Official seeks access to files on mall plans

Councilwoman says she's `fed up,' sends letters to planners

`Serious concerns'

Project agreement not reviewed by growth committee

October 07, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In an unusual move, an Anne Arundel County Council member has cited the Maryland Public Information Act - as newspaper reporters and government watchdogs are more likely to do - to gain access to public documents regarding a long-embattled shopping center project.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk said Friday that she has serious concerns about the Parole Plaza renovation project near Annapolis but has had trouble getting public records on it.

A Democrat who represents the Annapolis and Parole areas, Samorajczyk said she has tried to review key files at the county's Office of Planning and Zoning regarding the $250 million project, but that her requests have been ignored.

"No one has made any attempt to give me [the information]," said Samorajczyk, who is critical of an agreement between the county and a New Jersey-based developer. "I just got fed up. I could spend my entire life going back and forth [to that office]."

Samorajczyk said that on Thursday her legislative aide faxed copies of her letter, which cites the state's open records law, to Denis Canavan, a planning and zoning officer; Robert Walker, a land-use officer; and Walter Chitwood, director of inspections and permits.

As of late Friday, Samorajczyk had yet to hear from anyone, she said.

"Technically, they could make me wait 30 days," she said, referring to the amount of time agencies have to respond to such a request for information.

But Samorajczyk will get her answer sooner rather than later, said county spokeswoman Pam Jordan. The letters were forwarded to the Office of Law, she said.

In her letter, Samorajczyk requested copies of the master redevelopment plan, architectural renderings, final development plans and a traffic study for a Wal-Mart store that will anchor the commercial, residential and retail area that will be renamed Parole Centre.

Plans sought for review

Samorajczyk said she wants to review those documents because they lay out the redevelopment plans for the moribund shopping center, which has been owned and operated by the Freedman family since 1958.

Recently, the mall's tenants have included a theater group, the Annapolis High School wrestling team and other community organizations. Sears, the only remaining anchor tenant, will move to Annapolis Mall in the spring.

"I have serious concerns and I haven't even been able to see the final development plan," Samorajczyk said.

When County Executive Janet S. Owens recently signed the development agreement with Carl Freedman, who manages the shopping center from offices in Mount Laurel, N.J., Samorajczyk and others, including Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson, said they were caught off guard.

Samorajczyk said she understood that the development agreement would be reviewed by the County Council, but that never happened.

Concerns over contract

The councilwoman, who has a license to practice law in Virginia and Washington and who has previously worked for developers, said that it took her almost a week to review the legal document and that she has found many flaws in it.

Samorajczyk said the agreement fails to bind Freedman to a timeline. She said she also worries that instead of an urban center with plazas, towers, and a public transportation hub, the county will end up with a big-box Wal-Mart and a string of marginal boutiques.

Samorajczyk said the development agreement was signed before the community-based Parole Growth Management Advisory Committee could review it to make sure it complied with the panel's updated plans for the mall, which was built in the 1950s.

Since Owens signed the agreement with Freedman, committee members have sent e-mail messages to each other, trying to figure out exactly what the agreement states.

Freedman has also received e-mail messages, he said, and is aware that Samorajczyk and others are wondering if he will honor the committee's goals for the center.

Developer vows compliance

Freedman is adamant that he will.

"It upsets me that people think I wouldn't comply with something that I have worked six years to make happen," he said yesterday, referring to the redevelopment vision set by the committee, of which he was a member.

"Any new plans override the old plans. I'll comply to the plans," he said.

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