What's making the situation more difficult is that this isn't just a matter of a community divided about the relative merits of opening a major new grocery store at the same time as the long-awaited Owings Mills Metro Centre and the welcome redevelopment of the moribund Owings Mills Mall. It's also a competition between the influential developers (and their attorneys, PR firms and assorted helpmates) who are backing the three projects and seeking a competitive advantage.
The Wegmans proposal comes from Greenberg Gibbons, which developed the
The Wegmans proposal has sparked an unusually professional response from community members. A group called the Say No to Solo Coalition has paid for mass mailings and robocalls in opposition to the project, and its refusal to disclose the source of its funding is fueling skepticism that the effort is AstroTurf rather than genuine grass roots. But that's not the only money that muddies the picture.
The players in this dispute have contributed to the campaigns of County Executive
Since those council members represent other parts of the county, that would not ordinarily make a difference. Ms. Almond got $6,000 from Mr. Smith and $2,000 from Mr. Brown, and based on the way the council typically operates, hers may be the only voice that matters. Under the principle of "councilmanic courtesy," zoning decisions are typically left at the sole discretion of the member whose district is affected, and Ms. Almond, who speaks favorably about the Wegmans project but has not formally endorsed it, insists that it should be upheld in this case as well.
But the key question in determining this project's fate may well be whether the other members of the council recognize that it demands a less parochial view. The Wegmans site may be in Ms. Almond's 2nd District, but the mall and Metro Centre, though less than a mile away, are in the 4th District, which is represented byKenneth N. Oliver. He opposes the Wegmans, and it is laughable to suggest that his opinion, and that of his constituents, should not matter. Furthermore, the Metro Centre has been the focus of significant investments of county and state tax dollars, which makes the question of another nearby development that may or may not affect its success more than a local matter. The grocery store would require even more public investment in improvements to Reisterstown Road and area interchanges. And finally, the Wegmans site is now zoned for industrial use. Changing that to allow retail — something the county has historically been reluctant to do — has wider implications.