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Development Attorneys Author Bills Benefiting Clients

Bill highlights access development lawyers have and community activists say they wish they had.

A law firm that raised thousands of dollars for two freshman Baltimore County council members wrote "significant portions" of a bill that could benefit a client seeking to develop a contested Bowleys Quarters marina.

The proposed legislation was introduced last month by Councilman David Marks and had a hearing before the full council on Tuesday. One of its provisions allows for developments to be built in rural areas of the county if any portion of the property has water and sewer service.

The proposed 36-unit condominium project on Galloway Creek in Bowleys Quarters is such a project. Its developers are represented by the Towson law firm of Smith, Gildea and Schmidt.

In an interview, Marks said the politically-connected firm wrote “significant portions” of the proposed legislation, which also seeks to overturn a portion of an April Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that requires planned unit developments to conform to the county master plan. Such a change would make it easier for developments to move forward.

Marks' acknowledgement of the firm’s involvement highlights access that development attorneys and their clients—who contribute significantly to council campaigns—often have. It's an insider's edge that some community groups say they have always suspected existed and that they themselves would covet.

"I'd like to see the council work with the community in drafting some fixes to these laws," said Alan Robertson, zoning chairman of the Bowleys Quarters Community Association.

The county's Planned Unit Development law is meant to allow for flexibility for mixed-use projects that are accompanied by a community benefit. In return, the county allows the projects to be built even though they run counter to original zoning.

Marks' bill also calls for creating a process for reviewing substantive changes to plans that were previously approved as well as creating public commenting periods and departmental reviews before the council approves the project.

"These are good things," Marks said.

Hours after being asked about Smith, Gildea and Schmidt’s involvement in writing the bill, Marks said he was going to withdraw the legislation.

"I'm looking at some other options but I don't want to discuss them," Marks said late Wednesday night.

Marks acknowledged his bill affected the Bowleys Quarters project. Last year an administrative law judge had sided with community opponents to the development and ruled that the project could not move forward. The county’s Board of Appeals on Tuesday voted to overturn the administrative law judge's decision.

The project is in the 6th Council District, which is represented by Councilwoman Cathy Bevins—who is not a co-sponsor on the bill.

"The timing was important," Marks said. "We didn't want to put the bill in while (the Board of Appeals) was deliberating but we also didn't want to wait too long because of the rezoning process."

He did not explain why he was sponsoring legislation on a project outside his district.

"All I can say is every council member had an opportunity to sign on to the bill," Marks said.

No one except Councilman Ken Oliver spoke in opposition to the bill during a hearing Tuesday.

Robertson said he was not even aware that the bill had been introduced.

"The bill was available on the county website for over a month," said Marks. He later said attorneys who drafted the bill had been in discussions with him for "three or four months before the bill was introduced."

Attorneys Wrote "Substantial Portion"

Marks initially declined to talk about the involvement of the law firm, saying only that he had consulted with "home builders" about the law.

He later acknowledged that the firm "wrote a subtantial portion" of the proposed bill but then declined to elaborate on which parts.

"I won't say," Marks said.

Ultimately, the councilman did acknowledge that the firm provided language for nearly all of the bill with the exception of amendments meant to increase community input and adding regulations to how changes to previously approved plans would be handled.

Marks, a former president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association, said he did not believe that community associations would look down on him for the law firm's involvement.

"I think people will look at the overall picture, the reforms made by the County Council and see that we made substantial improvements to the process," Marks said.

Bill Guts Challenge To Plan

Carroll Holzer, a Towson-based attorney representing the Bowleys Quarters Community Association's challenge to the condominium plan said the proposed legislation, if enacted, would end any possible appeal of the Board of Appeals’ Tuesday decision.

"It's a double-barreled effort to block communities out of the process," Holzer said.

"To me, it's not a good bill," Holzer said. "I'm very confused about why (Marks) is doing this for a project that is not in his district."

Holzer said he was disappointed but not surprised by the news that lawyers representing the project his clients oppose had a hand in writing the bill.

