After six months of bitter debate, the Baltimore County Council took just five minutes Tuesday to approve a zoning change for a former industrial site in Owings Mills to make way for a new shopping plaza.
Before a packed chamber with 200 people for and against the rezoning of the Solo Cup factory site, the council voted 6-1 to allow Baltimore developer Greenberg Gibbons to build a 415,000-square-foot retail and office project — to be named Foundry Row — anchored by a Wegmans supermarket at Painters Mill and Reisterstown roads. Councilman Kenneth Oliver was the lone dissenting vote.
“We’re very pleased. It’s been a year-long process and an intense process,” said Brian Gibbons, president of Greenberg Gibbons.
“Ultimately, what happened tonight is what the community wanted. The council was able to rise above all this nonsense … of two developers and do what was in the best interests of the community.”
Dozen of protestors against Gibbons’ plan wore T-shirts signifying their stance and pledged to collect the 28,000 signatures needed to take the issue to a voter referendum in 2014.
Howard Brown, president of David S. Brown Enterprises, developer of the massive $500 million Metro Centre Project near the Solo Cup site, said he was surprised by the overwhelming vote.
“The process is flawed. This doesn’t make any sense,” Brown said. “It’s a circus.”
Brown said the vote by the council was “the end of Act 1.” He described the possibility of a referendum as “Act 2.”
Gibbons acknowledged that controversy remains over his project.
“Until it’s over, it’s not over. Obviously, we have challenges to move forward,” he said.
Gibbons said if there is a referendum, it would be disappointing, and he advised Brown and Kimco, another developer that is planning to revamp the Owings Mills Mall, to focus their energies elsewhere.
“Their time will be better spent dealing with their own projects,” Gibbons said.
In the meantime, he has filed for a demolition permit for the Solo Cup plant, a process he anticipates will take up to eight months. He said he is ready to begin the stringent planning and development process for the construction, which will require engineering studies in order to obtain county permits.
Now that the zoning has been changed, Foundry Row is expected to open by March 2015, Gibbons said.
The debate over the rezoning of the 52-acre site has been controversial since it was announced early last year that Greenberg Gibbons had purchased the property for the $140 million redevelopment.
The issue has sparked intense lobbying, finger pointing, name calling and even web-based social media attacks on both sides.
The proposal has been vetted during public hearings in the community and before the Baltimore County Planning Board, which approved the rezoning request in the spring before sending the matter on to the council for consideration and the vote as part of the county’s comprehensive rezoning process.
Councilwoman Vicki Almond, whose district includes the former Solo Cup factory site, said the debate has pitted developer against developer in a nasty showdown some call the “clash of the titans.”
“When you have that sort of power and money, it’s a battle amongst them and that’s what has made it much more high profile than it would have ordinarily been,” Almond said last week.
The new complex will include a 130,000-square-foot Wegmans. Officials of Wegmans have signed a lease, Gibbons said, and the proposed shopping center is already 72 percent leased.
Lined up against Greenberg Gibbons’ attempts to redevelop the site are Brown and Kimco and General Growth Properties, developer and owner of the Owings Mills Mall, which is slated for a $65 million facelift.
Before Tuesday night’s vote, Brown had said if the rezoning were granted, he planned to file a lawsuit against Greenberg Gibbons. A Say No to Solo Coalition group is seeking signatures on a petition to force the issue to a referendum in 2014. So far, more than 7,000 signatures have been obtained.
One of the major issues in the debate has been traffic along Reisterstown Road, near Painters Mill Road.
With the Metro Centre project underway, planned upgrades at the mall and the proposed redevelopment of the Solo Cup site, State Highway Administration officials are in the process of a $100,000 traffic study of the intersection for future improvements, said David Buck, a SHA spokesman.
Last year, there were an average of 38,100 vehicles that traveled through the Painters Mill and Reisterstown Roads intersection, Buck said. That figure is projected to increase to 67,700 vehicles per day by 2030 — without factoring in the added traffic from the new developments.
The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year, Buck added, and SHA officials are keeping a watch on the zoning battle to see which way possible road improvements there will go.