In many ways, at the Council session last week, what we saw at the very end of the session was a relatively calm look into what democratic checks and balances look like. Nobody got hurt in the process and the end result is one that I’m actually pretty happy about. The issue at hand was the selling of the “Hurst property” near the corner of Rt. 1 and Whiskey Bottom Rd.
I talked about this and the other property sales in this post. I am not going to re-hash all that I talked about in that post but for this post’s purpose the relevant piece of information is that, under the Ulman Administration, this particular property was purchased with the intent of having a project developed that would assist in revitalizing Rt. 1. The current administration appears to have determined that the potential a project on this site has for revitalizing Rt. 1 is not out weighed by the County’s need to supplement our budget in every way possible (specifically in these somewhat difficult times).
As I said in that last post, I honestly believe that the justification for buying it and the justification for selling it are valid and simply indicative of two different governing styles. So, County Executive Kittleman, following his style, proposes in his now approved budget that this property be sold to generate revenue. Procedurally, disposing of any real property requires Council approval and so a resolution allowing for the sale of the Hurst property is what was up for vote Monday night.
That’s where the democratic checks and balances piece comes onto the scene. The Council, led in this instance by Councilwoman Terrasa, wanted to follow through on the potential for that site to spur Rt. 1 revitalization and so passed an amendment that puts together a specific process for reviewing and determining who purchases the property. Without getting into too many details, the core concept is that, with the assistance of a community input, each proposal will be considered primarily for the project it proposes and its potential for positive impact on Rt. 1 rather than simply offer price.
Councilman Fox did discuss his concern that this might take away too much of the County’s potential revenue from the sale and then introduced and got passed an amendment to limit the time the process can take. He also introduced but failed to get passed a somewhat convoluted amendment that pushed offer price to a more prevalent position in the consideration. The amendment to change the process to include the community and to prioritize revitalization potential in the sale as well as the whole resolution passed 5-0.
There are numerous examples of how a single piece of property became a cornerstone for the revitalization of a surrounding neighborhood. Certainly Harbor Place in Baltimore, the Verizon Center in DC and AFI Theater in Silver Spring jump to mind. While those are big examples and I doubt anyone wants a sports arena here, they do show that it is possible. I also want to be clear that I see this as a beautiful example of creative and successful government intervention. The County purchased a distressed piece of property and is now selling it in a way that maximizes its revitalization potential. THIS is what democracy looks like.
I have no concept as to where the administration stands on including this process in the sale of the property but I do want to be clear in that, I am not establishing the administration as the antagonist in this story. This story, at least as it stands now, shows that true and effective check and balance government can create winners all the way around. Everyone, including the politicians and the community and the county as a whole, will be getting the lion’s share of what we/they could ask for and so . . . it was a good day.