The panel made some recommendations.
Plans to develop the Frederick Town Mall property were presented to the Frederick Planning Commission on Monday night. The proposal calls for the demolition of the Mall between Boscov's and Home Depot, and the construction of a Walmart store. It would also include some amenities, like a community garden, a wooded hiking path, a foot bridge over Rock Creek connecting the residential areas behind the retail center, and a community center.
"You'll also appreciate the enormous investment that Frederick Town Mall and its contract purchaser are prepared to make in making this plan a reality. And making it a reality in a way that conforms with the Small Area Plan that you've recommended you be the vision for the redevelopment of the Golden Mile," said Attorney David Severein, who represents Rockwood Capital,which owns the Mall.
The enclosed shopping center has been empty with the exception of Boscov's and Home Depot. In 2007, the owners talked about turning it into a retail center with residential units. They had asked for and received a Mixed Use zoning, but that idea didn't advance due to the Great Recession. They are now asking for the former classification of General Commercial.
"We've owned it for more than ten years now. We've made multiple million of dollars doing development plans across the entire country, and this is the best for the market that has stepped forward, and really the only feasible plan that has stepped forward to this date. And we're very confident and very excited about this plan, and so grateful that we have an anchor tenant to really ground us here," said John Curry, with Rockwood Capital.
But there was also strong opposition expressed to allowing Walmart to move in. "No one has asked what subsidies from the state and local government Walmart will seek and generally gets for a facility like this," says Nicholas Bouquet, who lives near the Frederick Town Mall. "It's very possible this facility will be profitable for Walmart without selling one single product, and that will come out of our tax dollars.
Also speaking was Steven Holman, who says he's collected more than 1500 signatures on a petition in opposition to Walmart. He says when a Walmart store opens, 150 jobs on average are lost as nearby retailers are unable to compete. "When I went all along Route 40, I talked to many business owners on there, and there were many who were afraid, their employees too, for their own livelihood," he said.
But one business owner called this plan vital to the health of the Golden Mile. "Customers have told me they'd rather see a Nordstroms or a Lord and Taylor. It ain't happening folks. It's just not happening. They're not there," said Michael Jones, the owner of Chanticleer Shoes, a former tenant at the Frederick Town Mall.
The Planning Commission took no action on the proposal, but made some suggestions. Chairwoman Meta Nash said the plan could use some tweaking. That includes slightly moving the location of the Walmart, shielding the loading dock area from residents behind the property, and installing stream buffers along Rock Creek, which City Engineer Zach Kershner said has suffered degradation. And to address the possibility of crime in the area, Alderwoman Kelly Russell says she will ask Police Chief Tom Ledwell to review the proposal and offer comments. Russell is a retired Frederick Police Officer.
Matt Davis, the Division Manager for the City's Department of Planning, says the Board of Aldermen is expected to hold another workshop on this proposal on June 19th. Elected officials will need to hold two hearings, one on the rezoning and another on the conditions, he said. Those hearings could take place in July.