"Over the years, there have been development attorneys drafting bills for various councilmen," Holzer said. "There's always been lobbying but in this particular case, it seems more aggressive because (Smith, Gildea and Schmidt) literally drafted the law and handed it to a councilman to put it in while there was an ongoing case."

Connected Law Firm

The revelation that the Smith, Gildea and Schmidt was involved in writing the bill is the latest chapter in the story of the politically connected law firm.

In 2010, David Gildea and Michael Paul Smith were criticized for raising tens of thousands of dollars to help elect Cathy Bevins and Tom Quirk to the County Council. The two also raised funds for Gordon Harden, who lost in his bid for council.

Smith is the son of former County Executive Jim Smith. Gildea served as a law clerk to Jim Smith during his time as a Baltimore County Circuit Court judge.

 joined Gildea's law firm last year after his father left office.

Jim Smith . In 2010, Jim Smith campaigned door-to-door for both Bevins and Quirk. He also  from his own campaign to Bevins, Quirk and another Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the council.

Attorney Involvement 'Not Unusual'

Community activists like Robertson and Donna Spicer, a Loch Raven resident, have long suspected the involvement of law firms representing developers when it comes to shaping development law.

"I've never had an direct proof of it but there was little doubt it happens,"Spicer said.

Still, Spicer said it was hard to criticize development lawyers for "having an open line to the council when I have one too."

Spicer said she frequently emails and calls councilmembers with her thoughts on various development bills but acknowledged that she's never been asked to draft a bill at the county level.

Robertson said he also had never been asked.

"The last time they asked will be the first time they ask because it's never happened before," Robertson said.

Councilman Ken Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, agreed.

"It's not unusual for an attorney to draw up a bill you and he have discussed and mutually agree upon and then for the council member to introduce that bill," Oliver said. "What is unusual to me is that (Marks) introduced a bill for a project that is in another district and the councilmember who represents that district didn't sign off on it."

Oliver was the only member of the council to speak out against a portion of Marks' bill during a hearing Tuesday.

"It's a good bill but I am concerned about the part that allows a PUD (in rural areas)," Oliver said. "We've never done that."

Oliver said he has introduced bills that were drafted with the assistance of development attorneys.

One example of that was a bill that would have exempted the Metro Centre at Owings Mills project from most major development regulations.

The bill was drafted with the assistance of lawyers at Venable including Robert Hoffman and David Karceski, according to Oliver.

Hoffman did not return a call from a reporter seeking comment.

Oliver withdrew the bill before a scheduled May 24 vote but said he planned on reintroducing the bill in June.

Marks Announces Withdrawal then Reverses Course

Several hours after being questioned about the involvement of Smith, Gildea and Schmidt, Marks said he was withdrawing the bill. He said he hoped to re-file the bill Monday night—minus the provisions affecting the Bowleys Quarters project.

But late Wednesday night, Marks said that withdrawing the bill might not be a possibility.

"Even if I took my name off it, Tom Quirk is a co-sponsor and could move forward with the bill," Marks said.

