The story reported in The Sun on the criticism by some members of the Baltimore County Council of the secret five-year extension of the closing date for the sale of county-owned property at the intersection of York Road and Bosley Avenue in Towson to Caves Valley Partners understated the controversy (“Contract extension for Towson ‘gateway’ property sparks council criticism,” Nov. 29). The property is the proposed site of a development known as Towson Station.
Let’s put the reaction by Councilman Wade Kach and others in context. On April 1, 2017, a county contractor, acting on orders from the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, cut down 30 trees that surrounded the property. The tree removal defied a condition placed on the proposed development of the property by the County Council. An investigation by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is underway to determine if the trees were removed in violation of forest conservation laws. Caves Valley Partners had indicated during the development review process that the trees were not compatible with its proposed development plan. The closing of the sale of the property is contingent on approval of the development plan.
On April 3, 2017, Mr. Kamenetz’s second-in-command, Fred Homan, told the County Council that the reason for removing the trees was to “accelerate the settlement on the property” because “the county needs the cash from the sale.” Removing the trees eliminated a potential delay in approval of the development plan. On July 26, 2017, however, Mr. Homan approved a five-year extension of the settlement, from December 31, 2018 to December 31, 2023. The extension was not disclosed to the County Council or the public until discovered by the Baltimore Post.
Hurry up in April, slow down in July. What in the world is going on? In April, county government was in such a hurry that it used money appropriated for the maintenance of county parks and other property to cut down the trees to prepare the property for development, as reported by the Baltimore Post. The county also demolished existing structures even though the contract of sale calls for the property to be transferred “as is.” No money appears to have been appropriated for the demolition.
Councilman Kach, a former auditor, has called for an audit to determine if county money was misspent. Under the county charter, an official who spends county funds for a purpose for which they were not appropriated may be removed from office. Something changed in July, but no one in the county is saying what it was. Mr. Kamenetz described the extension as “reasonable.” Reasonable for whom? The extension does not compensate the county for the loss of the use of the revenue from the sale during the extension, nor does it provide for any upward adjustment in the purchase price because of any increase in the value of the property. The $8.3 million purchase price was agreed upon in 2013. Will the value be the same in 2023?
Additionally, the Kamenetz administration has signaled that it will recommend that the County Council approve a reduction in the purchase price if Caves Valley agrees to remove a gas station and convenience store from its development plan. What does the county get out of the lengthy extension to what Councilman Kach described as a “bad deal” in the first place?The only thing that comes to mind is that the county gets the possibility of another piece of property in the heart of Towson tied up by Caves Valley and lying vacant and undeveloped for an extended period, like Towson Row. The Towson Row development is now a joint venture between CVP and Greenberg Gibbons. The county hopes that a new $16.4 million infusion of county money approved last month finally gets construction of Towson Row underway next year .
The Kamenetz administration has a lot of explaining to do. Don’t hold your breath.
David A. Plymyer, Catonsville
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