Developer Influences MD State Review
of the Sugarloaf Plan
The Sugarloaf Alliance has uncovered further evidence that a developer has attempted to manipulate the State of Maryland’s review of the Sugarloaf Treasured Landscape Management Plan. By meeting with the two most senior people at Maryland Department of Planning, Mr. Natelli may have succeeded in corrupting the Department of Planning assessment of the Sugarloaf plan and injected his own self-interests into the Planning letter. This meeting with Department of Planning officials is in addition to his secret meeting with at least three of the most senior people at Maryland Department of Commerce
Mr. Natelli currently owns nearly 700 acres of agricultural ground, within the Sugarloaf plan boundary, along the west side of I-270. The southern portion of these holdings was the subject of a non-public, backroom effort to modify the plan boundaries in March 2021. The Planning Commission reversed this attempted development carve out at its first hearing on the plan. Mr. Natelli and his lobbyists have continued to press for commercial and industrial development to the west of I-270 throughout the Planning Commission hearing process.
In March of this year the Planning Commission sent a draft of the Sugarloaf Plan to the State of Maryland for a legally required 60-day review. Comments were received from the Maryland Department of Planning in May. Planning Commission members, county staff, and the public at large have viewed the Department of Planning comments as an impartial legal and policy assessment of the draft Sugarloaf Plan. In its cover letter the Department of Planning states, “Planning’s attached review comments reflect the agency’s thoughts” and “Planning also asks that the county consider our comments as revisions are made to the draft Plan.” We now know that both the Department of Commerce and Department of Planning comments were influenced, outside the public process, by a self-interested developer.
In an effort to track and monitor the development of the Sugarloaf Plan, the Sugarloaf Alliance has submitted a variety of Public Information Act requests to a wide range of State and County officials. We have recently received information from the Maryland Department of Planning that seriously calls into question the validity and impartiality of the Planning comment letter.
Because the Planning letter is cited as a justification for allowing industrialization and commercial development to the west of I-270, we think it is critical that the Council be aware of the facts behind the Maryland Department of Planning’s comments on the plan.
On March 16, Timothy Perry, a registered lobbyist for Natelli Communities, contacted Deputy Secretary Sandra Schrader to set up a meeting between Department of Planning leadership and Natelli Communities. Later that day Mr. Perry emailed Maria Sofia (Executive Associate to the Deputy Secretary) to schedule the meeting. Two days later a meeting was scheduled for March 24. The meeting was to take place at the offices of Perry, White, Ross, and Jacobson, the lobbying firm registered to represent Natelli Communities. Invitees for the meeting included:
Robert McCord, Secretary of Planning
Sandra Schrader, Deputy Secretary of Planning
Maria Sofia, Executive Associate, Department of Planning
Tom Natelli, Natelli Communities
Eric Soter, Rodgers Consulting (Planning consultant and lobbyist for Natelli Communities)
Dusty Rood, President and CEO of Rodgers Consulting
Timothy Perry, Perry, White, Ross, and Jacobson (Natelli Communities lobbyists)
Jonas Jacobson, Perry, White, Ross, and Jacobson
Jenna McGreevy, Perry, White, Ross, and Jacobson
The day of the meeting, March 24, for reasons unknown, Deputy Secretary Schrader asked that the session be moved to the “old post office” in Annapolis rather than the lobbyist’s offices.
A week after the meeting Mr Perry sent Deputy Secretary Schrader a copy of Natelli’s summary and talking points. Minutes later, Schrader forwarded the Natelli notes to Secretary McCord and Adam Gruzs, Department of Planning Legislative Officer. The Deputy Secretary later replied to Mr. Perry and Mr Jacobson, “Thanks so much … We’ll keep you posted.”
On April 29, Mr Perry again sent Deputy Schrader the Natelli notes, but this time they were sent to her non-government email address. Schrader promptly forwarded the email to her official email address.
On May 5, just six days after receiving the Natelli talking points the department transmitted its comment letter on the Sugarloaf Plan to Frederick County. Contained in the letter are statements parroting some of the talking points. Natelli’s often repeated sentiments on the need to develop the west side of I-270 are present in the Department of Planning letter.
As the Sugarloaf Alliance receives more information on efforts to manipulate the plan development process, we will share them with the Council as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we urge the Council to view both the Planning and Commerce comment letters for what they are, documents with highly suspect foundations and a deeply concerning history.
- Submitted by the Sugarloaf Alliance to the Frederick County Council, 8/25/22