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County council second thoughts on James Run deal too little too late [Commentary]

It seems the bloom is off the rose for some members of the Harford County Council on the partnership they forged with developers of the James Run Corporate Campus in Belcamp.

To be sure, enough members of the county council are still on board with the project that recent county bonds backing the project were given a seal of approval by a county council majority, but an increasingly vocal minority is speaking up.

The problem, it seems, is the give and take partnership the county has is one wherein the county gives, and the developer takes. Touted early on as a mixed use community featuring residential, office and commercial components, it seems the developers of the James Run project have opted to move ahead with the lodging component, while the economic drivers of the project are shifted to a back burner.

In business, plans change. Economic conditions shift. Projects have to be adjusted. That's business.

Government's job is to, at once, encourage healthy growth, and also regulate development in such a way as to prevent harm to existing communities. In the James Run project, this latter responsibility is largely trumped by the county's having cast its lot in with the developers. The county is backing the project with bonds to be paid back with the take from future taxes. How can the county regulate this development if it has a stake in its success?

Speaking before his vote against backing the bonds, County Councilman Jim McMahan expressed his anger at the commercial part of the venture being delayed: "...it's shady, in my opinion... I don't like it. It stinks."

Similarly, County Council President Billy Boniface has pulled his support from the project.

The two have good reason to be upset, but most of their irritation should be directed at themselves and their colleagues on the council. The developers can be expected to do what they think it takes to make money. That's their job. If the county council wanted a bigger say in the project's outcome, they should have written that into the backing deal in the first place.

It's nice that some members of the county council are beginning to see the light on this deal, it's just too bad the revelation has come so late, probably too late.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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