Back in August, at a standing-room-only meeting where a Northeast Baltimore residents’ group voted resoundingly against a proposed Royal Farms store with gas pumps, City Councilman Robert Curran promised to stop supporting the project and represent their wishes.
But in a December 18 meeting – attended by Royal Farms, Curran and city officials, but no residents – the convenience store chain was allowed to drop the planned Traffic Impact Study for the project in return for agreeing to a reconfigured intersection at the site, where Glenmore Avenue crosses Harford Road.
Curran, in fact, proposed the deal that essentially cleared the way for the controversial project to move forward.
The new agreement is plainly described in an email written by Curran’s assistant John McCurtin to the office of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“Initially, Royal Farms had agreed to conduct the traffic impact study. Councilman Curran subsequently proposed a realignment of the entire intersection, which relied on the property owner ceding some of the Royal Farms site,” said the email, signed “John McCurtin for Councilman Curran.”
In the email, McCurtin explains that the changes in the intersection would be made by the city after the convenience store was built, and that the newly configured crossroads would be “safer” than the current set-up and that Curran would be taking the changes to the community associations in February.
Curran’s office has not returned our call today or email requesting comment.
Spokeswoman Kathy Chopper, of the City Department of Transportation, whose officials Frank Murphy and James Harkness attended the meeting, was contacted this morning and said she
is seeking an official response.
Speaking by phone late today, acting DOT director Murphy confirmed that “Councilman Curran actually had the idea. . . he asked us to explore reconfiguring the intersection.”
Murphy confirmed also that Royal Farms agreed at the meeting to give up some land as part of the reconfiguration and has made changes in their plan to reflect Curran’s idea. But he contradicted McCurtin’s email, saying the decision to drop the traffic study is “unrelated” to the re-alignment of the intersection. The size of the project, he said, “does not meet the criteria for a traffic study” so that one is not technically required.
A Fait Accompli?
News of the December meeting has been generating an angry buzz among residents who petitioned and picketed last summer against the project, which they say clashes with the character of the Hamilton section of Harford Road and would lower property values and increase traffic hazards there.
Curran’s apparent behind-the-scenes continued support of the project brought him an angry email from Sheila Ebelein, the president of the Glenham-Belhar Association, which held the August meeting where members voted the Royal Farms down 56 – 0.
Ebelein said she was “distressed” that Curran was moving the Royal Farms proposal forward, after publicly promising to reflect their wishes and oppose it.
“I am led to believe that you have not done so, given your lack of transparency,” she wrote.
A member of the Hamilton Hills Community Association, who also wrote to Curran, was more blunt in her assessment of what happened.
Maria Allwine accused Curran of “secretly working against” the Glenham-Belhar Association and adjacent associations who have all opposed the project “in order to make the Royal Farms development a ‘done deal’ that will be presented to all affected community associations and the citizens of Northeast as a fait accompli. You have gone back on your word.”
“Even if you try to sell this as a ‘good thing’ for the community and a mitigation of the negatives of this proposed development, the fact that you completely shut out the community associations and the people negates that probable claim,” she wrote. “If you really believe this is a good thing, you would have involved community members and tried to get our support.”
Under the parcel’s current zoning, a gas station in that spot requires a conditional use. Under appeal number 2013-29 Royal Farms is appealing to the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals (BMZA) to use 5901-21 Harford Road as a gasoline station and convenience store.
The BMZA will hear this appeal on Tuesday, March 5 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 215 at City Hall.