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Wal-Mart proposed as Golden Mile fix

Thursday - 4/11/2013, 6:00am  ET

The developers of the Frederick Towne Mall property say building a Wal- Mart is the solution for redeveloping the commercial stretch of U.S. 40 in the city known as the Golden Mile.

That would be the big-box chain's third location in Frederick.

Wal-Mart representatives joined the developer and its team Wednesday at the weekly workshop of the mayor and aldermen. The developer is seeking a change in the property's current zoning, which calls for a mix of commercial and residential development, to one that allows only commercial construction.

"Wal-Mart has agreed to purchase a substantial portion of the mall property to be the anchor property in this redevelopment," David Severn, attorney for the developer, said at Wednesday's meeting. "We believe it will reinvigorate this area of the Golden Mile and the entire Golden Mile."

This was the first time the developer identified Wal-Mart as a potential partner, but Severn stressed that the new zoning would be the only way the project would work. A design plan was also presented for the first time that detailed how the store would look and what amenities would be included to spruce up the 50-acre property, which includes 28 acres that won't be touched. Boscov's and Home Depot, which take up about half the mall property, are privately owned and are not going anywhere.

The old-style mall is a thing of the past, according to a representative of Rockwood Capital, the investment firm involved in the project. What consumers want from a retailer has also changed, he said.

"We've tried to bring in smaller retailers," said John Coury, Rockwood Capital's assistant vice president. "The only developer has been Wal-Mart."

Trying to squeeze in multifamily housing would not be possible on the property, he said.

Wal-Mart would be a "game- changer" for redeveloping the Golden Mile, Coury said.

Severn said he is confident that the way the redevelopment is planned, it would match what the city has established as the vision for the Golden Mile.

They talked about adding a pedestrian bridge to bring in residents from a nearby community and building a small park with benches at the rear of the property.

Severn said meetings were planned with neighborhood groups and the Golden Mile Alliance to show them the developer's exact plan.

Wednesday's meeting was the first discussion with the board, and no action was taken.

It will be up to the aldermen to approve the zoning change. The city's planning commission has already recommended the change not be made.

"I think you have made a lot of progress in the right direction," Alderwoman Karen Young said of the developer's proposal. "I would suggest that we don't get hung up by drawing lines in the sand. ... Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good."

Alderwoman Shelley Aloi said she was concerned that the big-box store would adversely affect other shops along the Golden Mile.

Aloi said she was conflicted on the proposal, but was not convinced that a Wal-Mart was the answer.

"You have to be careful about old stereotypes," said Stephen Ifshin, chairman of DLC Management Corp., which is developing the mall property. "Some people will lose. Most people will win."

He said a Wal-Mart on U.S. 40 would bring traffic and encourage consumers to shop elsewhere along the Golden Mile.

Wal-Mart representatives said the store would mean 300 jobs. They said adding a third location in Frederick would not be too much for the community.

The retailer "has been looking for an opportunity to bring new options for jobs and affordable food to communities along the Golden Mile," Wal-Mart wrote in a statement.

There have been mixed feelings from those who live and work near the mall.

Dave Evans, a member of the Golden Mile Alliance, said he was pleased with what he saw from the developer. Nobody he has talked to has said residential development is needed there, Evans said.

"Right now, we've gone a couple of years with nothing in that area," Evans said. "It's an eyesore. ... I love the plan. I think it's great."

Belinda Morton, who is a member of several citizens groups, was not convinced. Wal-Mart is not the answer, she said. Smaller shops and cafes combined with homes are the vision for Frederick, she said.

"This is still a big-box store and a big parking lot," Morton said. "Some people like to live where they work, eat, play and have fun."