The developer of 25th Street Station is leaving the retail and housing development project.
WV Urban Developments project manager Caroline Paff released a statement Tuesday saying the developer is no longer planning to redevelop the Anderson Automotive site at 25th and Howard streets, including building a shopping center anchored by a Walmart.
"WV Urban Developments is no longer pursuing its 25th Street Station project," the statement reads. "As you are well aware, the project has been the target of numerous appeals and filings by opponents, which have delayed the project for years."
The statement went on to say that the appeals "have contributed to an environment sufficiently uncertain that the relevant parties are unable to reach the agreements necessary for WV to continue."
Paff and Jon Laria, the local attorney for WV Urban Developments, would not comment.
City Councilman Carl Stokes, who represents the area, said developer Rick Walker told him personally that WV Urban was no longer involved, despite spending some $5 million in planning costs and attorney's fees defending the project against lawsuits that have been dismissed and appealed.
Stokes said Walmart officials have told him they still want to be involved. He said he thinks Seawall Development, a major developer in the area with its planned Remington Row project and redevelopment of several former mills as apartments aimed at young teachers, might take over the project.
"Absolutely," Seawall partner Evan Morville said when asked if Seawall would be interested.
Stokes said Mortimer and Jon Laria, the local attorney for WV Urban Developments, would not comment.
Judith Kunst, former president of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, who served on a community advisory committee to WV Urban, said she fears that traffic mitigation plans developed as part of the planned unit development will be lost.
Current GRIA president Blaine Carvalho could not be reached for comment.
Joan Floyd, president of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance and a longtime critic of the project and its traffic implications, would not comment, saying she knew nothing about WV Urban's departure.
The news comes as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Stokes and other city officials are attending the International Conference of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas.
"It's been a developer's nightmare, and it's giving our city a bad reputation," Kunst said. "We need jobs. We need retail."
The news also comes after WV Urban had cleared a major hurdle to developing the shopping center — winning the blessing of the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel in October.
"I'm overjoyed," Paff said at the time.
But controversy that has dogged the project since the City Council approved the original PUD in 2010 — especially about Walmart's involvement, its perceived reputation as paying low wages, concerns that the company would not hire locally and concerns that a big box store would kill small hardware stores in the area — has continued.
Stokes remains critical of the city Planning Department's approval of what the developer called minor amendments to the planned unit development, despite community opposition to the proposed changes, including plans to tear down a stone church that residents say is historic.
Seawall's interest does not come as a surprise. Last March, property owner Bruce Mortimer, president of the Anderson Automotive Group, started to pull the plug on WV Urban because the developer missed a key deadline to complete a purchase agreement with Walmart Real Estate Business Trust, in which Walmart would commit to purchasing a portion of the properties on the site.
Mortimer filed legal action asking a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge to declare the pending sale of the 11-acre site as terminated, and talked of turning the project over to Seawall. But Mortimer and WV Urban worked out an agreement to extend the deadline.
That deadline too has passed, Stokes said, speaking from the Las Vegas convention.
Mortimer would not comment.
Benn Ray, owner of Atomic Books in Hampden and a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits that was ultimately dismissed for lack of legal standing, said he is pleased that WV Urban is out.
Ray said he would not be opposed to Seawall coming in, but that the company would be wasting good will it has engendered in the community if it insists on "shoving a big box store down our throats."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun