By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
As the saying goes, all politics is local.
Citizens of Baltimore County, Maryland, are supporting a bi-partisan proposal, sponsored by a two State Senators, to ban developer campaign contributions to County Council members.
And at recent County meeting, most testimony has been in favor of the bill. The goal is to prevent “pay to play” urban planning, and precedent has already been set by Prince George’s County about 2 decades ago.
Taxpayers and property owners get it. It has become painfully obvious that, in may of the fastest growing Counties and Municipalities across the U.S., real estate developers appear to be regarded as de facto royalty – capable of investing large sums of money to increase the tax base for local governments, while keeping up front investment of public tax dollars at a minimum.
Of course, that’s the primary reason for proliferation of Planned Unit Developments, also known as Common Interest Communities and Mixed Use Development, with residential dwellings usually governed by mandatory homeowners associations.
Baltimore County – like most counties in the U.S. – love PUDS with HOAs because they create a way to double tax property owners, who pay local property taxes as well as HOA assessments, even though local governments offer reduced service levels to property owners in HOAs.
At the same time, developers benefit from relaxed zoning rules (they can build more dwellings per acre), less stringent building code requirements for private infrastructure, and tax credits for dedicating a portion of units as affordable housing. That means higher profit margins for home builders and affiliated investors.
Local governments win. Developers win. Taxpaying housing consumers, and residents adjacent to new development often lose.
So it is no surprise that citizens of Baltimore County express frustration that their voices are not being heard.
Although some critics of the ban on developer campaign contributions believe that campaign finance reform should be more broad – encompassing other special interests – I applaud any efforts to curb conflicts of interest and potential corruption of local governance.
And I believe that putting pressure on local governments and developers might be the first step to ending the de facto mandate of Common Interest, Association-Governed Housing, to the exclusion of fee simple home construction. After all, taxpayers deserve a larger share of new housing choices without the burdens of onerous restrictive covenants, the liability of common property, and the undemocratic governance of mandatory HOAs.
Baltimore County residents seek ban on developer campaign donations
Pamela Wood Pamela Wood
The Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Co. residents went to Annapolis Friday to make their case for a ban on developer campaign cash.
Residents from around Baltimore County implored state lawmakers Friday to ban developers from making campaign contributions to the county executive and members of the County Council.
Representing Towson, Edgemere, Bowleys Quarters, Pikesville, and White Marsh, the residents told stories of how they feel their concerns about proposed developments have been ignored by county elected officials.
“Our rights and voices are not being registered in Baltimore County,” said Russell Donnelly, who is active on development and environmental issues in the southeast part of the county.
A bill proposed by Sen. Jim Brochin a Towson Democrat, would apply to developers and their “agents,” including attorneys, engineers, consultants and architects, as well as the immediate family members of developers and their agents. Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Dundalk Republican, is cosponsoring the bill.
Excerpt from Brochin proposes ban on developer contributions in Baltimore County, also written by Pamela Wood of the Baltimore Sun
Brochin’s bill would apply to developers and their “agents,” including attorneys, engineers, consultants and architects, as well as the immediate family members of developers and their agents.
Anyone who applies for certain development or zoning approvals would not be allowed to make campaign donations while their application is pending, and they’d have to sign a document saying that they hadn’t made donations in the prior three years.
If a council member or the county executive accepted contributions from a developer in the prior three years, they would not be allowed to “vote or participate” in the decision on that developer’s project.
The bill covers a wide range of applications and approvals including zoning changes, special exception and variance requests, site plan approvals and planned unit developments.