Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: In Harford County, Bob Cassilly calls timeout in warehouse construction. It’s kinda shocking. | COMMENTARY

The Harford County public works department issued a stop work order on the grading permit at the Abingdon Woods development site currently in litigation.

Those who were in Bel Air that day for the court hearing say they had never seen anything like it: Bob Cassilly, the new Harford County executive, entered Judge Diane Adkins-Tobin’s courtroom and signaled for a timeout in the proceedings. The judge confirmed Cassilly’s request to speak with the attorney there representing the county in the contested land-use case. Minutes later, plans for a large development in Abingdon were thrown again into limbo.

Cassilly signaled “like he was at a peewee football game,” said one of the attorneys who appeared in Harford County Circuit Court on Jan. 5 for the hearing on Abingdon Business Park, a controversial proposal to build 2 million square feet of retail, commercial and warehouse space on 326 acres of forestland known as Abingdon Woods. Others who witnessed Cassilly’s appearance found it unusual — an elected official personally causing a halt in a court case, followed by the county suddenly changing its position on a key aspect of the development.


But Cassilly denies that his appearance in court was an effort to inject politics into the process. He had only been in office a few weeks, and the Abingdon Woods development was moving forward despite, he says, clear evidence that the previous county administration had committed significant errors in granting waivers for the development; the Maryland Supreme Court had said as much in a related ruling.

“I went to court to consult my attorneys,” Cassilly says. “I’m their client. I was in office for not quite a month; there was a lot going on, and this [project] was moving pretty quick. … The position we were taking in court was not our position anymore.”


At issue was whether the developer had fully complied with requirements of Maryland’s forest conservation law. Opponents of the project, led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, say the plan for conserving forest was inadequate. Other opponents, including Cassilly’s sister, Veronica Cassilly, have argued that clearing forest and wetlands for a new industrial development makes no sense when other property in Harford’s older commercial areas could be redeveloped. Bob Cassilly expressed similar opinions when he ran successfully for county executive last year, and just last month he called for a six-month moratorium on all new mega-warehouse construction.

But attorneys for Abingdon Business Park say the county had for years supported the project and that the county executive’s action had “infected” the process with political influence. They say Cassilly and County Attorney Jefferson Blomquist had no legal basis for withdrawing support. The two men apparently had told Meaghan Alegi, a senior assistant attorney representing Harford County in the case, to file a “supplemental memorandum” that changed the county’s position.

“The newly sworn-in Harford County Executive Robert Cassilly and newly appointed Mr. Blomquist abruptly interrupted the Court proceedings, in an eleventh-hour effort to upend the long-focused trajectory of the County’s position in this case,” says a motion filed by Joseph Snee and Kurt Fischer, attorneys for the developers. “The Court, at the request of Mr. Cassilly, took a brief recess, during which Messrs. Cassilly and Blomquist escorted Assistant County Attorney Meaghan Alegi out of the courtroom and into a private meeting room. When the three emerged and the hearing resumed, Assistant County Attorney Alegi then requested leave to file a ‘supplemental memorandum.’”

That memorandum, filed two weeks after the hearing, argues that certain waivers to the conservation plan were flawed and lacked the approval of the county planning director. It asks the court to remand decision making about the project to the Department of Planning and Zoning.

Alegi has since resigned from county government. She declined to be interviewed about the Abingdon Woods case or discuss her resignation. Both she and Blomquist signed the supplemental memorandum, though Blomquist’s initials appear next to Alegi’s signature. Read into that what you will.

I have not so far mentioned the developers. They are: BTC III I-95 Logistics Center LLC and Harford Investors LLP. I’ll call them BTC for short. The developers are represented, respectively, by Fischer and Snee.

In responding to the “special memorandum,” they argue that the county’s new position on Abingdon Woods is “contrived” and likely the result of political influence.

“It is fanciful to conclude,” the attorneys argue in a document filed this week, “that any County official concerned about his or her career and livelihood could make a fair and impartial decision on BTC’s [forest conservation plan] and any review on remand would be conducted in an unbiased way that would be devoid of any influence exercised by the County Executive and County Attorney.”


The attorneys cite Cassilly’s proposed moratorium on warehouse construction as another example of his opposition to their clients’ project and further evidence that the approval process “has been infected with improper political influence and prejudgment.”

But Cassilly insists that his position on Abingdon Woods is simply that the county and developer must comply with state law and the court ruling on forest conservation.

And that, he says, is a separate legal issue from how he feels about mega warehouses: They pave over huge tracts of land near the Chesapeake Bay, employ too few workers, and in low-wage jobs. “I don’t see mega warehouses as economic development,” Cassilly says.

It’s kinda shocking to hear a pro-business Republican talking trash about big developments. It certainly doesn’t fit the narrative of the last few decades in suburban Maryland. Rather, it seems like a throwback to a time, long ago, when Maryland Republicans took the “conserve” part of conservative seriously.