Last Night’s Meeting

The image below is a picture of the room at the Owings Mills Library where Councilman Julian Jones – standing in the front of the room – held the first of two town meetings to talk about Kimco’s plans for its Owings Mills Mall property. It’s taken from the far back corner. There are actually more people attending than the picture shows because we couldn’t back up far enough to get a wider shot. There are more people behind the shot on the left and on the right, lined up against the wall.

Councilman Jones told the audience multiple times that Kimco people were attending the meeting uninvited, but refused to identify them and they certainly didn’t introduce themselves.

Council Chairman Vicki Almond, who represents District 2, was also there for at least a while, at the beginning, and spoke very briefly.

The second meeting will be 6 to 8 PM tomorrow, Wednesday, August 31, at the Randallstown Community Center.

About the meeting, here are some notes for those of you who didn’t attend…

1. The room was packed, standing room only, with a highly vocal and determined crowd.

2. Suffice it to say that the crowd was laser-focused on stopping a Walmart going onto the Mall property and was not happy with Councilman Jones assurances that he wouldn’t let it happen. People in the room had our fliers but didn’t need them. The crowd was well-prepared and clearly very interested and concerned, particularly about the extent to which the input of their community might be a day late and a dollar short.

3. The message was clear. Councilman Jones’ constituents don’t want a Walmart Supercenter – or any other huge, big box store – on the Mall property. Period. More than one person actually threatened replacing him if he let it happen. Councilman Jones joked about these comments about his re-election, but had to have taken them seriously. He’s just two years into his first term.

Big box stores under 60,000 or even 70,000 or 80,000 SF don’t have the same impact on local business – and property values, as one resident pointed out – as do super-large stores like Walmart Supercenters and Lowe’s. According to Councilman Jones, a Walmart Supercenter has 190,000 SF. That’s more than three times the size of the largest store on the most recent site plan Kimco submitted to the County.

Town Meeting

4. From the back of the room we could hear people talking among themselves and watch their physical reactions to questions people were asking. Many were wondering out loud if the Councilman had any control over the situation – and if he would really do anything about their comments. It wouldn’t be the first time a representative held meetings just to make his or her constituents feel like their input mattered.

It was a tough room, but the Councilman, who didn’t shy away from any question, handled himself well, all things considered – with a couple of notable exceptions…

5. Kimco’s maximum store size on the current site plan the County is reviewing is only 60,000 SF. The Councilman said it was something over 80,000 SF. The point is, a 60,000 SF restriction is in keeping with Kimco’s site plan. Kimco has no basis for complaining – provided Councilman Jones introduces legislation now, before Kimco gives the County a new plan to review that includes a Walmart Supercenter. Why wait for that to happen?

6. At one point, he suggested that a new law limiting store size would not affect properties that had already been approved for larger store sizes. That may be true, but Kimco’s plan hasn’t been approved. Councilman Jones indicated that it had been approved, but it hasn’t. In any case, once again, a 60,000 SF limit is in keeping with the plan Kimco has on file with the County. You can see a picture of the current site plan in the post entitled simply
60,000 SF.”

7. Waiting to take action until Kimco revises its site plan favoring larger stores is risky business. Councilman Jones’ heart is in the right place, but he’s new at this and not in control.

8. The Councilman expressed concern that limiting store size to 60,000 SF would prevent Kimco from signing a Lowe’s, for example, or other huge store. Three comments on this point…

– The bill would only affect store size (zoning) on the Mall property. It would have zero impact on big box development elsewhere in District 4.

– It wasn’t just about Walmart. The audience didn’t want a Lowe’s on the Mall property either. Not only will a Lowe’s cut into Home Depot sales on Liberty Road but, more importantly, people clearly wanted something better, nicer stores in a more interesting, comfortable, frankly higher quality environment.

– If Councilman Jones thinks that 60,000 SF is too limiting, make the maximum 70,000 SF or even 80,000 SF – as long as he protects his District’s two existing Walmarts and the smaller stores that depend upon the traffic these Walmarts generate.

9. If there are issues with the existing Walmarts, the solution is to fix those issues, not to replace those stores with a new one nearby that trashes established shopping centers in the process.

10. At least twice, Councilman Jones talked about having asked attorneys working for the Council to give him options that are legal. He was concerned that imposing a single property zoning restriction on store size might not be, legal that is.

Reality check… There is no doubt whatsoever that single property restrictions are legal. They’re not just legal, they’re routine and commonplace. They happen all the time. The very fact that the Mall property has already been rezoned once for the benefit of Kimco is an example of single property rezoning. A maximum store size restriction is no different.

There is no legality issue preventing Councilman Jones from introducing a simple bill restricting store size. In fact, bills imposing store size restrictions have been used very often, around the country, to preclude Walmart Supercenters from locating on specific properties.

11. Kimco can and will do whatever it wants as long as it’s within the zoning for its property. Negotiating choice of stores with Kimco isn’t something Councilman Jones can do. At best, any appearance that Kimco is seriously interested in what Councilman Jones thinks will be patronizing. His only real means to protect his constituents’ interests is a simple bill limiting store size on the Mall property. It’s both the easiest and most effective thing he can do.

12. Last point… According to the Councilman, Mr. Kamenetz has assured him that he’ll be consulted before any changes are made or approvals granted to the Kimco site plan. And Mr. Kamenetz will do just that – by which time it will either be too late or the pressures on Councilman Jones so great that he’ll find himself unable to stop Kimco’s momentum.

The smart move – politically and for the economy of District 4 – is to introduce the bill limiting store size now before all this gets even more messy, as it will, as soon as Kimco revises its site plan. Councilman Jones can and needs to be the leader his constituents elected. He should introduce and pass the bill now and then work with Kimco to come up with a better plan for his District’s families and businesses. That’s explicitly what people were asking him to do last night.

Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions below. See you Wednesday?

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