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Stokes firing back over Harbor Point tax break

A Baltimore City Council member said the head of the city’s development agency is making “personal attacks” based on an escalating dispute over public tax breaks for a $1 billion waterfront development.

City Council member Carl Stokes says of the Baltimore Development Corp.: ‘Unfortunately, without the facts backing them up, they seem to have resorted to personal attacks.’

Councilman Carl Stokes on Tuesday said a June 28 letter sent to him from Baltimore Development Corp. President and CEO Brenda McKenzie was erroneous and misleading.

“I think we should have a healthy discussion about that,” Stokes said, regarding the BDC’s actions last year that resulted in Harbor Point’s inclusion in the city’s Enterprise Zone.

The proposed luxury development had been excluded from Enterprise Zone maps in July 2012 because of its demographics, but added back into the qualifying area after the area was linked to Perkins Homes, a public housing project in upper Fells Point.

The BDC redrew the qualifying zones in September 2012 after developer Michael Beatty appealed the rejection.

Stokes last week introduced a resolution before the City Council that asks Beatty to invest at least 30 percent of the tax break Harbor Point gains from being in the Enterprise Zone, a figure that could be as much as $88 million.

At a minimum, Stokes estimated his resolution would put nearly $16 million back into Perkins Homes as a way to repay the struggling low-income community.

A televised hearing on the resolution has been scheduled before Stokes’ Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee for July 10 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

McKenzie’s letter to Stokes, dated June 28, said Stokes’ resolution could harm the development’s prospects.

“Placing a requirement on the Harbor Point developer to allocate a portion of the foregone property tax revenue will stymie and deter investment,” she wrote

Her letter also emphasizes that the Enterprise Zone map was redrawn, not the census tracts.

“It is important to note that Perkins Homes is not, nor has ever been, included in the Harbor Point (203) census tract,” McKenzie wrote, identifying a specific tract in the city’s census grid. “Perkins Homes is in the (301) census tract, located north of Eastern Avenue.”

The 301 census tract has long been in the Enterprise Zone, McKenzie wrote.

“When the Enterprise Zone was expanded in October 2012 to include Harbor Point, the 203 census tract demographics … were added to the existing, citywide consolidated Enterprise Zone. We ask that the ongoing narrative regarding Harbor Point no longer include assertions that census tract lines were adjusted (they were not), or demographics were adjusted to include Perkins Homes, as they were not.”

Stokes responded on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately without the facts backing them up, they seem to have resorted to personal attacks,” Stokes said. “Of course, the Perkins Homes and Harbor Point are put together in the same zone because by legal definition, an Enterprise Zone must be in an area that is high-poverty, high-unemployment and low-income, or an area that has abandonment, loss of population and a lot of definitions — neither of which is Harbor Point by itself.”

Joann Logan, spokeswoman for the BDC, did not respond to a request for a comment on Stokes’ response.

In addition to the Enterprise Zone tax credits, Beatty is seeking a $107 million tax increment financing deal from the city. Stokes’ committee is set to hear that request on July 17.