A public hearing on Harford County Executive Bob Cassilly’s warehouse moratorium bill was held Tuesday evening before the Harford County Council meeting.
If passed, the bill would place a six-month moratorium on the approval of warehouse projects and permits in the county. The bill was introduced on Feb. 14.
Cassilly addressed the council alongside County Attorney Jefferson Blomquist and Shane Grimm, county director of planning and zoning.
“By this bill, I’m asking this council to support a six-month moratorium on the approval of new warehouse construction in order to allow sufficient time for the introduction, consideration and the approval of new legislation that would define and appropriately regulate mega-warehouse distribution centers in our county,” Cassilly said.
Council member Aaron Penman outlined “serious concerns” with the constitutionality of the bill, noting that lawsuits could be filed against the county for violating property rights.
“This moratorium will send a message [to the] business community that Harford County is not the right place to establish business and cannot be trusted,” Penman said.
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Council Vice President Tony Giangiordano expressed his support for the bill, noting that he and council President Patrick Vincenti were the only current council members on the council last year when it voted unanimously in favor of a moratorium on warehouse development on the Perryman Peninsula. That moratorium was vetoed by then-county executive Barry Glassman.
“It’s something that needs to be looked at,” Giangiordano said. “Once you build these [warehouses], they’re not going away, and people have rights.”
A total of 52 people spoke during the public comment portion of the three-hour hearing – so many that Vincenti shortened the allotted time for each from three to two minutes. The council president, however, urged people to email their full comments to the council.
“This decision is not going to be expedited,” Vincenti said.
A majority of the speakers were residents of the Perryman Peninsula, who have been vocal in opposition to the proposed Mitchell property development that would bring 5.2 million square feet of warehouse space to the waterfront community.
Concerns raised have included the threat to wildlife and the environment and increased traffic.
“The future of the Perryman Peninsula impacts all of Harford County,” said Perryman resident Karie Koch.
Delaney Mezan, a Towson University environmental science student, called the proposed Perryman development “environmental injustice.”
“If you have your property rights, I have mine,” Mezan said. “We have ours. I have the right to breathe clean air on my property. I have the right to drink clean water on my property. Pollution does not stop at the site.
“It has been the biggest highlight of my life to grow up on the Perryman Peninsula, and it would be a great shame if I was the last generation to do so.”
Some residents at the meeting raised concerns over Penman’s connection to Joe Snee, a lawyer representing the Chesapeake Real Estate Group, the firm that wants to develop the Mitchell property. As of October 2022, Penman’s campaign for county council had received over $3,300 in contributions from Snee’s Bel Air law firm Snee, Lutche & Helmlinger, P.A.
Snee also spoke at the hearing, calling the moratorium bill “bad legislation.”
Community residents are also seeking relief in the courts. The grassroots 3P – or Protect Perryman Peninsula, LLC – coalition and Perryman residents filed a lawsuit in June last year in Anne Arundel Circuit Court to prohibit a mega-awarehouse to be built on the Mitchell property. The suit states that the proposed 5.2 million square feet of warehouse space planned would be classified as a freight terminal, which is not permitted by the property’s current zoning.
The case subsequently was moved to Harford County Circuit Court in December. There’s a scheduling conference for the case on April 10.
The Chesapeake Real Estate Group filed for an injunction and temporary restraining order in Harford County Circuit Court against Harford County on Feb. 28. A hearing is scheduled for March 23.
There are other lawsuits by residents and environmental groups against developers in the county, most notably at Abingdon Woods. A few residents from that area also attended the public hearing, since the proposed moratorium would be countywide.