CUMBERLAND — Mayor Ray Morriss and three members of the Cumberland City Council said Tuesday they would support eminent domain as an option to clear the proposed site for the Cumberland Gateway Plaza.
Morriss and council members Rock Cioni, Seth Bernard and Laurie Marchini said they would support eminent domain if it becomes a viable option.
The answers were in response to a line of questioning from WCBC’s Paul Mullan during the public input portion of Tuesday’s regular council meeting at City Hall.
Eminent domain is using legal means to acquire homes for a development. Although eminent domain is usually reserved for developments that are nonprofit such as a school, hospital or a public road, the measure has been used for commercial developments in certain situations.
Tuesday’s questioning focused on the proposed Cumberland Gateway Plaza off Exit 43D of Interstate 68. Located between Maryland Avenue and Park Street, plans for the site include a hotel, restaurants and shops. The 3.5-acre tract contained 69 homes when the city began the project in 2015. Now in its fifth year, the tract still has about a dozen homeowners who have refused to sell thus far slowing progress at the site.
“Eminent domain has not been taken off the table and is something that would be considered if necessary,” said Morriss.
To date, the city has spent roughly $6 million on the project.
“I would agree with the mayor,” said Cioni. “The city has a considerable amount of money invested in that property. One of our obligations is to think of the greater good and I think the mayor said it very well. We represent the entire city and have to look out for it.”
Bernard and Marchini also said that eminent domain should be an option.
Councilman Eugene Frazier said he would not support it.
“I am the lone dissenter,” said Frazier. “I don’t think homes should be taken for commercial purposes. I would be a no vote. Eminent domain is a lot more costly to do than you think it would be. Each (property owners) would get their day in court and it would be more expensive.”
The developer for the plaza — Ed Scott of Kline Scott Visco Commercial Real Estate of Frederick — told the Times-News in August that the project will almost certainly be a build-around.
Frazier said he is not against the plaza.
“I’m not against developing that area,” said Frazier. “I just think we went about it in the wrong way. That was the problem. Do I want to see something happen? Yes. I am hoping when the developer starts doing some build-arounds that some people there they’ll say, ‘I’m going to get out of here; I’m going to sell.’”
Morris said that a build-around would not increase the city’s tax base the way a full plaza would.
“I am in favor of a full-build instead of a build-around,” said Morriss. “By a full build you would increase the tax base the best for the city of Cumberland. We still have to see if a build-around is possible ... it would be considered. But, I’m in favor of a full build.”
Scott has been unable thus far to get about a dozen homeowners to sell their properties and allow plans for a full Cumberland Gateway Plaza to move forward.
“I encourage both sides — the property owners that are still there and the developer — to be open-minded and to look at the options and figure in their minds what is the best thing to do for the community.”
Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.