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Grassroots groups urge Baltimore County voters not to sign petitions

A grassroots group of advocates from Owings Mills and Reisterstown is urging Baltimore County voters not to sign petitions that aim to force recent zoning decisions by the County Council to a referendum in November 2014.

At a news conference in Towson on Monday, representatives of the group called “Don’t Sign It!” said the efforts of two wealthy developers, Howard Brown and David Cordish, could ultimately “hijack” the county’s four-year rezoning process if nearly 58,000 signatures are obtained by a Nov. 14 deadline on two petitions aimed at the newly passed zoning maps of the 2nd and 6th districts.

“They are two very powerful local developers,” said Noel Levy, an organizer. “And they are individuals who are used to getting their way every day.”

At the center of the dispute is a $140 million redevelopment of the shuttered Solo Cup manufacturing plant into a mixed-use office and retail center called Foundry Row. The project, located in the 2nd District at Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads, would be anchored by a Wegmans and developed by Greenberg Gibbons.

But Brown has protested the development for months, saying it is too close to a massive development his David S. Brown Enterprises is building called Metro Centre. There, apartments, retail and office space are under construction, along with a new branch of the Baltimore County Public Library and a new campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Cordish is protesting the 6th District maps because they allow new zoning in Middle River at Route 43 and Eastern Boulevard for a redevelopment that could include a Walmart Supercenter, which would compete with a shopping center he owns nearby that also contains a Walmart.

Levy and Cheryl Aaron, of the Greater Greenspring Association, and Ruth Goldstein, president of the Greater Midfield Association, said they are urging county voters not to sign petitions being circulated and promoted in shopping centers and other public places in the county by out-of-state referendum experts hired by an organization supported by Brown and Cordish.

“We’re just saying they are abusing the process for their own gain,” Aaron said.

At the parking lot of the Target on Goucher Boulevard on Monday morning shortly after the news conference, two workers approached shoppers near the front door of the store seeking signatures for the petition drive to force the 2nd and 6th district zoning maps to referendum.

One worker, who identified herself only as Veronica, said she came to Baltimore from her home near San Luis Obispo, Calif., to gather signatures for the effort. She said she had never been to Baltimore before and was unfamiliar with the area or its local issues.

“Voters need to have a voice in their zoning decisions,” she said in her pitch to gather signatures from registered county voters.

Sources have said the workers are being paid $5 per signature garnered.

Gibbons said last week that he had also hired experts in nixing the petition drives from Phoenix, Ariz. They have been handing out flyers that state “Keep Progress Moving in Owings Mills!” and “Think twice before signing this petition!”

Levy said the “Don’t Sign It!” group was not associated with Gibbons or any other developer and had little funding. It had recently formed, and on Sunday launched a Facebook page.

Another advocate, Peter Fenwick, representing the Valleys Planning Council, a local land preservation group, said the petition drive would disrupt the current four-year comprehensive rezoning system in the county.

“To upend that now is to throw the process out,” Fenwick said.