On Monday night, Dec. 7, the County Council voted on Bill 86-15, which is legislation I sponsored. It is perhaps the most important economic development legislation in the history of the 7th District, if not Baltimore County, and I encourage everyone to read it.
Our district has been devastated by job loss, and our constituents deserve every effort to attract jobs to Sparrows Point. Bill 86-15 is designed to do that, and I am proud to play a role in our climb back to prosperity. We all want jobs back at the Point and we need to use every tool we can to make us more competitive to attain them.
I have talked with steelworkers, auto workers, operating engineers and machinists who have lost their jobs. I have seen the pain and fear of an uncertain future for themselves and their families in their eyes. We know the stories of families who have had to make the anguishing decision to uproot and go to another state to find the work for which they are trained.
I have seen the inaction of complacent politicians with no vision who stood by for decades and did nothing to reverse our downward economic spiral. I WILL NOT be one of those; I will do everything in my power to put our district back on the economic map, and Bill 86-15 is evidence of that.
The bill has two main components and an amendment: The main components are allowed land uses and the development approval process. The amendment concerns open space.
Allowed Land Uses
The Sparrows Point property is currently zoned Manufacturing – Heavy, which means only those land uses spelled out in the zoning regulations under “MH” are allowed. The current zoning regulations do not make sense for a 3,100 acre tract of land whose owners are seeking multiple industries, business types and companies as tenants. Bill 86-15 states that additional uses found in Manufacturing – Light (ML) zones be allowed. Additionally, because the vision for the property includes retail and possibly a hotel, the bill requires uses found in Business – Major (BM) zones be allowed. (The bill limits the total acreage of BM zone to 5% of the overall property.)
The purpose of all this is to allow for flexibility and certainty; as Sparrows Point Terminal, LLC markets the opportunity world-wide, their potential tenants – and our new employers – will have the certainty that what they do is allowed on the site.
Uses that are allowed by “special exception” in Baltimore County’s MH, ML, or BM zons are still only allowable by special exception – which requires a public hearing.
Development Approval Process
Bill 86-15 states that any plan for development for an allowed use be processed as a “Limited Exemption A”. This is how much of commercial development has occurred in Baltimore County for years. In fact, this is how the plan for the proposed FedEx hub at Sparrows Point was submitted. It is also how the Cold Mill was submitted years ago by Bethlehem Steel.
An application for a Limited Exemption is submitted to Baltimore County’s Development Review Committee (DRC), which holds a meeting on the application. The meeting is advertised and open to the public. The DRC then makes a decision of whether to approve or disapprove. The DRC decision is appealable. No part of the process is being circumvented, and compliance with all federal, state, and county regulations – environmental and otherwise – must be adhered to.
The purpose of legislating that allowed uses can be processed through a Limited Exemption is to streamline the front end of the development process so as to create a competitive advantage in a hyper-competitive global marketplace. We want to be able to tell prospective employers that not only is their type of business allowed at the site, but bureaucratic obstacles to coming to Sparrows Point have been removed. This streamlining eliminates up to 12 months of uncertainty for a prospective tenant at Sparrows Point. We want 10,000 jobs at Sparrows Point in the next 10 years; to extend that to 20 years is absurd and irresponsible.
What the bill does NOT do is circumvent or remove the public nature of the process, nor does it create a new, unproven process, nor does it allow Sparrows Point Terminal, LLC to skirt building code or environmental regulations.
Open Space Amendment
As you may know, open space is not required in commercial developments as it is for major residential subdivisions. I introduced an amendment to 86-15 on Monday that created an unprecedented open space requirement for the Sparrows Point site.
The amendment states that for every 10,000 square feet of retail development, Sparrows Point Terminal, LLC will have to set aside one half acre of open space or pay $10,000 to go towards acquiring open space, athletic fields, parkland, or for capital improvements to recreation and parks facilities. The money can only be used in the 7th District.
Executives at SPT had the foresight to include this concept in their strategic plan, and we want to lock in the commitment legislatively. It is evident that part of SPT’s pitch to prospective tenants is that the site is part of a larger community with the amenities one would expect at the home of a leading global logistics and manufacturing hub.
Folks, we are in a global fight to bring jobs to our area. 86-15 tells the world we want jobs NOW, and we are serious about creating a climate for economic growth. The legislation positions our district as a real competitor in the global market. In a state that has been derided as being unfriendly to business, we must ensure that we are doing everything possible to be more business friendly, beat our competition, and WIN! It is what I was elected to do.
I am proud that 86-15 passed. However, this does not mean my effort to fight for economic opportunity has ended, nor does it mean discussion of 86-15 is over. As the future unfolds on this massive redevelopment project, I expect amendments to the bill or the possibility of new legislation being necessary. I am open to constructive dialogue and welcome your ideas as we move forward in this very exciting time.