Deal lures national retailers

Site near Route 140 would employ 500

March 10, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A Connecticut-based developer who has built office buildings and hotels near Baltimore-Washington International Airport announced last night plans for a Westminster shopping center of nationally known retailers.

Westminster Marketplace would include five or six stores and possibly a restaurant on a 109-acre site off Route 140 near Weis Market and home improvement giant Lowe's.

HRW-LMT Development would build 360,000 square feet of commercial space on 40 acres, leaving the remaining 69 acres as green space for storm water management and reforestation.

The developer plans to file site proposals with the Westminster Common Council within 10 days.

Deferring to confidentiality agreements, Henry Resnikoff of HRW Development declined to discuss which retailers might locate at the shopping center.

"I know everyone wants to know who they are, but unfortunately I can't tell you that," he said at last night's Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. "Each retailer will make their own announcements, but I think you'll be pleased with them all."

R. Douglas Mathias of Greater Westminster Development Corp., the city's nonprofit partner in economic development, said that Home Depot most likely will be one of the first tenants to open at Marketplace, positioning the home improvement chain in direct competition with Lowe's.

When the city annexed 61 acres of the property last year, Westminster officials said, they expected a flood of development proposals that could include three big-box retailers and chain restaurants.

Although several developers expressed interest, Resnikoff "actually got to the table first," said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's planning and public works director. "From the time of annexation to today, we've been working with them continuously."

Resnikoff said most of Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland and Western Maryland are attractive prospects for development because they're all growth areas. "Westminster is very progressive in its outlook toward controlled growth," he said. "And that's what it's all about."

County officials last year rezoned the rolling farmland for commercial development, paving the way for a retail miniboom that some hailed as the second wind of growth along the Route 140 corridor. That boom began in 1992 with the arrival of Wal-Mart.

"Ultimately, retail follows rooftops," Beyard said. "It follows residents and disposable income, and certainly Westminster has that, so it does not surprise me that these companies want to come here."

But others cautioned against development that would worsen existing traffic tie-ups and jeopardize the viability of the struggling Cranberry Mall as well as smaller, independent stores.

The State Highway Administration formed a task force to study an expected surge in traffic along Westminster's busy highway. The group of state, county and city officials expects to hold a public meeting next month to present some of the solutions under consideration.

Resnikoff said his proposed project, which includes the extension of Center Street to create a minibypass of Route 140, would improve traffic in the area.

The developer expects to start construction this summer and to finish in time to open the first stores in August 2001. The shopping complex is expected to employ about 500. The planning-and-zoning commissioners praised preliminary plans.

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