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Baltimore County residents testify on Owings Mills development

Baltimore County residents sounded off Thursday on planned development in Owings Mills, an issue that has become highly contentious as the county considers whether to allow an upscale retail complex at the site of the former Solo Cup plant.

A County Council hearing on zoning issues in District 2 focused on whether the manufacturing property off Reisterstown Road should be approved for retail use to make way for a 385,000-square-foot development called Foundry Row that would be anchored by a Wegmans supermarket.

Two other projects are planned for the area and already have county approval — the revamping of Owings Mills Mall and construction of the Metro Centre at Owings Mills, a retail and residential project that will also feature a library and community college. Foundry Row supporters said all three developments would spark revitalization in the area.

Opponents told the council that traffic from Foundry Row would further overwhelm Reisterstown Road, detract from the mall's redevelopment and take business from existing stores. Some said Foundry Row is not consistent with the county's master plan.

Tom Fitzpatrick, president and chief operating officer of Foundry Row developer Greenberg Gibbons, told the council the project's opponents have spread lies. For instance, he said, they have said the developers are asking for millions of dollars in public funds.

"We are not asking for one cent from the taxpayers," Fitzpatrick said, adding that his firm plans to spend $7 million to make road improvements around the development.

Shirley Supik, head of the Say No to Solo Coalition, said she is concerned about traffic and alleged that the Solo Cup site is contaminated.

"The people who are supporting [Gibbons] are not hearing the whole truth," the Randallstown resident said.

Donna Sills, the development firm's chief counsel, said the site has "minimal environmental issues, which Solo has been diligently addressing."

The Say No to Solo Coalition has not revealed its funding sources. Several Foundry Row supporters referred to the coalition Thursday as an "AstroTurf" or "front group." Orange signs proclaiming, "Vote No on Solo," covered the pathway to the entrance of Pikesville High School, where the hearing was held.

The developers of the mall and Metro Centre oppose allowing the former Solo Cup grounds to become a retail site.

Community leaders in favor of Foundry Row told council members they were excited about the development, saying that area residents now have to go elsewhere to find quality retailers.

The council is scheduled to vote on the matter in September.

This week, the Say No to Solo Coalition wrote to former County Executive Jim Smith, whose law firm, Smith, Gildea & Schmidt, represents Greenberg Gibbons. The letter noted Smith's past political contributions to County Council members and called his firm's involvement in the rezoning issue troubling.

Smith called the letter a "desperate attempt" by the group's public relations and consulting firms to distract from Foundry Row's merits. He said he has not made any political contributions to the council this year.

alisonk@baltsun.com

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