Shopping center rehab gets Anne Arundel executive's OK

Owens gives go-ahead to start $250 million makeover of Parole Plaza

September 28, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens signed off on a $250 million redevelopment plan for Parole Plaza near Annapolis yesterday - starting a major makeover of the shabby retail center that some say could make it a model of responsible growth.

Owens signed a development agreement with Carl Freedman, a developer based in New Jersey whose family has owned the asphalt-bound shopping center since 1958. In doing so, she gave the go-ahead, pending plan approvals, for the first phase of the project, which includes building at least two towers, one of them residential, at Parole Plaza, which has been renamed Parole Centre, as well as a Wal-Mart, a grocery store and a warren of retail boutiques.

The multiphase project is expected to take at least two decades to finish, with a hotel and intermodal transit center, including a multitiered parking lot and bus and light rail service, also in the works.

Owens' action yesterday irked some local officials, however. She signed the agreement even though her staff has yet to fully review a design plan that a committee of residents took two years to draft.

"I wasn't made privy to what was signed," said John Fischer, a co-chairman of the Parole Growth Management Advisory Committee, which has pushed for a mixed-use facility that would include residential, retail and office space.

County Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a Democrat who represents Annapolis and the Parole area, also was left out of the final approval process, she said.

"Of course I knew nothing about it," she said, noting what she sees as a trend in the way the council is informed about issues.

Samorajczyk, who tried to block the project last year, said, "I was trying to keep close tabs on this and I kept asking the Office of Planning and Zoning about it and I was always told that it wasn't even close" to being ready for approval.

But county officials defended Owens' decision to move ahead with the project, which will be paid for with private and public money.

"She believed that this agreement was consistent with what the advisory committee was looking for," said Pam Jordan, county planning and land use spokeswoman. The plans include residential, retail and office uses, she said.

State officials have dedicated $500,000 to the transit center this year so that county officials can perform a feasibility study.

"It is very exciting to see the vision for Parole ... coming to fruition," said Owens in a statement. "Endless hours have been spent on the planning and design of this site by both the developer and county staff."

Owens said the project could become a regional model of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Smart Growth initiative.

Freedman, who has spent almost a decade trying to win design and building approval from the county, could not be reached for comment at his offices in Mount Laurel, N.J., or his home in Cherry Hill, N.J.

But county officials said his company, Parole Shopping Center LTD, has received grading permits to begin demolition at the 34-acre site, off Route 2.

Demolition is expected to begin before the end of the year, said Betty Dixon, county land use and environmental planning manager.

Sears, which is the last major tenant remaining at Parole Plaza, is set to move to Annapolis Mall in the spring. Demolition of that part of the retail center will be delayed until then, said Dixon.

Freedman has received final approval from the county to construct a 136,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, the roof of which will be covered with dirt, grass and plants that will filter storm water runoff, she said.

Plans for a residential tower are under review, said Dixon. Plans for a second tower and a 65,000-square-foot grocery store have yet to be submitted.

Freedman wowed council members with a computer-animated rendering of his redevelopment concept last fall. At the time, Owens called it "terrific."

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson said he, too, was caught off guard. He said county officials should have clued him in on the project because retail and residential tenants could use city water and sewer lines and city buses.

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