CUMBERLAND — The mayor and City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to finalize the contract of sale for the Rolling Mill commercial site to the developer, with Councilman Eugene Frazier casting the lone vote in opposition.
Final approval on city business must go through three readings, or votes, before it becomes official law. Tuesday’s vote was the third and final vote clearing the way for the parties involved to go to closing.
The sale is for the 2.5-acre tract in the Rolling Mill neighborhood, off Exit 43 of Interstate 68, to developer Ed Scott of Cumberland Gateway Real Estate, LLC. The site will become the Cumberland Gateway Plaza and will feature a hotel, sit-down restaurant, fast service restaurant, retail shops and a convenience store. The plaza is part of a larger renewal plan in the vicinity called the Maryland Avenue Redevelopment Project.
Under the contract, the developer will pay $600,000 for the site, with the subsequent construction to take place in three phases. The contract allows the developer to recoup the $600,000 by being reimbursed $200,000 after each phase is completed.
The developer also takes over negotiations with the roughly dozen homeowners at the site who have so far not wished to sell.
Under the contract, certain types of businesses are prohibited by the city while others are not.
The contract also names some of the businesses favored by the city with which the developer has relationships. Restaurants include Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, Sonic, IHOP, Waffle House, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Panda Express, Jersey Mike’s and Five Guys. Convenience stores include Wawa and Royal Farms.
Frazier said his concern with the contract involves control over what businesses go in the plaza. The contract says the developer may request a prohibited business and may “not be unreasonably denied or delayed” from installing the business at the site.
Frazier said the clause gives too much say to the developer.
“The way it is set up, we have final say of what goes in there,” said Frazier. “The way it is now, they can come back and say it is (a) reasonable (business) and say we don’t get what we want in there. That is the only thing I’m against. I don’t want the mayor and City Council to give away the ability to say, ‘no you can’t get that one in there.’”
Following the meeting, Mayor Brian Grim said Frazier’s concerns are unlikely to present a problem.
“What I hear (Frazier) saying is there’s this go-around option,” said Grim. “He’s saying, without good reason, they can bring anything in. Even in the instance that he would have a case to make (for a certain business), there is still a judicial process.
“There are many things that are excluded ... some fast food, tattoo parlors, any fast-cash operations ... things like that.
“The councilman (Frazier) is oversimplifying it saying there is a way for the developer to get out of something and do something they want,” said Grim. “That is not the case at all. There is a reasonable standard that is codified in law. It simply means we would have to have good reason to deny him anything he actually wants to put there.”
The city and developer are expected to sign the sales contract by early November.
Addressing a letter
In other news from the meeting, Wayne Hedrick, a candidate for City Council, spoke during public input. Hedrick had a few concerns after reading a letter to the editor from Mary Miltenberger that appeared in Friday’s Cumberland Times-News.
One remark in the letter said: How many (with the city) are getting kickbacks from the (Maryland Avenue Redevelopment) project?
At the meeting, the council members said no kickbacks were involved. Grim elaborated following the meeting.
“Not only are kickbacks illegal,” said Grim, “but, just because a person has a first amendment right to say anything they want to, doesn’t mean any of it has any basis in reality or fact. That is something that was simply conjured up. It is an allegation of a pretty significant crime by your elected officials with no evidence whatsoever to support it. It is simply not true. No kickbacks are happening. It is simply silliness.”
The letter also said that $15.5 million was spent on the project to date. Jeff Rhodes, city administrator, said a total of $3.5 million has been raised for the project so far from municipal bond sales.
In addition, the letter said multi-year tax breaks were offered. Mike Cohen, city attorney, said, “the agreement prohibits such tax breaks.”
“It is election season and you hear things said that have no basis at all in facts,” said Grim. “This is a perfect example.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.