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City and Curran quietly let Royal Farms drop traffic study

Curran promised to stop boosting the project, residents complain, then left them out of a meeting that moved it forward

royal farms curran 1

Councilman Robert Curran at an August meeting promised to represent the community’s position – opposing the Royal Farms.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Back in August, at a standing-room-only meeting where a Northeast Baltimore residents’ group voted resoundingly against a proposed Royal Farms store with gas pumps, City Councilman Robert Curran promised to stop supporting the project and represent their wishes.

But in a December 18 meeting – attended by Royal Farms, Curran and city officials, but no residents – the convenience store chain was allowed to drop the planned Traffic Impact Study for the project in return for agreeing to a reconfigured intersection at the site, where Glenmore Avenue crosses Harford Road.

Curran, in fact, proposed the deal that essentially cleared the way for the controversial project to move forward.

The new agreement is plainly described in an email written by Curran’s assistant John McCurtin to the office of City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

“Initially, Royal Farms had agreed to conduct the traffic impact study. Councilman Curran subsequently proposed a realignment of the entire intersection, which relied on the property owner ceding some of the Royal Farms site,” said the email, signed “John McCurtin for Councilman Curran.”

In the email, McCurtin explains that the changes in the intersection would be made by the city after the convenience store was built, and that the newly configured crossroads would be “safer” than the current set-up and that Curran would be taking the changes to the community associations in February.

Curran’s office has not returned our call today or email requesting comment.

Spokeswoman Kathy Chopper, of the City Department of Transportation, whose officials Frank Murphy and James Harkness  attended the meeting, was contacted this morning and said she is seeking an official response.

Speaking by phone late today, acting DOT director Murphy confirmed that “Councilman Curran actually had the idea. . . he asked us to explore reconfiguring the intersection.”

Murphy confirmed also that Royal Farms agreed at the meeting to give up some land as part of the reconfiguration and has made changes in their plan to reflect Curran’s idea. But he contradicted McCurtin’s email, saying the decision to drop the traffic study is “unrelated” to the re-alignment of the intersection. The size of the project, he said, “does not meet the criteria for a traffic study” so that one is not technically required.

A Fait Accompli?

News of the December meeting has been generating an angry buzz among residents who petitioned and picketed last summer against the project, which they say clashes with the character of the Hamilton section of Harford Road and would lower property values and increase traffic hazards there.

Curran’s apparent behind-the-scenes continued support of the project brought him an angry email from Sheila Ebelein, the president of the Glenham-Belhar Association, which held the August meeting where members voted the Royal Farms down 56 – 0.

Ebelein said she was “distressed” that Curran was moving the Royal Farms proposal forward, after publicly promising to reflect their wishes and oppose it.

“I am led to believe that you have not done so, given your lack of transparency,” she wrote.

A member of the Hamilton Hills Community Association, who also wrote to Curran, was more blunt in her assessment of what happened.

Maria Allwine accused Curran of “secretly working against” the Glenham-Belhar Association and adjacent associations who have all opposed the project “in order to make the Royal Farms development a ‘done deal’ that will be presented to all affected community associations and the citizens of Northeast as a fait accompli. You have gone back on your word.”

“Even if you try to sell this as a ‘good thing’ for the community and a mitigation of the negatives of this proposed development, the fact that you completely shut out the community associations and the people negates that probable claim,” she wrote. “If you really believe this is a good thing, you would have involved community members and tried to get our support.”

Under the parcel’s current zoning, a gas station in that spot requires a conditional use. Under appeal number 2013-29 Royal Farms is appealing to the Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals (BMZA) to use 5901-21 Harford Road as a gasoline station and convenience store.

The BMZA will hear this appeal on Tuesday, March 5 at 1:30 p.m. in Room 215 at City Hall.

 

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  • Robert Gillespie

    No shocker here. Curran is a corrupt scumbag looking to make people who make him money happy. 

  • citizenplanner

    It is not A Fait Accompli? as you call it.  A new gas station is a conditional use to the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.  This requires a public hearing that is yet to happen.  The Brew should do better research.

