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Full City Council advances Harbor Point TIF

Legislation to establish up to $125 million in tax-increment financing advanced in the Baltimore City Council Monday evening, despite continued protests from some local leaders and residents.

Over a period of about 45 minutes during its regular meeting, the council debated three bills to establish a the amount of the TIF and a special district on the city’s waterfront to help pave the way for the $1 billion Harbor Point development on a former industrial site.

The council is expected to take a final vote on the bills on Sept. 9.

As with two committee hearings over the last three weeks, Monday’s council meeting drew both support for and raucous dissent over the proposed public incentives requested by developer Michael Beatty.

“People oppose a lot of things all the time,” Beatty said after the vote. “People oppose change. If you look at some of the landmark projects built around this country and in this city, they were vehemently opposed. Harbor East … was opposed by many, and now people come in and say they like it.

“You will not get everybody liking every project.”

Beatty said the Harbor Point project will be a “boost for our city.”

The Harbor Point development has been supported by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and a majority of the City Council, who voted to suspend the council’s rules and pass the legislative package despite a rift created last week with Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee Chairman Carl Stokes.

Stokes voted against all three bills Monday. He was joined by Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton; Councilman Bill Henry voted against one of the three bills, which established the TIF itself. Eleven members voted for all three bills.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke abstained from voting on all three bills because her husband, developer Joe Clarke, entered into an agreement with Beatty late last year regarding financing for the Recreation Pier, an unrelated project in Fells Point.

Stokes’ committee last week voted to endorse the TIF legislation after two contentious public hearings at City Hall.

That vote, on a motion by Councilman Edward Reisinger, came amid chaos after Stokes abruptly adjourned the meeting and left the session.

In his absence, the committee voted 3-0 to approve the three bills, even as many who had attended the hearing as spectators or hoping to testify against the measures booed.

Despite that vote, Stokes refused to sign the legislation, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said hours before Monday’s council meeting.

That required the council to suspend a tenet in the Rules of the Baltimore City Council in order to move the TIF legislation onto the council’s agenda for Monday.

“It went through its process, it got a vote and I’m not going to delay it,” Young said, of the second reader Harbor Point TIF vote by the full council.

The Harbor Point TIF would be the city’s largest to date. Current estimates are that the project will require $107 million in tax-increment financing, primarily for infrastructure on the site. The amount the city borrows will be paid back to investors from the increase in property tax revenues generated by the development.

At last week’s committee hearing, Beatty pledged to provide $3 million to the city’s low-income housing fund.

The desirability and size of the TIF was questioned last week by local business owners and business leaders.

On Wednesday, Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, signed a position paper that suggested limiting the TIF to $33.7 million, to fund the first phase of infrastructure construction. The remainder of the TIF request could be considered later by the City Council.

“The Executive Committee of the Greater Baltimore Committee, although supportive of the Harbor Point project, is concerned with the use of the funds and the magnitude of the TIF proceeds,” the GBC paper stated.

Also last week, the Downtown Management Authority of Baltimore released a statement that said its board had voted to oppose the $107 million TIF request. Members of the Fells Point Residents Association also held a meeting and voted to withdraw support for the Harbor Point project because they said they needed more information on the deal and the development’s impact on their community, located next door.

Members of some of the city’s grassroots labor groups and religious leaders have protested the TIF request on the steps of City Hall three times over the past month.

Beatty plans to build a 23-story tower for Exelon, the Chicago-based energy giant that acquired Constellation Energy, as the first building on the site. In addition, he is planning to build residential, retail and other commercial space there as well as parkland over the next dozen years, he said.

The parcel was the former site of the Allied Signal chemical plant and contains toxic chromium below the surface, capped by a protective covering that was placed there as part of a $100 million cleanup by Honeywell International Inc., which bought Allied in 1999.