Publisher Kenneth Brown

Publisher’s Column: Are Developers the Good Guys or the Bad Guys?

Publisher Kenneth BrownAs our county becomes more urbanized, new real estate ventures become more plentiful. With these proposals come opposition from individuals and groups who do not wish to see this growth—be it apartment buildings, affordable housing units, office and commercial space, or shopping venues, particularly near residential areas. Some people see progress; others see a black eye on the area.

Some of the reasons given as to why development may not be good for the community are varied: increased traffic and congestion, overcrowding of schools, destroying the small-town feel, incompatibility with the personality of the community, and even opening the door for people to come into an area with bad intentions (“the criminal element”). The list goes on and on and many times is predictable.

We even saw with Foundry Row and the Paragon Outlets that was to be built in White Marsh that competitive developers organized opposition to a project that they felt would negatively impact their nearby projects.

I wonder whether these people who do not want to see new retail and housing, are the same people living in communities that overcame opposition when they were built— “We don’t want those homes here” or “Don’t bring commercial development into our neighborhood.” Remember, I hear stories all about the time of when the county, particularly the northwest and southwest, was acres and acres of rural and undeveloped land where deer and foxes roamed.

So, are developers good or are they bad? I’m not naïve to believe that when developers propose a project, it does not come with a profit motive. They are business people. They see potential in certain land or existing construction and want to invest and make money.

That shouldn’t surprise any of us because we live in America. Many times, these developers improve communities with their projects and we shouldn’t always look for ways to keep them out. The 117 acres off Painters Mill and Reisterstown roads in Owings Mills that was recently sold to Stevenson University has great potential to become a site for Stevenson expansion. We also know that there is a development potential for the apartments leading up to the property. Will that be a good or bad situation if they are replaced?

Yes, there are unscrupulous developers selling all kinds of schemes. And, we certainly have seen situations where families have been displaced because of development and they either were not treated respectfully and fairly or compensated adequately.

As far as developers and their relationship with our elected officials, I don’t have a real problem so long as the elected officials remember that they’re representing the community. I see our elected officials as our negotiators (they should not be backroom dealers).

When a developer sees a piece of land that they want, it is up to our elected officials to make sure that they obtain the maximum amount of amenities, benefits and accommodations for our community. This might include green space or open space, funding for a recreation center or youth program. They should not lie down and be silent, or be bullied and intimidated. When the developer doesn’t follow through or agree to the deal, our lawmakers must make sure there is a penalty or commensurate consequences imposed.

If a project will, in fact, bring more traffic, congestion and overcrowding, a resolution should be part of a written deal to widen a road or fund an addition to a school, etc. If the developer doesn’t want to do those things, then let him move on.

As far as community input, the process is set up where the developer must hear from the community. It is up to us to take the time to show up in force at these hearings to express our support or opposition or raise our concerns and recommendations about a project. We also should contact our elected officials early in the process to get our questions answered and concerns addressed.

I would recommend that Baltimore County government would more proactively let people know when these hearings are being held, and with sufficient notice, and to hold them at times convenient for the general public.

It takes courage and fortitude for elected officials to stand up to the community—and it’s usually a small vocal group—and declare a project is going to better for the community as a whole, even though we might not like it. If they are really for the community and have no alternate motives, they should be commended. It’s easy to fold or bend to the loudest voices.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond was up against intense opposition for Foundry Row in Owings Mills. I wonder how many people who were against that very popular shopping destination look at it in its completion and still consider it a negative. The developer, Greenberg Gibbons, has purchased nearby shopping centers to improve the Reisterstown Road area in Owings Mills and Reisterstown. They are even looking at finding another supermarket to replace the Mars that closed in Reisterstown.

In Randallstown and Owings Mills, after the community expressed its concerns about another Walmart coming to the former Owings Mills Mall site, Councilman Julian Jones made the issue part of his conversation with Kimco Realty to bring Costco and other stores to the mall.

That’s the kind of trading and negotiation that should be going on. What is bad is when elected officials let developers come in and take charge and fail to hold them accountable.

Elected officials have to make suggestions on what you want to see done, and negotiate a win-win for the community and government. We need community, elected officials and developer working together.

Certainly, there are development proposals that will disrupt a community and surrounding neighborhoods. They must be vehemently opposed.

We also have to be realistic. Take the Tractor Supply Store that’s replacing the supermarket at Marriottsville Shopping Center in Randallstown. Apparently, the shopping center owner approached more than a dozen supermarkets and none were interested. Does he reject a willing tenant or should he leave the space empty?

Will a Royal Farms really be a terrible addition for the busy York Road in Towson? Was a new community of town homes off Johnnycake Road in Windsor Mill such a bad idea? Now, you see overgrown weeds and dumped furniture.

Developers aren’t necessarily bad guys, but they must be checked. We need them. Government doesn’t build communities. It’s the private enterprise of developers. People who live in the Liberty Road district would love to have a developer take a look at that commercial district. Folks in the Woodlawn area were pleased to attend a meeting that District 1 Councilman Tom Quirk hosted so that developer David S. Brown Enterprises could share its vision for Security Square Mall.

Let’s not say “no” for the sake of it saying no. Things don’t stay the same forever. Change is progress. Progress is change.

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