The History of Opposition to the Development of
the Royal Farms Hyper Gas Station in Hamilton
On June 30 2015 at the BMZA hearing, our attorney, John Murphy and Royal Farms attorneys argued for about an hour. Baltimore Brew and City Paper reported more fully in https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2015/07/01/hamilton-royal-farms-opponents-win-right-to-testify/ and http://www.citypaper.com/blogs/the-news-hole/bcpnews-group-opposed-to-rofo-in-hamilton-wins-new-hearing-with-testimony-20150701-story.html and http://www.citypaper.com/news/mobtownbeat/bcpnews-chicken-fight-the-battle-over-a-royal-farms-in-hamilton-may-be-decided-in-the-coming-weeks-20150623-story.html#page=1 Neighbors won a major battle against Royal Farms Gas Station (RF) because BMZA is holding a public meeting at 5pm on September 22, 2015.
RF lawyers argued to shut our Community from testifying and asked the BMZA to make the decision without community input because the neighbors already testified in the original BMZA hearing in April 2013. Mr. Murphy, our attorney, asked to give the community its voice and to let the neighbors testify and for support he kept referring to the Court of Special Appeals decision & due process rights. At the deliberations, the BMZA Chairman, Mr. Washington was on the RF's side and sounded willing to deny the Community our due process rights under Maryland & U.S. Constitution, Maryland Admin Law & the Baltimore City Zoning Code. "Washington is not our friend." noted Mr. Murphy after the June 30th hearing.
Martin B. King, a fairly new BMZA Commissioner, at deliberations, argued that he was not on the BMZA when case was originally heard before the BMZA and more importantly, he did not want to violate the Community's due process rights. The truth is always persuasive!
Our full public meeting will be held on September 22 2015. Mr. Neily, former Baltimore Traffic Engineer, will be able to testify about the dangerous intersection of Glenmore Ave, Old Harford Road and Harford Rd. The Community will be able to testify but, unlike 2013, both parties will be limited by time. The Community can find a sweet and short Testimony Creator in that website. Please attend on September 22, 2015 because we need everyone of our Community in the hearing.
For prior history, after the original BMZA hearing on April 2013, we, retained John Murphy, a well respected attorney with 40 years of zoning and eminent domain experience, appealed the case and hearings were granted to Circuit Court and then, to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and, finally was denied a hearing to the Maryland Court of Appeals. So, now, our case is remanded or send back to the BMZA pursuant to the Court of Special Appeals decision.
Around March of 2012, Glenmore Neighbors, a small group of residents on Glenmore Avenue, heard rumors of a proposed Royal Farms gas station. The Neighbors were against it because of dangerous traffic and a loss of pedestrian safety especially for children going to the library and local schools like Hamilton Elementary-Middle School and Arts & Ideas School, as well as those walking to the surrounding churches, nearby stores and public transportation stops. We learned the only way to make our voices heard was through our official and recognized community association, GlenHam-BelHar Community Association (GHBH).
A representative from Glenmore Neighbors, Elena Ritter, went to the April 2012 meeting of the GHBH Community Association. She was not allowed to speak and was given two reasons. Elena was informed that she had “just joined” and would not be allowed the floor and there was another more pressing community concern that was scheduled to be discussed.
John Reuter, President of Westfield Neighborhood Improvement Association (WNIA) contacted Glenmore Neighbors and informed us that Royal Farms representatives would be attending WNIA’s next meeting.
Around early June 2012, representatives from Glenmore Neighbors attended the WNIA meeting at the Holiday House. Royal Farms gave their presentation of 14 gas pumps, a large convenience store, numerous parking spaces and some amount of green space.
WNIA members were very concerned and some were really angry as they asked Royal Farms questions about the proposed project. WNIA members couldn’t fathom how a gas station of that size, normally built on a highway like Rt. 40, could be built at an urban intersection where there are accidents weekly, if not daily.
WNIA unanimously voted to oppose the general idea of a Royal Farms gas station being built at Harford Road between Glenmore and Mary Avenues.
GHBH had their meeting the next day and Royal Farms representatives gave the same presentation, but this time Councilman Curran spoke in support of Royal Farms. GHBH members were angry and animated for the same reasons that WNIA members were, but a vote was taken resulting in 13-11 voting in support of the Royal Farms gas station. Joe Oaks, President of GHBH at that time, whispered to member Roop Vijayan that many non-members had voted, so he would call a revote. It was soon determined that many non-GHBH members voted to support the proposed Royal Farms project even though they were not actual residents of the community association’s catchment area.
GHBH members subsequently asked for a revote because of this voting impropriety, but Joe Oaks and the GHBH Board denied their request.
Sometime around early June 2012, Councilman Curran and two other Council representatives were guests on the Mark Steiner Show. They were discussing how to attract residents of other counties into Baltimore City, thereby increasing the City’s tax base. Roop Vijayan called in and spoke about how much his family loved their neighbors and neighborhood, but were sadly considering moving out of the City because of an unresponsive City Councilman in government. Later on in the show, Rebecca Cornfeld called and spoke about her anger at the development in Baltimore City and how instead of attracting new residents as potential tax base, the Councilman and the City were scaring them away with projects that were not suited to neighborhood life.
