Baltimore County's business chill NIMBYs rule: With decision against moviehouse, another promising project may be lost.

November 13, 1995

THAT NIP IN THE air could mean winter has arrived -- or the latest cold front in Baltimore County's business climate. This time, the mega-screen moviehouse proposed to revitalize the Towson Marketplace shopping center was given the deep freeze. County deputy zoning commissioner Timothy M. Kotroco rejected the plan, opining that the 16-screen, 3,500-seat complex would "jeopardize" these "stable communities," as if he were describing The Block relocating to Towson. He thought a six-screen theater with 1,500 seats more suitable.

Florida-based developer James A. Schlesinger doubts he can accomplish the project under that stricture because the trend in theaters is toward huge complexes with multiple offerings. The additional capacity would provide foot traffic for upscale restaurants and shops.

We're not talking about the rape of virgin farmland. This was a $20 million proposal to upgrade a moribund retail center in a built-up neighborhood at a major crossroads. The Citizens Against Marketplace Movies may be flush with victory, but where do they expect the county to get money to fix roads or hire teachers and police officers if they don't want new business or higher taxes? County NIMBYs last year killed a Wal-Mart slated for Owings Mills (though a Target store has won county approval) and a Price Club in Timonium, and are still trying to derail a university research park in Catonsville. The county has long had a bad image among developers for its prolonged permit process, and has stumbled in try to mimic Harford County's noted "fast-track" program.

To be sure, the county has had some notable successes of late, especially in White Marsh where a "business class" hotel is planned and a Warner Bros. distribution center just opened. But the county still lags behind neighboring subdivisions in seizing such development opportunies as a $35 million power shopping center proposed for Anne Arundel and a $45 million complex, possibly anchored by a four-acre electronics emporium, in Columbia.

Perhaps County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger should be a little less agitated about the perceived threat to his community from Washington or Baltimore City over low-income housing vouchers and concentrate more on the damage being done from within.

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