Affordable housing development in Glen Burnie in limbo

The fate of a proposed affordable housing community in Glen Burnie is in limbo after an Anne Arundel County Council vote to delay a proposed tax break that the project's developer says it needs to move forward.

Councilman John J. Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican whose district includes the planned Marley Meadows development, pushed for the delay, which was unanimously approved by the council Monday. Members will now vote on the $5,000 annual tax break at a Nov. 21 meeting, a timeline that officials said could potentially derail the controversial project.

The 36-unit development, proposed for the 7700 block of Baltimore Annapolis Blvd., has been granted a $500,000 loan from Arundel Community Development Services, a quasi-public agency, and a $3 million loan from the state Department of Housing and Community Development that is contingent on the county tax break.

Grasso opposes the proposed $10 million development on the grounds that Glen Burnie is already saturated with low-income housing, which he said will increase crime in the area. He has also said that "quality people" don't live in low-income housing. On Monday, he added that the housing will be a "cancer" in the community — comments that were swiftly rebuked by some of his council colleagues.

Andrew I. Crossed, vice president for New York-based developer Conifer Realty, has said his company has a Nov. 15 deadline to close on the property, which is vacant and now in foreclosure.

Crossed said in a brief interview after the vote Monday night that he was unsure how the delay would affect the project.

"We need to figure out what this means," he said. Crossed did not return a call seeking comment later in the week.

Kathleen M. Koch, director of the county development agency, said the delay has the potential to derail the deal.

"Part of it is the seller of the property," said Koch. "When you sell a house and you're supposed to close by a certain date, that's a really big thing. It's certainly up to the seller."

Grasso also introduced an amendment to a pending zoning bill that would decrease the level of zoning at the Marley Meadow property to a point where the proposed development would not be allowed by law.

Larry Tom, the county's zoning officer, told the council that Grasso's proposed amendment would rezone the 2.5-acre property where Marley Meadows is to be located.

"Quite frankly, the property is contiguous to 15 other properties. I don't see any reason to down-zone this property, given that the project is still under consideration from this council," said Tom.

Councilman Jamie Benoit, who has called Grasso's comments about increases in crime being directly related to low-income housing "crazy," said the amendment, which Grasso introduced without alerting county officials — a usual courtesy — sets a "dangerous precedent."

"I'm at once impressed and somewhat offended by this," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat. "The ingenuity is good, Mr. Grasso. … While I appreciate the spirit, it sets a dangerous precedent, penalizing landowners for doing something well within their rights."

Benoit added, "Had Mr. Tom not raised it, I certainly was not too lazy or inattentive to have missed this. Some more transparency on your part would have been helpful."

Grasso was red-faced but unapologetic.

"I was caught. What do you want me to say? I protect my people," he said. "I'll tell you what, I'm gonna put up one heck of a fight. … We can either make it right now, or make it right later, one way or another."

The amendment failed in a 4-3 vote.

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