Lower Charles Village seems to have everything -- homes, small businesses, shops, a diverse population, even a public radio station. But one thing it lacks is a full-service supermarket.
For heavy-duty shopping, residents must pay high prices at smaller stores or travel to markets outside their community, such as the Rotunda shopping center north of Hampden, the Super Foods store at North and Maryland avenues or Eddie's in the 3100 block of St. Paul St.
Neighborhood residents seem divided over whether the Safeway would help or hurt the character of their community.
"This community uses walk-to services, and this Safeway is a drive-to service," said Jane Shipley, of the 100 block of E. 25th St., who opposes the store.
Ms. Shipley maintains that the supermarket would be out of place in the neighborhood and it would bring noise and trucks there. She and others, including Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat, said they were disturbed by the tactics of Safeway and the city.
But other residents say they would welcome the store and the convenience it would bring.
"It would be closer to me," Marie Jerckes, 69, who gripped her cane as she sat on her front stoop in the 2400 block of St. Paul St.
The project would require the demolition of three buildings in the block bounded by 24th, 25th, Charles and St. Paul streets. Chesapeake Cadillac-Jaguar owns one building and the city owns the other two, which formerly served as headquarters for the city schools.
A preservationist group opposes the destruction of the buildings. The plan also pulls the rug out from under a housing group that planned to convert the school headquarters buildings for elderly housing.
The project surprised Mario F. VillaSanta and Howard J. Shapiro, partners in V-3, a local development group, that had already unveiled plans to build a market at 21st and Howard, just five blocks from the Safeway site.
Mr. VillaSanta said V-3 had been working to develop a 35,680-square-foot store for the last two years and had not been told about Safeway until three weeks ago.
Mr. VillaSanta said "business is business, but it's "just curious that the city handled the matter this way."
The city dropped plans to have the Baltimore Housing Partnership convert the school buildings into housing units for the elderly when Safeway came along, said David K. Elam, development director at the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.
Mr. Elam said two previous plans for the buildings fell through after school offices moved to North Avenue and Calvert Street in 1987. One proposal would have put small-businesses into the building, but the cost was too high for developers, Mr. Elam said. Another plan would have provided office space, but the city and the developer could not reach a financial agreement, he said.
Safeway has bought or obtained options on five rowhouse buildings and is planning to lease space now occupied by Chesapeake Cadillac-Jaguar, at 24th and Charles streets. Safeway officials say the project will go forward once an agreement is forged with the city to acquire the old city school headquarters site in the first block of E. 25th Street.
Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said the city has offered to spend $200,000 to cover the costs of readying the buildings for demolition. The money would be used to remove an underground oil tank at the site and to remove asbestos and lead paint from the buildings.
John C. Deckard, a spokesman for Safeway, which posted $15.2 billion in sales last year and has 1,100 stores and 106,000 employees, said the store would help the area.
The only neighborhood outlet is the Crown Market, a mid-size grocery in the 2400 block of St. Paul, which shoppers say is convenient but expensive for weekly or monthly shopping trips.
"If we plan on putting a store somewhere, we believe the area is underserved and would benefit from a modern, full-service supermarket," Mr. Deckard said. "We believe it will be well received."
Still, the grocery chain may have some hurdles to clear.
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro, president of the Baltimore Art-Deco Society, plans to challenge the demolition of the Chesapeake Cadillac building -- after the dealership moves to Cockeysville -- and the former school headquarters buildings. She is asking the city to consider the historic value of all three buildings.
"The Chesapeake Cadillac building is a magnificent building," Ms. Shapiro said. "Compared to other cities, Baltimore doesn't have that many art-deco buildings, if you look at New York, Washington, Los Angeles -- Tulsa, Oklahoma. Every time we lose one, it hurts."
Councilman Ambridge criticized HCD for failing to follow through with plans to locate businesses in the school buildings. The plan would have provided 600 jobs instead of the 130 expected from Safeway.
Although Councilman Ambridge has not taken a stand on the store, he maintains that the HCD should have notified community residents about the proposed Safeway much earlier.