The Baltimore County Council on Monday approved leasing a valuable piece of land to a Towson developer, over the objections of a councilwoman who said the deal negotiated by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration lacked transparency.
Council members voted 6-1 on the contract with Towson Row RP LLC, which is connected to development firm Caves Valley Partners. Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, was the only one to vote against the lease agreement for 301 Washington Ave., a former county office building.
Under the 20-year lease agreement, the company would initially pay $85,750 annually and would have the option to purchase the site after two years. The developer wants to use the 0.395-acre tract for Towson Row, a $300 million mixed-use project.
Administration officials say they were not legally required to undertake a bidding process for the property. Amy Grossi, a county real estate attorney, told the council that the county ran legal advertisements on the proposed lease for three weeks and that the administration was not even required to get the council's approval on the lease.
Almond said the process lacked transparency and the council didn't have the necessary information to decide what is best for taxpayers. The developer would not have to pay property taxes while the land is owned by the county.
"We don't even know the tax value of the property," she said after the meeting.
The county in 2011 tried to sell the building, but never sold it to the highest bidder, Roland Campbell of ROC Realty Group in Pikesville. He bid $462,500. This summer, he increased his offer to $725,000, but says the county didn't follow up with him.
"The process just seems unfair, and I'm concerned about the integrity of the process," Campbell told the council Monday.
County officials say the site is valued at about $1.2 million.
Although Campbell's offers were lower than that, he estimates that demolition and environmental remediation would cost more than $650,000. Under the lease with Towson Row RP LLC, the county will deduct the cost of demolition and remediation from the rent payments.
Kamenetz's administration says demolition would cost about $325,000 and that the site doesn't need any remediation.
The council also unanimously approved a lease agreement with a company related to St. John Properties for a parcel in Owings Mills, also with an option to purchase. Almond said that one did not raise as many questions for her because the county had not previously tried to sell it.
The county recently finished a year-long sealed-bid process for three other publicly-owned sites.
Caves Valley has been involved in high-profile projects, such as the redevelopment of the former Investment Building into the Towson City Center. Kamenetz and all members of the council, including Almond, have received campaign contributions from the company or its partners.
"It really doesn't matter to me who the players are," Almond said after the meeting. "It matters to me that we be consistent in how we work, and I don't think we're being consistent in this case."
"It's a better deal for the taxpayers," Quirk said after the meeting.