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City panel questions revised design of proposed Wal-Mart

UDARP sends 25th Street Station developer back to the drawing board

By Larry Perl, lperl@tribune.com

1:19 PM EDT, September 27, 2013

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Baltimore City's design review panel is holding off on giving final approval to revised plans for 25th Street Station, a shopping center with a Wal-Mart on 11 acres in Remington.

WV Urban Development presented new plans to the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel on Sept. 26 that no longer call for a building with an urban Wal-mart on top and a Lowe's on the bottom. Lowe's long ago pulled out of the project, which until recently was stalled by a lawsuit filed by the property owner against the developer.

The Wal-mart would now be a single-story building and would grow from about 94,000 to 104,000 square feet, taking over a garden center that was originally supposed to be part of Lowe's.

A parking garage is no longer called for, either.

"We're going from a three-story parking garage to a surface lot," Caroline Paff of WV told UDARP panel members.

"So far, fine," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, who added that he wants to hear community comment in the coming weeks.

Members of the city review panel questioned the aesthetics of the project, saying that brick walls on either side of the Wal-Mart entrance are overpowering and blank, and in need of landscaping, screening or enhancements on the sidewalk, as the Target chain does with a red ball motif outside its stores, including the one in Towson.

"It's nothing but a brick wall with car bumpers up against it," said panelist Gary Bowden. "It's too bleak."

"There's a lot more that could be done," said Thomas Stosur, director of the city Department of Planning.

"There's kind of an amorphousness to this and a lack of street edge," said panelist David Haresign, an architect. He said he would like to see the developer "celebrate" the store entrance more.

The panel suggested that perhaps the Wal-Mart, which is planned with an environmentally friendly "green" roof, could make the wall green too.

Judith Kunst, president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, said she would post the revised plans on the website griaonline.org and that she, too, wants to wait for comments.

"I'm not sure," Kunst said when asked what she thinks of the downsized plans. "It's a big change. I think a lot of us were disappointed with Lowe's not coming."

But she added, "My community has a huge population that welcomes a Wal-Mart."

Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, said the entrances and exits at the shopping center do not make the development pedestrian-friendly enough and represent "a missed opportunity."

The planned unit development, as currently approved by the city, provides for about 338,000 square feet of retail, 2,000 square feet of office space and 70-80 residential units, but WV is proposing 194,251 square feet of retail, including the 104,858-square-foot Wal-Mart store, project manager Caroline Paff said. The office and residential square footage remains the same, she said.

Plans now call for 712 parking spaces for the center, including 212 in Wal-Mart's parking lot, Paff said. The original plans called for 1,027 spaces, she said.

Paff also said that Wal-Mart has agreed to purchase its portion of the development site. An allegedly missed deadline for Wal-Mart to commit to the purchase led property owner Bruce Mortimer to file a lawsuit earlier this year after reneging on a deal with WV to develop the shopping center.

Mortimer, whose family owns the Anderson Automotive Group site at 25th and Howard streets, where the shopping center would be built, said he would sell the site to Seawall Development Co. instead, but he and Walker have since settled the lawsuit. Seawall is no longer in the picture for that project, Seawall partner Evan Morville said.