Officials should be transparent about Metro Centre project
Alan P. Zukerberg
I write this in my individual capacity; not as a representative of any organization.
Are proposed laws a bailout to save the Owing Mills Metro Centre Project?
On Feb. 18, County Executive Jim Smith told the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, a panel on which 11th District Sen. Bobby Zirkin sits, that the “$1 billion” Owings Mills Metro Centre Project “will not happen” unless Senate Bill 274, introduced without co-sponsors at the request of Gov. O’Malley, is passed.
SB 274, called Tax Increment Financing and Special Taxing Districts — Transit-Oriented Development, would allow Baltimore County and other counties to designate special taxing districts; tax same; join in partnerships with MEDCO, or Maryland Economic Development Corp., to issue bonds to finance infrastructure and the operation and maintenance of infrastructure located in or supporting Transit-Oriented Developments, or TODs.
On March 3, Smith gave the same speech to the House Ways and Means Committee, on companion bill HB 300, partially co-sponsored by 11th District Dels. Jon Cardin and Dana Stein. Cardin sits on this committee.
This current General Assembly session also includes SB 878 called Smart Growth — Visions and Performance Standards. SB 878 uses a carrot and stick approach: The state will give the county money if the county meets certain standards in developments in “priority funding areas” to “encourage” the county to conform to state goals. (To see a map of these areas go to http://www.mdp.state.md.us/localplan/baco/Baco.pdf.) Some of the state’s performance standards include at least 80 percent of new development occurs inside the priority funding areas, and at least 10 percent of new housing units in a local jurisdiction are affordable to households earning 80 percent or less than the area median income and one-third of these are affordable to households earning 50 percent or less than the area median income.
The mixed-use Metro Center project has been 15 years in the making. It should have been substantially completed well before now. TODs are favored by the federal government under the rational belief that it is a good thing for people to live where they can shop, work, go to the library and take college courses; and, use the Metro to go to other areas.
The project was originally bid and the state and Baltimore County were to each put up $13 million for infrastructure. Unfortuantely, the winning bidder did not perform. Somehow, the state’s Board of Public Works, consisting of Gov. Ehrlich, Comproller Donald Schaeffer and the state’s treasurer, without requiring a new bid, blessed the transfer of the deal to a new entity composed of developers David S. Brown and Co. and the Whiting Turner Co.
A new garage was built next to the existing metro station. Then, 11th District Del. Morhaim advocated for “green” construction at the site; and another elected official (perhaps County Executive Smith?) advocated for an additional 13,000 square feet to one of the institutional facilities.
I believe the requests for changes are excuses the government is using to allow a halt to construction. It appears the deal is being renegotiated. Projects this huge just don’t stop without consequences. Is the delay because the deal is not profitable? Is the delay intentional to allow for these bills to pass into law to make the project profitable or even do-able? Are these laws part of a plan to pay for higher costs/profits and governmental mistakes?
We need transparency and full disclosure so the public may have confidence in what is taking place. If the state and/or county and/or developers made a bad deal, the public has the absolute right to know.
Confidence is what we need at a time when it is sorely lacking in the country. Is this or will this deal be moral? (See Monica Langley’s article in The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27, 2009, page A10, entitled President's Message Adopts Stern Tone, wherein Langley points out that the drafters of the Obama budget have decided it “should be as much about morality as fiscal policy.”)
Has the cost of Metro project always been $1 billion? Who is going to pay for it under SB 274, if it is passed? Is “infrastructure” under the proposed bill and subsequent funding going to be expanded? If SB 878 is passed, will the state put up more money to make the deal more profitable and “diversified?”
TODs have their place. Advocating green buildings and additional space for a library or community college may be noble and timely, however, full and accurate disclosure on reasons for the delay and the ultimate cost to the public for this deal is needed. So far, the Metro project has not made the Owings Mills Mall a success. Perhaps our representatives should be concentrating on reinvigorating the older community conservation areas around the Beltway, while the Metro Project continues to morph?
The public has the right to know full, honest, transparent, detailed and rational explanations about this project.
Further, if SB 274/HB 300 become law and the county enters into a deal with MEDCO, who will look after the public’s interest in the deal? Will it be the same councilmen and executive? Will MEDCO be required to put all matters into the light of day for all to see? Will the public have the confidence that the governments will do the right thing?
Mr. Smith, Why will this deal not happen? Isn’t a deal a deal?
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