In his own words, County Councilman John Grasso was caught trying to use the comprehensive rezoning process to downzone a property he has been fighting against for months.
The Glen Burnie councilman’s attempt failed shortly after it was introduced during Monday’s County Council meeting.
“I was caught,” Grasso said after being called out for the maneuver. “What do you want me to say? I protect my people.”
From the outset of the meeting, Grasso was on the offensive against Marley Meadows, a proposed 36-unit apartment complex with rent ranging from $380-$1,200. Grasso’s argument against the development has been that low-income housing breeds crime. His experience as a landlord has pitted him against those kinds of projects, he said.
Conifer Realty, the developer for the site, already received council approval last month, a vote that allowed Conifer to secure a $3 million state loan. On Monday, a vote to give developers a $7,000 tax break was delayed until Nov. 21 by Grasso. However, Marley Meadows came back up again later in the meeting.
Grasso submitted Amendment 19 for the comprehensive rezoning process for his district, one of 26 amendments made that night between council districts 2, 3 and 5. If passed, the amendment would rezone 2.1 acres of 7790 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd. from R-15 (15 residential units per acre) down to R-5 (5 residential units per acre), making the proposed development impossible.
Minutes before a vote was set to be taken, Planning and Zoning Officer Larry Tom pointed out the connection to the councilmen, who received the news with dumbfounded expressions.
Their realization produced laughter from one side of the dais, in Councilmen Chris Trumbauer, Jerry Walker and Jamie Benoit—but only stern looks on the faces of the other councilmen. Benoit was the first to respond.
“I’m at once impressed and somewhat offended. I’m not laughing because it’s funny,” Benoit said. “But while I appreciate the ingenuity of it, some more transparency on your part would have been helpful.”
Benoit added that Grasso's maneuver could have created a legal minefield for the council, by limiting the density of a project they'd already approved.
“This sets a dangerous precedent, which is: Penalize landowners for doing something that’s well within their rights, yet not liked or favored,” Benoit said.
Grasso admitted that he had been caught, but argued that he did not believe R-15 was an appropriate zoning in the first place. He said 30 units would be in line with an R-15 zoning, and he did not think 36 units was legal. He also vowed that he would continue to fight against Marley Meadows.
“We can either make it right now, or make it right later. One way or the other,” Grasso said. “This is how the game’s gonna be.”
The amendment failed by a 3-4 vote, with Councilmen Daryl Jones, Benoit, Trumbauer and Walker voting nay.
A $7,000 tax break for Marley Meadows will be on the agenda for a final vote at the 7 p.m. Nov. 21 meeting of the County Council. Another public hearing will also be held that night, before the vote.