Add greenery, glass, a pedestrian walkway and, voilà, a big-box Wal-Mart described as “bleak” by a city design panel a month ago found favor with the group today.
The Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel (UDARP) approved the layout and design of the 25th Street Station Wal-Mart in Remington, which means the project is set for final approval by the Planning Commission next month.
The project’s “cheap” design and multi-acre parking lot had come under criticism by the panel and some area residents. In response, Wal-Mart agreed to add window panels to its front facade, a pedestrian walkway through its main parking area and scatter trees, shrubs, bollards and decorative street lamps around the 7-acre plot.
The store’s basic layout and use of residential 24th Street as a main route for cars and trucks will remain the same under the approved plan.
Critic: Still Out of Character with Community
“I think the design has improved architecturally, but I am disappointed that the planning department did not address the underlying issue, namely placing a suburban structure in the middle of Baltimore,” Bruce Willen, a representative of the Old Goucher Community Association, said today.
Willen said denser use of the site – “one of the largest open areas in North Baltimore” – for a more diverse collection of stores and businesses could have sparked regional interest in the area and increased real estate taxes going to city coffers.
The Wal-Mart site is located in an “EZ” (Enterprise Zone) Focus Area, which gives the retailer a 80% credit against new property taxes for 10 years.
In addition, the company is entitled to a $1,500 income tax credit for every new employee at the site, which automatically increases to $9,000 for an “economically disadvantaged” hire.
The site was originally part of the 25th Street Station PUD (Planned Urban Development) approved by the City Council in 2010.
The PUD, which extends east to Maryland Avenue to encompass the Anderson Automotive Group, has laid dormant as developer Rick Walker struggled with lawsuits and financial setbacks.
Earlier this year, Wal-Mart reached an agreement with Walker and the Anderson Group (which owns the underlying property) to carve out the western half of the PUD for the store and parking.
Comments from Remington Neighborhood Alliance
Joan Floyd, of the Remington Neighborhood Alliance, who attended the meeting, said she was disappointed that the design UDARP approved did not address any of her organization’s concerns.
“Our concerns have to do with the health, safety and welfare of both the residents and the customers and with the quality of life for the neighborhood,” Floyd said, speaking to The Brew by phone. “Things like, where the driveways are and where the loading docks are.”
She said the loading docks have moved and changed from where they were going to be in the earlier design for a Lowe’s at that location.
“They’re higher by five feet, now and closer to the houses on 24th Street,” she said. “They also now will be unloading refrigerated trucks,” which are noisy and will have a greater impact on quality of life,” she said.
She also predicted traffic problems since there is only one driveway on 24th Street, where there had previously been two. Additional entrances are needed on Sisson Street, along with other fixes that could lessen the development’s impact on the neighborhood.
Floyd said she also is concerned about a number of other issues including disability access and safety concerns regarding the store’s elevator.
“I have asked to meet with Nina Albert [Walmart’s director of community affairs], but have not as yet heard back from her.”
Comments from Wal-Mart
We were sent this statement by Harry Hammel of Hillman PR, to be attributed to Walmart’s Director of Community Affairs, Nina Albert.
“We are pleased the Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel has recommended approval of our plans for a store at 25th Street Station in Remington. We have been working with the panelists and members of surrounding communities to create a design that reflects the character of the neighborhood.
“The store will provide city residents with increased access to a wide range of goods at affordable prices. Upon formal approval by the planning commission, we look forward to breaking ground on this project and to employing hundreds of area residents at the store.”