After months of demonstrations and organizing by community members – and in front of an angry audience including about 30 opponents – the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals yesterday unanimously approved Royal Farms’ request for a conditional use to put a convenience store with gas pumps on Harford Road, at the intersection with Glenmore Avenue.
“It took them, like, two seconds . . . The zoning board looks like a rubber stamp,” said Hamilton resident Roop Vijayan. He and another lawyer in the group “definitely” plan to appeal the decision to the Circuit Court, Vijayan said.
A store is permitted under the area’s zoning, but it required a conditional use approval for the gas station and underground tanks.
Vijayan said opponents believe the traffic impacts of the project on the area, including a nearby school and a library branch across the street, make it illegal. “And they just simply should have respected the community’s extremely strong feelings,” he said.
Back in August at a public meeting, Baltimore City Councilman Robert Curran told residents he would respect their wishes and oppose the project, but he also hinted that it might be acceptable if modified.
Since then Curran has supported the project, which Royal Farms said it would scale back from 14 gas pumps to 12, and from 75 parking spaces to 50. There has also been some talk of reconfiguring the intersection to lessen the traffic impact and adding green space.
Those changes do not satisfy residents, who believe any version of a 24-hour chain store and gas station is incompatible with the neighborhood.
“We have to fight this,” Vijayan said. “This is where we live, this is where our kids live.”
In his statement to the BMZA yesterday, Curran cited the changes that modified the convenience store plan, adding “Royal Farms has proven to be a responsive company that is willing to work with us as a community partner. As it stands we have a choice between a business run by a responsible Baltimore-based company or a vacant building in a prime commercial location. I chose the former.”
Community Came Together
While the vote was disappointing, the community turn-out in the middle of a work day “made me feel tingly,” Vijayan said. “This is how it’s supposed to be.”
Since news broke about the “mega-Royal Farms” project last year, the leadership of the Glenham-Belhar Community Association (which previously supported the project) completely changed over. Nearby associations joined the newly reconfigured group to fight the project.
Nearly 500 signatures were collected on a petition against it. The Harford Road Community Collective formed to provide a platform for discussion and group action on matters involving this northeast corner of the city.
The Glenham-Belhar Community Facebook page, another by-product of anti-Royal Farms organizing, was abuzz last night with reaction to the BMZA decision:
“Everyone tried so hard. Sad!”
“No one go there! Ever! I know I won’t.”
“And the system wins. Great job to everyone who was there today, sadly it fell on deaf ears.”