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Neighborhoodsby Ed Gunts12:21 pmMar 17, 20210

Checkers drive-through case is coming back to the zoning board

The announcement of the meeting comes after The Brew’s disclosure that nearby West Baltimore neighborhoods oppose the project and asked for reconsideration.

Above: Standing in opposition to a proposed Checkers on Gwynns Falls Parkway are Vera Robinson. Lawrence Bell III and Arica Gonzalez. (Ed Gunts)

Baltimore’s Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals will consider a request to hold another public meeting on a drive-through Checkers restaurant at 2600 Gwynns Falls Parkway, following its January 26 vote to approve the project.

The decision comes after a Brew story described widespread opposition to the West Baltimore project and charges from residents that the board ignored them out of racial bias. The request for a new hearing is on the agenda for next Tuesday’s (March 23) meeting.

Communities see racism in approval of Checkers drive-through despite widespread opposition (3/15/21)

Last month, three representatives of the Greater Mondawmin area asked the board to reconsider its decision after half a dozen community groups expressed strong opposition to the project and the board approved it anyway.

Opponents said the site is at an already-dangerous intersection (Gwynns Falls and Tioga Parkway) and argued the construction of a drive-through will add to the traffic congestion.

They warned the project would make the area less safe for children walking to the nearby elementary school, cause trash and noise problems and make property values drop, among other concerns.

Zoning Issues

Zoning board chair James Fields told opponents during the hearing that a fast-food restaurant was already allowed on the property under the current zoning and that the board was only making a decision about the drive-through lane and entrance, which needed separate approval from the city.

The opponents said they didn’t think Checkers would want to build a restaurant at that location if it couldn’t have a drive through, and that’s part of the reason they’re fighting the drive-through.

They said they’re also concerned that the property may still have underground gas tanks from when a gas station operated on the premises.

Under the zoning board’s rules, citizens have 10 days after a zoning board decision to request that the board reconsider its vote.

The request for reconsideration is part of a trend in which private citizens are challenging decisions made by city boards, often in favor of developers.

March 23 is the date on which the board will take up the request to hold a new hearing, not the actual date of a new hearing. That would be set only if the board agrees to hold another full hearing on the case.

“The BMZA during its general meeting will review the motion for reconsideration and deliberate on the document submitted based on their rules of procedure,” explained Kathleen Byrne, acting executive director of the zoning board, in an email message. “There is no public testimony taken nor new evidence submitted during the discussions. This is not a rehearing, but a discussion on the issues raised in the motion. The general public can listen to the deliberations, but not participate.”

“Ignored the people”

The Gwynns Falls Parkway appeal is one of six for which the zoning board has set aside time on March 23 to consider holding another hearing. The other contested decisions involve properties at 200 North Monroe Street, 3018 Hamilton Street, 818 North Broadway, 6112 Park Heights Avenue and 1100 South Bouldin Street.

The requests are part of a trend in which private citizens have been challenging decisions made by city boards, often in favor of developers and against the wishes of nearby homeowners and community associations.

In the case of the Checkers project, opponent Lawrence Bell III said the board would not have ignored the wishes of White residents opposing such a project in their neighborhood.

“It seems like this zoning board has completely ignored the people,” Bell, a former president of the City Council, told The Brew.

Groups and individuals raising concerns about the Checkers project include:

The Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, Parkway Community Association, Panway Neighborhood Improvement Association, Hanlon Improvement Association, Garwyn Oaks United Neighbors Association, Whittier-Monroe Community Neighborhood Association, City Council member James Torrence and the president of the Parent Teachers Organization at Gwynns Falls Elementary School.

The board is scheduled to deliberate on the six reconsideration requests at the start of its March 23 docket. The online meeting starts at 12:30 p.m.

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