Balto. Co. agencies subpoenaed for records on Catonsville project

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemCatonsvilleRepublican PartyTom Quirk

The Office of the State Prosecutor subpoenaed eight Baltimore County agencies this week for records on a planned Catonsville medical office development, county officials confirmed Thursday.

The subpoenas sought "information and correspondence" regarding the Southwest Physicians Pavilion planned by Whalen Properties, a Catonsville-based developer, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

The county declined to release the subpoenas, and Kobler said officials "would not begin to speculate" on why the state was seeking the information.

Chief Investigator James I. Cabezas of the state prosecutor's office declined to comment, saying the agency has a policy of neither confirming nor denying the existence of any investigation.

The Office of the State Prosecutor conducts investigations into public corruption, election law violations and misconduct by public officials, among other crimes. It is prosecuting Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on allegations of misconduct in office, and prosecuted GOP campaign workers Paul Schurick and Julius Henson, who were convicted on charges related to robocalls in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

The intent of the probe in Baltimore County could not be determined.

The agencies subpoenaed were: the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections; the Department of Public Works; the Department of Recreation and Parks; the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability; the Department of Health; the Department of Planning; the Office of Law; and the Office of Budget and Finance.

Developer Steve Whalen of Whalen Properties said Thursday that he learned of the subpoenas this week but has "no clue" why they were issued.

As far as the county development process, "we've done everything we're supposed to," Whalen said. "I'm not aware of any issues that relate to the development."

Whalen added that he has an administrative hearing next week as part of the development process, but there are a number of steps his firm still must take before it can start building the project.

Whalen Properties, founded in 1980, has developed office buildings in southwestern Baltimore County and in Howard County, as well as residential communities in Catonsville, according to its website. The company is the developer of the long-planned Promenade in Catonsville, a mixed-use project that has met with some opposition in the community.

Whalen had sought what's known as "planned unit development" status for the medical office project. With such a designation, a developer is exempt from certain zoning regulations if the project offers some kind of benefit to the community, such as parks.

As part of the PUD process, the County Council last fall approved a resolution sponsored by Councilman Tom Quirk authorizing various agencies to review plans for the project. It would include four stories of office space and three stories of parking on Kenwood Avenue, at a 2.5-acre site adjacent to the Baltimore Beltway.

Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said Thursday that he did not know why the state prosecutor was seeking information.

"I know the county spent a lot of time working through the PUD and the process," said Quirk, adding that he believed the Physicians Pavilion would be a high-quality project benefiting the community.

Whalen Properties had agreed to community benefits including sidewalk and traffic improvements in the area near the site and a $50,000 donation to Catonsville Rails to Trails.

County environmental chief Vincent Gardina said he saw the subpoena but did not know why the state prosecutor was asking for materials on that project. The agency was gathering all the requested materials and would check with the county's legal office before providing it to the prosecutor, said Gardina, who has been the agency's head since 2011 and served 20 years on the County Council.

As part of the development approval process, Gardina's agency would be asked to comment on the potential environmental impact of a project.

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