  • baltimorebrew

    Citizenplanner: you raise a good point – I’ve amended the story to better explain the process and that there is a hearing on Royal Farms’ appeal to the BMZA to obtain a conditional use. But the ” Fait accomplit?” subhead comes with a question mark and reflects the quote from one community member in the story (and the general attitude I have encountered today among residents) that they FEAR that – despite this process – it is ultimately a fait accompli. -fs 

  • expectmorebaltimore

    While there are clear guidelines on what the BMZA are allowed to approve, the ability to blur the line of how it meets those guidelines is the issue.  Curran has years of personal relationships with not only the process but also the humans making the decisions.  If citizenplanner has ever been against a development they would know what kind of uphill battle it is just in process, much less when you add people to the mix.  Which is why the fear that this is a done deal has been here since anyone locally even heard about this proposal.  

  • cwals99

    Come on now….Curran is the most committed pol in City Hall as regards the Master Plan and Baltimore Development Corp.  There is no way he would work for community over corporate needs!!

  • Gerald Neily

    There were no public traffic studies for Caesar’s Casino or Harbor Point. So why should we expect one for Royal Farms? There was barely a traffic study for the Red Line, which would radically increase congestion in two major corridors. The consultants basically just poured a bunch of numbers into a computer and pressed puree.

  • bmorepanic

    Councilman Curran is one cog on the gear of the general trend of development in Baltimore.  He follows whatever SRB says to do pretty routinely.  Also, he forms attachments to businesses – he has said in the past that he’s on the side of the engineer’s association who is selling the property. (And can anyone forget his campaign for Jerry’s Tavern – not in his district, but he wanted them to receive special treatment because he drinks there sometimes.)

    I am holding him responsible for his actions, but others also sold out the neighborhoods in the surrounding area.  
    The result of this single decision will likely close another 4-5 other businesses in and around Hamilton and undo years of efforts by the surrounding neighborhoods.  

    The Transportation department is likely salivating at the prospect of being able to align Glenmore and Old Harford without a traffic study or citizen input.  IF that’s the deal (hard to tell from the above), there is zero chance of increasing user safety for cars, bike riders or pedestrians and 100% chance of increasing traffic dramatically on both Glenmore and Old Harford.

    I guess Royal Farms will get city tax breaks.  It’s hard to imagine a different city supported development project that will adversely affect its surrounding area to the extent this one will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paultruman Paul Truman

    I’ve heard many times that the youth jail was a “Fait Accompli”, a done deal. But now after 10+ years of hoping community members would give up, plans have been drastically altered and there is currently no youth jail (although there is still more to be done to reallocate funding). Never give up fighting, that’s what the powers that be are hoping you will do. That said, elected officials should speak with the community upfront, not afterwards.

  • davethesuave

    Here’s the thing:  Councilman Curran does not care what you think.  This is the arrogance of power that humans have been writing about since they figured out how to turn pulp into paper.  If we are all really as ticked off as we say, the solution is simple;  vote him out of office the next time, if he decides to run again.  
    And since he could just as well take a job with one of his corporate causes, then by all ballot-box means, let’s facilitate that happening, no matter what happens at and with this project location.  Throw him out, permanently, and bring someone in who truly cares what her/his constituents want.  I nominate Maria Allwine.  You may disagree with her from time to time;  but at least she’ll be honest, and transparent with you about her reasoning.

  • concentric1

    The consistency of non-representation (council and legislature) in the 41st District is sadly breathtaking at times.

  • Smiley

    Curran ignores the clearly stated wishes of large numbers of engaged (now enraged) constituents. Rikki Spector calls Baltimoreans who take time out of their lives to show up at City Hall “The Peanut Gallery.” Mayor Grumpy goes out her way time and again to prove that she could not possibly care less about you and your tiny little concerns.

    See a trend? Your elected government does not give one damn about you or what you think about how your city is run. How can you not be enraged? How can you not organize around new candidates. For God’s sake people, don’t let Curran, Spector, SRB, or ANY OF THEM serve another term.

    How many times do you have be urinated upon before you wise up?

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