Hubers steps aside on vote

Delegate's spouse owns property in area seeking state funds

February 17, 2000|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The husband of a Baltimore County lawmaker owns 60 acres of property in the center of a planned $30 million waterfront village in Essex-Middle River seen as part of a long-range revitalization of the county's east side.

Del. Nancy Hubers, an Essex Democrat and member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she will not vote on legislation that would help shape that project. "I could have asked to vote, but the appearance of conflict was too great," she said.

The land owned by her husband, Daniel W. Hubers, is along Hopkins Peninsula on the county's east side, which has suffered an economic downturn with the loss of tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs starting in the 1960s.

Officials want to lower population density in that area and attract younger, middle-income homeowners through redevelopment projects and the extension of Route 43 from White Marsh to Eastern Boulevard.

About $30 million in state and county money would be used to demolish run-down businesses and dilapidated housing complexes, transforming a drab 400-acre tract into a shoreline village of single-family homes, stores, parks and spruced-up marinas featuring riverfront restaurants.

The Hubers property is partly zoned commercial. It contains 24 small houses, some called "shore shacks." A 17-room home stands on the tip of the peninsula.

The other major landowner on the peninsula is Hopewell Pointe Inc., a group of five county builders and developers nearing the start of construction on a $34 million housing community and restaurant-marina. Partners in the corporation are Thomas Carski, Elwood Sinsky, Harry Rosenthal, William Orlove and Lou Breitenother.

The Hubers land has been on the market intermittently for at least a decade. Daniel Hubers, a retired county employee, has asked prospective buyers for $6 million, sources said.

Nancy Hubers filed a report recently with the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics formally disqualifying herself from voting on bills affecting the Essex-Middle River Waterfront Renewal District.

"My husband owns property in the proposed district," she says in the report. "This property, which has been in my husband's family for over 90 years, would not be acquired by Baltimore County but may directly benefit from expenditures by the county for environmental enhancements within the district."

In the past, state ethics laws called for disclosure of any conflict of interest but did not expressly prohibit voting on the matter. Under a change in the law last year, legislators are prohibited from voting on matters in which they or members of their immediate families have a direct financial interest.

"The delegate reviewed the new strict standards contained in the ethics law and determined that this was a bill which she cannot, under the law, vote on," said William G. Somerville, ethics counsel to the General Assembly. "She has complied with the law."

By stepping aside, the delegate laid to rest concerns expressed in Towson and Annapolis that her public actions might benefit her husband's real estate holdings.

"She could have given the perception of conflict simply because Nancy has worked so hard to improve and develop the county's eastern communities," said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat. "She has done the right thing by removing herself from any public involvement in the project."

The first piece of project-related legislation has been introduced. It would give the county condemnation power, allowing it to raze seven buildings near Eastern Boulevard and Old Eastern Avenue, including two bars and an icehouse.

The demolition work would pave the way for reconfiguration of roads for improved traffic flow and a clearer view of Middle River, county planners say.

Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

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