GBC’s Fry: When developers and “anti-growth” proponents clash

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Recent separate decisions by elected leaders in Annapolis and Baltimore City raise some important issues relating to the balance of influence between developers and opponents of growth.

In May, the State of Maryland’s Board of Public Works denied a permit approval for a proposed 1,300-home waterfront community on Kent Island, citing concern over the environmental impact of the project. The denial came even though most of the 560-acre site was targeted for growth and the developer, in planning the project over eight years, complied with all laws and regulations.

A week earlier, a key Baltimore City Council committee denied its approval for construction of a $75 million, 23-story waterfront condo tower in Canton – a major area of city growth. This denial came after the project had been recommended by the city’s planners and its design review panel.

In both cases, elected officials were reacting to vocal outcries from nearby residents, who hailed the decisions to reject the projects as democracy in action. But these examples also define key points of contrast between politics and economics.

The Kent Island decision, for instance, plays well with key environmental and growth management constituencies.

However, such decisions contrary to legally-enacted policy play less well with businesses, who view consistency and predictability as a key element of a good economic climate. Businesses rely on government to adhere to the rules it enacts. To do otherwise raises concerns among potential future investors in Maryland projects.

The Baltimore example touches a different nerve. The City Council had the authority to reject the requested master plan changes needed for the Canton project … and it is an election year. But, the council’s decision to kill the project raises concern in a city that is aggressively seeking to grow its tax base which, per capita, is less than half of Baltimore County’s and a third of Howard County’s. The decision may also have the unintended consequences of making it difficult for the City Council to approve similar projects that receive approval by city agencies but face stiff neighborhood opposition.

Suburban counties can afford to accommodate “not in my backyard” anti-growth sentiment. Baltimore City may not have that luxury.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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