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Seawall's purchase of Remington site could end lawsuits

The Anderson Automotive shop at 25th and Howard Street is seen last year.
The Anderson Automotive shop at 25th and Howard Street is seen last year. (File photo/2013)

Supporters of a lawsuit to stop the development of a shopping center anchored by a Walmart were holding a fundraiser at the Eightbar in Hampden last week when the announcement came that a new developer had bought the site in nearby Remington and had no plans to pursue the project as planned.

The bar in the back of Atomic Books "erupted in cheers," said co-owner Benn Ray, a longtime critic of the proposed center.

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Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes said he dropped by, but not to contribute money to keep the lawsuits alive.

"It's over," he said..

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At least one lawsuit is still pending, but the attorney representing the six plaintiffs said the lawsuit probably will be dropped, now that Seawall Development Co. has replaced WV Urban Developments as the developer of the Anderson Automotive Group properties in the area of Howard and 25th streets.

"It's very likely that our case would be moot," said the attorney, David Lynch, based in Towson.

Lynch is representing Kara Harris, Bruce Willen, Ning Li, Mary Northrup, Avram Shub and Catherine Yates, who are challenging a ruling by the city's Planning Commission earlier this year that changes WV made to its original plan for a shopping center to be called 25th Street Station were minor amendments to the planned unit development that the City Council approved in 2010.

The plaintiffs say the changes were more substantial and should be considered as major amendments to the planned unit development. Such a ruling would require the City Council to review the PUD as amended.

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A Baltimore Circuit Court judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the plaintiffs could not show that their rights as residents who live near the development site were "prejudiced" by the Planning Commission ruling, Lynch said. He said the case is on appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and that no date for a hearing has been scheduled.

But Lynch agreed that the case probably would end if the city declares the original PUD dead and approves whatever new plan Seawall announces for the property.

"I know the community is encouraged," Lynch said, but he added, "For no, we're staying the course. It would be premature to dismiss the lawsuit."

Seawall and Anderson Automotive Group President Bruce Mortimer last week closed on the sale of the property to Seawall, which said it has no plans to pursue the 25th Street Station PUD and will work with surrounding neighborhoods to develop a different mixed-used project.

WV, the original developer, pulled out of the long-stalled project in May, citing continuing lawsuits and appeals. Several similar lawsuits, including one in which Ray was a co-plaintiff, have already been dismissed by various courts.

Plans for a Walmart-anchored shopping center have divided the Remington, Charles Village, Old Goucher and Hampden communities. Many residents opposed Walmart as an anchor, saying the big-box chain has a reputation of not paying fair wages and worrying that the competition it would bring would drive out small businesses, such as hardware stores.

But other residents were more supportive, saying a shopping center with a big box store was sorely needed in North Baltimore

Mortimer nearly pulled the plug on WV as the developer last year, after a falling-out over missed deadlines.

When WV dropped out, Mortimer turned to Seawall, which has redeveloped several old mills in the area as affordable apartments for teachers. Seawall is now planning to redevelop the 2700-2800 blocks of Remington Avenue as a $51 million, mixed-use project called Remington Row.

Now, Seawall must decide how to develop the roughly 11-acre Anderson site south of 25th Street, a process that Seawall partner Evan Morville said would be based on "a collaborative process" with the surrounding communities of Remington, Charles Village and Old Goucher.

Morville said Seawall has no current vision for the site, other than as a mixed-used development.

"As the new owners of the Anderson Properties, we want to be clear with the community that Seawall will not pursue the 25th Street Station PUD," Morville said. But he said that if the community does decide that it wants a Walmart, "We would listen. All options are on the table."

He said the company will wait until its first priority, Remington Row, breaks ground by the end of the year, before turning its attention to working with neighborhoods to develop the former Anderson site into "something we can all be proud of."

He also said he thinks the development of the Anderson site will complement Remington Row.

"I think they'll play off each other. They'll help support each other," he said.

Mortimer said he has no plans to get involved in planning for the development of the site unless his advice is sought. But he has agreed to relocate and consolidate his body shop on 29th Street to 25th Street, to help Seawall move forward with Remington Row more quickly.

"It helps me be more efficient and it helps (Seawall)," he said.

The properties that Seawall has purchased are:

• The old General Motors dealership site at 101-W. 25th St.

• The Anderson showroom at 204 W. Ware St.

• A storage lot, currently leased to a bus company, at 2500 Huntingdon Ave.

• A paint shop at 2520 Howard St.

• The Honda Service Center at 2507 N. Howard St.

• The 29th Street Body Shop at 301 W. 29th St. It will be relocated to the old GM site.

Baltimore City Councilman Mary Pat Clarke said she welcomes Seawall's involvement and that the company was "very straightforward" in telling her and other elected officials that the process of planning and developing the site could take more than three years.

"I want to see something respectful of that community to the south" of 25th Street," she said.

Clarke also said she is pleased that Anderson "is putting its roots down in the community for the foreseeable future. It's a good business. (Mortimer has) always been a good community partner. And it's a lot of good jobs that stay in Baltimore."

"I think that's good news for the community," she said. "

In effect, Seawall and the communities are starting from scratch with the Anderson properties.

"We're looking forward to the opportunity for a new slate and to work with the community on a new plan," Morville said. "We believe that the best thing to do is to start over and come up with a program that everyone can be happy with."

Said Mortimer, "Time will tell what's appropriate."

Whatever it ends up being, Remington will be the beneficiary, Morville said.

"This area is going to be totally different in 10 years," he said. "It's going to be a jewel in the heart of Baltimore."

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