Parole Plaza rehab is near, builder says

Developer plans to raze structures at old mall site during the summer

$250 million project

Advisory panel to present zoning recommendations for area to Owens soon

Anne Arundel

April 23, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

At Parole Plaza near Annapolis, where plywood boards cover windows and weeds sprout in deserted parking lots, a blue banner announces that the outdated mall will soon be replaced by a new retail and residential hub called Parole Centre.

The $250 million redevelopment project, which has been in the works for close to a decade, is creeping toward a kickoff date as an advisory committee wraps up its final report and the New Jersey-based developer who owns the mall prepares to raze the obsolete structure.

"This summer, you will see the buildings come down," said developer Carl Freedman. "That is my game plan right now."

Freedman said he has permits to tear down the vacant mall, which his family has owned and operated since 1958, and is working with Wal-Mart officials to put the final touches on a design for a Wal-Mart store at the site. An architect's plan for a 12-story apartment tower also is near completion, he said.

County officials said Freedman needs building permits. Acquiring them could take three to four months.

Meanwhile, a group of residents is reviewing the final draft of a 313-page design manual for the 1,500-acre Parole Growth Management Area. The Parole Growth Management Committee hopes to condense its document, which will include specific design standards and a list of accepted commercial uses, and present it to County Executive Janet S. Owens within the next few weeks.

"We're gaining on it," said John Fischer, co-chairman of the committee, which has been working on the Parole Growth Management Area planning document since September. Freedman's 34-acre Parole Centre would be the centerpiece of the Parole growth area. Redevelopment of the area has been in the works since the early 1990s. The proposals have generated intense political debate.

About two years ago, County Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who represents the Parole area, introduced a bill to limit the size of big-box stores, including the Wal-Mart proposed by Freedman. The measure failed.

After Owens and Freedman signed a redevelopment agreement in September, Samorajczyk complained that the agreement might not hold him to strict design standards.

Council members are expected to take up enabling legislation to set zoning for the entire growth management area, including Freedman's mall, next month, and public hearings could be held in June, said Betty Dixon, the county's land use and environmental planning manager.

Dixon, who attends Parole Growth Management Committee meetings, said the group is having a difficult time deciding what zoning uses should be allowed in the Parole area. The redevelopment area could include at least five zoning subareas, including classifications to allow an urban village, medical park and urban campus, she said.

"The committee is trying to be forward-thinking," Dixon said, adding that it is hard to predict what types of stores or services might be in demand in the future. "The plan is to make this a living document, and one that will be reviewed and updated every five years."

Freedman, the developer, who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., is pushing for more flexibility at his mall site, which is sandwiched between Riva Road and Route 2 on the border of Annapolis.

"The trick will be to put together a list [of uses] that doesn't live in a vacuum," he said, adding that no one could have predicted that uses such as cellular telephone stores would become popular mall fixtures.

Recently, Freedman said, he agreed to set aside as much as 15,000 square feet at the future retail and residential hub to create a community center for Parole residents.

Besides the Wal-Mart and residential tower, Freedman plans to build a 65,000-square-foot grocery store, 16-story office tower and a number of retail boutiques. The entire project could take years to build, he said.

A transit center, where motorists would be able to park their vehicles and catch buses or other mass transit, might also be built near Freedman's mall.

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