Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. vetoed a bill Thursday that would have amended the zoning code in Hunt Valley to accommodate a potential new development project there.

The bill, introduced by County Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican, would have enabled residential development in the Hunt Valley/Timonium area — east of Interstate 83, west of York Road, south of Shawan Road and north of Padonia Road — if it adhered to a size threshold.

In a letter to the council — all of whom voted to approve the bill — Olszewski noted “significant concerns” from the county’s Office of Law about granting special privilege to “a particular member or members of a class instead of an entire class.” County Attorney James R. Benjamin Jr., in a letter to Olszewski earlier this week, wrote that so-called “special law” is illegal per the Maryland Constitution.

“It appears the legislation was drafted with the proposed redevelopment of the Hunt Valley Inn site in mind,” Benjamin noted, referring to a newly shuttered property on Shawan Road. “I am concerned that this legislation may be construed as a special law.”

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Olszewski, in his letter to the council, said the bill also would “weaken the character” of the community and “give the developer too much of a blank slate.” He said that while he supports expanding housing access in geographically attractive areas, he hopes the council will identify other ways to increase those opportunities without singling any one project out.

Last month, Olszewski’s office said it would rescind a bill that would have enabled certain projects to bypass County Council approval and head straight to the administration’s zoning board. Instead, he and County Council Chair Izzy Patoka said a new “compromise” bill that would empower council members to recommend districts for revitalization would be introduced soon.

Kach, whose district includes the controversial Lutherville Station project, has opposed residential development there.

— Hallie Miller

Third parties seek voting, redistricting changes

A coalition of three political parties covering the left-to-right spectrum are asking for election reforms they say will ensure results more accurately represent the intentions of voters.

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Maryland’s Green Party, Forward Party and Libertarian Party are asking for legislation to allow ranked choice voting and to create independent commissions to handle redistricting for state and federal offices.

In ranked choice voting, voters rate their candidates from most to least favorite. If one candidate wins more than half the first-place votes, the election is over. But if not, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and those votes are assigned to the second choice on the ballot.

The process continues until a candidate wins more than half of the first-place votes.

Advocates say ranked choice voting requires candidates to appeal to broader coalitions and allows voters the freedom to pick candidates they like, and not just opt for someone they think can win.

With redistricting, normally the new districts are drawn by the party in power. Critics argue it leads to those parties attempting to consolidate their power, often through gerrymandered districts favoring one party. Supporters argue independent commissions are more likely to create competitive districts.

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The reforms, the three parties argue, would improve confidence in the legitimacy of election results.

“Voters want more options. When voters can’t assert all their preferences, our elected officials are consistently selected by a minority of voters,” the groups wrote in a news release. “When the election is done, we need to know that the winners were approved by more than half of the voters.”

While the Green and Libertarian parties have appeared on Maryland ballots for years, the Forward Party is more recent. The organization was founded by businessman and former presidential and New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang in 2021 with the goal of creating a centrist alternative to the Republican and Democratic parties.

— John O’Connor

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