Bryan P. Sears May 31, 2012 at 07:40 PM
The comment left by user Jim21236 was removed because it violates Patch's terms of use concerning false or misinformation. You can review those terms here: http://towson.patch.com/terms
Bryan P. Sears May 31, 2012 at 07:45 PM
A comment left by user Jim21236 was removed because it violated Patch's terms of use policy concerning false or misleading information. The terms of use can be reviewed here: http://towson.patch.com/terms
Kim Ruark May 31, 2012 at 09:04 PM
I agree that Marks is a straight-forward, fair guy. He is looking out to do the right thing, amd should not have been bloodied in this shady way.
Terry May 31, 2012 at 09:53 PM
FIFA, I live in District 1 and everything wrong with county government is here. If you don't live in 21228, you're like the walking dead! It's like a weekly show that they can only show on HBO. It's that bad.
Terry May 31, 2012 at 10:41 PM
I'll vote for that! It is the truth.
Buck Harmon May 31, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Once you get into the grey...you're in it to your elbows... Again, What is going on here David Marks ??
Bart May 31, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Good call, Bryan! Thanks.
Bart June 01, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Mike really stepped in it this time. And to think I believed he was beginning to get over his temper tantrum. I can't trust him ever again.
Bart June 01, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Jim Smith is walking, talking slime. Sorry. I'm usually not like this. But everything he touches is tainted.
Arbutus Town Crier June 01, 2012 at 11:43 AM
Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. Thomas Jefferson
Voter June 01, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Frankly, I'm shocked to learn that David Marks is seemingly involved in the same old Political back door system. Why in the world didn't the Council Person who represents the District propose the Bill? Oh Ya..... it's a plan that the people in that District didn't want, so that Council Person traded some favors with other Council Persons to sponser the Bill so the District Council Person can say "I didn't do it". The whole thing stinks..... it's EXACTLY what is wrong with the way Politics operates now-a-days.
Buck Harmon June 01, 2012 at 01:26 PM
We all know that David Marks follows these posts, I can only wonder why he has no comment with regard to the dark cloud that he chooses to ride...
Arbutus Town Crier June 01, 2012 at 01:35 PM
A look back: As Benjamin Franklin left the Pennsylvania State House after the final meeting of the Constitutional Convention on September 17, 1787, he was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia. She was curious as to what the new government would be. Franklin replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.” USA has transformed:Republic, Democracy, and currently Despotism- LQQK IT UP lhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Despotism In the United States Declaration of Independence, the British government is cited to have been reducing the American people under absolute despotism: "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security".
Tim June 01, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Exactly. Most people don't start out this way in office. Every rookie goes in with ideological ideas. I'll fix the machine. It won't affect me. However It just grows on them, slowly, subtlety, like cancer. Remember, David was the one who wanted to force mandatory term limits. He was shouted down for it by the rest of the Council. Think about that. It doesn't matter who you are, the system will rot your soul over time. What seperates one politician from another is this: What good can they actually do while they are in the swamp? In this sense, David has done an excellent job thus far. Anyone expecting any politican to be completely above water in getting any kind of meaningful work done is kidding themselves. Politics by its very nature is about manipulation of others. Intellectually, fiscally, psychologically.
Ann Miller June 01, 2012 at 04:44 PM
What also troubles me is that our councilmen are lobbied for months by special interest groups, long before the public hears a whisper about any controversial legislation. By the time it gets to public input, which is a joke, all decisions are already made. Why can't our councilmen gives the public a heads up about legislation being considered, as soon as it starts being considered? The obvious answer is that they don't want to be bothered with the public. Development issues, the transgender bill, etc. The more controversial, the later the public hears about it.
K Blue June 01, 2012 at 05:30 PM
I dont know for sure, but I strongly suspect that this bill would have been introduced by someone on the Council with or without Marks' sponsorship. By introducing the legislation, he (and Quirk, the co-sponsor) have greater opportunity to control what is in the bill from the start, rather than introducing amendments as nonsponsors which may or may not been approved. The article states that "Marks' bill also calls for creating a process for reviewing substantive changes to plans that were previously approved as well as creating public commenting periods and departmental reviews before the council approves the project." I am curious whether that information would have been in the bill introduced if Marks had not sponsored it. Some persons on this board appear focused on the negative aspects of his involvement, but I am choosing to look at the positive.
Bryan P. Sears June 01, 2012 at 05:58 PM
