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Community Groups Oppose Zoning Referendum Push

Community leaders claim referendum on zoning decisions would "render the work of communities and the council vote meaningless."

Community Groups Oppose Zoning Referendum Push

A loosely formed group of community associations said Friday that it has formed a coalition to fight developers attempting to force two county zoning bills to referendum.

The Don't Sign It! Coalition plans to begin a public education campaign to oppose a group calling itself the Coalition for Zoning Integrity, which is backed by David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies.

Cheryl Aaron, zoning chair for the Greater Greenspring Association and an organizer of the Don't Sign It! Coalition, said the attempt to overturn zoning decisions made by the County Council in August is bad for communities.

"Communities don't have the resources to file referendums and hire lawyers and organizers to go out and collect signatures," Aaron said. "It doesn't work that way. It will be a one-way road with devastating effects on communities."

The group plans on holding a news conference in Towson Monday to announce efforts to oppose the referendum effort.

David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies are seeking to overturn bills that rezoned nearby properties that could be redeveloped and ultimately compete with their projects.

Brown is the developer of Metro Centre at Owings Mills which is near the former Solo Cup plant that is to be redeveloped into a shopping center called Foundry Row. That project would feature a Wegman's grocery store as its anchor.

In Middle River, Cordish is opposing the redevelopment of the Middle River Depot. The depot, if redeveloped, could result in Walmart leaving its current location in the Carroll Island Shopping Center and moving to the new depot location, Cordish said in July.

Cordish owns the Carroll Island Shopping Center.

No county law, much less a zoning bill, has ever been petitioned to referendum in Baltimore County.

Brown and Cordish have until Oct. 15 to collect 28,826 verified signatures of Baltimore County voters. They can extend the deadline by an additional 30 days if they turn in about one-third of the total required amount—9,513 verified signatures of registered voters.

The group has hired workers from the Philadelphia area to collect signatures.

The Board of Elections usually recommends that petitioners collect twice the required signatures in order to overcome typical rejection rates.

David Cordish and representatives of the Committee for Zoning Integrity did not respond to requests for an interview.

The formation of the Don't Sign It! Coalition comes at the same time that another developer is buying time on local radio stations opposing the the referendum effort.

Middle River Station LLC began running the ads on WBAL radio Thursday. [Listen to the radio ad.]

Aaron said that unlike groups such as the Say No To Solo Coalition, her organization has no corporate financial backing.

"We just don't have unending sources of income," Aaron said. "Our members pay $50 a year to belong and they pay it when they can afford it."

The group does have the support of the Baltimore County Community Political Action Committee—an organization formed by Towson land-use lawyer Carroll Holzer and other community leaders.

Holzer, who frequently represents local community organizations in zoning issues, formed the PAC after it was reported that development attorneys David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith, son of former County Executive Jim Smith, were raising tens of thousands of dollars for County Council candidates in 2010.

Holzer is also the attorney for the the Greater Greenspring Association.

Aaron said the effort to educate county voters to not sign the referendum petition is bigger than zoning issues.

Ruth Goldstein, a Pikesville community activist agreed.

"This is a real affront to the zoning process," Goldstein said, adding that the process "could afford to be fixed but not by David S. Brown and David Cordish, who are probably the biggest two beneficiaries of it."

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