The court of mixed public opinion about a planned shopping center in Remington is in full fact-finding and soul-searching modes this week.
Developers of 25th Street Station are going back before several community groups and a key city panel with proposed changes that they say would make the center and its centerpiece, a 104,000-square-foot Walmart store, more pedestrian-friendly and easier on the eye.
Also, a Baltimore City councilman is pulling residents from around the area together for what he calls a consensus-building meeting on the design of the project, whih some residents have said looks "cheap" and too much like a school.
The expected busy week began Monday, Oct. 21, with a meeting of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, at which WV Urban Development and its architectural and civil engineering firms presented updated plans.
"I wanted you to have an opportunity to see for yourselves what they're designing," GRIA President Judith Kunst told a generally receptive audience of about 40 people at Miller's Court.
On Tuesday, the development team was scheduled to make a similar presentation to the Charles Village Civic Association.
On Thursday, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes is hosting a meeting of residents and community leaders from all of the neighborhoods near the development site, to talk about the updated design plans. That meeting is at Saints Philip and James Catholic Church, 2801 North Charles St., at 6:30 p.m.
"This was a preview of it," Stokes said after Monday's GRIA meeting. "Thursday gives us an opportunity to try once again to reach a consensus of opinion on what this (project) should look like."
On Saturday, Oct. 26, the 25th Street Station PUD Design Review Committee, a city-required Department of Planning community advisory panel, is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. at Corky's Grill, 227 W. 23rd St.
Oct. 31, the developers are due back, for the third time, before Baltimore City's Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel, which has given tepid reaction to a proposed Walmart building that panelists say looks monotonous and isn't well-integrated with the neighborhood.
Some residents are still fighting to send the project back to the drawing board, arguing that proposed changes to the project since Lowe's pulled out as an anchor constitute major amendments to the planned unit development that the City Council approved in 2010 — and that the council should have to approve the PUD all over again.
Although Stokes said it's unlikely the council would go that far, he threatened Walmart and development officials earlier this month that council members might consider such drastic action if the design isn't tweaked to make it more palatable to the public.
But Stokes conceded that consensus could be hard to find. He said he is convinced "the broader community" wants a Walmart, but added, "There's no doubt there are others who want to revisit the whole thing."
At Monday's meeting, 25th Street Station project manager Caroline Paff told the audience, "There are plans in progress" to address the city design panel's concerns — including that the design of the Walmart entrance should make "a grander statement."
Panel members have also criticized the building's brick facade as dull, even after seeing amended plans for greater pedestrian access to the store and more urban-oriented design elements that developers said would give the Walmart a more urban, contemporary feel. They also said they would jazz up the sidewalk outside the big box store with bicycle racks and benches, as well as creating pedestrian connecting "nodes" and meeting places.
Landscape architect Jon Craft of Bowman Consulting, a civil engineering firm, said officials are working on making the front of the building more inviting with planters and ornamental trees.
Project architect Dan Condatore of Massa Montalto Architects said the firm was "trying to create a sense of place" at the site and make it "a gateway" for the community. "I think it's evolving in the right direction," he said.
"We are not abandoning the old design. We are maturing it," Paff said after the meeting."I think it has a more urban and sophisticated feel to it now."
"I'm glad to see they're making as many changes as they are," said Kunst, the GRIA president. She said she is hoping to see more of a "promenade" design that will be easier for pedestrians to navigate, from dog walkers to seniors.
"I want it to be pleasant and wide and for everyone to feel comfortable," Kunst said. "I want them to put everything green there that they can."
And she said she wants to make it attractive for young families that are moving into a growing Remington.
"I want to keep them here," she said.