The 25th Street Station Walmart Project is approaching approval, despite calls from members of the affected communities for a major amendment and further discussion over the proposed design and retail mix. It is my understanding that in Baltimore, a design change reducing the retail density of a proposed development does not require such an amendment, but this is about more than the words in our city code. It's about more than what is "required." This is about respecting the needs, wants and concerns of the communities the project purportedly will serve. And we have many concerns.
In addition to a major reduction in retail density (100,000 sq. ft.), the Walmart has been moved to face an entirely different street. Isn't that a major change? The loading docks have been moved above ground, where refrigerated trucks will add noise and visual pollution to our beautiful historic neighborhood, disregarding neighbors who suddenly find themselves living right across the street. Isn't that a major change?
Since a lawsuit last year, the development's second anchor, Lowe's, and many small retailers have dropped out of the project. We no longer even know what stores will be included aside from Walmart. Isn't that a major change?
But it's not just about the changes. This design was unacceptable from the start. What's proposed is a suburban, walker unfriendly layout with an ocean of parking lot out front. It has no place in historic urban communities like Remington and Old Goucher. The developers plan to demolish a beautiful old church even though it's not necessary for construction. What's up with that?
The most affected communities — Remington, Old Goucher and Station North — have been experiencing a renaissance over the last few years. All local, all community-driven. Now the city wants to bring a giant corporate development right into the heart of it on the largest unused parcel of land we've got left. What a waste! What a step backward!
This will be disastrous for the local business community. Where we are now getting community gardens, art galleries, local restaurants, tool libraries and real connections between the diverse people of this area, we will instead have more traffic, more crime, impersonal restaurants and hollow retail experiences, exported local wealth and more separation from one other.
Walmart costs taxpayers an average of $420,000 per store per year just to cover the cost of food stamps and other social services for their underpaid, poorly treated employees. Why am I being shouldered with this burden when I go out of my way to buy local specifically because I know it has a positive impact on our local economy and tax base? Why is Walmart bringing in poverty level jobs just when we're finally rising on our own strength?
What really hurts is that all this has happened under cover of relative silence. Most people I've spoken to don't even realize this project is still on the table. I didn't until just a few weeks ago. After the lawsuit last year, when Lowe's and a slew of smaller retailers dropped out, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. Now it seems that the city has worked with the developer to bring this to fruition quietly before we had a chance to raise a fuss. Everywhere I go I keep being told that this is a done deal, even though the community has grave concerns and the Planning Commission hasn't met yet.
I can't tell you how upset this makes me. I feel bullied. I feel betrayed. I'm literally losing sleep over it. This is not how we respect the needs, wants and concerns of our communities. This is not how we rebuild Baltimore. We deserve better.
Damien Nichols, Baltimore
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