Town center backer resigns

Land opportunity posed possible risk of conflict, he says

Owens supports decision

January 20, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Jay Winer, a longtime proponent of the yet-to-be-built Odenton Town Center, is resigning as chairman of the project's oversight committee to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest as his real estate company enters into a relationship with a potential developer of the project.

For six years, Winer has led the Odenton Town Plan Oversight Committee, a group appointed by the county executive to work with planners to map out growth in the area. Winer announced his resignation in letters to committee members and to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who accepted it Dec. 31. He will formally announce his resignation at a Greater Odenton Improvement Association meeting at the end of the month.

In a recent interview, Winer said a large developer approached him late last year about working with his company, A.J. Properties Inc., to acquire land necessary to build the town center.

He declined to name the company.

"Of course, my business is dealing with properties. I thought it was a good opportunity," Winer said.

But, Winer added, he realized his role in planning the town center could make it difficult for him "to wear both hats on a consistent basis without at least the appearance of a problem."

Winer wrote to Owens about his dilemma and offered to resign.

She responded: "I agree with you that it could create a conflict of interest. As you know, I have fostered an open, above-reproach administration. As such, I could not condone even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Winer said he is not sure whether he will also resign from the Odenton Small Area Plan Committee.

Winer said he hopes his decision speeds along Odenton Town Center, a project in the works for more than 30 years.

In the past decade, as the large housing developments of Piney Orchard and Seven Oaks have brought thousands of families to the community, the town center project has taken on new urgency because the area lacks retail businesses and services.

"This is about finding a way to really help expedite it," Winer said of his decision.

Winer, a Baltimore County resident whose family once owned much of Odenton, knows well how long such projects can take.

He worked on Piney Orchard for 17 years before any houses were built. Now, about 8,000 people live in the development's 3,000 homes.

Winer's dual roles as a developer-landowner and civic leader have been called into question in the past.

In 1999, when he sat on the oversight and small-area plan committees, Winer urged the county to purchase 26 acres for a regional library.

After The Sun reported that Winer's company listed the land and earned a broker's fee of $81,000, public officials accused him of tainting the planning process with his dual allegiances.

Some agreed that the land was ideal for the library and should have been purchased anyway but were perturbed that Winer had not disclosed the potential conflict.

Winer maintained that he had done nothing wrong.

Many committee members and residents agreed and supported his participation, and he decided to stay on at that time.

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