Balto. Co. Council approves borrowing for Owings Mills center

The Baltimore County Council approved borrowing more than $19 million to help build the long-stalled Owings Mills Town Center project, a major step forward in revitalizing the struggling commercial zone.

The measure passed on a 6-0 vote, with Republican T. Bryan McIntire abstaining. The project will house branches of the Community College of Baltimore County and public library.

The library and two-year college, housed in an estimated 60,000-square-foot building, will become part of the larger project along the Interstate 795 and Reisterstown Road corridors. The 40,000-square-foot library would be the county's largest branch, with a cafe and wireless Internet access. Other components of the project, featuring shops and restaurants, will be built by a private developer.

The first part of the project, a 2,900-space parking garage, was completed three years ago, but the lagging economy has delayed any other construction. County officials hope the new projects will spark economic development and job growth in the area, particularly at the struggling Owings Mills Mall.

In other business, McIntire, who is leaving the council, withdrew a proposal to permit cell phone towers only by special exception and prohibit them from projecting above prominent ridges or hilltops. The bill's opponents argued that the height restrictions would serve to increase the number of towers. McIntire unsuccessfully pushed for a similar bill in August.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Democrat, also pulled an amendment to an ethics bill that some believe targeted a well-known lobbyist and the president of the firefighters union.

Oliver's amendment would have barred only those convicted after Sept. 7 of certain crimes — bribery, fraud, embezzlement, theft and forgery, among others —from doing business with the county or representing county employees. The current law does not address the time of conviction. Oliver said he wanted the new council members to be able to vote on the legislation, which he expects to reintroduce in early January.

The existing law, sponsored by retiring Democratic Councilman Vince Gardina, passed in August on a 6-1 vote with Oliver dissenting. Oliver said he believed the bill targeted Michael Day, president of the Baltimore County Professional Fire Fighters Association, and Bruce C. Bereano, who had lobbied against Gardina's efforts to broadly restrict the indoor tanning industry.

The council meeting also marked the last one for five members — Gardina, Kevin Kamenetz, McIntire, S.G. Samuel Moxley and Joseph Bartenfelder. Kamenetz, a Democrat and the incoming county executive, noted that the current council collectively has 104 years of experience.

Gardina, whom Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. referred to as the "dean" of the seven-member panel, is retiring after 20 years. The departing members thanked their families, constituents, staffs and county employees for their support over the years.

"We've grown and really built a strong friendship," Moxley, a Democrat, said.

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