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Must Baltimore County developers call the shots?

Jim Brochin, 52, is a Democrat from Towson who is currently a Maryland state senator.
Jim Brochin, 52, is a Democrat from Towson who is currently a Maryland state senator. ((Baltimore Sun file))

Jonathan Herbst's shot at Sen. Jim Brochin's bill to restrict developer contributions that garner favor on zoning and other land use matters neglects to mention that a number of county senators would not support this pro-citizen bill ("Banning campaign contributions from developers is unconstitutional," June 14). Had they wanted to restrict the influence of the development community, they should have contributed to the bill's language to make it applicable to all contributors.

The Baltimore County Council could seek the same ends, but does not.

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Councilwoman Vicki Almond and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz have held elected office for approximately seven and 27 years, respectively. Now, when Mr. Kamenetz is not allowed to run for a third consecutive term (and is contemplating a run for governor), and Ms. Almond is seeking to be his successor, they put out press releases about: their desire for transparency in government, bans on political contributions during the comprehensive zoning process (CZMP) and revisiting the Pikesville Commercial Revitalization District. Where have they been all this time? Nowhere!

Communities have been asking these politicians for changes to stop the influence of developers in land use matters, and they fail to produce. Ms. Almond turned on her Falls Road base by up-zoning the former Chestnut Ridge Country Club land. She turned on Pikesville when, contrary to the Pikesville Commercial Revitalization District Design Guidelines (that seek a "village" feel), she granted used car lot zoning for a corner of Milford and Reisterstown Roads. She initiated the up-zoning on the Woodholme Country Club land (where Mr. Kamenetz is an "honorary member" and Howard Perlow, his appointee to the planning board, is also a member) as a 2016 CZMP Second District "issue," and then "up-zoned" that land for those members. Soon after, a number of club members threw her a major fundraiser and thanked her for her "herculean" effort. She gave palm reader zoning across from Trader Joe's on Reisterstown Road. In the 2012 CZMP, she up-zoned 27 Hooks Lane and then in the 2016 CZMP, she gave the Hooks Lane Commerce Center increased retail zoning to allow for the construction of an additional 40,000 square feet of office space at the overused intersection at Hooks Lane and Greene Tree Road. Ask the people in Garrison Forest about what she did to them in the comprehensive zoning! In my opinion, she absolutely made her zoning decisions for the anticipated developer contributions.

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Ms. Almond was supported in her 2010 run by the same major developers who supported Mr. Herbst in his 2014 run against her. She bolted from them when, in my opinion, her new developer allies (Jim Smith and clients) must have first agreed to support her if she would grant the Foundry Row project on Reisterstown and Painters Mill Roads. It is no surprise that Mr. Herbst was appointed by Mr. Kamenetz to the county's planning board at the behest of those developers who supported him.

Major law firms that are involved with land use participate in "vetting" the candidates and fundraising for those they want "on their side." This also includes fundraising for those candidates or officials who will help and then do help them and their clients enact county zoning laws and promulgate favorable land development regulations. Some of them are on the commission reviewing the county charter and have been appointed to the school board (where decisions are made to provide schools in areas so developers may obtain building permits pursuant to the watered down "adequate facilities law").

I hope that county voters remember the actions and inactions of Ms. Almond and Mr. Kamenetz in the next election. Developers do not want Senator Brochin to be the county executive because he's made it clear — and based upon his reputation for independence, he is to be believed — that he intends to change Baltimore County's government for the better.

Mr. Herbst's reference to the fact that campaign contributions are a matter of public record fails to mention that: First, the time for filing and publication of those contributions does not make them available on an ongoing basis. Second, they are not usually and readily available in detail in the press and third, they are not transmitted on the Internet as "flash" emails for the public's convenience. His negative reference to the Valleys Planning Council neglects to mention why such an organization is necessary — to counter the decades-old influence of the developer community on those elected officials who "lose their way." Further, such entities must exist to litigate developer driven legislation and regulations, adverse administrative decisions and judicial decisions resulting therefrom.

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Alan P. Zukerberg, Pikesville

Send letters to the editor to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

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