KBlue: To answer your question, that language you referred to appears to be the portion of the bill developed by the council. Marks has had a particular interest in the public comment and posting and online access. Quirk had an interest in having departmental review prior to the council approving because of the situation with the Thistle Road PUD that he tried to revoke after reading county agency reports that said the project did not qualify as a PUD. I was provided draft legislation that shows that the rest of the bill was provided by others. Councilman Marks told me late Wednesday that Smith, Gildea and Schmidt provided that language.
Buzz Beeler June 01, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Tim, some good points. The term rookie is appropriate in the learning curve aspect of the political journey. David will have a chance to showcase his abilities and judgement in the coming months over some very hot zoning issues, a sort of the pedal to the metal issue. I'll forgo my judgement until then. I say that because of the cast of characters involved in these productions. Like Hollywood, the same faces show up again and again using the same old script outline, which by LA standers works as long as the money keeps rolling in.
K Blue June 01, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Thanks. I remember the Thistle Landing PUD situation and how the Council revoked its own revocation, so the language that Quirk added make perfect sense (at least to me) to prevent that from happening twice. The language added by the Council pertaining to public commenting periods makes perfect sense to me as well.
PMM49 June 01, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Sure, none of that money affects any of them. Do you ever see me of them leave office less well off than they were when they went in? Now, another seemingly good Councilperson gets sucked in by a system that allows scoundrels with their own relentless self interest at heart to control the process.
Buck Harmon June 01, 2012 at 09:18 PM
David Marks...Please tell us what on earth is going on here, you are normally quick to respond, are you doing something that could be questionable here? Does the Smith family have something on you? Are you beginning to dance to a different beat? This is NOT sound public service...
Bart June 01, 2012 at 11:18 PM
Oh Buck, give it a break. This whole thing is a whole lot of nothing. Heck, the news has come out just in the last hour or so that the owners of The Colony have backed down from their plans to grow, due to Marks' suggestions and recommendations. Does that sound like the workings of somebody in the developers' pockets? In my neighborhood's eyes, he is excellent at public service. He lives and breathes this stuff!
Buck Harmon June 02, 2012 at 10:59 AM
bart...It would take Marks about as much time to provide answers as it did for you to make yet another pointless, nameless comment. Marks has responded to concerns with regularity on these blogs, but seems to be avoiding this one..I want to hear the truth from him. Could care less about the Colony.
Arbutus Town Crier June 03, 2012 at 11:39 AM
BCalvert, The people have noticed, and want change from self serving Representatives believe they know whats best for us. WE want a Representatives that serves the peoples. Talk of the town now!
SAB June 04, 2012 at 01:27 AM
David Marks is no longer fighting for the community. He mislead our community with a re-zoning issue of ~15 acres. He played 'dumb', telling us he couldn't down-zone this area; however, he could down-zone all area's around this. Later, per Donnell Ziegler, there was no reason this area could not have been included in Marks' down-zoning proposal. Could it be the multiple campaign contributions to Marks, Gardina, and Kamenetz from the involved developer, engineer, lawyer AND lawyer's wife?? As usual, the community loses. The Patch needs to post more regarding political contributions to keep the voter's informed.
Buck Harmon June 04, 2012 at 11:56 AM
LET'S HEAR YOUR RESPONSE DAVID MARKS... you're really missing the mark here...
BrownGirl71 June 04, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Peel back the layers, and there's that name again... Jim Smith.
Lily June 09, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Developers routinely over develop without thinking at all about the big picture and sustainability. It's one of the biggest "tragedy of the commons" problems we have in today's society is that the developers seem to be able to control community planning in way that can harm the community and over develop the area. It's completely appropriate for people to be as involved and concerned about these issues more so than even who is president. Communities should be able to oppose broad scale expansion of their community. Developers shouldn't be able to end run the community simply because they have money. They should find ways to engage in meaningful dialog and deal with the communities concerns. If they did that more they might not have so much opposition through every step.
FIFA June 09, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Lily, somehow the developers are the "bad" guy? Developers, like any other interest group, look out for their own interests. The system is set up to pay the politicians. The SCOTUS says it is okay to pay the man. Developers will.
Lily June 11, 2012 at 10:29 AM
I don't believe I said that developers are "bad" in the sense that they are evil or anything. Someone has to build when building is needed. I simply disagree with some of their methods. Just because a person can do something doesn't mean they should. Issues like sustainability do matter and I think politicians are bad at their job if they only pay attention to the people who pay them and not to the interests of the community at large. I also think it's bad when the people on the zoning board are the actual developers as I've read of happening in some areas. Whatever happened to the ideal of "good public policy"?

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