Baltimore County officials have given the Target retail chain the go-ahead to obtain building permits for a store in Pikesville, making it the latest in a string of large development projects to reach that stage without public comment.
Using a loophole in county development law, the Development Review Committee recently approved Target's request for a "limited exemption." That means the county will hear no public comment before the chain builds a 126,000-square-foot store on the southeast corner of Reisterstown Road and the Baltimore Beltway.
The store will replace a motel and a vacant Shoney's restaurant at 1737 Reisterstown Road, across from the Pikesville Hilton Hotel. Patty Morris, a spokeswoman for the retail chain in Minneapolis, said store officials do not know when construction will begin.
Unlike other large projects that were granted exemptions, the proposed Target has not generated debate; representatives of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce say it will be a welcome addition to the commercial corridor inside the Beltway.
But other projects recently allowed to bypass public scrutiny -- through community input meetings or development review hearings before the zoning commissioner -- have prompted the County Council to study whether a change in development law is needed.
Last month, the council passed a resolution asking the planning board to appoint an advisory group to study the development process and recommend any necessary changes to ensure "an appropriate level of public participation."
Tim Dugan, chief of planning services, said the advisory group should report to the planning board in six months.
Bowleys Quarters concerned
The council's action was prompted by Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, whose east-side district includes the Bowleys Quarters peninsula, where a planned Wal-Mart has residents worried about potential traffic and environmental problems, and store owners are concerned that they will be run out of business.
The Wal-Mart, like the Target store, was given a limited exemption.
Arnold E. Jablon, the county's director of permits and development management, said such projects can receive the exemption when they have proper zoning and do not need to subdivide the land.
In rural Granite, where residents are worried about traffic along Old Court Road, community leaders said they were shocked to learn that grading was begun recently for a 2,450-seat church for the Antioch Baptist Church of Randallstown.
The church's building plans were approved without community input meetings, traffic studies or a review by the zoning commissioner.
Last week, the county's Board of Appeals gave Carroll Community Church approval to build a 2,000-seat church in a cornfield on the Carroll County-Baltimore County line without having the plans reviewed by the zoning commissioner.
'A wonderful opportunity'
For the Pikesville project, Target representatives met informally with Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz and the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and agreed to landscape the roadside, share an entrance road with a nearby bowling alley and erect a minimum number of signs. Kamenetz said he's not worried about traffic congestion because a signal will be installed on Reisterstown Road.
Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, called the Target plan "a wonderful opportunity. It's the first time we've attracted a national tenant inside the Beltway in downtown Pikesville."
He also noted that the property went through extensive public review last year when the zoning was changed to allow a large business.
Phyllis Friedman, president of the Pikesville-Greenspring Community Coalition, said she knew little about Target's plans, and has received no complaints from members of the 18 community groups in her coalition.
However, she said, she favors changing county law to allow more public scrutiny of development projects.
"The waivers are very broad, and I do think a lot of things fall through the cracks that the community should study," she said.