Bmore Local: Fighting for Responsible Development
On Monday, November 22nd, 2010 the City Council of Baltimore approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) on an 11-acre lot in Central Baltimore. So far, this PUD is set to include a Walmart and a Lowes, with several more storefronts yet unclaimed.
When this development proposal was first announced to the public in late 2009, it came as a shock to many local residents. The 25th St. Station PUD, as it has been referred to for the past year, will occupy a tract of land that is now a car dealership in a busy area between the Charles Village and Remington neighborhoods. Early community organization meetings accepted the plan as a done deal and focused attention on traffic and landscaping of the new complex, rather than the question “Do we really want a Walmart in our neighborhood?”
Benn Ray, co-owner of Atomic Books, and the leader of the Hampden Village Merchants Association, saw this as a problem, and started Bmore Local — an organization intending to encourage people to see that they might have a choice whether they want developments like this in their neighborhood or not.
Benn and Bmore Local proposed a list of amendments to the Baltimore City Council and developers to make the new complex more responsive to the community and Baltimore at large. These amendments included provisions to hire large percentages of local and minority workers, as well as to pay employees a living wage, decent benefits, and be environmentally sustainable. These amendments sought to address some of Walmart’s notorious business strategies, including employing a high number of workers that cannot sustain themselves on their salaries and who turn to welfare and other public help options, straining the city while maximizing profits. Frustratingly, none of these amendments were included in the final proposal that was accepted by the city. Walmart and Lowes will not seek out even the smallest LEED certification, nor will they promise to pay workers a living wage.
Bmore Local has also pushed for local businesses to be a large part of the complex, but there is yet to be a provision in the proposal for this either, and so far no businesses, local or otherwise, have signed on the be a part of the 25th st. Station PUD along side Walmart and Lowes. It seems the area will be vacant, following the example set by Baltimore City’s one existing Walmart at Port Covington. That Walmart is surrounded by 147 vacant stores—it is the big box oasis in a retail desert.
Deserts are not foreign to Baltimore. Many of its neighborhoods are considered food deserts, with no grocery stores, leading to an overabundance of nutritional disorders in the city. Despite possibilities promoted by the Bmore Local amendments, the 25th st. Station will likely compound this problem, as it will be built within a mile of three large and four smaller grocery stores, likely putting them out of business and creating another desert in what is currently one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Walmart dominates already prominent local businesses, says Benn, who claims Walmart wouldn’t even be interested in this space if there weren’t several thriving businesses in the surrounding area. “They aren’t bringing anything to the neighborhood. . . they want to dominate the market.”
In 2004, corporate chains were looking to open branches in Hampden, where Benn’s store is located. He created an organization called Independent Hampden which opened a dialogue between store owners, residents, and these chains leading to the preservation of local businesses in the neighborhood. Like with Bmore Local, no legislation was passed, but the dialogue it sparked lead to the chain stores moving on and has kept Hampden independent. The approval of the 25th station PUD was postponed several times. The planned date to break ground has been pushed back 6 months, due in part to the dialogue Bmore Local has fostered this past year. Though it appears the complex will not provide for the citizens around it as it might have with some of Bmore Local’s amendments, Benn says he is happy that he could help buy our local hardware and food stores a little more time, and by being vocal, perhaps he has encouraged another community to organize earlier and defend their local communities. Every little bit counts.
Bmore Local is a coalition of area residents, businesses, and community leaders who want smarter development that is responsive to community needs. See what they are doing and become involved at www.bmorelocal.net