After three years of up-and-down negotiations with community groups and city officials, a development group headed by Louis V. Manzo finally has obtained the legal right to build a 70,000-square-foot shopping center on the former site of the Greenspring Dairy.
Baltimore's Planning Commission voted yesterday to give final approval to the design for the retail center, an action that the development team needed to satisfy the terms of a City Council ordinance passed last summer to rezone the property.
Mr. Manzo's group now may apply for a building permit and, after obtaining one, construct the shopping center.
"We couldn't do anything until today. Now we can start," said George Russell, an attorney who represented Mr. Manzo in his three-year attempt to change zoning for the property at 1020-1040 W. 41st St., land that previously was designated for industrial use only.
The new plan, by Bignall-Watkins Architects, calls for construction of a retail center with a large grocery store and a variety of small shops. A portion of the 7.6-acre parcel would be reserved for residential development. No preservation of any of the dairy is in the current plans.
Members of the Coalition for a Better Green Spring Development, a group composed of residents from several communities surrounding the dairy site, have questioned whether a shopping center is the best use for the land and have warned that it will result in traffic congestion and other problems.
Residents testified yesterday that they are still concerned about numerous aspects of the design, from landscaping, fencing and lighting to the noise that would be emitted by rooftop mechanical equipment.
But after two hours of review, the commissioners expressed satisfaction with the plan. "My general feeling is that the project has come a tremendous distance and that the parties have negotiated in good faith," said Commissioner Lester Salamon.
Patrick McCormick, a community resident and attorney representing the coalition, said he didn't think the neighbors' concerns had been adequately addressed but that he expected the commissioners' approval.
"We're not surprised," he said. "It's been a done deal since [city Planning Director] Ernie Freeman bowed to the pressure of the City Council. The entire process is thoroughly political, and without a strong political advocate community groups have nothing. That is the hallmark of the Freeman administration. . . . It's the politics of Vichy -- whichever way the wind blows."
Members of the council's 5th District, which includes the dairy site, supported passage of the rezoning bill even though it drew opposition from the coalition. They have noted, as have the developers, that the shopping center plan also has drawn support from Hampden and Medfield residents and others who would like an alternative to the Rotunda shopping center on West 40th Street.
Mr. Freeman said at a planning commission meeting last year that design changes made by the development team were substantial enough that he could support the plan. He apologized to the coalition members yesterday, however, for promising to give them 14 days' notice before the commission hearing on the project and then scheduling it on a date that gave them only 11 days' notice.
"Our staff has worked with the neighborhood probably closer on this than with any other project," he said. "I promised you 14 days. I got you 11. I'm sorry. . . . If I'm accused of that, then I apologize."
In response to Mr. Freeman's statement, Kenneth Strong, chairman of the planning commission, asked the planning staff to come up with more explicit guidelines for determine how far in advance community groups should be notified of pending commission meetings.
Mr. Russell told the commissioners during the meeting that the developers already have their financing lined up for the retail portion of the project. After the meeting, he declined to identify the source of funding. He also said he could not identify any of the tenants yet.
Mr. Russell said the architects will now prepare construction documents that can be put out to bid and that he expects work to begin later this year. He said the first step will be the demolition of the dairy, which was vacated when the Green Spring operation moved to a new plant on Loch Raven Boulevard in 1988.