A council representative knows more about their district than their fellow members — at least, that’s been the guiding principle behind the Baltimore County Council’s practice of voting unanimously to approve development proposals brought forward by a council member without deliberation.
But the longstanding practice of “councilmanic courtesy” was called into question during the County Council’s Monday meeting as council members debated a controversial planned unit development, or PUD, proposed by outgoing Councilwoman Cathy Bevins on more than 400 acres of a defunct Middle River sand and gravel quarry.
Middle River Park LLC, the liability company that owns the property, is proposing to build warehouses and an “industrial office park.” The use was in line with development once permitted on the property — it was operated for 75 years by Lafarge North America — until Bevins, a Democrat, changed the zoning to limit development and conserve natural resources in 2020 at her constituents’ behest.
Bevins, who proposed the PUD, said that since then she’s been working with the landowner to reach an agreement on the property’s future that would be palatable to community advocates. Part of that agreement would give 200 acres to the county.
Future use of the land, which sits between Bird River and Saltpeter Creek, has riled Middle River residents as rumors of potential development — including the prospect that the land will be absorbed into the sprawling homes and shops dubbed Greenleigh at Crossroads — have spread.
To muddy matters more: when the county redistricted its councilmanic boundaries earlier this year, Middle River was drawn into the 5th District, where Republican Councilman David Marks is now running to represent.
So when Marks began asking questions about the PUD application — Why won’t the developer pay impact fees? Do zoning bylaws allow the land to be developed and pulled into Greenleigh, as residents fear? What is the value, really, of the 200 acres that the Lafarge landowner is promising to donate to the county? — he was quickly admonished by council Chair Julian Jones, who reminded council members how things are done.
“I don’t want us to stray too far away here … from councilmanic courtesy,” Jones said during the virtual meeting. “And I trust Councilwoman Bevins to know what’s right for her district,” he added.
‘Councilmanic courtesy’ has become a buzz-phrase among constituents familiar with the county’s development approval process, which gives County Council members great leeway in land use decisions. Council approval of planned unit developments is rarely controversial.
A council member “does have a great deal of knowledge [about their district], more so than any of us that don’t represent a specific area,” Patoka said during the meeting.
But, he said: “I do think we have a fiduciary responsibility to look at what’s good for the county and what’s not,” regarding the suitability of the 200 acres the county would get out of the deal and whether the privately owned land could be developed at all, considering contamination that may linger from quarry operations.
While Jones and Bevins said that the approval of a PUD only starts the development review process, Councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Dundalk, shot back,“We’ve got to be kidding ourselves if we don’t think a PUD is a commitment.” Jones brushed him off.
“I would urge us all to just move forward,” Jones said. “Because, why not? [They’re] going to give us 200 acres.”
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. weighed in, too, during a candidate forum in Essex Wednesday evening.
Asked by a forum moderator about his position on the former quarry site, Olszewski said there is a question to be asked about “what the county does with positions like the PUD, like ‘local courtesy.’”
“A lot of weight” should be given to the council member proposing legislation that affects only their constituents, the Democrat said.
But “we should be looking at these issues holistically” and the entire council should have a seat at the table “to develop a path forward,” he added.
The PUD was ultimately approved 4-3. Patoka, Marks and Crandell voted against it. The approval is the first hurdle in a development review process that is more stringent than typical development and requires the developer to provide a community benefit.
HRC for Wes Moore
Another big political name is getting involved in Maryland’s race for governor: Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The former Democratic presidential candidate and secretary of state is scheduled to headline a virtual fundraiser for the Maryland Democratic Party that features gubernatorial nominee Wes Moore.
The event on Oct. 25 is billed as “a conversation on leadership” between Clinton and Moore.
According to an event invitation, the money from the fundraiser goes to the state party and will “help fuel the field operation to mobilize voters to get out the vote for Wes Moore, Aruna Miller, and Democrats up and down the ballot in Maryland this November.” The ticket prices are $100 to $5,000.
This isn’t the first time a big name has stepped in on Moore’s behalf. Before the Democratic primary, TV host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey did a virtual fundraiser for Moore’s campaign.
And Republican candidate Dan Cox has a famous name in his corner, too: On Oct. 17, Cox heads to former President DonaldTrump’s Mar-A-Lago resort for a fundraiser.
The cost to attend the Trump-Cox event is $1,776 but donors who bring in $25,000 can get a picture with the two men at a VIP reception.
It appears the campaign is expecting those guests to solicit donations from multiple people to reach the $25,000 mark, because — as the event invitation notes — Maryland has a $6,000 donation limit per person to a campaign each four-year cycle.
Cox said Friday that the donations would all go to his campaign, not to Trump.
“The president is helping us do this without anything back to him,” Cox said.
There’s still time for crabs
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown took to Twitter Tuesday to praise the history and contributions of Maryland’s German immigrants as part of German-American Heritage Month.
Brown, who is also the Democratic nominee for attorney general, singled out Gustav Brunn, the inventor of Maryland’s favorite vodka, hot sauce and ice cream additive: Old Bay Seasoning.
But Brown made a statement that we at The Baltimore Banner feel compelled to correct.
“Though Crab Season is over, Maryland can’t thank Mr. Brunn enough for our beloved seasoning,” Brown tweeted.
Crab season is most definitely not over.
So why not celebrate German-American Heritage Month fully with crabs covered in Gustav Brunn’s seasoning and one (or more) of Baltimore’s many German-inspired lagers?
What’s easier to sign: A football or an egg?
When presidential hopefuls trek to New Hampshire to speak at an event called Politics & Eggs, part of the deal is that they have to sign their John Hancock on a bunch of wooden eggs. It’s not as easy as it may look, according to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
The eggs go home with participants, including business leaders, politically connected folks and students at Saint Anselm College, which hosts the Politics & Eggs speeches.
And some of the eggs stay at the college, put on display with other political memorabilia associated with New Hampshire’s role as an influential early presidential primary state.
When Hogan was at Saint Anselm to speak this week, he took part in the egg-signing tradition both before and after his speech. Only he found it rather difficult.
“First thing I’ll say is that those wooden eggs are really hard to sign,” Hogan said shortly after he stepped to the podium, earning a chuckle from the crowd. “You know, I’ve signed a lot of things. I’ve signed shirts and hats and baseballs and footballs — but wooden eggs probably take the cake.”
The Republican governor continued: “You know, my handwriting is bad enough on a piece of paper on a flat table, but that was quite a challenge, but it’s a wonderful tradition nonetheless.”