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Baltimore County OKs Retroactive Revoking of Inherited Projects

The County Council has passed legislation that would allow lawmakers to retroactively revoke planned unit developments if they inherit them from a former council member. Previously members could only modify or amend plans.

Heavy equipment is seen on the 400-acre LaFarge sand quarry
Heavy equipment is seen on the 400-acre LaFarge sand quarry in Middle River earlier this year.
Jerry Jackson/TNS
(TNS) — Baltimore County, Md., lawmakers can now retroactively revoke some planning projects if they inherit them from a former council member, according to legislation passed Monday night.

Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, introduced a bill last month to allow council members to revoke prior approval for planning projects, known as planned unit developments, after White Marsh residents objected to developers’ plans to build an industrial park on a former LaFarge sand-and-gravel quarry on Earls Road.

Marks’ bill passed the council unanimously.

“A [project] should reflect the highest standards of architectural design and thoughtful planning,” Marks said during the Monday vote. “It should also command significant community support.”

Planned unit developments, or PUDs, refer to mixed-use projects that often combine residential, industrial and commercial uses, but must include some kind of public benefit or achieve a higher standard of development.

Marks inherited the project when redistricting maps went into effect in January. With the passage of this legislation, Marks, or any council member, can revoke PUD approval in their district that their predecessors may have given, but only within 90 days of a community input meeting.

The LaFarge quarry would have set aside 200 acres for the county, and another 25 acres to build a school as a public benefit. The Baltimore County Board of Education passed on the property after deeming it too small to host a high school.

Before Monday, council members could only modify or amend a project after it had been approved and within 90 days after the developer held a community input meeting.

Marks also introduced a resolution to revoke approval of the quarry project.

“I have promised my colleagues to continue to talk to the developers, but at this point, [I] am likely to continue with plans to revoke [it],” Marks said in a text message Tuesday to The Baltimore Sun.

He had previously asked the developers, Holcim-MAR and Chesapeake Real Estate Group, to withdraw their project, but those firms declined, according to Chesapeake Realty vice president Whit MacCuaig.

“We believe this action by Councilman Marks is premature,” MacCuaig said on Tuesday.

A Holcim-MAR spokesperson said that firm and the Chesapeake Real Estate Group had “actively worked” to “create a win-win opportunity” for both White Marsh and the project site.

Though he voted for Marks’ bill, Council Chair Julian Jones Jr., a Woodstock Democrat, said the county should take care not to send “the message” to “the business community” that the council’s decisions could easily be overturned.

“Even though the people sitting in the council district may change, we, as Baltimore County, have to be very cognizant of the fact that we do not want to get to a point that [we are] not resolute in our decisions,” Jones said.

Community members have criticized the LaFarge quarry project, which the council approved last fall, on environmental and infrastructure grounds. Then-Councilwoman Cathy Bevins introduced a supporting resolution, but residents criticized her for taking donations from the developers and for pushing for the quarry project’s rezoning after supporting a previous effort to label it an environmentally sensitive area.

President Bob Bendler of the Essex-Middle River Civic Council, which successfully pushed to rezone the quarry project as an environmentally protected area in 2020, lauded the passage of Marks’ bill.

“I thought it was very appropriate,” he said. The project was “very premature and it was very unfortunate that the county pushed it.”

The quarry project is currently undergoing remediation to remove pollutants from the soil after years of mining, which Bendler said should be taken into consideration as the county finishes its 2030 Master Plan process. A spokesperson said the Maryland Department of the Environment had “no timeline” for when the process would be completed.

“LaFarge should participate [in the Master Plan process] as should all of the major developers, officials and citizens,” Bendler said.

©2023 Baltimore Sun. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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