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Giant Food's proposed expansion into park is resisted New store would take part of Forge Park.


Andrea Adler Braid says the prospect of an expanded Giant Food store at York Road Plaza would suit her fine -- "under other circumstances."

The problem is that getting a bigger store means giving up part of a park, and that has aroused concern among civic leaders such as Ms. Braid, president of the Bellona-Gittings Community Association.

BTR Realty Inc. of Linthicum, owner of the shopping center in the 6300 block of York Road, hopes to obtain two to three acres of parkland behind the store. Giant then would build a new supermarket on the land.

The original store reportedly would be converted to new retail shops or razed for parking space. The original store would remain open for business during construction.

"Our goal is to build a new store twice as large as the present one," says Mike Trenery, a BTR project developer.

The current store measures 28,000 square feet. The expanded Giant would be 55,000 square feet and include a full-size pharmacy, says Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs for the Landover-based chain of more than 160 supermarkets.

The seven-acre Forge Park sits directly behind the Giant store. ,, The county-owned property includes two baseball diamonds, two tennis courts and 22 gardening plots. The park is used for activities of the Towson Recreation Council and for gym glasses of the nearby St. Pius X Roman Catholic grade school.

One diamond, both tennis courts, the gardening plots and a public restroom would fall victim to the expansion, though Mr. Scher says Giant and BTR have pledged to upgrade the rest of the park.

Because the county bought Forge Park with money from a special program that would prohibit the outright sale of the property, BTR would have to obtain land elsewhere to make an equal swap for the Forge Park land.

But opponents of the plan say good open property is hard to find in the heavily developed Towson area.

"There's just no land around that could serve as a replacement. We're already painfully short of parks and fields," says Robert "Buzz" Berman, president of the Towson Recreation Council and an outspoken critic of the proposed expansion.

Charles L. Fisher Jr., deputy director of the county Department of Recreation and Parks, said park space has been so scarce that the government has considered buying and destroying houses to create public playing fields.

Being so scarce, parkland doesn't come cheap. Mr. Fisher estimates the Forge Park land being considered for the expansion is worth "in excess of half a million dollars." BTR "would have to find replacement land of equal quality and equal dollar value," he adds.

Mr. Berman says about 1,800 adults and children use the park every year for softball, tennis, gardening and Little League and Pony League baseball. They pay fees for those activities, and he says the loss of the money would have a "devastating financial impact" on the Towson Recreation Council.

Since last summer, Giant and BTR officials have held talks with leaders and members of the Bellona-Gittings, Rodgers Forge, Schwartz Avenue, Anneslie, Stoneleigh and Wiltondale community associations, says Richard Zeff, president of the Greater Towson Council, an umbrella organization of local neighborhood groups.

"Giant and BTR haven't offered a lot of specifics about the expansion, and the discussions are still at an early stage. But the sticking point is replacement land. If the communities could get a good replacement park that wasn't way across town, I think there could be an agreement," Mr. Zeff explains.

Says Mr. Scher, "We have made a commitment to the county and the communities that we will find that land to replace the park. We're not prepared to say the land will be [near the Giant], but we will keep our commitment.

"We're still looking at numbers and analyzing this proposal. It's all still up in the air. I'd say it will be at least two years before it happens."

If BTR obtains the Forge Park land, it then would have to get the county's approval to change the zoning from residential to commercial. The rezoning decision probably would be based on the vote of 4th District County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who represents the Towson area.

"I'm keeping an open mind about this, and I'm urging the community people to do the same," says Mr. Riley, a Wiltondale resident. "If all the issues are resolved, this proposal could be a plus. The area will get a 'Gucci' Giant, and the shopping center, as I understand it, would be re-landscaped, the parking lot lighting would be improved and the other retail stores would get face lifts. Right now it's a very ugly shopping center, and that's a concern because it's the gateway to Towson for travelers going north on York Road."

Chris Moore, the president of the Anneslie Community Association, says he fears a negative impact on the shopping center if Giant should be denied the expansion.

"What would Giant do in that case? Leave? I don't know. My fear is that we might get something much worse in its place," Mr. Moore says.

Officials of Giant, BTR and the community associations say they expect to continue their talks in the coming weeks.

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