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The Royal Farms that won't die

The latest twist in the Towson Royal Farms saga arrived at the County Council Monday with all the trappings of a classic Baltimore County development dispute — throngs of protesting constituents, accusations of deep pocketed developers buying county officials, debates about the tradition of councilmanic courtesy and intimations that the county executive was encroaching on the council’s authority over land use.

And the matter was dispatched with all the usual Baltimore County efficiency. Council Chairman Tom Quirk — who represents Catonsville, not Towson — announced to the crowd that he had been in extensive talks over the weekend with the developer, Caves Valley Partners, Royal Farms and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s administration and that all sides are willing to renegotiate in hopes of a “win-win.” He moved to table a resolution to kill the development by Councilman David Marks — who actually does represent Towson — and noted that such a motion is not debatable under the council’s rules. From the time Council Secretary Thomas Peddicord read the number and title of the resolution until Mr. Quirk pronounced the motion to table passed 4-3 (with the Democrats voting in favor and the Republicans voting against), all of 1 minute and 31 seconds had elapsed.

But this issue is far from over. Rather than delivering a win to Mr. Kamenetz, whose brainchild this deal was in the first place, his fellow Democrats have placed themselves, the executive and the developers in a bind to make whatever gets built on the corner of York and Bosley roads more palatable to the community. Mr. Quirk now owns this controversy, and in the process he’s eliminated any pretense that Mr. Kamenetz isn’t directly involved.

Coming to a universally acceptable solution doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy. The bad blood this development has generated was clearly on display Monday night, and not just in the form of the boos and shout of “Sellouts! All of you!” that erupted from the audience after the vote. Caves Valley partner Steve Sibel took to the witness stand during the public comment period at the end of the meeting not to smooth things over but to accuse Mr. Marks of acting unfairly, displaying a lack of leadership and lying about his willingness to negotiate. “It’s a very fine fairy tale you’ve spun,” Mr. Sibel said to Councilman Marks.

Mr. Marks, who originally supported this development, says it’s the Kamenetz administration that’s acting in bad faith. The resolution he sponsored to advance the planned unit development — which the council passed 7-0 last year in deference to his wishes — specifically called for the preservation of the mature trees on the site, but this spring, a work crew on contract with the county took out dozens of them. Under those circumstances, Mr. Marks asked, how can the community believe the county and developer will live up to any agreement?

It would behoove Mr. Kamenetz to find a way to convince them. Mr. Quirk may have made himself the face of the negotiations — and Mr. Sibel may have expressed his eagerness to work with the council chairman — but Mr. Kamenetz is the one with the most at stake. Though he has not yet announced whether he plans to run for governor, we expect his prospective primary opponents have now paused from splicing video of the infamous 2013 “my job to talk, your job to listen” incident at the Mays Chapel Elementary into their attack ads to take aim at this controversy, too. If he’s not convinced that this poses a real problem, Mr. Kamenetz may wish to consult with one of his predecessors, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, about how backlash against a local development plan can derail gubernatorial ambitions.

Mr. Kamenetz, Caves Valley and the other six members of the council have every right to accuse Mr. Marks of inconsistency. The backers of the project can certainly fairly question why it would be so terrible to have a gas station at an intersection that already boasts another gas station and a car dealership — and which is, for that matter, just down the street from the county jail. But there can be no dispute that the community’s opposition isn’t going away. If anything, it is intensifying. It’s in everyone’s interests to come to a meaningful compromise, but particularly in Mr. Kamenetz’s. He needs to make it happen.

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