The new No RoFo Movement was born.
Neighbors participated in a rally in mid-June. Neighbors went door to door to inform and organize other residents. Many neighbors contributed their valuable time and effort.
The Mark Steiner Show invited Keith Bunner, GHBH Treasurer and former Royal Farms employee and supporter, Councilman Curran, Roopesh Vijayan and Dell Rhodes, another No RoFo neighbor, to participate in an on air discussion. There was a lively exchange during which Councilman Curran promised that if the community association in the catchment area – GHBH – was against Royal Farms, then he as their elected official and representative on the City Council would fight for the neighbors. The Councilman point blank stated that he supported the
International Union of Operating Engineers Local #37 – the seller of the property that Royal Farms proposed to develop – and regularly fought for them.
The Councilman was reminded that he had promised to support the wishes of his constituents and the Operating Engineers Local #37 did not have a single member affected by the proposed Royal Farms Gas Station and quite possibly did not have even a single member living in the Councilman’s district.
In early August 2012, GHBH had their next meeting attended by over 100 people. After a careful check on who were legitimate members, GHBH voted 56-0 against the Royal Farms development. Councilman Curran tried to explain his motives, but firmly stated that he would support the neighborhood residents – his constituents – wholeheartedly.
The neighbors also learned from other sources in the community that there was an official in the City’s Department of Transportation living on White Avenue and the Transportation Department had asked for or mandated that a traffic study should be done.
After August 2012, there was no news about the Royal Farms development. GHBH had a contested election and elected ALL new Officers in December 2012.
In January 2013, GHBH learned that Councilman Curran, Royal Farms attorneys and the City’s Department of Transportation had met quietly in December 2012 without the knowledge of the community and reached an agreement whereby and no traffic study would be required. That meeting resulted in Royal Farms ceding a small parcel of the property to the City, decreasing parking spaces by 25 to 50, reducing the square footage of the store to 4,139 sq. ft. and reducing the number of gas pumps from 14 to 12. Royal Farms came to a number of community associations presenting these modified plans.
In February 2013, the GHBH Executive Board met with Royal Farms representative Jeff Bainbridge, attorney Caroline Hecker, civil engineer Steve Warfield, and builders David Berg and Lindsay Taylor. Frank Murphy from DOT, Councilman Curran and Mike Hilliard of HARBEL were present. Again, community members were unmoved and angry by the proposed plan. They felt the new changes to the plan did not address any of their concerns. There were a number of requests made in this meeting including, but not limited to: a permanent barrier on the back of the property; additional mature trees on the back of the property (20’ evergreen type instead of 5-6’), solutions to traffic issues on Mary Avenue (restricted parking, traffic light, left turn signal, bump out before Richard Avenue, etcetera), requested solutions to egress onto Glenmore Avenue causing traffic back up at light, traffic leaving the property headed south on Harford Road; reduced hours of operation (closing at 1 am, opening at 4-5 am); the addition of a fourth handicapped parking spot. Representatives for Royal Farms were scheduled to present their plans to the general membership of GHBH, but that meeting was canceled due to inclement weather and school closure.
The Hamilton Hills community association generously invited GHBH to attend their next meeting, since Royal Farms would be presenting to them. The plans that were presented by Royal Farms were identical to those in the February meeting at HARBEL with one exception – they contained only two handicapped parking spots. Originally, there had been three. One had been removed.
An important point had been made by this seemingly small detail. In the February meeting, Sheila Ebelein had indicated that another handicapped parking spot on the rear of the building ould be helpful, since there were many neighbors with mobility concerns. There would be no need for any reallocation of space, since there was already a lane for a lift next to the existing marked space. All that would be required was to designate and mark the spot. This would result in four designated handicapped spaces out of 50 – two at the front entrance and two at the rear. Royal Farms representative Mr. Bainbridge stated that although three were present in the current plan, only two were required by law. Ms. Ebelein voiced her appreciation for the additional space and requested that a fourth be provided. Royal Farms response to this small, inconsequential response was to remove the third space. It spoke volumes.
All community associations tried to negotiate independently, but failed. Requests were made for information and specifics, but representatives of Royal Farms did not provide any, even when they made statements of assurance that they would do so.
Neighbors believe that Royal Farms, with support of Councilman Curran, always had the strategy to go in with the initial plans and then modify them slightly, feigning deference to the community.
Neighbors opposed the Conditional Use by Royal Farms to develop a gas station before the BMZA on April 2, 2013. Thirty-five neighbors took the time out of their day, many taking off work, to show up at 1pm. At the end of the day, in a two minute decision, the Board approved the Conditional Use, thereby sanctioning a highway sized gas station in the heart of Hamilton on Harford Road.
The neighbors and Community Associations then took steps to retain a zoning attorney for an appeal and began planning a direct action campaign.
We believe fighting this battle on both fronts is vital.
Won't you please help us by donating to defray legal expenses and the costs associated with resisting this development that threatens the fabric of our community and its revitalization?