Zoning stalls neighborhood grocery plans

Fells Point warehouse may need reclassification

January 20, 2004|By Jessica Valdez | Jessica Valdez,SUN STAFF

An empty warehouse at Bond and Bank streets in Fells Point could become a food market, with fresh paint and a new front window, if Baltimore resident Nidea Sierra has her way.

But first she has to overcome city objections to placing a market on property zoned for industrial use.

Sierra, a 50-year-old immigrant from the Dominican Republic, doesn't understand why officials would oppose a market.

"This neighborhood needs food," she said, her English hesitant but her tone forceful. "We believe we're helping the community."

Sierra says she has the experience -- she has been involved in the grocery business since she was a child.

"My father kept a grocery store" in the Dominican Republic, she said. Her family owns food markets in Newark, N.J., and her brother has two in Baltimore.

She moved from Newark to Baltimore two years ago to open a food market in the city, which has few grocery stores, she said.

"I felt the city needed a supermarket," said Sierra, who has been working for her brother at his food market on East Monument Street. "I don't understand how they feed the people."

Appealing the zoning board's decision might not get her anywhere, suggests city planner Eric Tiso. He said Sierra might have to petition to change the property's zoning classification, which could take months.

Sierra's attorney noted that 62-foot-by-60-foot property is an anomaly in the neighborhood.

"The area is mostly residential," said Shawn R. Harby, who was recently hired to help her obtain city approval. "There's just this one building that's still zoned [for] manufacturing purposes."

But Sierra doesn't understand why she can't open her food market now. She said she never had a problem with zoning in Newark.

"I don't understand [Baltimore] city," she said. "We're helping the city, and they say `no.'"

She plans to redo the entire warehouse: repaint the outside and inside, add a front window and set up the interior for a small market.

With many homes nearby, including a public housing complex, she said she expects a lot of business from people who often have to travel to Canton to buy groceries. Neighbors have signed a petition favoring the market, she said.

"We don't really have anything like that around us, so there would be a lot of people from the projects that would benefit from it," said Martin Krebs, who lives in the rowhouse next door to the warehouse in the 400 block of S. Bond St. "It's going to take off if it goes through."

Sierra said her four children would work in the market. They have grown up in the grocery business.

"It's always been in our family, having stores," said Sierra's 18-year-old son Lenny. "I learned how to run a business like my mom, and now that's what I'm thinking about studying in college: being an entrepreneur."

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