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New outlet mall could be in Baltimore County's future

How would you like to shop at a state-of-the-art outlet mall in Baltimore County on Black Friday and the rest of the holiday season?

It won't happen this year, but it could in the not-too-distant future.

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Paragon Outlet Partners has gained local government approval to build a 390,000-square-foot discount shoppers' paradise at a prime intersection — Interstate 95 and White Marsh Boulevard.

That could bring 100 outlet stores, such as Coach, Kate Spade, J.Crew, Banana Republic, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, Tommy Hilfiger, Michael Kors and Chico's to the county.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

Not to the owner of White Marsh Mall down the road from what would be Baltimore County's first-ever outlet mall.

General Growth Partners has spent well over $200,000 to stop Paragon by trying to place the matter on the 2016 ballot next November.

Three years ago, the same mall operator — which also owns the Owings Mills Mall — launched a similar petition drive in an effort to halt Foundry Row, featuring a Wegmans super-sized supermarket on Reisterstown Road at Painters Mill Boulevard.

That controversial effort was thrown out by the county election board.

Since then, General Growth has allowed the Owings Mills Mall to wither. Macy's closed its doors earlier this month as the mall operator refused to reinvigorate the property.

Now General Growth wants to kill the outlet mall in White Marsh. Residents of Reisterstown, Owings Mills and the rest of Baltimore County have been inundated with mailings asking them to sign General Growth's petitions.

Paragon, meanwhile, has sent its own mailings urging citizens not to sign the petitions.

It's no secret why General Growth is taking this antigrowth stance: An outlet mall would take lots of business away from White Marsh Mall.

It claims the County Council distorted zoning laws to accommodate Paragon's outlet stores.

Paragon's mailers claim the petition drive is anticompetitive and would deny the county 1,600 new jobs.

The County Council voted unanimously to pave the way for the outlet mall by modifying zoning for the property.

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Local council members pushed hard for the changes to permit the new mall.

Why? Because Paragon's previous plan for the property called for 1,200 homes, apartments, retail and a hotel.

Council members feared the resulting influx of new residents with young children would overwhelm nearby schools and create huge congestion problems.

The legislators preferred an outlet mall, which would generate additional traffic but not nearly as much as a huge residential/retail complex, thanks in part to a new highway ramp Paragon will build to divert much of this traffic off local roads.

Paragon also has pledged to install stormwater runoff controls to ease concerns about polluting White Marsh Run and Bird River.

At the moment, the closest outlet malls are in Queenstown near the Bay Bridge on the Eastern Shore, Hagerstown in Western Maryland and in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Paragon changed its plans from residential to outlet stores because of the stunning demographics of the site.

More than 2.6 million people live within 30 miles of White Marsh. More than 200,000 vehicles pass the site along I-95 daily. The region's average annual household income exceeds $82,000. And Baltimore is a tourist mecca.

Paragon sees this as a bonanza waiting to happen.

But General Growth Properties sees doom and gloom for its White Marsh Mall, which underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 2012. Its anchor stores include Boscov's, J.C. Penny, Macy's and Sears.

Voters could be left with a tough decision next November — unless the petition drive is disqualified either by the election board or the courts.

Barry Rascovar, of Reisterstown, writes a blog at www.politicalmaryland.com and can be reached at

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