Kamenetz to veto Owings Mills Metro Centre bill

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz plans to veto a bill that would free the Metro Centre at Owings Mills of various regulations, after County Council members amended the legislation to protect plans for a nearby development.

In announcing what would be the first veto of his term, Kamenetz said the bill was "simply not good public policy." The County Council unanimously passed the bill, sponsored by Councilman Kenneth Oliver, this week after a heated meeting.

In a statement, Kamenetz said he objected to the legislation "because it contravenes 50 years of regulation that mandates public input and government review of development projects in Baltimore County."

"Significantly altering a process that has served the county well over the years is simply not good public policy," Kamenetz said.

It was unclear whether Kamenetz objected to the original legislation or to amendments added this week. His chief of staff, Don Mohler, said the county executive was unavailable for further comment.

Development in Owings Mills has become a contentious topic in county politics, pitting powerful developers and their attorneys against one another. The Metro Centre is among several major projects planned for the area. Located near the subway line, the huge center is set to feature stores, offices and apartments, as well as the county's largest library branch and a community college.

Oliver's bill would have given Metro Centre developer Howard Brown of David S. Brown Enterprises exceptions to various regulations, including those on the height and size of buildings, open space, signage and parking. Some had described the bill as a "blank check" for Brown because of the number of exemptions he would receive.

On Monday, a split council approved a set of amendments by Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, and Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat. The changes were backed by the development firm Greenberg Gibbons and were meant to protect Foundry Row, an upscale retail development that is planned for Almond's district but still needs zoning approval.

Oliver objected to the amendments, saying they would hurt the Metro Centre, which is in his district. The Randallstown Democrat said Thursday that he planned to consult with Brown "to see what he wants to do" and did not know whether he would push for similar legislation again.

"I think he made the right decision," Oliver said of Kamenetz's planned veto. "Those were some bad amendments that were attached to the bill."

Brown could not be reached for comment Thursday. His project is the county's first transit-oriented development.

Almond said she believed the bill should have waited until after a county planning board study of transit-oriented developments is done. That report is due in October.

"The majority of the council attempted to repair a bad bill with the amendments," Almond said. She added that Kamenetz's administration never indicated to the council that the county executive had concerns with the bill.

Lawyers for both developers have been lobbying council members on the legislation. Brown is represented by the law firm Venable, while Smith, Gildea & Schmidt — for which former County Executive James T. Smith is a partner — represents Greenberg Gibbons.

Greenberg Gibbons believed that Brown could use the exemptions granted in the legislation to undermine Foundry Row because county officials would take the potential density and traffic at Metro Centre into account when considering Foundry Row's development plans. The amendments were designed to help prevent that.

Oliver initially introduced the legislation in April but later withdrew it, saying he didn't have enough votes on the council to pass it.

He later reintroduced a largely similar measure, this time with the co-sponsorship of Councilmen John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, and Todd Huff, a Lutherville Republican.



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