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Royal Farms re-vote: A big thumbs-down

Councilman Curran and community association officers blasted at tense meeting.

royal farms 1

Glenham-Belhar voted 56-0 against the proposed Royal Farms gas station and convenience store.

Photo by: Fern Shen

In a meeting that erupted into shouts, accusations and table-pounding anger, residents of the Hamilton neighborhood where Royal Farms wants to put a gas station and convenience store voted resoundingly against the plan last night.

The show of hands – 56 against and none for – was only one hostile message delivered at the Glenham-Belhar Community Association meeting.

It was pretty clear many were furious at the association’s officers and at City Councilman Robert Curran for his insistence that he need only consider the wishes of Glenham-Belhar members – and not residents from neighboring parts of Northeast Baltimore.

“It’s an insult for you to say you’re going to give people five minutes to speak,” said Terrell Williams, addressing president Joe Oaks, vice president Fred Williams, secretary John Whalen and treasurer Keith Bunner.

Monica Risso-Dent had an angry exchange with City Councilman Robert Curran at a meeting about the Hamilton Royal Farms plan. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Monica Risso-Dent had an angry exchange with Councilman Robert Curran at last night’s meeting. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The agenda the officers distributed specified a total of five minutes to discuss a topic that had packed the room with about 90 people, 21 of whom had just paid their $12 association dues for the right to vote against it.

“For Royal Farms, this is one of several investments. For homeowners, this is their one investment. It’s all they have!” Williams said to loud applause.

Several people complained that the community association had done a poor job of informing them about the proposal for a 24-hour, 5,000-plus-square-foot convenience store with 14 fueling pumps and 74 parking spaces at the corner of Harford Road and Glenmore Avenue.

About 90 people, many signing up as new members,  came to the Glenham-Belhar Community Association meeting last night. (Photo by Fern Shen)

About 90 people, many more than usual, came to the Glenham-Belhar Community Association meeting last night. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Don Dziwulski, who lives on Mary Avenue right behind the Royal Farms site, said he heard about it through fliers distributed by neighbors long after a June vote had already been taken.

He asked bluntly when an opportunity would come to vote for new association leadership.

“If you feel like you want to run and do a better job, then vote me out!” replied Williams, who, like Oaks, has been an officer of the group for nine years. The election of new officers, he said, takes place in December.

Curran Criticized

Residents had plenty of heat left over for Curran, who has supported the proposal. The District 3 councilman reiterated that his rule of thumb is to support the wishes of the community association whose “catchment area” includes the disputed project.

But many said they’d been surprised by the news that Glenham-Belhar had voted 13-11 in June to approve the project and were unaware that the project – and even the Association – existed.

Curran said it wasn’t his fault if the association hadn’t kept members in the loop.

“If residents feel like their association is not informing them properly, it’s not my problem! Take it up with them,” Curran said, prompting an uproar.

Councilman Robert Curran, with Joe Oaks, John Whalen and Keith Bunner behind him, faces a hostile audience. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Councilman Robert Curran, with Joe Oaks, John Whalen and Keith Bunner behind him, faces a hostile audience. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“Are you running for reelection? Then it is your problem!” someone said.

“We sure get your newsletter when you’re running for office,” another said.

“You are our representative, we deserve a little representation!” said a livid Monica Risso-Dent, who has lived on Glenmore Avenue for 20 years and said she is selling her house.

Curran said he would represent the community’s wishes based on the evening’s re-vote.

He also noted, explaining the next step of the process, that the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals could grant the project a conditional use with limitations, such as on the hours of operation.

Community Sliced Too Thin?

With so many people unfamiliar with the Glenham-Belhar Community Association, Oaks and Williams found themselves handing out new member information packets and explaining basic details, such as the existence of a Facebook page, absence of a website and the monthly meeting schedule. (They’re held the first Wednesday of every month at Koinonia Baptist Church on Belair Road.)

“I’m fairly new and had a really hard time getting information about what association is involved, what neighborhood this is,” said Kate Gehr.

(Since the controversy erupted in June, Bunner said, the group added 28 members including those who signed up at the meeting. Their financial balance stands at $1,210.14, he reported.)

Dr. Brenda Pridgen said several Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods would be affected by the project. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Dr. Brenda Pridgen said several Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods would be affected by the Royal Farms. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Others complained privately about the Balkanization of traditional neighborhoods such as Hamilton into community associations like Glenham-Belhar, whose odd name apparently reflects the organization’s creation years ago amid some personality clashes.

Its boundaries – Belair Road, Hamilton Avenue, Glenmore Avenue and Harford Road – are such that several other community associations border the Royal Farms project.

