Next step for White Marsh outlet fight: petition drive

Fight over proposed outlet mall in White Marsh could end up on the ballot.

The fight over a proposed outlet mall for White Marsh could be headed to the ballot.

A group that's calling itself the Committee to Protect Baltimore County Zoning Process has received approval from the county's elections board for a petition to put a new zoning law to a vote in the next election.

The law, which went into effect on Monday, clears the way for Baltimore-based Paragon Outlet Partners to build a 100-store outlet mall just a few miles from the White Marsh Mall and The Avenue at White Marsh.

If the committee collects the required signatures — more than 26,000 — the law would be suspended and submitted to voters on the November 2016 ballot. Voters could uphold the law or overturn.

The filing with the elections board doesn't identify the organizers of the committee. General Growth Properties, which owns the White Marsh Mall, has opposed the proposed outlet mall. But neither General Growth nor the White Marsh Mall would say whether they're behind the petition.

"This petition effort has the full support of GGP and White Marsh Mall," said Lisa Bisenius, the mall's general manager.

The Washington-based attorney for the Committee to Protect Baltimore County Zoning Process, Joseph Sandler, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Sandler was an attorney for a different developer-backed committee that tried unsuccessfully to put on the ballot a series of 2012 zoning decisions that benefited other developers.

The law allows property owners along Interstate 95 who meet zoning and acreage requirements to build an outlet mall as a matter of right without submitting their plans for extra layers of zoning approval.

The law benefits Paragon, which has seen its plan to build an outlet mall near the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 43 tied up for more than a year in zoning appeals brought by General Growth and neighbors.

Paragon's initial plan also included a hotel, offices and some homes, but the developer now plans to move forward with only the outlet mall.

Bisenius warned that the law sets "a dangerous precedent."

"Almost two years of community input and judicial review will be ignored for the benefit of one project," she said in a statement. "The residents of Baltimore County and the retail and business owners that live and work here deserve to be heard on land use issues that impact our communities."

Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, who sponsored the bill, said she thinks the outlet mall will be great for White Marsh. The county council approved the bill unanimously this month.

Bevins, a Democrat who represents the area, said General Growth should "stop fighting" the law and invest in improving the White Marsh Mall instead.

"It's where I shop," she said. "In seven years I have been in Oliver Beach, I have seen the mall decline.

"They need to make an investment in their mall so people will want to go to the outlets, to The Avenue and to the mall."

To get the bill on the ballot, the committee must obtain signatures from more than 26,000 registered county voters — equal to 10 percent of the number of votes cast in the county for governor last year — within 45 days of the bill becoming law.

The November 2016 elections, which include votes for a vacant White House and a rare open U.S. Senate seat for Maryland, are expected to draw a high turnout.

R. Kelvin Antill of Paragon said he's prepared to make the case for his project. He says it will boost the local economy.

Antill said he's improved the project by agreeing to install the most modern stormwater controls and adding a ramp from Route 7 onto eastbound Route 43.

"Hopefully the population will understand this is a pure anti-competition play," he said.

pwood@baltsun.com

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