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A developer wants to add housing to Baltimore County shopping centers, but the community stands opposed

Michael Ogden, a Kimco Realty representative, speaks at a community meeting in Cockeysville about proposed projects for adding housing to existing retail shopping centers.
Michael Ogden, a Kimco Realty representative, speaks at a community meeting in Cockeysville about proposed projects for adding housing to existing retail shopping centers. (Cody Boteler / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Kimco Realty, the owner and operator of a dozen large shopping centers in Baltimore County, is developing plans to add housing to five of its retail properties, a concept that the firm says would create attractive, mixed-use communities but that critics say could strain crowded schools and clog busy roads.

The plans, though “just early examples” could add three or four floors of multifamily residential units above ground-floor retail, a Kimco official said.

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The plan is rooted in Kimco’s request to change the zoning of five of its properties during the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process, or CZMP. The CZMP occurs every four years, and it’s the time when county residents, government officials and members of the County Council can submit a request that the zoning for any plot of land in the county be changed.

Kimco has requested a zoning change that would allow for housing units at five of its existing shopping centers — Timonium Square, Shawan Plaza, Fullerton Plaza, Putty Hill Plaza and Radcliffe Plaza. Among the other shopping centers Long Island-based Kimco owns and operates in Baltimore County are Towson Place, Fullerton Plaza, Wilkens Beltway Plaza and Mill Station.

County Councilman David Marks, a Republican who represents Towson and Perry Hall, said he has concerns with Kimco’s proposals in his district and that he has shared those concerns with the company.

“Anytime you allow for more dense residential development, it has an impact on public schools,” Marks said. “They have every right to introduce, to ask for these changes, but I am very concerned, given our current school overcrowding.”

Kimco has not shared any plans, concepts or renderings for changes at three of the properties for which it has requested zoning changes: Fullerton, Putty Hill and Radcliffe plazas.

At an early January community meeting in Cockeysville, though, a Kimco representative shared some concept plan details for the shopping centers at Shawan Plaza and Timonium Square, and community members weren’t pleased.

At both properties, said Michael Ogden, director of development for Kimco’s Mid-Atlantic region, most existing structures would be torn down and replaced. The first floor of the new buildings would be retail or commercial space, with multiple levels of housing above.

Ogden said the properties could be condos or apartments and that it wasn’t set in stone. The buildings could be 4-5 stories tall, including the retail floor, he said.

At Timonium Square, located on York Road across from the Maryland State Fairgrounds, retail at the north end of the lot would be demolished and replaced with a mixed-use building. Existing retail, including Zoe’s Kitchen, Giant Food and Howard Bank, would remain in place. The Timonium Square development would feature an aboveground parking garage for residents.

At Shawan Plaza, located at the intersection of Shawan and York roads in Hunt Valley, the Giant Food grocery store and the Starbucks would remain in place. The south end of the shopping center would be replaced with a mixed-use building, including an underground parking structure for residents.

Both would feature multiple units, though Ogden did not give exact figures during the meeting. He said The Shoppes at Wilde Lake, a Kimco-owned, mixed-use property in Columbia, would be a good model for the type of development Kimco might seek in Baltimore County.

In a later email, Ogden said Kimco expects “to continue [community meetings] and discussions with the various community groups during the 2020 CZMP process and again in the future if redevelopment plans were proposed at any of the properties.”

Residents at the community meeting early this year expressed concern that adding residential units along the York Road corridor would crowd schools and make already busy streets impossible to navigate. Others said adding residential units to those properties would make it difficult to find parking for shoppers, even with new parking structures built for residents.

Kathleen Beadell, vice president of The Greater Timonium Community Council, said she has “no interest” in seeing high-rise, mixed-use development in the Lutherville-Timonium area, and that the crowd of 100 or so people at the community meeting “was clearly against it.”

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“We would fight to stop high-rise development in this little area … I think there are places for it to be,” Beadell said, like the more-urbanized parts of Towson or Hunt Valley.

“I understand why developers want to have this mixed use, but I don’t think it works everywhere,” said Beadell, a real estate agent. “I don’t think it fits in regular suburbia."

Ogden said the plans presented at the community meeting were “very initial” and that “nothing is going to happen anytime soon."

“As we emphasize at any initial community meetings, the concept plans presented are just early examples of what the site layout could be and each plan will certainly be changed and refined in response to comments and concerns expressed during the community outreach program,” Ogden said in a later email.

The CZMP

Councilman Marks emphasized that he CZMP is “extremely important.” During the 2012 cycle, the County Council created the “neighborhood commons” zoning designation, which has seen been used to protect open space around the county.

The process every four years "constantly provides an opportunity not just for property owners to develop their land, but also for community members to protect their land,” Marks said.

The County Council, which ultimately votes on all the zoning requests, will consider 308 zoning issues later this year, according to an online portal designed by the county. While some requests are simple, affecting only what would happen on individual lots, and some are intended to preserve green space, there are some requests, like Kimco’s, that could potentially transform surrounding communities.

The commercial, community core district (CCC) is a zoning overlay that can be applied to properties in Baltimore County that allows for mixed-use development. Kimco said on its CZMP applications that it wants to have the ability “to incorporate residential component into existing shopping center[s]."

Several things have to happen before Kimco would be able to put shovels in the ground. First, the company would have to get its CZMP proposals accepted.

Between Dec. 1, 2019, and Feb. 28, 2020, county agencies and the Department of Planning is reviewing each application and providing recommendations, according to the county’s mandated timeline.

Then, in March, public hearings are held in each council district, where residents can sign up to speak about issues in their district. In June, the County Council will have more public hearings for each zoning issue, before voting on whether or not to approve requests by Sept. 16.

County Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican who represents Timonium and Cockeysville, said during the community meeting in early January that Kimco’s proposals were only an initial step.

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Residents of his county district, he said, “will definitely be a part” of any decisions that are made.

After the CZMP, if Kimco — or any developer — gets the desired zoning outcome, there’s still the county’s process for new development projects. Developers must submit plans for review on everything ranging from stormwater to parking, consider feedback from a community input meeting and ultimately follow the ruling of an administrative law judge, who decides whether a project can get underway.

“This is the beginning step of a very long process," Kach said during the community meeting.

In a later interview, Kach said he was open to hearing more from Kimco and would keep an open mind on their plans. The CZMP is “very, very critical,” Kach said, because it could be a “turning point” for what the Timonium and Cockeysville areas begin to look like in the future.

But, Kach said he has his reservations.

“How realistic is it for me to approve additional housing units to the degree when the schools are already at or above capacity? I get very concerned,” he said.

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