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Neighborhoodsby Mark Reutter12:35 pmApr 20, 20160

Mayor pushes through low-income housing exemption for Port Covington

Jack Young and Joan Pratt object to an agreement they say they didn’t know about until last week

Above: City Council President Jack Young (center) blasted today’s MOU with Kevin Plank’s development company. Mayor Rawlings-Blake (right) said little at the Board of Estimates meeting. (Charm TV)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake this morning used her control of the Board of Estimates to ram through an agreement with Kevin Plank’s development company that will exempt his Port Covington project from the city’s Inclusionary Housing Law.

The action came after vehement objections by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Comptroller Joan M. Pratt. They said they were unaware, until last week, that the administration was negotiating agreements with representatives of Plank, the CEO of Under Armour, which is building its new headquarters at the site.

‘The administration is asking me, as a representative for the citizens of Baltimore, to sign off on a legally binding document that contains inadequate benefits for the citizens most impacted by the project,” Young said.

“I am concerned that we have not had enough time to review the details of the proposed MOUs,” Pratt added.

Both of them stressed that they were in favor of the overall project before they were outvoted by Rawlings-Blake and her two appointees, City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Rudy Chow.

Goal vs. Requirement

The 3-2 vote will excuse Port Covington from the requirement of setting aside 20% of its planned 7,500 residential units for low-income “affordable” housing.

Instead, the agreement calls on Plank’s company, Sagamore Development, to seek a “goal” of 10% affordable housing by using state or federal low-income housing tax credits.

If such tax credits do not make Sagamore “whole” for the cost of building the units, the company will agree to pay a sliding fee of between $3,000 and $5,000 per unrealized low-income unit into the city’s Inclusionary Housing Fund.

Pratt said the MOU should change the 10% goal to a requirement, and the agreement should also specifically state that the low-income housing be sited at Plank’s Port Covington site and not at some other location in the city.

Today’s MOU was a critical step for Sagamore Development to obtain $535 million in TIF (tax increment financing) from the city.

A TIF is considered a public subsidy and, as such, triggers the provisions of the Inclusionary Housing Law and its 20% low-income housing requirement.

But because the city does not have the money to reimburse Sagamore for building low-income units – the fund’s original $2 million has dwindled to $70,000 – the project has been ruled  “exempt” from the law by Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano.

Mayor Calls Process “Rigorous”

In brief remarks in response to Young’s criticism, Rawlings-Blake characterized the MOU in technical terms.

“The MOUs we are discussing today address compliance with city ordinances,” she said. “This is the beginning, not the end. The public process will continue to be rigorous. It will go through the Board of Finance, and it will go through the City Council process.”

Negotiating the MOUs was one of five conditions imposed by the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), which approved Sagamore’s TIF application last month, said BDC president William Cole. The conditions were part of multiple meetings by the BDC board that were closed to the press and public.

Young repeatedly asked today if the Council could change the housing MOU. The mayor did not respond directly, but City Solicitor Nilson described the agreement as a “baseline.”

“There will be, I am sure, an open and deliberative process by the City Council,” Nilson said. “If those deliberations before the Council and the action of the Council change the terms or differ from the terms [of today’s MOU], then it will come back [to the Board of Estimates] for approval.”

Where was the Community?

The board barred community activist Kim Trueheart from addressing the panel. She was later escorted out of the hearing room.

The panel did allow the chairman of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition speak. Mike Middleton said his group had “no notice and no knowledge” of the MOUs being negotiated by the city and Sagamore.

“We have had no opportunity to participate in the process that affects Baltimore and particularly the surrounding communities,” Middleton said. SB6, a coalition of six community groups in South Baltimore including Brooklyn, Westport and Curtis Bay, has also been talking to Sagamore representatives, but were never told about the agreements, he added.

Middleton asked the board to defer a vote until the communities had an opportunity to review the documents.

“I’m in agreement with you,” said Young. “I do not like the way this has gone. I am asking for a deferral as well.”

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