Committee OKs shopping center in Remington, including Walmart

Plans for a large shopping center in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore, including a Walmart store, cleared a major hurdle Wednesday with approval by a key City Council committee.

The land use committee voted unanimously to approve zoning plans for the 25th Street Station project, planned for the current site of Anderson Automotive, near Howard and 25th streets.

Councilwoman Belinda Conaway expressed misgivings about the proposal. She said there was no guarantee the full council would approve it when it comes up for a vote next month.

Conaway, who represents the area and introduced the zoning bill, has been negotiating with Walmart representatives for better pay for store employees.

"I'm not happy," said Conaway. "I don't want an 11-acre vacant piece of property in my district, but I still want to work with the developers and Walmart to increase benefits to workers."

Several council members have signaled that they will not back the plan unless the companies involved promise higher wages or benefits to employees.

Wages are not part of the land use plans that were presented to the committee. Council Vice President Edward L. Reisinger III, who chairs the committee, reminded members to base their vote solely on testimony from a September hearing.

The committee approved a sheaf of amendments to the plan, including provisions that bar liquor stores from the shopping center, prevent the sale of hunting knives and paintball guns, and require several traffic measures.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke arrived at the voting session with four new amendments, all of which passed. One would require developers to post signs on Interstate 83 directing vehicles headed for the shopping center to the North Avenue exit.

"It keeps traffic where it belongs: outside of residential neighborhoods," said Clarke, whose district borders the proposed shopping center.

Remington Neighborhood Association President Joan Floyd, who has sharply criticized the city's transportation department's assessment of traffic at the site, said traffic-calming measures were inadequate. And she criticized council members for passing the amendments without publicly discussing the testimony they had heard.

Jon Laria, an attorney who represents the project's developer, Rick Walker, called the vote "very gratifying."

"Baltimore City desperately needs this kind of investment," Laria said, citing a study that indicated the shopping center was slated to create 1,000 jobs.

Laria said the developers were "very concerned" about a living-wage bill proposed by Clarke. The legislation, which would require major retailers to pay workers the city's living wage, died after a narrow committee vote, but the councilwoman is looking to revive it.

The developers plan an "aggressive" campaign to recruit and hire local workers, especially from neighborhoods surrounding the shopping center, Laria said.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal Nov. 8.

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