City Councilman Stokes leans toward revisiting shopping center project

An artist rendering shows what the Walmart store in the planned 25th Street Station hsopping center in Remington would look like. (Rendering courtesy of Massa Montalto / November 19, 2013)

City Councilman Carl Stokes sounded all but certain Monday that he would ask the Planning Commission on Nov. 21 to return the planned 25th Street Station shopping center project back to the council for further review.

The Planning Commission would only revisit the development if it decides that changes to the Walmart-anchored project constitute "major amendments" that warrant reconsideration by the council.

Stokes said that although the council approved the planned unit development, or PUD, in 2010, the project has undergone so many design changes — from the loss of Lowe's as a co-anchor to the recommending razing of a stone church to make way for a Walmart loading dock — that the PUD needs council review again.

"I am leaning toward that because it is quite a bit more than a simple redesign," Stokes said.

He said City Council member Mary Pat Clarke and Bill Henry, both of whom represent parts of north Baltimore, are supporting him in asking for a major amendment review.

Stokes said his constituents in Remington, Charles Village and Old Goucher are split 50-50 on the project in Remington, even after the city's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel approved the Walmart redesign Oct. 31.

The Planning Commission, which for now has the final say on approving the redesign, is scheduled to hold a public hearing Nov. 21. If the Planning Commission approves the changes as "minor amendments," Walmart and WV Urban Developments, the developer of the 11-acre site at 25th and Howard streets, would clear their last substantial hurdle in getting the project approved..

Stokes said earlier this month he was politically conflicted because his constituents were. Two of the five community groups in the immediate area are calling for council review, two are not, and the fifth is dormant.

Those favoring council reconsideration are the Remington Neighborhood Alliance and the Old Goucher Community Association. Both are concerned that entrances to the shopping center are misplaced and that an old stone church would be torn down to make room for a Walmart loading dock, among other worries.

Those in favor of the Planning Commission approving the center as it stands now are the Charles Village Civic Association and the Greater Remington Improvement Association.

The fifth group, the Historic Fawcett Community Association, is inactive, founder Megan Hamilton said.

Stokes also said earlier this month that he was personally conflicted. He said he believed the changes to the project should be viewed as major amendments, but that the Planning Department disagrees. City planners say the proposed changes now wouldn't alter the PUD as approved in 2010.

"I think the rationale is strong that it's a major amendment, but if you read the law, it's very hard to come down that way," Stokes said earlier this month. "It has to be a redesign of the PUD, not this one (Walmart) building," in order for changes to be considered major, he said then.

But on Monday, he came down largely on the side of seeking council review, saying that proponents of a major amendment have made their case and the other side hasn't.

"I want a rationale why it should be anything other than a major amendment," he said.

But Stokes reiterated that he does not want to kill the project

"I don't want to go back and unravel what it took people months to get approval for" in 2010," he said. "It is true we could break the whole thing open again, but that's not going to happen. I'm not going to let it happen."

Stokes said earlier this month that although area residents are deeply divided on details like the landscaping of the Walmart and where the loading dock would be located, a clear majority of his constituents have made clear they want a shopping center with a big-box store.

"I do not support a revote on whether the Walmart comes or not," he said at the time. "I want to know, what are we trying to achieve if we put it back before the council."