Detractors of a plan for a third Walmart in Frederick to replace the nearly empty Frederick Towne Mall are making themselves heard in public meetings and with an online petition drive, but the developer still hopes the city will allow the project.
The developer of the site has proposed a new, more inviting Walmart to replace the mall on the “Golden Mile,” the struggling retail corridor between U.S. 15 and Interstate 270.
The new Walmart would include green space and walking paths for pedestrians, as well as retail space for an additional 10-15 stores and a restaurant site, according to the developer.
Plans for the site were presented again on April 25 at a meeting of Neighborhood Advisory Council 5, with about 20 residents in attendance. The council advises the city on issues related to the area that includes the Golden Mile.
DLC Management, a New York-based firm that is developing the property, has asked the city to change the zoning for the roughly 50-acre site from mixed use, which requires a housing component, to general commercial, which would allow a Walmart to be built.
The Frederick Planning Commission recommended at a March meeting that the aldermen reject the zoning change.
David Severn, a Frederick lawyer who represents the mall’s developers, said the hope is the plan for the store — which would be linked to a change in zoning to ensure the property would look essentially the same — would be an incentive for the aldermen to approve the zoning change.
The design elements include larger windows, multiple entrances and a changing facade intended to create a more pleasing version of the traditional big-box store.
The property is owned by Rockwood Capital, a firm with offices in New York and California.
It’s the second time the plans have been presented publicly, but community opposition has already been growing. An online petition drive on the website change.org has more than 900 signatures, with residents urging the aldermen not to approve the zoning change.
Steven Holman, who said he lives on the Golden Mile and created the petition, spoke at the meeting, calling the Walmart plans “snake oil,” and railed against the building of a third store by the retail giant in the city.
He said he set up the petition to email the five aldermen each time someone signs the petition.
“We don’t want or need another Walmart,” Holman said. “This town deserves better than being sold out by a New York landowner who doesn’t live here. That’s what it ultimately boils down to, is that we’re being sold out.”
Not every resident in attendance at the meeting was against the Walmart.
Tom and Raejean Presgraves, who live on the Golden Mile near the mall, voiced their support for replacing the mall, if only to eliminate the eyesore.
“We don’t need another Walmart, but it’s a heck of a sight better than what we do have,” Raejean Presgraves said. “... We need it. They’re building houses all around there. I’d much rather see something there.”
Tom Presgraves agreed.
“I don’t see a way for [The Golden Mile] to come back unless something radical is done,” he said.
While many clamor for other shopping opportunities such as Nordstrom’s and Trader Joe’s, David Lingg, a land planner working for Rockwood, said those retailers won’t come to the area.
“The retailer has to be willing to come to the area and sign up for the area,” he said. “The people that are going to come and sign the leases are the ones you’re going to go with. ... It’s unfortunate — there are lots of places we want to have, they’re just not willing to sign a lease and come here.”
As for locating a third Walmart in Frederick, Lingg said demographic studies show a number of Montgomery County shoppers use the Frederick stores, and that a store on the Golden Mile would also appeal to shoppers from Western Maryland, such as Washington County.
However, both Montgomery and Washington counties already have Walmarts as well.
There are several stores, such as a Verizon Wireless, Panera Bread, Sonic and LA Fitness, among others, that would be willing to locate to the adjacent retail if a new Walmart were built, according to Severn.
Alderman Michael O’Connor (D), who attended the meeting to hear residents’ concerns, said he hasn’t made a decision on the zoning change.
He said his primary concern was that the plan would follow the Golden Mile Small Area Plan.
The city’s plan, created by the Frederick Planning Department with input from residents, business owners and developers, includes guidelines for zoning and design standards for businesses when they update their storefronts in the area.
Walmart and the architects who created the designs followed the city’s Golden Mile Small Area Plan guidelines, Severn said.
O’Connor said the Walmart proposal is driving the discussion, but he was more concerned with seeing how the plan fits with the guidelines of the small area plan and allowing residents to see that possibility, too.
“Historically, the city has not been in the process of saying, ‘Business A, yes, Business B, no,’” he said.
Once the heart of a long stretch of booming retail shops on U.S. 40 that gave it the Golden Mile nickname, the mall now has only one store, John’s Hallmark.
Now even that lone holdout in the mall is in the process of closing.
John’s Hallmark owner, John Slocum, said the store was still open as of Friday, but he was in the process of eliminating inventory.
Residents will have a second opportunity to offer their input on the plan on May 9 at 7 p.m. at the former BonTon store 1301 W. Patrick St.