Court upholds Baltimore County's rejection of referendum petitions

Supporters had collected more than 170,000 signatures to fight zoning

November 29, 2013|By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore County judge has upheld the local election board's decision to reject petitions that sought to overturn county zoning maps.

Circuit Judge Jan Marshall Alexander ruled this week in the case. In February, the county election board rejected the petitions used in the ballot drive, saying that signature collectors did not give voters enough information.

If successful, the referendum drive would have put many of the County Council's zoning decisions from 2012 on the 2014 ballot. Referendum supporters collected more than 170,000 signatures. The referendum campaign was funded by developers and shopping center owners who didn't like the council's votes, but also involved residents who opposed the zoning moves.

The potential for a referendum created "a lot of uncertainty" for businesses and residents whose properties were rezoned, said County Attorney Mike Field, adding that he was pleased with the judge's decision.

Stuart Kaplow, attorney for the referendum supporters, said he had not spoken with his clients about how they want to proceed. The decision could be appealed to the state's Court of Special Appeals or the Court of Appeals.

"I am confident that 170,000-plus signatures of Baltimore County voters will prevail," Kaplow said. "It really is a voter issue."

The referendum drive targeted projects that included Foundry Row, a planned shopping center to be anchored by a Wegmans grocery store at the former Solo Cup plant in Owings Mills.

Donna Sills, executive vice president and general counsel for Greenberg Gibbons, Foundry Row's developer, said the firm was pleased with the court's decision but added that the company had not let the referendum battle change its work on the project. Demolition of the former Solo Cup facility began this spring.

"We've been demolishing and getting ready to start development," Sills said. "We plan on going full steam ahead."

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