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Baltimore County officials pushed 'tennis barn' through zoning for prominent developer

David Cordish, president and chairman of the Cordish Companies, operates casinos in Maryland.
Brian Witte/AP
David Cordish, president and chairman of the Cordish Companies, operates casinos in Maryland.

Baltimore County’s Inspector General found that influential property developer David Cordish appeared to be given preferential treatment for zoning of a massive tennis barn on his land.

The process for building accessory structures outside of zoning rules in the county requires a public hearing before an administrative law judge but emails between county employees and the developer show attempts to circumvent that process.

Kelly Madigan, inspector general for Baltimore County noted that since 1996 there have been 115 cases where residents went through the special hearing process.

In February 2020, a zoning petition was filed on behalf of Cordish seeking variances for the tennis barn project that would have been larger than his expansive home on Greenspring Valley Road. Plans for the barn included seats for spectators and an “observation balcony,”according to the report.

For months, the developer tried to skirt zoning rules by pushing for the project approval without the public hearing.

At one point plans were submitted which submerged about half of the tennis barn underground so it would stand 15 feet above ground instead of 32 feet to comply with zoning rules, records show.

“Tennis is one of the great things I have shared with my children and I want to continue to share this great sport with my grandchildren,” Cordish wrote in a letter to the county.

Cordish is the CEO and chairman for The Cordish Companies, a real estate development company that builds casinos and hotels.

In March 2020, an attorney for homeowners near Cordish’s property, requested a public hearing but it never happened.

While Cordish ultimately did not build the tennis barn the permit was approved. County administrators noted in response to the investigation that a building permit was never issued.

"Mr. Cordish hoped to build a tennis court for his family’s use but, to his disappointment, never received a building permit and abandoned the project last year," wrote Cari Furman spokesperson for The Cordish Companies in a recent email.

It was unclear whether Cordish followed through with alternative plans for a temporary ‘tennis bubble’ on the property.

In November 2020, Cordish wrote an email to county officials asking for a meeting between his attorney who is “very respected in zoning circles throughout county government” but name was redacted from the document. Cordish ended the email with the Latin phrase, “tempus fugit” which translates to time flies.

County officials went against the advice of its zoning review office that a tennis barn spanning 15,000 square feet, bigger than the home on site.

That decision fast-tracked approval for the tennis barn and the county also gave the project priority for the Soil Conservation District for review of compliance with soil erosion control which had a six week backlog of more than two dozen projects.

Stacy Rodgers, the county administrative officer, said her office was “unaware of the nature and extent of these conversations” until the investigation and said that it expects “all issues handled by county government and its employees be handled in a fair and equitable manner.”

Beyond that, county officials assert that "no direction was ever given by any member of the county executive’s staff to give priority treatment to this project," according to a statement.

Kristen Mosbrucker is a digital news editor and producer for WYPR. @k_mosbrucker
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