Two property owner groups at Clipper Mill are accusing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young of tilting city policy in favor of a controversial apartment project sought by his campaign treasurer.
At issue is the rebuilding of the historic Tractor Building at Clipper Mill into a 100-unit apartment complex by VI Development and ValStone Partners.
“We think it’s a blatant conflict of interest,” says Jessica Meyer, a board member of Millrace Condominium Association. “Mayor Young must rely on Cadogan to raise funds for his campaign. At the same time, the Woodberry and Clipper Mill residents need a fair and impartial review of the development proposed by Cadogan and his clients.”
The groups are asking Young to recuse himself from deliberations by CHAP, the city’s preservation board, and the Planning Commission.
So far, Young’s office has not replied to a request for comment.
Cadogan told The Brew, “I do not respond to accusations,” adding, “Are there some facts you have been provided of my ‘political influence’ over Mayor Young regarding the Tractor Building project?”
No Proof, but a Pattern
The groups offer no proof of a deal between Young and Cadogan to steamroll their Clipper Mill projects through the city’s review boards.
However, they point to a pattern by which the Planning Commission and CHAP have adhered to the developers’ plans (through actions and inactions) over the stiff objection of residents, including more than 130 property owners at Clipper Mill.
Last month, the Planning Commission okayed ValStone’s proposal to build 30 townhouses at 2001 Druid Park Drive, known as the Poole & Hunt lot, despite widespread opposition.
Cadogan’s exact involvement with this project is not known, but he was present throughout the meeting conferring with Jennings.
A few days earlier, the executive director of CHAP, Eric Holcomb, rejected the community’s request to protect the Tractor building by placing it on a special landmark list, which would prevent structural changes for six months, by which time the building is to be included in the Woodberry Historic District established by CHAP.
“First they failed because the politicians supported the neighborhood. Now they want to overturn the law by getting directly to the politicians.” – Clipper Mill resident Jeffrey Pietrzak.
The property associations will ask the CHAP board tomorrow to reverse the staff’s decision to decline landmark status that, in effect, lets VI Development and ValStone alter the building.
That same point was made today by Cadogan, who said the project can presently move forward without CHAP approval.
Mayor Young has a good deal of control over both boards as an outgrowth of Baltimore’s “strong mayor” system.
CHAP’s 13 members are appointed by the mayor, while its executive staff serves at the mayor’s pleasure. Seven of the nine positions on the Planning Commission are appointed by the mayor after his office receives nominations from various groups.
Cadogan and ValStone principal, Larry E. Jennings, want to demolish the Tractor Building’s roof with large skylights, part of the original home of Poole & Hunt, a foundry that, most famously, fabricated the columns for the U.S. Capitol dome.
The developers propose to replace the roof and at least one existing wall for a “building within a building” containing apartments and an adjoining 200-car parking garage, which would downgrade the structure’s historic significance, the associations argue.
Cadogan and Jennings “are advocating massive changes to this neighborhood” in disrgard of restrictions contained in special zoning regulations for Clipper Mill, Jeffrey Pietrzak said.
“When the developers came in in 2018, they tried to overturn those zoning regulations. First they failed because the politicians supported the neighborhood. Now they want to overturn the law by getting directly to the politicians,” said Pietrzak, a member of Clipper Mill’s townhome association.
Councilman Missed the Hearing
Many community members have expressed disappointment with their Council representative, Leon F. Pinkett, III, for not attending the Planning Commission hearing where the townhouse project was approved.
In the current election cycle, Pinkett has received various contributions from the developers. They include $500 from Katherine Jennings (ex-wife of Larry Jennings) whose own development company, Woodberry Station LLC, demolished two historic stone houses on Clipper Road last May.
Pinkett also has received money from Christopher Mfume, who worked with Woodberry Station, and the late Caroline Paff, Cadogan’s partner at VI Development.
Donations to Pinkett in his current campaign to become City Council president – as well as Young’s run for mayor in 2020 – will not be publicly disclosed by the state Elections Board until next month.
For nearly three decades, Cadogan was at the epicenter of local politics as Martin O’Malley’s campaign treasurer, during which time O’Malley was both mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland.
The lawyer also served on the finance committee of former mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In late September, Cadogan replaced Young’s longtime campaign treasurer, Keith E. Timmons, according to state Board of Elections records.
Timmons’ law offices had earlier been raided by federal authorities in connection with the Healthy Holly book scandal involving Catherine Pugh, whose resignation last May pivoted Young into the mayor’s seat.
Timmons had incorporated Healthy Holly LLC, the vehicle by which Pugh eventually collected more than $700,000 in book sales from individuals and nonprofits doing business, or seeking to do business, with Baltimore City and Maryland.
Cadogan founded VI Development in 2011 as a real estate development company. Forfeited in 2015 for failure to file property returns, the firm was re-established by the lawyer in February 2018.
The company’s website – videvllc.com – was recently taken off-line.