The battle over the redevelopment of the former Solo Cup property in Owings Mills is coming down to the wire, with opponents making last-minute allegations against Baltimore County Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond and announcing a drive to bring zoning maps to referendum.
In what has become the county's most closely watched development issue, the County Council is set to vote Tuesday evening on whether to allow retail at the site on Reisterstown Road to pave the way for an upscale shopping center anchored by a Wegmans supermarket. The proposal is among nearly 300 petitions the council will consider as part of a countywide zoning review that takes place every four years.
Opponents say they are preparing for a referendum drive if the council approves the request by developer Greenberg Gibbons, which wants to build a 400,000-square-foot retail center called Foundry Row at the site.
Last week, a group called the Committee for Zoning Integrity submitted paperwork to the county election board to review. One version of the proposed referendum question would seek to challenge all zoning issues decided in Almond's district Tuesday. The other would focus only on the Solo Cup site. The group is represented by Washington law firm of Sandler, Reiff, Young & Lamb.
And this past weekend, a group named the Garrison Forest-Reisterstown Road Corridor Merchants' Coalition called on Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat whose district includes the Solo Cup site, to recuse herself from the vote.
That group's consultant is Otis Rolley, a planning expert and former Baltimore mayoral candidate. The organization, along with the Say No to Solo Coalition, has accused the councilwoman of having a cozy relationship with Greenberg Gibbons.
Greenberg Gibbons chairman and CEO Brian Gibbons said Monday that efforts against his project are "obviously all being orchestrated and funded by competing developers."
"This is all part of this premeditated, political-style campaign to make a last-ditch effort to try to create fear and confusion," Gibbons said.
The developers of two nearby projects — Kimco Realty, which plans to revitalize the Owings Mills Mall, and Howard Brown, who is building the Metro Centre — oppose Greenberg Gibbons' zoning request.
Through a spokesman, Brown declined to comment Monday. He has previously said he's not financially backing the coalition opposing Foundry Row.
Geoffrey Glazer, Kimco's vice president for acquisitions and development, couldn't be reached for comment.
Last week, the Say No to Solo Coalition filed a Public Information Act request seeking records from Almond's trip in May to the International Council of Shopping Centers convention in Las Vegas, an event attended by dozens of elected officials from Maryland. The coalition, which has not revealed its funding sources, accused Almond of attending the conference as an employee of Greenberg Gibbons.
According to correspondence provided by Almond's office, the councilwoman wrote to a convention official before the trip saying she had somehow been listed as an "Owner/Developer" of Greenberg Gibbons. In the letter, Almond asked for her name to be removed immediately.
"This issue was addressed the week before the Councilwoman embarked on her trip," Almond aide Jonathan Schwartz said in an email Monday to The Baltimore Sun. "This is yet another misrepresentation made by the highly paid professionals hired to oppose the rezoning of the abandoned Solo Cup factory."
Over the past few months, competition over Owings Mills development has been heated, with residents receiving phone calls and fliers about the issue. This past weekend, leaders of the Torah Institute, a school off Reisterstown Road, wrote to parents saying that it was not behind anti-Foundry Row fliers that recently had been mailed out to the community.
The institute's letter called the fliers — which told parents that traffic produced by Foundry Row would block entrances to the school and pose dangers to their children — "misleading," saying the school has not taken a position on the development.
"The school is being used as a hammer to support the anti-Solo efforts," the institute's president, Hillel Tendler, said Monday. "We are not a player in this battle. ... I'm just upset that we're being dragged into this."
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