Legal challenge filed in Balto. Co. zoning referendum
By By Alison Knezevich and The Baltimore Sun
Nov 09, 2012 at 7:48 PM
Lawyers representing developers of the former Solo Cup and Middle River Depot properties asked the Baltimore County elections board Friday to reject petitions for a referendum to overturn zoning votes, saying the signatures were obtained by fraud.
A memo they filed with the board also argues that the law does not allow local zoning decisions to go to referendum and that petitions that circulated throughout the community did not include legally required information to explain to people what they were signing.
Meanwhile, the referendum supporters filed more than 83,000 new signatures this week, bringing the total to more than 170,000, which far exceeds the number needed to put the issue on the ballot.
The referendum drive is backed by other developers and would put all zoning decisions in the districts of two Baltimore County councilwomen, Vicki Almond and Cathy Bevins, on the 2014 ballot.
Developers who would benefit from the zoning changes — Greenberg Gibbons, which plans the Foundry Row center at the Solo Cup site in Owings Mills, and Middle River Station Development LLC, which wants to transform the Middle River Depot into a mixed-use project — are fighting the effort. Community groups also have objected.
In the letter — filed by the law firms Smith, Gildea & Schmidt, and Joseph, Greenwald & Laake — their attorneys say that petition circulators "were flown here by signature-collecting companies ... put up in hotels and motels, and paid a bounty for each signature they could obtain."
Stuart Kaplow, lawyer for one of the committees promoting the referendum, said he had not seen the other side's letter, but that the volume of signatures collected speaks for itself — and that opponents are attacking "the rights of the voters to sign the petitions."
The elections board could consider the objections raised Friday within the next month, said attorney Andrew G. Bailey, who represents the board.
Those funding the petition drive are David S. Brown Enterprises, the Cordish Cos. and the owners of Green Spring Station in Lutherville and Garrison Forest Plaza in Owings Mills.
Tom Peddy, a principal of Foxleigh Enterprises, which owns most of Green Spring Station, said his company contributed because it wants the county to re-examine how it makes land-use decisions.
Peddy said Almond reduced the development potential of his property against the recommendations of the county's planning staff and planning board. Her decision has caused uncertainty for his business, which wants to improve the site and renovate buildings there, he said.
"Zoning in Baltimore County is broken," Peddy said.