The Comprehensive Zoning Map Process public hearing concerning the Seagram’s Property that took place at the Patapsco High School, held on March 27, 2012, raises some concerns over the role of Councilman John Olszewski’s appointment of Scott Holupka to the Baltimore County Planning Board, their relationship to the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, the developer Mr. John Vontran and the request to rezone the Seagram’s Property located at 7101 Sollers Point Road in Dundalk.
This rezoning matter was further highlighted by an article in the Dundalk Eagle in which Mr. Vontran’s proposed swap of the Seagram’s property for the county government center and his proposal to build a new government facility on the Seagram’s property, along with a recreation council center and senior housing.
One of the issues is an email sent by Mr. Scot Holupka, a board member of the DRC, one month prior to the zoning hearing entitled – “Meeting with John Vontran re Seagram’s” - in which Mr. Holupka wrote the following:
“John Vontran wants to meet with community leaders to present his development plans for the Seagram's site. While we just started contacting people most of those interested said that they would prefer to meet this week, so the meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow, Wednesday, February 29th, at 6:30 PM at the DRC office. We hope you are able to attend. Signed Scott (Holupka)”
“(b) Public confidence and trust. It is evident that public confidence and trust is eroded when the conduct of county business is subject to improper influence or when there is the appearance of improper influence.”
Additionally the law further states with regards to a nonprofit, which the DRC is a 501C.3 federal government tax exempt corporation:
A Board member may not participate in any matter involving a business entity:
Including a non-profit, in which he is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee.
In the Eagle article it goes into detail about the meeting between Mr. Vontran, the DRC and local community leaders which were held on February 29th. It discusses the plans for the Seagram’s property along with a proposal by Mr. Vontran to engage in a trade with the county that would swap the old distillery property for the Baltimore County Government Center property located at Wise Avenue and Merritt Boulevard.
Also present at the meeting was Amy Menzer, executive director of the DRC. The DRC has supported Mr. Vontran’s prior plan for the Yorkway homes development, where Holupka and his wife now own a home.
Amy Menzer, Mr. Holupka’s wife, stated in the article, “We hosted a meeting for Vontran with some community leaders after our executive committee heard about the proposal. Which they think has a lot of potential to address people’s desire for big-box retail in Dundalk, and to redevelop the long–vacant Seagram’s property.”
On the night of the event I contacted the DRC in preparations to attend the meeting. At first I was told there was no meeting and then when I asked for additional clarification, I was told there was, but it was a private affair. I was then advised that Mr. Holupka would call me. He did not, but Mr. Vontran did.
In lieu of my not attempting to attend this closed door meeting, Mr. Vontran promised me a one-on-one conversation to clear the air. He did not respond to my email in attempting to schedule that meeting.
The fact that Mr. Holupka sits on the county’s planning board which could influence the zoning of the Seagram’s property, and he has engaged in closed door meetings with the developer, leads one to question whether or not he can maintain his objectivity in this matter. The issue is further compounded by the email he sent regarding the private meeting held at the DRC and the fact that he is a board member of the DRC. What is the DRC’s role in this considering their past relations with the councilman and the developer? Did the DRC question Mr. Vontran’s assertions regarding the proposed box store concept?
These issues should raise some red flags among the citizens of the Seventh District in a process that will impact their communities for decades to come.
Susan Whichman, the Executive Director of Common Cause in Maryland, said that it is the right of the citizen (s) to raise these questions. When contacted the spokesperson for the Baltimore County Ethics Commission they said there was no one available to answer inquiries. After receiving a second call I am now awaiting information as to the proper procedures regarding the protocol for citizens who wish to file a complaint.
The ultimate question would be should Mr. Holupka recuse himself from the process involving issues related to the Seagram’s property.