Wegmans development a boon for Owings Mills

Something really wonderful is coming to Owings Mills. The Solo Cup factory (which used to be Sweetheart Cup, which used to be Maryland Cup Corp.) was sold in 2011. Less than a year later, a shovel-ready proposal awaits zoning approval by the Baltimore County Council. Foundry Row is an upscale retail, restaurant and office project, anchored by Wegmans, the quintessential suburban food palace. The vote will take place Aug. 28.

Contrary to its detractors, Foundry Row will be a boon to the community, the county and the state. The $140 million project will bring nearly 3,100 sorely needed jobs to Owings Mills. Once completed, it is projected to generate $4.8 million in annual tax revenue for Baltimore County and $8.2 million in state taxes.

The project's developers, Greenberg Gibbons and Vanguard Equities, have a consistent track record of success in Maryland. Between them, they are responsible for the redevelopment of the Hunt Valley Towne Centre (which also includes a Wegmans), the Annapolis Towne Centre (Whole Foods) and the Courtyard at Centre Court (Pikesville Giant).

These two Baltimore-based developers have demonstrated their commitment to this project. To relieve traffic congestion, they will privately finance the construction of Foundry Boulevard, a new connector road between Painters Mill and Reisterstown roads. They will also build out extra lanes at Reisterstown and Painters Mill roads, a failed intersection for decades, providing a crucial infrastructure improvement perennially sidelined by budgetary restrictions.

What's more, Foundry Row is directly in line with Baltimore County's 2020 Master Plan. It specifically refers to the Solo Cup property on page 66: "Where manufacturing uses are being phased out, work with property owners to evaluate rezoning and redevelopment opportunities to accommodate a mix of employment, retail or residential uses on the site and in the area to help revitalize the surrounding business and residential communities."

Foundry Row also enjoys overwhelming popular support. Residents in the surrounding communities have inundated District 2 County Councilwoman Vicki Almond's office with their phone calls and emails in favor of the project.

Major community organizations representing neighborhoods immediately impacted by the project have also taken official positions in favor of it. The long list includes the Reisterstown-Owings Mills-Glyndon Coordinating Council (ROG), the Greater Greenspring Association, the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, and the Liberty Road Business Association.

Even the 14-member Baltimore County Planning Board voted unanimously to recommend the zoning change to the Baltimore County Council. For once, they voted for the community instead of for the special interests.

Opponents have raised the specter of environmental contamination as a scare tactic, but without any basis in fact. The developers are required to perform environmental abatement measures on the site according to Environmental Protection Agency standards. Additionally, they embrace "green" construction principles and plan to recycle construction materials wherever possible. (Indeed, at Annapolis Towne Centre, Greenberg Gibbons won the national Phoenix Award for best practices in environmental remediation.)

Usually, a zoning conflict in Baltimore County is a matter of the community vs. Big Development. In this case, though, it is a battle of the titans: developer vs. developer. David S. Brown Enterprises has obtained the rights to develop the Metro Centre on Painters Mill Road via a no-bid contract. Further down the road, Kimco Realty has acquired the rights to redevelop Owings Mills Mall and also has control of the abandoned Frank's Nursery property at Tollgate and Reisterstown roads, which has been a vacant eyesore for years.

These neighboring retail projects have languished for more than 10 years, but their developers did not hesitate to cry foul when Greenberg Gibbons wanted to play ball on their turf. These two 800-pound gorillas don't want to play nicely, so they have joined forces to keep anyone else from sharing their toys. The northwest Baltimore County community has been subjected to a barrage of robo-calls, mailers and push polls to influence their opinion.

Foundry Row opponents disingenuously claim theirs is a grassroots campaign, but that is a cynical insult to all the sincere people who go to meetings and write letters and just want their neighborhood to be a better place to live.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned capitalism? When Owings Mills Mall was under construction, no one on Reisterstown Road objected to its right to do business. Everyone recognized that it was an asset to the community.

Now, the Baltimore County Council has an opportunity to bring an iconic business to Owings Mills that will attract other high-quality projects and act as an economic engine for the entire area. Wegmans is the epitome of suburban striving and success; if Wegmans is coming, then Owings Mills has arrived. Why would anyone want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

Noel Levy (megamapster@verizon.net) and Ruth Goldstein (ruthgoldstein@comcast.net) are Pikesville residents and community activists. More information about Foundry Row can be found at http://www.facebook.com/SupportFoundryRow.

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