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While an outlet mall at issue in a mailer area residents received is in White Marsh, 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk was a cosponsor of a bill supporting the mall, citing the economic benefits and reduced environmental impact the mall would have had in comparison to the apartment complex that had earlier been proposed for the site.
While an outlet mall at issue in a mailer area residents received is in White Marsh, 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk was a cosponsor of a bill supporting the mall, citing the economic benefits and reduced environmental impact the mall would have had in comparison to the apartment complex that had earlier been proposed for the site. (File photo by Jen Rynda)

The fight surrounding the proposed construction of an outlet mall in White Marsh has hit the mailboxes of residents in Baltimore County.

In mailers sent out earlier this week by a group called Protect Baltimore County Zoning Process, with a listed address of the Towson Town Center shopping mall, residents were urged to sign a petition in opposition to county Bill 53-15.

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The bill, which passed earlier this summer, allows for outlet shopping centers to be built in industrial areas adjacent to Interstate 95 that meet certain zoning requirements without having to undergo the usual zoning procedures.

It allows developer Paragon Outlet Partners to begin work soon on an outlet mall just a few miles away from The Avenue at White Marsh and the White Marsh Mall, whose owner, General Growth Properties, also owns the Towson mall

The outlet mall proposal has faced opposition from General Growth and some neighbors for more than a year.

If the petition gets enough signatures — about 27,000 — within 45 days of the bill's passage by the council, then it would end up on the November 2016 ballot for residents to vote on whether to reject or uphold it.

The bill was introduced earlier this year by Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, who represents the White Marsh area, and was co-sponsored by 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Arbutus, Catonsville and Lansdowne.

"It's just two competitors fighting each other," Quirk said of the campaign by the mailer group to send the bill to referendum.

The campaign, he said, is run by the outlet mall developer's competitor. "It's really just — I call it AstroTurf democracy."

While Quirk said he has heard from some residents concerned about what they've heard through mailers, he said he's confident that, once people learn the background on the issue, they won't lend their signature to the campaign against the bill.

Before the outlet mall was proposed, the land was designated for a large apartment building with more than 1,200 housing units plus space for offices. When faced with the overcrowding that already plagues schools in the White Marsh area, Quirk said, many residents preferred the outlet mall option.

Plus, he added, an outlet mall would bring more jobs and money into Baltimore County. The nearest outlet malls in the area are currently situated in Hagerstown and National Harbor, in Oxon Hill.

"Shouldn't we be able to shop locally?" he asked. "We want to have a county that's good for business."

Fifth District Councilman David Marks, who represents the Perry Hall and Towson areas, said he plans to fight back against the opposition to the bill by educating his constituents on the issue every chance he gets.

"The language is very misleading," he said of the literature being distributed by the bill's opponents. "What I hear more from people is confusion."

Throughout his five years in office, Marks said he has worked to try to reduce school overcrowding. The apartment development, had it gone through, would have undone all of the work put in, he said.

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"The mailings don't talk about that," he said.

Beyond not adding more students to area schools, Marks said the outlet mall plan comes with a lighter environmental impact, due to tougher regulations and improvements to local infrastructure that the apartment complex would not have included.

Marks called the environmental and infrastructure standards the apartments would have had to meet "pathetic." Paragon will build a ramp from Route 7 onto eastbound Route 43 as part of the outlet project, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Furthermore, Marks said he's confident the outlet center will not put other local shopping centers out of business. The opening of The Avenue at White Marsh didn't kill the mall, he noted, and he doesn't anticipate the new outlets will either.

"Competition is good," he said.

In the southwest area, residents have no reason to be concerned about an outlet mall utilizing the new law to build in the Halethorpe, Relay or Arbutus areas along I-95, Quirk said.

"I don't support one in our area," he said, noting that most of the area that meets the qualifications specified by the law in his district is already occupied. "In all of Baltimore County, there's really only room for one outlet mall."

Protect Baltimore County Zoning Process could not be reached for comment.

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