Toys R Us' avant-garde front draws fire from Towson Marketplace's neighbors Store says it has permit

county, company to meet

November 04, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Undergoing a $30 million renovation, Towson Marketplace -- former site of the quirky Best Products building dismantled last spring -- has spawned another avant-garde structure that is stirring controversy.

The recently remodeled Toys R Us, with its red pillars, brightly hued letters and expanse of glass, has come under fire for violating the residential-style exterior promised by the shopping center's developer, Florida-based Talisman Co.

In response, the Baltimore County Department of Permits and Development Management has imposed a Thursday deadline for the developer to come up with a time frame to comply with development plans.

But because Toys R Us obtained the building permits, its representatives -- not the developer -- will meet with county officials this week to work out a solution, said James A. Schlesinger, president of Talisman.

"I can't tear it down. I didn't do it," said Schlesinger, who has a long-term lease with the toy store. "It was always up to Toys to get a blessing from the county. I can't stop them from development if the county said it was OK."

The development plans, approved in a county zoning order, call for a "residential look" featuring a masonry-and-brick Georgian exterior with cupolas and gables.

Permits reviewed

Many wonder why the county did not catch the discrepancy in the facade when it reviewed the building permits.

"Is there a gap in the process? Or did someone just miss it?" asked Wayne Skinner, who lives near the mostly dismantled center bordered by Joppa Road, Putty Hill Avenue and Goucher Boulevard.

Arnold Jablon, director of the permits department, said that inspectors only look at a building's structure to see if it complies with safety, fire and building codes.

"There is a presumption made that the architect did the building according to plans," he said.

A recent complaint to county officials led to a review of the Toys R Us building's modern exterior, Jablon said. "They put up a cookie-cutter facade," he acknowledged.

Toys R Us officials said yesterday they did not understand the issue.

"We have no clue what this is all about," said Gayle Aertker, vice president of real estate for the Paramus, N.J.-based Toys R Us. "We have all the permits and approvals."

When asked if the company would replace the exterior, she said, "I can't imagine that we would."

But Loch Raven Village resident Mike Sarkin, whose house is less than 100 feet from Toys R Us, said, "The facade is not even close to what was specified. It looks like a warehouse."

In addition to the exterior, neighbors are concerned about the 24-hour, high-powered lighting around the store and its loading dock, Sarkin said. "It's brighter than daylight," he said.

Theater plan scrapped

Two years ago, Sarkin headed a group of hundreds of residents who opposed Schlesinger's plans for a 3,500-seat cinema multiplex at the former mall. In a revised proposal, Schlesinger scrapped the theaters for "big-box" stores at the 43-acre site originally called Eudowood Plaza.

When completed next fall, the refurbished, 675,000-square-foot center will include a Target Store, Sports Authority, TJ Maxx, Frugal Fannie, Michael's Arts and Crafts, Petsmart, Super Fresh and three unspecified restaurants, in addition to current anchors Marshall's, Montgomery Ward and Toys R Us.

In April, Best Products, beset by bankruptcy problems, tore down its building as part of the 40-year-old shopping center's overhaul. The unusual structure, known as the "tilted building," served as a landmark for almost 20 years.

County officials are optimistic that Toys R Us will put the "right face up," Jablon said. "I expect total compliance."

Pub Date: 11/04/97

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