"The county really wasn't on board with our project. It certainly wasn't a priority for them," said Sweeney Smith, who noted creating trails in Catonsville could stimulate healthy living and local businesses. "Tom went in, and he made it a priority."

For several years, Sweeney Smith said, Rails to Trails attempted to work out a lease agreement with the county over a trail that begins near the city-county line and extends through Catonsville and ends at Bill's Music on Frederick Road.

Rails to Trails began leasing the property from the Caton and Loudon Railway Co. in 2006.

Through Quirk's endorsement, the County Council voted to accept a lease agreement in early December that would allow Rails to Trails to develop and maintain the trail for 10 years before turning it over to the county, Sweeney Smith said.

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"We're really pleased that Tom went in there to make this a priority," Sweeney Smith said.

Planned Unit Developments

The use of land for walking trails, commercial development or residential housing is one of the major issues a County Council member faces when deciding whether to present the County Council with a PUD (planned unit development).

A PUD permits development in areas not zoned for it, but the proposal must include a superior-quality project with a clear public benefit.

"I think part of my job is to try to balance property rights with community concerns," Quirk said. "What I try to do is to be an independent and objective councilperson, really truly weighing the facts and listening to the community input and agency reports to try to make the best decision for the long term."

Shortly after taking office, Quirk introduced legislation to repeal a PUD introduced by his predecessor, Democrat Sam Moxley, who had represented the 1st District for 16 years before stepping down.

Quirk cited concerns from the county's planning office, Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management for why he opposed the PUD for the construction of 10 townhouses near the intersection of Frederick and Thistle roads.

The council initially supported his attempt to withdraw the PUD, then reversed course and ultimately reinstated its approval.

In October, the Council unanimously passed a bill, of which Quirk was primary sponsor, that altered the conditions on which the council could approve PUD proposals.

Before the bill, the council could approve a PUD proposal only if it showed a community would receive an environmental or land-use benefit, a capital improvement to a nearby county facility or volunteer fire department, new economic development opportunities or new senior or work force housing.

Under the new legislation, the council will no longer consider senior housing a public benefit and will view developments in the county's revitalization areas and donations to NeighborSpace as public benefits.

NeighborSpace is a nonprofit that aims to preserve open space in the county's most developed areas.

In the summer, Quirk declined to submit a PUD proposal for the construction of medical office on the campus of the Catonsville Y on South Rolling Road. He cited the increased traffic that would likely come with the addition of a 60,000-square-foot medical building for his opposition.

Now he faces another decision for the Y property. Quirk must decide whether to submit a PUD proposal that would include an expansion of the facility with a senior housing facility, instead of a medical office, on the campus.

"One thing I hopefully show to the community is that I'm not a rubber stamp for anyone," Quirk said. "Every project gets judged on its merit and everybody gets put through the same process."