By Alison Knezevich
9:09 PM EDT, August 28, 2012
The Baltimore County Council on Tuesday voted to allow retail at the former Solo Cup plant in Owings Mills, but opponents of a planned shopping center there say they will not give up their fight against the project.
At a packed meeting, the council decided 6-1 to approve a zoning change at the old manufacturing site on Reisterstown Road so that developer Greenberg Gibbons can move forward with its proposed $140 million Foundry Row shopping center featuring a Wegmans supermarket. Those who are against the project say they will now seek to bring the issue to a voter referendum.
Councilman Kenneth Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, cast the only vote against the retail zoning request. The development firm has pledged to spend $7 million on traffic improvements near the site, but Oliver said it would not be enough to prevent problems.
"I'm also concerned about the retail businesses on Reisterstown Road and the small businesses there that this project will take away from," Oliver said.
The issue had spurred a heated campaign by opponents. The vote followed a months-long battle that took on the characteristics of a political campaign, with residents receiving robocalls, mailed literature and requests to sign petitions.
Greenberg Gibbons has accused opposition groups such as the Say No to Solo Coalition of being funded and coordinated by other developers. In a statement after the vote, company chairman and CEO Brian Gibbons said he applauded council members "for seeing through the negative campaign waged by opposing developers and staying true to what the community wants."
"It's a new day for Owings Mills, and we are ready to move forward, now," he said.
The Solo Cup issue was one of nearly 300 land-use petitions decided by the council Tuesday night. The county reviews its zoning maps every four years.
Usually, the council's zoning decisions are unanimous. Members typically follow a tradition called "councilmanic courtesy," in which the panel backs the decision of the council member who represents the district where a zoning request has been filed. The Solo Cup site is in Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond's district.
County planners and the planning board had recommended retail at the 54-acre site.
Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, said the project would "benefit the community."
"It's going to be good for all of Owings Mills," she said after the vote. "I do believe that the process works and that everybody had ample time to share their concerns. … I think if it goes to referendum or is halted in any way, that the only people that lose out is the community."
Two other Owings Mills projects that already have retail zoning are planned near the former Solo Cup site — redevelopment of the Owings Mills Mall by Kimco Realty and developer Howard Brown's Metro Centre, a large mixed-use development near the Metro station.
Oliver represents the district that includes the mall and the Metro Centre.
Foundry Row opponents have pointed to traffic worries and accused Almond of having too close a relationship with Greenberg Gibbons — an accusation she says is unfounded — among other reasons they say they oppose the project.
They now say they will seek a referendum to challenge the zoning decision. It would take more than 28,000 signatures to put the issue on the 2014 ballot.
"The sky's the limit on this," said Shirley Supik, head of the Say No to Solo Coalition. "The people are going to be heard one way or another, and that's a referendum."
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