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Maryland Lawmakers Approve Pimlico Overhaul, Port Relief And Housing Bills

The Maryland General Assembly passed a flurry of bills in the hours and days leading up to the end of its legislative session Monday night, and several of them could have major implications for commercial real estate. 

The legislature passed bills to overhaul the famed Pimlico Race Course, to provide financial relief to workers and businesses in the Port of Baltimore impacted by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and to address the state's housing shortage. The bills will be sent to Gov. Wes Moore for his signature before becoming law. 

The Maryland State House in Annapolis

The Pimlico bill, proposed less than a month before the session ended, tees up a significant redevelopment of the 150-year-old facility that hosts the Preakness Stakes horse race, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

The bill passed in the final hours of the session Monday night, with some legislators expressing concerns that it was rushed, The Baltimore Banner reported. It nevertheless passed with a 105-32 vote.

The bill would have the state take ownership of the race course from The Stronach Group and issue $400M in bonds to finance the transformation of the property and the construction of a new training facility. It would also create a state-run nonprofit to operate Pimlico, but a Stronach subsidiary would retain ownership of the Preakness Stakes. 

Moore has expressed support for the bill.

The Port of Baltimore aid package was proposed in response to the March 26 collapse of the Key Bridge, which has temporarily closed the port and created wide-ranging pain for the Baltimore-area economy. The bill was the final one to pass Monday night, just before midnight, prompting balloons and confetti to rain down in the Senate chamber, The Baltimore Sun reported

The legislation provides income replacement to employees who are out of work as a result of the collapse and offers financial support to small businesses to keep workers on the payroll, The Baltimore Banner reported. It also allows Moore's administration to offer incentives to keep businesses at the Port of Baltimore or to lure them back if they relocate while the port is closed.

Additionally, the bill creates a scholarship fund for the children of the six construction workers who died in the collapse. Moore has said he will sign the bill into law. 

In an effort to address the state's housing shortage, the legislature on Saturday and Monday passed three bills that Moore's administration proposed in January. 

One of those bills, the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act, seeks to incentivize development through zoning changes. It offers density bonuses to certain multifamily developments that include affordable units. It also prevents local governments from enacting "unreasonable" requirements on development, The Baltimore Sun reported

The Renters' Rights and Stabilization Act would create the Office of Tenant and Landlord Affairs to help tenants understand their legal rights and available remedies. It also raises a fee on landlords to issue eviction notices, Maryland Matters reported

The Housing and Community Development Financing Act received final passage on Saturday. The bill creates the Maryland Community Investment Corp., which will have the ability to finance investments and loans in community development projects. 

Housing affordability was cited as Maryland's top problem by 19% of residents in a poll released Saturday by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. That was up from 13% in 2019. 

Moore's administration estimates the state has a housing shortage of around 96,000 units. He testified in support of the bills in February and said the state was facing a "true housing crisis."

The governor said Monday he was happy to see the housing bills pass. 

"We're feeling very good about where we are," Moore said, according to Maryland Matters. "And this is going to be the most aggressive housing package in the history of the state of Maryland."