Jul 30, 2014

Board of Elections Nixes Zoning Referendum

A decision released Tuesday said the opponents of zoning issues in two council districts had enough signatures but ruled the petitions were legally deficient.

Board of Elections Nixes Zoning Referendum

UPDATED (9:23 p.m.)—The Baltimore County Board of Elections ruled that petitions to referendum zoning decisions in two council districts will not be placed on the 2014 ballot.

Baltimore County Elections Director Katie Brown wrote in a decision issued Tuesday afternoon that while opponents had collected the required number of signatures, the petitions were legally deficient.

Andrew Bailey, an attorney for the county Board of Elections, reviewed five challenges to the petition filed by attorneys representing Greenberg Gibbons, the developer of the proposed Foundry Row project on the grounds of the old Solo Cup factory.

"I believe that the form of the petition, as circulated to potential signers, was insufficient to alert them to what exactly they were being asked to petition to a vote," wrote Bailey.

Bailey ultimately sided with County Attorney Michael Field who, in a letter, challenged the referendum effort on the basis that the petitioners failed to provide voters copies of the maps of the 78 zoning issues covered in the bills.

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.

The to collect 170,000 signatures to place the two bills on the 2014 ballot.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the district where the Solo Cup property is located, said the board's decision was correct.

"How can you explain this complicated bill to someone in a parking lot in five minutes or less?" Almond said. "You just can't do it."

Stuart Kaplow, an attorney representing the developers challenging the zoning bills, said the board of elections misinterpreted the law.

"The insistence that the County Charter some how requires petitioners to do what is not only impossible to do but is also contrary to state law is wrong," Kaplow said. "Claiming 78 pages of zoning maps should have been attached to the petition is clearly wrong."

Kaplow said his clients are likely to file for a judicial review of the board's decision in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

That challenge must be filed within the next 90 days.

Ruth Goldstein, a coordinator and founding member of Don't Sign it, said a successful petition effort would circumvent the county's quadrennial rezoning process.

"This is the way it's always been done," said Goldstein, whose group opposed the petition drive. "There was a very open, public process for people to voice their opinions and people overwhelmingly voiced their support for this."

One opponent of the Solo Cup project called the board's decision "disappointing but not surprising."

"The fix was in from the beginning," said Shirley Supik, a member and leader in the group Say No to Solo. "The fight was really over openness in government and fairness to the people.

"Once again, the voice of the people will not be heard," Supik said. "We collected 170,000 signatures from county voters and that tells me the people want to be heard."

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