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Buyer of Uncle Wiggly’s property in Towson seeks to purchase strip of York Road shops

Dor Lynn Hair Studio at 6705 York Road to True Balance Studio at 6721 York Road. A developer has purchased the building, that was constructed in 1946. There are community concerns about the small business owners being intentionally or unintentionally forced out by the new owner.
Dor Lynn Hair Studio at 6705 York Road to True Balance Studio at 6721 York Road. A developer has purchased the building, that was constructed in 1946. There are community concerns about the small business owners being intentionally or unintentionally forced out by the new owner. (Jeffrey F. Bill)

Changes are coming in quick succession to a historic shopping corridor along York Road.

A Baltimore-based developer has plans to buy a property within the Stoneleigh shopping center in Towson’s Anneslie neighborhood, leaving community members concerned about the uncertain future of small-business owners there and skeptical about zoning that would leave the door open for businesses some residents say would not fit the community’s distinctive character.

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Jeremy Landsman, principal of real estate development firm Reba Holdings, is in negotiations to buy the 15,625-square-foot, multi-space building at 6705 York Road that houses fitness and yoga studios, a bicycle shop, florist, 14 upper-floor apartments and Stoneleigh Lanes on the east side of York Road between Murdock and Dunkirk roads.

But Landsman is against a zoning change request submitted by Baltimore County Councilman David Marks that would change the Business Local zoning designation that currently allows for arcades, car washes, service garages, medical clinics and other personal services, according to Baltimore County zoning regulations.

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Marks’ request to downzone the area from Dumbarton to Overbrook Road to the more restrictive Community Business designation has been made through the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process that occurs every four years.

The change was spurred in part by community backlash to a drive-through Starbucks in 2016 that residents at the time said would further congest the road and posed pedestrian safety hazards. They also expressed indignation over what they said was a lack of public notice on plans to build the chain coffee shop.

Landsman, who said he has been talking to multiple prospective tenants for the Stoneleigh building, has said he has no desire to bring a drive-through business there.

“Nothing we are going to do is drive-though; we don’t want it,” he said.

Marks said he has committed to downzoning the west side of York Road, where the Starbucks is located, and which the Towson representative said has more potential to see fast-food chains and drive-through businesses. ”I’m still considering what to do with the Landsman property,” Marks said.

“People are concerned because this is a very well-established shopping area,” he added. “They want to make sure there’s predominantly locally owned [businesses] there. They don’t want to see it bulldozed and see it become McDonald’s and Burger Kings.”

Marks has submitted a county bill to create a design review area running from Sister Pierre Drive to the Royal Farms in the 7200 block of York Road that would specifically prohibit the development of drive-through establishments within the design review area’s boundaries, and would require any new commercial construction there to be approved by the Design Review Panel.

“Prohibiting drive-through business eliminates a lot of what the community is concerned about,” Marks said.

“We wanted all this before Jeremy Landsman came on the scene,” said Beth Miller, a member of the Anneslie Community Association. “Now it seems a little more pressing.”

Marks has convened a work group with residents from the nearby Anneslie, Stoneleigh and Rodgers Forge communities to provide input to the future of the property.

Community members also say they worry about the fate of the business owners with storefronts in the Stoneleigh building if a new owner takes over.

“We’re really focused on who’s there now [business owners] and hopefully they can stay there,” said Robert Fisher, president of the Anneslie Community Association.

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Fisher said neighborhood residents make a conscious effort to support businesses along the York Road corridor and enjoy its walkability and family-oriented atmosphere.

And the fact that a few of the business owners, like the proprietors of True Balance Studio and Pedal Fun Cycles, live in the surrounding neighborhoods “just adds that sort of local business and community spirit,” he added.

Several tenants of the property declined to speak on the record about details of their contracts, citing ongoing lease negotiations, but mentioned some concerning contractual provisions regarding a hefty down payment and yearslong lease terms that could pose a financial hardship, given the uncertain economic situation in which business owners are mired due to the pandemic.

Landsman declined to comment on details of the contracts, citing negotiations, but said he is proposing tenants pay increased rent that matches the current market rate.

“We really like every tenant in the building,” he said. “There’s a home for them in our project. … We’re hoping to work out deals with everybody.”

Adding to residents’ concerns are the now-vacant storefronts of the neighboring, beloved Uncle Wiggly’s, an ice cream shop and deli, and the Lily Pad consignment shop after Landsman purchased the property late last year.

“When you sort of see that happen, I think any observant person would say, ‘Well that’s kind of troubling, hopefully that doesn’t happen to the Anneslie store there,’” Fisher said.

The last Uncle Wiggly’s in the Baltimore area was unceremoniously evicted from its space, and the owner of the Lily Pad departed after hearing Landsman was raising rents, which Landsman denied was happening with departing tenants.

Landsman added that he is “in no rush to fill the [Uncle Wiggly’s and the larger] buildings just to fill them,” despite the “amazing” interest expressed for the spaces, he said.

Landsman said he is in the process of “trying to find the right tenants for the neighborhood — which is not without its challenges, being that we’re in the middle of a plague.”

“We all want something local, we all want something walkable, we all want something useful there,” said Matt Hampton, president of the Stoneleigh Community Association. “A cellphone store probably wouldn’t be awesome to have.”

A small shopping center in Anneslie is seen in the 6700 block of York Road in 1951.
A small shopping center in Anneslie is seen in the 6700 block of York Road in 1951. (Walter McCardell, Baltimore Sun)

“Just the building is important as part of our … 1920s streetcar community,” Miller said.

The Anneslie community was considered a streetcar suburb when it was established in 1922, given its adjacency to York Road, where a major electric streetcar line ran from Towson to Catonsville before the mass production of automobiles in the 1930s, resulting in the discontinuation of the streetcar line in the late 1930s.

The community was accepted into the National Register of Historic Properties in 2012, establishing the Anneslie Historic District east of York Road, which developed from 1922 to 1961 and encompasses the shop fronts and neighborhoods bounded by York Road, Regester Avenue and Maplewood and Winwood roads.

Miller said she would like to see the property added to the Register of Historic Properties.

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If the building itself, constructed in 1946, was “turned into one large business of some kind, that would take away from the character,” Miller said. “Or, if the building were to be razed and something new would be built, it’s not likely that [it] would be the same character.”

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