Parole town center needs a compromise

Comment

July 02, 2000|By NORRIS WEST

NEIGHBORING merchants are profoundly interested in how the Parole Plaza shopping center will take shape.

Among the businesses are Giolitti Delicatessen & Catering, Fred's Restaurant, Parole Shoe and Luggage Repair and Riley's Cleaners. Business owners have watched from the sidelines as the Parole Plaza's owner dueled with local planners and one very strident county councilwoman.

Carl Freedman, a New Jersey resident whose family has owned Parole Plaza for 40 years, wants to lure a giant retailer - Wal-Mart, to be specific.

But local planners, whose proposals were approved by the County Council and included in the county's 1997 General Development Plan, want an attractive, mixed-use development of homes, stores, offices and pedestrian walkways. They believe that a large discount store would thwart their plans.

Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk is making a desperate attempt to maintain the plan's integrity. She's introduced a bill that would prevent huge retail stores from building in customary sprawling fashion at town centers. The legislation would prohibit the construction of any retailing establishment that occupies more than 80,000 square feet of floor space on any level.

A retailer that uses 143,000 square feet, which Wal-Mart proposes, would have to build two or more levels.

Ms. Samorajczyk's bill has won support from the Maryland Office of Planning, which "supports the use of innovative zoning and subdivision techniques to encourage good urban design within the county's town centers," according to a June 5 letter.

But Mr. Freedman has not budged. The developer has said repeatedly that he's determined to build his center as he wishes. He holds a good hand. He owns the property, and the county's Planning and Code Enforcement Department has approved his plan.

But he should listen to the owners of Giolitti's and Fred's and Riley's and others, who last week distributed an open letter calling for compromise.

"There is an opportunity here to create something truly good for all," says the letter, signed by owners of eight neighboring businesses.

"Good for Mr. Freedman because his father's shopping center can finally show a generous return on his investment. Good for the county or the city (whoever is smart enough to recognize the wonderful potential). And good for the community, who after all, both Mr. Freedman and the local governments are inextricably connected to."

The letter points out that businesses have done well by cooperating with communities elsewhere. At the Waugh Chapel mixed-use center in Crofton, Robert DeStefano listened to residents. He altered his plans and is building an attractive, profitable development.

"The key of course is balance," the Parole merchants' letter says. "Both local government and the developer are vested in the community.

Our invitation would be for the developer to design the project in such a way that it best serves the community and allows for his profit, and that the local government do its job and listen to what the community needs."

Ms. Samorajczyk has already made one compromise. She has amended her bill, which initially would have limited retailers to 65,000 square feet per floor.

It's Mr. Freedman's turn to deal.

Parole Plaza is important because it occupies a large part of town center's core - 33 prime located acres of it. Anne Arundel County has three designated town centers - Parole, Odenton and Glen Burnie. In each place, the core is where the center's mixed-use development should emerge.

The county's 1997 General Development Plan seems to frown on big-box stores in town centers.

The master plan says: "Town Centers must be compact and designed to accommodate pedestrian and vehicular traffic with a full complement of services and amenities. Although different uses are located in close proximity to one another, or in some cases with in the same structure, they are compatible in scale and character...

"Sprawling and disconnected commercial and residential development threatens the urban quality and design of Town Center Growth Management Areas."

Glen Burnie has achieved some success in transforming a portion of that overwhelmed North County community into an attractive town center core. The Glen Burnie town center has walkways, residential development, stores, restaurants and charm - all the characteristics Parole's planners want.

Odenton has great promise, too.

If Parole has any chance of getting the mixed-use center the community and planners have long envisioned, someone must be creative to blend in a retail warehouse. It very well could mean an innovative multi-level store.

A County Council public hearing is scheduled Wednesday on Ms. Samorajczyk's bill.

Meanwhile, Mr. Freedman should sit down and compromise. He has an opportunity to craft a solution that could make good planning sense and good business sense.

Norris P. West writes editorials on Anne Arundel County for The Sun.

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