack of desireable stores causes shoppers to go elsewhere, than if they are enticed into coming to the area by the presence of a desireable store?
Chuck Burton October 08, 2012 at 01:30 PM
By extension of what I said above, doesn't Mr. Brown understand that having a Wegmans nearby might well be an enticement to people who want to live or work in his Metro Centre. His continued oposition seems penny wise but dollar foolish.
JBC October 08, 2012 at 02:40 PM
We've been told many times that the Solo project violates the master plan but are never told exactly how it does so. Here's what it actually says in the Owings Mills Growth Area section: Where manufacturing uses are being phased out, work with property owners to evaluate rezoning and redevelopment opportunities to accommodate a mix of employment, retail or residential uses on the site and in the area to help revitalize the surrounding business and residential communities. That sounds like it supports this type of rezoning. Now show me where the plan says anything the would oppose the project.
Ella October 08, 2012 at 04:01 PM
great comment, great idea.
Paul Dongarra October 08, 2012 at 06:17 PM
JBC, on page 141 of the Masterplan, it states that in areas "Where population growth is expected to be concentrated," the county should be strategically targeting parkland and recreational facilities, "within and/or in close proximity" to these areas to promote walkability and sustainability. There many examples nationwide where sites like this have been converted into new parks. Here is a great link from the National Governor's Assoc. regarding how transforming brownfield into greenspaces improves public health. http://www.nga.org/files/live/sites/NGA/files/pdf/1102BROWNFIELDS.pdf
kptocs October 09, 2012 at 12:58 AM
yes good points - both of them - i hope the roads take the crowds at wegmans. I really like that store, too.
Chuck Burton October 10, 2012 at 04:28 PM
So now a former Baltimore mayoral candidate has apparently been hired by the Foundry Row opponents, and is spreading rumors of death threats against those opponents. Brown and Cordish are a real pair. I might have to vote FOR Question 7, hoping it will reduce Cordish's profits in Maryland Live.
Other Tim October 10, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I was approached outside of Target at towson Marketplace. Woman said I should sign the petition because it means 5,400 new jobs. Did not know that many people workked at Wegmans. I guess most of them work in the back.
Ian Cavanaugh October 12, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I just ran into these folks outside of Walmart in Owings Mills. They are not telling the full story, and are acting like an independent organization, people don't realize what they are signing. They are actually lieing and telling folks that it has nothing to do with the Wegmans which should invalidate the signatures.
Chuck Burton October 12, 2012 at 09:01 PM
There was one at Cherry Valley Giant - said it was to give us a vote on zoning matters. Do we really want to vote on every little zoning change? Or even on those that are protested by one side or another? Ballots could take an hour to go through!


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