Jul 27, 2023
Banner political notes: Developer disagreement in Port Covington
Baltimore City Council members voted Tuesday to advance a proposal to adjust a boundary in the Port Covington neighborhood so as to exclude a developer from having to pay for inclusion in what’s known
Baltimore City Council members voted Tuesday to advance a proposal to adjust a boundary in the Port Covington neighborhood so as to exclude a developer from having to pay for inclusion in what’s known as a community benefits district.
Formed in 2020 to support the Port Covington neighborhood — where the massive, 235-acre and $5.5 billion Baltimore Peninsula project is located — the community benefits district requires participants to pay a fee to privately fund additional city services such as landscaping, snow removal and security within the boundary. The tax currently is set at 19 cents per every $100 of assessed property value.
City Councilman Eric T. Costello sponsored the ordinance on behalf of Mark Sapperstein, CEO of 28 Walker Development, the firm responsible for major city residential and commercial developments such as McHenry Row in Locust Point and The Shops at Canton Crossing. Last summer, the company closed on the purchase of the former Locke Insulator site, a former porcelain insulator manufacturer with a 25-acre industrial campus along the waterfront. Locke Insulators closed the plant in 2017.
At a Tuesday hearing in a Ways and Means Committee hearing, Costello, the committee’s chair, said Sapperstein is a known entity with a track record of providing amenities for tenants, visitors and shoppers. Sapperstein’s attorney, Caroline Hecker, said Costello introduced the ordinance as a last-resort option after negotiations between Sapperstein and Sagamore Ventures — Under Armour founder Kevin Plank’s development arm that leads the Baltimore Peninsula effort — fell through.
Ballard Spahr senior counsel Jon Laria, who testified on behalf of the Baltimore Peninsula team, said his clients viewed 28 Walker’s participation in the special tax district as grounded in “fairness and responsibility.” The supplemental tax covers such things as paving the roads and pruning the trees surrounding the future Locke Landing development, which will feature dozens of multifamily rental units and for-sale condominiums and townhomes. “All roads lead to inside Locke Landing,” Laria said.
Laria presented city maps demonstrating Locke Landing’s inclusion in the neighborhood boundary — evidence that the city considers it part of the same neighborhood as Baltimore Peninsula. He also held up a Locke Landing webpage showing images of the Under Armour campus as well as promoting waterfront shopping opportunities and entertainment within the neighborhood — another indication that Locke Landing is poised to benefit from the proximity to Baltimore Peninsula.
Arguing that exclusion from the special tax district would set a precedent for future developers at Baltimore Peninsula to opt out of the special tax, Laria said all tenants at the peninsula had a moral and collective responsibility to ensure its success. He also pointed out that Sagamore Ventures offered Sapperstein a seat on the community benefits district’s governing board, which he did not accept.
Hecker, managing partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg LLP, testified on Sapperstein’s behalf. She said the Locke Insulators site was excluded from the tax increment financing district passed by the City Council in 2016 that was created to float up to $660 million in bonds to fund public infrastructure needs on site. That would mean it’s to be paid back, in theory, by future property taxes (the site also is designated as an Enterprise Zone, a certification that makes it eligible for certain property and income tax credits). Due to that TIF district exclusion, Hecker argued, 28 Walker is funding its own infrastructure needs.
She also pointed out that the Under Armour, which is developing an on-site headquarters, also is excluded from the community benefits district. She added that the idea of a dangerous precedent being set for future developers was a “red herring,” since most of the rest of the site already is included in the TIF district.
Meanwhile, Hecker said, residents at Locke Landing also will be contributing toward homeowners association fees, which will fund security, maintenance and other amenities within its footprint. “Why should they have to pay twice?” she said.
Ultimately, the ordinance passed, with all committee members voting in favor with the exception of two absences. It will now move on to another vote with the rest of the City Council.
A spokesperson for the Baltimore Peninsula development said in a statement after the vote that Sapperstein and Locke Landing are benefiting unfairly from others’ contributions.
“We hope that the Council will reconsider and maintain the existing policy that ensures that everyone who benefits contributes to the cost of these vital services,” the statement said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s pick for the county’s police accountability board is a Nelson Mullins partner who touts defending police officers and “other individuals under criminal investigation or charged with felony or misdemeanor offenses” on the law firm’s website.
