Public shouldn't be in the dark

Secret: Everyone benefits from an open Owings Mills Town Center planning process.

May 26, 2000

NOW THAT five development teams have submitted their proposals for the Owings Mills Town Center, it is time to bring the public into the process.

By refusing to allow public inspection, the Maryland State Department of Transportation and Baltimore County Department of Economic Development may be harming the project.

This is the first time in the Baltimore region that state and local governments have teamed up to create a mixed-use development of this magnitude. It is imperative that this project be immediately successful because it will be the benchmark for the region's future transit-oriented development.

One of the project's goals should be to encourage as much public participation in the early stages of development as possible. Developers have submitted their concepts for public buildings -- library, a satellite college, parking lot and a town square. Perhaps the Owings Mills residents would like to have other public amenities -- a recreation and swimming center or an ice rink, for instance -- included in the project. It is better to discuss these ideas at this stage of the process.

The argument for keeping the process closed revolves around one consideration -- protecting proprietary information developers submitted. The panel reviewing the proposals could easily release them without including any confidential financial information. Since the deadline for submissions has passed, none of the five bidders will gain any advantage from reviewing competing proposals.

Keeping the process closed also generates suspicion. By making the review process as transparent as possible, state and local officials can allay most fears that a developer was chosen for reasons other than the merits of the proposal.

Rather than use any and every excuse to keep information from the public, government agencies should be trying to find ways to release as much as possible. It would be in their interest as well as the public's.

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