“I could argue that it affects our neighborhood equally,” said John Rhodes, president of the Hamilton Hills Neighborhood Association, which would face the Royal Farms across its eastern boundary, Harford Road.

Brenda Pridgen, who has lived in Northeast Baltimore since 1989, said neighborhoods “have always worked together in harmony with each other.”

“I find it befuddling that on this particular issue we decide to slice off” one neighborhood, said Pridgen, who lives in the area covered by the Moravia-Waltherson Improvement Association.

Treasurer Keith Bunner, a former Royal Farms store manager, placed a large Royal Farms beverage mug prominently on the table in front of him.

Treasurer Keith Bunner, a former Royal Farms store manager, placed a large Royal Farms beverage mug prominently on the table in front of him.

Several people promised to help Glenham-Belhar by distributing newsletters and volunteering for the community yard sale.

Others described how area residents, prodded by the Royal Farms issue, are trying to unite a splintered community through an umbrella group called the Harford Road Community Collective.

Toward the end of the meeting, several people urged Curran to meet with residents and talk about what they would like to see on the parcel.

Among the ideas the audience tossed out: some family-oriented recreational or library facility or  “offices for lawyers or architects.”

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  • Glad to be gone

    Curran has been useless since I lived there and since moved out.
     I just couldn’t handle the city BS.

  • Bmorepanic

    Funny thing – I ran into Mr. Curran today at lunch.  He tried some of the same arguments – blaming the neighborhood associations, but its completely the city’s fault.  I have this “thing” against the city using neighborhood associations and other community organizations instead of contacting citizens directly.  I have never understood why citizens have to pay a third party to be able to vote for or against an issue.  I have never understood why we all let them get away with the reasoning.  

    As I said to him, I live in another neighborhood nearby, but our family uses that intersection frequently so I’m very interested in stopping the project.  Why is it that I’m not permitted to voice an opinion?

    On a personal level,  I’m against anything that brings more traffic through that intersection – its very dangerous currently for pedestrians.  On a community level, I can’t imagine why we need yet another convenience store/gas station, much less one sized larger than those on I95 or Route 40.  Plus I feel for the neighbors – already impacted by the traffic, the lights, the noise from Harford Road plus trash from the existing 7-11 now being subjected to bigger lights, increased noise in their back yards.

    If the project goes forward, more people would likely leave the city.  The affected properties will lose value, be sold, becoming rooming houses or group homes which in turn will make more people move out.  We know the drill – its happened time and time again here.  More people will be hurt in that intersection – it already sports ground up car parts daily from all of the accidents.  

    I’m truly afraid that if Baltimore persists in not caring about the people who live here, that the population of my corner of town will dwindle and its problems increase.
     There are multiple bad outcomes from the project for actual people who live in Northeast and no good ones.  The only reason to go forward is so a company will make money.  Royal Farms will make money off the commuters no matter what happens to the neighborhoods.  A defunct union will sell their empty building and perhaps the city wants the higher taxes on the one piece of property enough to devalue the citizens around it.  Adding insult to injury, its an enterprise zone – so we’ll be extending significant tax breaks to Royal Farms. 

    Based on the way the city has acted lately, I’d bet this project isn’t dead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Maria-Allwine/628491762 Maria Allwine

    The Democratic Party machine in Baltimore has long used community associations to do its work, especially getting communities to fall in line for favored development.  It is no secret that Baltimore is run by developers (our city council is notoriously weak and ineffective which serve their purpose just fine) and the whole country is run by the wealthy and corporations.  Is this a surprise to anyone?  We and our communities are used for votes, nothing more.  As these Baltimore pols are re-elected over and over, they do more harm to those they purport to serve.  Mr. Curran obviously does not know the first thing about real representation; otherwise, he would be anxious to represent all the communities affected by this absolutely inappropriate proposal. Instead he disregarded the earlier “no” votes of the Westfield and Hamilton Hills associations, as well as others, and used what he thought was a “yes” vote from GlenHam/BelHar as his excuse for supporting this Royal Farms – which he obviously wants quite badly.  Last night proved that engaged citizens do have power if they would only use it.  Now there is NO support anywhere for this mega-Royal Farms store and gas station, nor should there be.  We are residential communities bisected by the commercial Harford Road.  We are not a commercial neighborhood bisected by a residential street!  Put that thing on 95 where it belongs (and keep it away from Bengies drive-in!).

    Many of Baltimore’s community associations have done a great job of making sure that (1) their community members know nothing about the projects they intend to force through for their political allies and (2) they are nothing more than political clubs existing to serve the pols and their allies.  All of the NE Baltimore associations need to unite and work together.  There’s a reason we remain separate – and that’s to make sure the dirty political dealings continue without citizens’ scrutiny.  No more – people of NE unite now!!  After all, it’s our lives and our community!!

