A new mega outlet mall — planned for right next to the White Marsh Mall — is being slipped through Baltimore County's development process without any public consideration by the County Council of traffic, the surrounding retail market, the environment or dozens of other potential impacts on the community.
More than five years ago, developers first proposed a mixed-use project for the 88-acre property known as Nottingham Ridge off of Philadelphia Road and White Marsh Boulevard. They planned a mix of homes, office space and hotels, plus a modest amount of restaurant and retail that would be aimed at basic services for that community.
But earlier this year, the developers unveiled a new plan that eliminated virtually all of the housing and office space and replaced it with a mall featuring more than 100 stores. No more mixed-use — just another big mall and big box stores, right next to the others that already exist. The proposed plans also allow for numerous tour buses to visit this site and virtually do away with the previously planned bike lane that many held so dear.
The development team has told Baltimore County planners that they believe this mall proposal represents only a "minor change" to their previously approved zoning plan, and they sought to push through their so-called minor change — with virtually no public discussion.
Now, less than six months after the new plan was proposed, all that remains for its approval is a hearing before an administrative law judge, currently scheduled for next Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Towson (at The Jefferson Building, Room 205, 105 W. Chesapeake Ave.).
No discussion by the County Council. No hearings before the County Council about any of the issues that communities like ours care about. No economic analysis by the County Council about whether northeastern Baltimore County's retail market is strong enough to support a third major retail complex, built right on top of two others. No engagement about traffic and infrastructure needs with the people who already drive these congested roads every day.
How can this be? Where are our elected officials who preach the importance of community engagement when they speak to our homeowners' associations and ask for our votes on Election Day?
We realize that our area of Baltimore County has been caught up in redistricting, which means our representation is shifting from one member of the County Council to another following this year's election. But that doesn't mean council members David Marks (email@example.com) and Cathy Bevins (firstname.lastname@example.org) can't do more to help us seek community input. Why can't they both be standing up for our neighborhoods and calling for us to have a chance for genuine engagement?
It seems that Baltimore County officials ought to have learned their lesson about the importance of process and public input when it comes to development and zoning issues.
We watched the fight that took place in Owings Mills a couple of years ago regarding the Solo Cup property, Wegmans and the Owings Mills Mall. We know the process ended with many bruised feelings. But at least there was a process, and at least the Baltimore County Council gave residents and business owners in the community a chance to speak out and try to make their case.
More recently in White Marsh, there was a proposed development for low income housing apartments along Ebenezer Road, for which there were community input meetings scheduled. This was a 3-acre project and there was community input, yet for an 80-plus acre project, there is no community input? Does anyone see that some inequity exists here?
This project in White Marsh has been slipped through without any of that process, without any of that input, without any accountability by the elected officials.
It's time for council members Marks and Bevins to step forward and demand an opportunity for their constituents to get their say on this new mega outlet mall. There needs to be more transparency in major Baltimore County zoning decisions, not less.
Don't allow the elected officials to hide behind an administrative law judge. Our neighbors need a chance to speak our minds and then let a decision be made. We have concerns about another mega outlet mall — concerns about traffic, concerns about the environment, concerns about how this project may impact the businesses that already serve our community.
Let's start a real community engagement process. White Marsh and Baltimore County deserve nothing less.
Heather Patti is president of the White Marsh-Cowenton Community Association. Her email is email@example.com.
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