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Baltimore Co. elections board denies referendums

Baltimore County voters will not have a chance to vote on referendums in 2014 that seek to overturn zoning changes approved last year by the County Council, the head of the Baltimore County Board of Elections said Tuesday.

The ruling by Katie A. Brown, the board’s director, was detailed in a brief letter sent Tuesday to representatives of a bitter dispute over two developments in opposite parts of the county: Owings Mills and Middle River.

Brown’s letter is based on advice from the board’s attorney, who said that the petitions voters were asked to sign did not have specific maps accompanying them and were therefore “deficient.”

The letter from Brown also states that despite an analysis of voter signatures sent in to the board by developers hoping to spur a referendum to halt new development made possible by zoning changes, the petition drives were null and void.

“I have determined that the petitions are legally deficient and that, therefore, the referenced zoning laws will not be placed on the 2014 ballot for referendum,” Brown wrote in a Feb. 5 letter.

The ruling is the latest move in a highly financed chess game over two projects: the redevelopment of the former Solo Cup site in Owings Mills to a shopping center called Foundry Row, anchored by a Wegmans; and a possible new Wal-Mart SuperCenter near Martin State Airport in Middle River.

Developers Howard Brown and David Cordish have waged a fight against an Aug. 28 vote by the council for new zoning maps in the Second and Sixth Districts that would allow what they deem as competition for their existing projects, Metro Centre in Owings Mills and an existing Wal-Mart in Middle River, respectively.

“We are grateful for the very careful and thoughtful decision of the Baltimore County Board of Elections,” said Timothy F. Maloney, an attorney for Foundry Row developers Greenberg Gibbons, in a statement. “We also thank the people of Owings Mills and the community and business groups who strongly support Foundry Row. We look forward to bringing Wegmans, great jobs and a new gateway to Owings Mills.”

Stuart Kaplow, attorney for Brown and the Committee for Zoning Integrity Inc., said Tuesday: “The voters have been trumped. This is a denial of a fundamental right that predates our nation and can be traced back to the Magna Carta.

“Today, the right to referendum is guaranteed by the Maryland Constitution and the County Charter as a means of protecting public participation in government. I’m confident that the courts will order that these petitions will be placed on the ballot. We will pursue a judicial review.”

The referendum could have frozen the newly minted zoning maps, Brown has said, and prevented any new developments from moving forward.

Brown’s letter was based on advice by the board’s attorney, Andrew G. Bailey, who wrote in a Feb. 4 letter: “Because the acts specifically incorporate the maps and because the wording of the acts makes little real sense without a map to refer to in order to understand the specific changes and the properties affected, the maps were a required element of what should have been shown to or made available to signers of the petition.”