Meet Attorney Joseph F. Snee, Jr.
The construction workers at 112 S. Main St., in Bel Air are used to people in business suits ducking under the scaffolding and through the brick front façade, trying in vain to avoid the fine white construction dust on their freshly shined shoes. One can hear the workers “shhh” each other as they note the visitors and forego any loud machinery.
The site is the future office of law firm Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger (SMLH), whose business is primarily commercial real estate law. This piece of real estate has a bit more at stake, bought by the partners in anticipation of long-term growth. Listening to Joseph Snee animatedly describe each room in the nearly 10,000-square-foot space, one can visualize what the unframed walls and dusty plywood floors will become in a few short months.
Citing these new offices as his biggest career challenge, Snee talks about the key features planned for the building. “The firm needs to grow, and they should do it in a space that we own. It will be state-of-the-art for the next 20 years,” he says. He enthusiastically ticks off amenities like 30 on-site parking spaces, CAT 8 wiring and Wi-Fi, energy efficient heating and cooling, a roof monitor providing natural light and a café in the waiting area. Snee notes the front of the building will mirror that of the County Courthouse a block away, showcasing the same bricks, door and trim work. The idea for the matching architecture was the brainchild of Snee himself.
In SMLH’s current office at 11 S. Main St., Snee and his colleagues are known for handling the tough cases. Snee isn’t afraid of facing obstacles. In fact, he seems to thrive on them. Three of his most recent clients are among hotly debated business developments in Harford County: Eva Mar Continuing Care Retirement Center to be located at Route 543 just beyond Route 22; James Run, a mixed use complex at Route 543 and I-95; and Walmart, near Plumtree Road in Bel Air. Each of these has faced stumbling blocks, including vigorous opposition by local residents, but Snee takes it all in stride.
“With progress comes change,” he says. “Everything doesn’t stop once people move in here. There was a time when you couldn’t even buy a shirt in Bel Air – you had to travel to Towson or Baltimore. We try to have a logical debate and reasonable discussions, but often, emotion gets in the way.”
In addition to real estate, Snee also handles general business matters, government relations and permitting issues, all of which he estimates make up 75 percent of his business. The other 25 percent involves working with the liquor board. His firm represents many restaurants and businesses seeking or defending liquor licenses. A strategic move early in his career, Snee says he was introduced to the liquor board business by Frank Hertsch, one of his first employers. Snee recalls winning his first argument in front of the liquor board, and deciding he liked practicing in that venue. He also saw that those cases have the potential to lead to other business cases, such as landlord/tenant or permitting issues.
The concentration on real estate law also came from Snee’s first job. “I was taught by good lawyers who had a real estate specialty,” Snee says. “The legal business is a three-legged stool consisting of legal, business and political relationships, and they all need to work together along the way.”
In addition, Snee acknowledges some innate qualities that make a successful lawyer. “There are a lot of talented lawyers with great GPAs and test scores, but those tests don’t measure your ability to get along with people, establish relationships and be empathetic to a client’s needs,” he says. Snee has the combination for success, although he modestly attributes it to others. “I’m a product of Bel Air and Harford County. I owe my success to family, friends, and a great public education,” he explains. He attended local Bel Air schools, University of Maryland and University of Maryland School of Law. He credits the relationship part to being raised in a large family. “I have two brothers and two sisters and two demanding and loving parents. We had to coexist,” he chuckles.
After more than 30 years practicing law, Snee has become an influential part of the community and an advocate for business development. Working closely with County Executive Barry Glassman to move business opportunities forward is one of Snee’s short-term goals for both his practice and the community. “Harford County is a great place to live and work,” he says. “We say ‘welcome’ to businesses who want to locate here. The challenge is locating the business and getting it permitted.” He notes that the county needs 1,500 housing permits per year to pay the County’s water and sewer fund, but it is getting only 200-300 per year.
“There’s only one thing worse than growth, and that’s no growth,” Snee says. “We need healthy economic development. A complex like James Run is projected to bring in $100 million in tax revenue over a 20-year period.”
Yet, for opponents of this and other growth complexes, the main issues are often development snags like increased traffic or unwanted congestion. The County’s Adequate Public Facilities Act calls for road improvement to mitigate a development area, and Snee says many incoming businesses are willing to meet the needs. For example, he says, Walmart in Bel Air will contribute $4 million to traffic improvements there, costing the local taxpayer nothing and significantly improving the area’s traffic flow.
Snee encourages businesses and individuals who want to stimulate change to be persistent with their elected officials in Annapolis. “We must educate the electorate,” he says. “People must be proactive and talk to their Annapolis representatives.”
When not making his mark on Main Street in Bel Air, Snee likes to spend time traveling with his wife, Kim, and their two children, Megan, 19, and Joe, 16. He can also be found landscaping his own yard in Fallston. “I like to see my work come to fruition over a weekend or a period of weeks, versus the years it sometimes takes in the legal profession,” he says. I95