Tempers Flare Over Owings Mills Development Bill
Councilman Ken Oliver chastises Chairwoman Vicki Almond for late introduction of amendments to his bill affecting the Metro Centre at Owings Mills.
A disagreement Monday night over amendments to a bill impacting an Owings Mills development led Baltimore County Councilman Ken Oliver to publicly accuse two of his colleagues of working for attorneys of a rival development.
"How are you going to put an amendment on my bill at the last minute without asking me," Oliver said to Almond. "Is this how were going to legislate in the future?"
"You've been discussing these amendments all day long, and no one gave me the courtesy to call me, we have some issues," Oliver said. "There is a process that we should be following and not doing things behind another legislator's back."
The council approved all but one of the amendments by a vote of 5-2, with Oliver and Olszewski voting against. Councilman Todd Huff abstained from a vote on an amendment limiting how additional elevator shafts and stairwells fit into the overall floor area ratio for the project.
The council then unanimously passed the amended bill.
Oliver accused Bevins and Almond of being unduly influenced by lawyers representing Greenberg Gibbons, a company that plans on redeveloping the Solo Cup property.
"It just told me something that now I know what law firm wrote them," Oliver said after a majority of the council approved the Bevins-Almond amendments he opposed.
Almond shot back that Oliver's comments were "uncalled for."
After the meeting, Almond called Oliver's comments "very hurtful."
"Nothing could be farther from the truth," Almond said. "I'm sure that was just Mr. Oliver speaking in anger, and I can understand his anger but he had no right to discredit us in that way."
Three Projects Vie For Position In Owings Mills
Oliver's anger over the amendments highlights the continuing influence of a Towson law firm that employs former-County Executive Jim Smith.
"These amendments are detrimental to my project," Oliver said.
The bill, sponsored by Oliver and Councilman John Olszewski Sr., Democrats who represent Randallstown and Dundalk respectively, would lift a number of restrictions on transit oriented developments—namely the Metro Centre at Owings Mills.
Almond and Bevins amended the bill to protect other nearby developments.
"No one is trying to stop (the Metro Centre at Owings Mills) project," Almond said. "These amendments were necessary to help other projects in close proximity to this one."
When Oliver asked which projects, Almond responded: "The Solo Cup site, the (Owings Mills) mall. Without these amendments there would be no future development."
The three Owings Mills developments on the table have been the subject of much debate among developers and the community.
Kimco is proposing to revamp the Owings Mills Mall. David S. Brown Enterprises is building the transit-oriented development Metro Centre. Officials from both companies said rezoning Solo Cup for Greenberg Gibbons’ proposed Foundry Row would hurt prospects for overall success of their projects.
The redevelopment of Solo Cup would likely create additional problems, such as traffic congestion and excess retail and office space, they said.
Oliver's bill provides a number of exceptions for the project being built by David S. Brown Enterprises, including allowing changeable copy signs, reductions in required parking and open space, exemptions to school district overcrowding provisions and building height.
"A Blank Check" For Metro Centre
A similar bill was pulled last month, and re-introduced by Oliver after a number of councilmembers including Bevins and Almond sought last minute amendments.
In an interview last month, Oliver acknowledged that the bill was drafted with help by lawyers for Venable—who represent the Metro Centre project.
Bevins expressed concern about the effect that Oliver's bill would have on other projects.
"I didn't want to give a blank check to this project and I didn't understand why you were doing so," she said, adding that Oliver rushed her out of his office when she attempted to talk to him about her concerns.
The Bevins-Almond amendments made several significant changes, including the removal of requirements related to traffic capacity requirements for projects within one-half mile of the Metro Centre project.
The amendments also require that any basic services exemption granted to the Metro Centre project must also be granted to projects within that same one-half mile area.
County hearing officers would not be allowed to impose additional requirements on those projects.
The late introduction of the amendments directly contravened a directive put in place by Almond when she took over as council chairwoman. Until last night, Almond has repeated rejected late amendments and encouraged her colleagues on the council to introduce them publicly at council work sessions.
There was no discussion of the amendments at a June 26 work session.
Initially, Almond told Patch the amendments were not discussed because she was recovering from surgery on her foot.
"The only thing I can say is that the amendments were supposed to be presented at the work session, and for reasons that I really can't state, they were not," Almond said.
When asked to explain why the amendments were not previously discussed Almond said "I don't want to talk about it, but I think partly it was because I was not here."
Greenberg Gibbons is represented by Smith, Gidea and Schmidt, a Towson-based law firmed that employs former County Executive Jim Smith and his son, Michael Paul Smith.
Earlier this year, Almond and Jim Smith lobbied state legislators, including Sen. Ed DeGrange and House Speaker Michael Busch, in an attempt to thwart a traffic study requested by Sen. Bobby Zirkin. That study is expected to be completed by the State Highway Administration by Dec. 1.
In addition to lobbying, the law firm financially supported Bevins and others two years ago as they ran for the County Council.
In 2010, David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith raised tens of thousands of dollars to help elect Bevins and Tom Quirk to the County Council. The two also raised funds for Gordon Harden, who lost in his bid for council.
Smith is the son of former County Executive Jim Smith. Gildea served as a law clerk to Jim Smith during his time as a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge.
Michael Paul Smith joined Gildea's law firm last year after his father left office.
Jim Smith also works for the firm. In 2010, Jim Smith campaigned door-to-door for both Bevins and Quirk. He also transferred $129,000 in cash from his own campaign to Bevins, Quirk and another Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the council.
Marc Shapiro, local editor of Owings Mills-Reisterstown Patch, contributed to this story.
Editors note: This article has bee corrected to show that Almond wa the lead sponsor on Monday night's amendments. The amendments provided to Patch listed Bevins as the lead sponsor.