    • Cwals99

      Thank you so much for that great comment.  You were spot on.  My website may be too progressive for you but check it out…….citizensoversightmaryland.com

  • Fire and Metal

    In the photo at the beginning of the article I believe the question was – “Anyone who thinks Councilman Curran resembles a homeless bum raise you hand”.

    • dave the suave

      Yes, Bob Curran is a hack.  And yes, your comment was crass.  Might be a case of “takes one to know one”?  Oops, now I’m in the loop.  DANG!

  • Steve

    Just like 60′s minus the illicit stimulus. Power to the peeps!!

  • JS

    If I remember rightly, Mr. Curran characterized those who showed up for the original vote as the “ones who cared to show.” It’s HIS problem if he’s bothered by the angry reaction he received.

    Personally, I was entertained at the sight of an elected official yelling back at his constituents…hmm, just how many votes did he lose over this performance?

  • http://profiles.google.com/jenna.fischetti Jenna Fischetti

    I don’t criticize Councilman Curran for deferring to his constituents . I believe that’s the best way to serve the interest of the people. The problem is, Glenham-Belford, or more precisely, the absolutely Northwest corner of GHBF is where this Super Royal Farms was to be located. The residents of Westfield, Lauraville, Harford- Echodale Perring Parkway have just as much if not more at stake in this project. The Harford Road corridor is their neighborhood too. The increased traffic at an already dangerous FIVE way intersection puts undue burdens for all of us. 

    Now, what I will note, as many others have, is Mr Curran’s reaction to the concerns of the communities he serves, err represents. Should there be a recall notice, I can scarcely suggest Bob would save his job.

    • Camaro_conv_68

      I live on glenmore…a few houses from harford rd. Glenham-Belford is the neighborhood association for the location of the royal farms store.I know it is crazy that they are the CA for that neighborhood,but i dont think they give a crap about us….much like mr curran!

  • Cwals99

    THIS ARTICLE IS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW DEVELOPMENT WORKS IN THE BALTIMORE AREA.  THESE COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS ARE STAFFED WITH DEVELOPMENT PEOPLE AS CITIZENS WHO ARE THERE TO SEE THE INTERESTS OF THE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATIONS TRUMP LOCAL CITIZENS.  VISTA  WORKERS MAN MANY COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS.  THIS IS PART OF THE NGO—–PRIVATE NON-PROFIT SECTOR THAT COMPLETELY CAPTURES ALL ORGANIZATIONS IN THE CITY OF BALTIMORE.  THE CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS ARE TOLD TO PUSH WHATEVER ISSUE THESE COMMUNITY ORGANIZATION LEADERS ADVOCATE.

    • Camaro_conv_68

      lol…As i told curran…His ass is in bed with royal farms…hell one of the guys on Glenham CA…the treasurer, i believe, used to work for royal farm store …as he said. I do wonder what everyone pushing for royal farms at that location are getting out of it…BOB….being the first one?

  • Person

     I used to live in that neighborhood (recently).  where was all of the outrage when the halfway house for drug addicts opened on the corner of White and Carter Avenue???  No one said anything then, and you can’t tell me that doesn’t impact the community or affect property values.  I don’t think a Royal Farms store is a big deal.  it would just have to be smaller than originally planned.  That property as it is is an eyesore.  but if the community acts like this, it will just remain an eyesore.  Meanwhile, the neighborhood is becoming inundated with halfway houses and section 8 properties.  And you can’t tell me that isn’t part of the reason for the high numbers of robberies and the spike in drug activity in the neighborhood over the last year and a half.  How about do something about that.

    • person

      well think about putting in this megastore..you will then have 5 more eyesores b/c of the affected businesses along harford that will go out of business. i would rather have that one building vacant that is posing no problem than 5 other vacant buildings. i live on glenmore and have a huge prolem already with drugs trash and rats..no more thank you. i would love to do something about the other issue however it seems the police dept is not much help there

  • Carol_orlando48@msn.com

    I’ve lived in this neighborhood all my life (56 years) and I agree with the person who said, “why can’t we work together with other associations?) .  Also I must say I have had issue with my association, but if I want change then I too need to be involved as many of us do.  Hopefully it’s not too late to find a good common ground to work from. 

    PS  While here I would just like to mention our roadwork and the fact that our streets can’t even be repaved when the work is done.  Streets after streets in our neighborhood are sporting patched areas where new lines have been replaced.  Take a look around at this
    example of city government.  Sadly I could go on and on.  I do love my home and hope I do not feel driven out too.

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