The Baltimore City Council moved a series of bills related to funding the huge Port Covington redevelopment tonight. All three were passed to third reader, one step from final passage, which is planned for next Monday, but one of them had to be pried from the hands of Councilman Carl Stokes of the 12th District, who abruptly adjourned a meeting last week of the committee he chairs in order to give the council more time to study the deal.
"We were handicapped in that there was not an independent, third party analysis of the numbers" in the 600-page agreement between Sagamore Development Corporation, the developer of the proposed multi-billion dollar mixed-use community and corporate headquarters, and the city, Stokes said as he introduced the first of the three bills. "All three bills, I support," he added.
The deal will cause Baltimore taxpayers to pledge some $660 million to build new infrastructure on the site through Tax Increment Financing. The bonds will be paid back via tax revenues from the newly-valuable development. A side deal, called a "community benefits agreement," has taken up most of the negotiation in the project.
Last month the developer announced that it had reached an arrangement to inject more than $30 million into the six city neighborhoods bordering the new development. Advocates for affordable housing demanded more of that, even though the city's ordinances let the developer off the hook. Last week a new deal was announced with a claimed value of $135 million, including a pledge to hire 30 percent of the construction workforce from the city, to pay them more than $23 an hour in pay and benefits, to set up job training, micro-loans, investment deals for minority-owned businesses—basically anything you could think of gets a $10 million slug of promises.
The company promises that 20 percent of the planned housing units will be "affordable" and that 60 percent of those 20 percent will be built in Port Covington, with the rest off-site. At least 10 percent of the the affordable housing will be available to people earning no more than 30 percent of the area median income—about $25,000 for a family of four.
In a speech before the voting, Stokes took credit for the deal, saying his obstinacy and threats to delay this and other bills have made Baltimore better.
But most of the rest of the council was ready to move on. When Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) tried to amend one of the bills to guarantee "labor peace" and "prevailing wages"—a federal pay formula for construction workers that is supposed to be at or near parity with union workers—Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young ruled her out of order and called for the vote.
Councilmen Bill Henry (4th District) and Warren Branch (13th District) joined Clarke in abstaining in that vote and the next.
Councilman Eric Costello (11th District) then petitioned the third and final Port Covington bill out of Stokes' committee and called for a vote on that. "It flies in the face of our commitment to the citizens of Baltimore," Stokes protested in a speech. "We have a system that works well because we know each council member can't spend all their time on hundreds of bills."
He then voted "yes."
The vote was 12-0, with Clarke, Branch and Henry abstaining.