But during the County Council’s work session Tuesday, nominee Scott J. Richman said that wasn’t quite true.
“Apparently on my website, it says that I’ve defended police officers in the past,” the former Baltimore assistant state’s attorney said.
“I’m an attorney on primarily — 95% of my work is civil litigation,” Richman continued. “Less than probably 5% of my practice is criminal defense for representing police officers.”
In his nine years as a private litigator, he added, “I can count one one hand the number of police officers I’ve ever represented.”
Below Richman’s contact information on the website for Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough — a national litigation firm and lobbying group with an office in Baltimore — the law firm asserts Richman “represents manufacturers in products liability and mass torts litigation matters across the country. He also defends business executives, police officers, prosecutors, and other individuals under criminal investigation or charged with felony or misdemeanor offenses.”
Richman told council members “I frankly list that on my website because I sort of, I felt honored that some people that I’ve worked with in the past thought that I would be the person to represent them just by way of background.”
Three speakers involved with the Baltimore County Coalition for Police Accountability — a group of community and civil rights organizations and county residents — who testified on Richman’s nomination opposed his appointment. They said his professional relationship with the Baltimore Police Department during his four-year stint as a city prosecutor makes him a poor addition to the county’s police accountability board — especially in a county that frequently leads the state in the number of civilian “deaths involving a law enforcement officer,” according to annual state reports.
Prosecutors face “enormous conflicts of interest” when deciding whether to charge a police officer accused of criminal offenses, said Peta Richkus of Towson.
“The PAB does not need a nominee who’s been part of that system,” she told the County Council. Richkus urged the county to “restart the process, identify a better candidate and do more to engage the community.”
Towson resident Rose Kinder echoed those concerns.
“This is a position where community perception and community trust is absolutely critical,” Kinder said.
Equally important is “that we have accountability for police – and accountability on the police accountability board,” she added.
The council is expected to vote on whether to appoint Richman as the PAB representative for the 6th District.
In 2021, the General Assembly passed a law requiring all Maryland counties to establish police accountability boards. The boards are tasked with reviewing public complaints of police misconduct and outcomes of police internal affairs investigations; and appointing civilian members to administrative charging committees and police trial boards. Richman said during the council meeting he’d never represented a cop under trial board review, nor a county police officer.
The Maryland Board of Public Works transferred the Pikesville Armory to Baltimore County Wednesday, setting into motion yearslong plans to redevelop the old National Guard facilities.
The Pikesville Armory Foundation will host community tours beginning Oct. 7 to solicit feedback on plans for the 120-year-old landmark, which the nonprofit wants to turn into a hub for “recreation, cultural arts, historic preservation, and community engagement,” according to the foundation’s website.
Baltimore County plans to transfer the 14-acre northwest county property to the Pikesville Armory Foundation for renovation; the nonprofit has brought on Baltimore-based firms Seawall — which is rebuilding Lexington Market — and Onyx Development, a Black and woman-owned developer, to build the community hub, according to a joint news release.
In 2017, former Gov. Larry Hogan established the Commission on the Future of the Pikesville Armory to hash out plans for the old National Guard facilities on Reisterstown Road; the Pikesville Armory Foundation was formed as a result of the commission to drive redevelopment, according to the release. Public officials have since said little about the armory plans until Baltimore County acquired the property from the state for $1.
The property currently houses several buildings, including the armory, an officer’s club, 30 garages and administration facilities. In a news release, the armory foundation said it would begin redevelopment by renovating the Non-Commissioned Officers Club Building, used by more than 500 veterans. Construction could begin mid-2024, the foundation said.
“When complete, it will serve not only the veterans’ groups, but also local community organizations and provide a venue for private events,” said Pikesville Armory Foundation vice president Barry Williams in a news release.
The foundation expects to start restoring the armory building and redeveloping surrounding structures in 2025, the release said.
The Pikesville armory was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. It’s the second oldest armory in Maryland, built two years after the Fifth Regiment Armory in Mount Vernon, which now houses the Maryland Museum of Military History.
The Pikesville Armory Foundation said it will post redevelopment updates and events on its website.