The redevelopment of an 11-acre tract in Baltimore's Remington neighborhood can move ahead now that the state's highest court has ruled on a zoning appeal that held up the plan for years.
"The project would have been done, generating benefits for the community and taxes for the city if these petitions had not been filed," said Jon Laria, the attorney for the developer of the mixed-used project, called 25th Street Station.
On Tuesday, the Maryland Court of Appeals released its unanimous opinion that two people who live near the development site, one in Remington and the other in Charles Village, are not eligible to appeal the Baltimore City Council's decision to grant the zoning approval for the project. The court found that they do not live close enough to the site to file such an appeal.
The men who filed the suit, Benn Ray and Brendan Coyne, both live about four-tenths of a mile from the development site, according to the court's opinion. They alleged that the project, which is set to include a Walmart store, would have a negative affect on the neighborhood, depress local wages and make the streets more dangerous because of increased traffic flow.
"They complain that the commercial establishments now existing in their neighborhood … will close because of competition from Wal-Mart," wrote Judge Sally D. Adkins in the court's opinion. Yet, they "have failed to show that any of these businesses, whether open or closed, affect them in a manner distinct from the general public."
Likewise, Adkins wrote, they did not live close enough for the traffic argument to be legally satisfactory. And an argument by Coyne that the development would decrease the value of his property was thrown out because he did not present the court with supporting expert evidence.
"Their thesis is that this is bad land planning," said G. Macy Nelson, a land use attorney representing Ray and Coyne. Although the appeal has come to an end, Nelson said he expects people in the neighborhoods surrounding the site to continue to oppose its redevelopment.
An overhaul of city's zoning code is going through Planning Commission hearings and will soon be before the City Council. That legislation might provide an opportunity to keep fighting 25th Street Station's construction, Nelson said.
"We'll try and get some people out" to testify about the 25th Street Station zoning, Coyne said. He said he is concerned that the Walmart will be built but that the rest of the development won't be finished because of the slow economy.
Details of 25th Street Station, led by a development company called WV Urban Developments LLC, emerged about three years ago. The plan called for the redevelopment of land bounded by Maryland Avenue on the east, West 25th Street and Huntington Avenue on the north, West 24th Street to the south and railroad tracks on the west. Anderson Automotive Group now occupies most of the land.
At the time, the proposal included the Walmart, a Lowe's Home Improvement store, more than 100,000 square feet of other retail, 70 to 90 residences and nearly 1,100 parking spaces.
It almost immediately received a mixed reception from residents. An online petition drive called "No Walmart in Remington" was created in February 2010. But representatives from the three neighborhoods containing or adjacent to the parcel — Remington, Charles Village and Old Goucher — also began meeting with the developers on traffic issues.
Lowe's dropped out of the project in 2011 as the company contracted, so Walmart is the only tenant still committed to 25th Street Station. But the developer has a lot of interest from retailers, Laria said.
Zoning legislation for 25th Street Station passed the council in late 2010. The appeal of the legislation has been turned down at every level of the state's judiciary.
Now that the Court of Appeals has rendered a decision, the developer will work on getting permits from the city and purchasing the land from its current owners, Laria said.
"You can't finance the acquisition and development until litigation is resolved," he said.
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