By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
10:17 PM EDT, July 2, 2012
Baltimore County Council members sparred Monday over a bill that will exempt the Metro Centre at Owings Mills from many development regulations, with the legislation's sponsor accusing some of his colleagues of working to change it behind his back.
The council unanimously passed the bill after heated exchanges among Councilman Kenneth Oliver, its lead sponsor, Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond and other members. The legislation will grant a range of exemptions to the Metro Centre, a long-awaited project in Oliver's district that will feature a library, a community college center, apartments, retail and office space.
At a meeting last week, the council barely discussed the Metro Centre bill, which exempts the project from regulations on issues including parking, open space and signage. But behind the scenes, lawyers for both Metro Centre developer Howard Brown and Greenberg Gibbons, the developer planning the nearby Foundry Row retail center, have been lobbying council members on the legislation.
The council meeting became contentious Monday as members considered a set of amendments sponsored by Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat.
A split council approved the amendments, which were backed by Greenberg Gibbons and dealt with issues including traffic and density at the site. Almond said the changes were meant to protect other development in the area, including Foundry Row, which is planned for her district but still needs zoning approval.
Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, accused her and others of conducting business behind his back. "You've been discussing these amendments all day long, and no one gave me the courtesy to call me and say, 'We have some issues,' " Oliver said.
Oliver also suggested that Bevins and Almond were unduly influenced by Greenberg Gibbons' attorneys.
Bevins shot back at Oliver, saying she had tried to tell him her concerns about the bill, which she has described as "a blank check" for developer Brown. "You shooed me out of your office, and you never got back to me," Bevins told Oliver.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Brown said his project was the county's only transit-oriented development and that the legislation would help move it along. The project broke ground in 2011 after years of postponements.
"Why would anyone want to delay this project, which has been on the books for 10 years?" Brown said, adding that other county projects also have received exemptions to regulations.
Greenberg Gibbons Chairman and CEO Brian Gibbons said after the vote that his firm is "very supportive" of the Metro Centre but was concerned that Oliver's bill could hurt Foundry Row and other developments in Owings Mills.
Also Monday, the council unanimously approved legislation to allow large shopping centers to request smaller parking lots through the director of the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.
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