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NOW YOU KNOW: Mall Madness or Genius?

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The following is an op-ed piece from Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki.

As delegates representing District 7A in Annapolis, many of our constituents live in the Perry Hall and Nottingham region. The recent redistricting during the 2022 election has expanded our district further into the Nottingham, Perry Hall, and White Marsh areas. As a united team, we are working together to tackle many issues facing our constituents across Baltimore County every day.

Countless constituents continue to express serious concerns about the continued and proposed development in the White Marsh, Perry Hall, Middle River, and surrounding areas. As you know, most of our schools are overcrowded and have trailers. The schools under construction are at capacity even before the doors open. The hospitals are overloaded, and the emergency rooms are facing some of the longest wait times in the nation. The roads have many failing intersections and cannot handle additional traffic and be safe. Our wastewater treatment plant is failing and should not be burdened with even more sewage until the systemic problems and capacity issues are solved. The Baltimore County police force is short more than two hundred officers and our first responders are also stressed. We share your concerns!

An overarching concern is the proposal to tear down part of the White Marsh Mall and build 500+ apartments. Councilman David Marks has created a task force to develop a vision for the future of the White Marsh Town Center. This committee blends together residents, community leaders, planners, and business owners. While the task force is meeting to submit a plan to Councilman Marks’ office, we encourage you to complete this online survey that will be reviewed directly by the committee. Some sample questions from the survey include:

  • What do you see as the biggest problems facing the White Marsh Mall at the moment?
  • What would you like to see at the White Marsh Mall in the future?
  • What need or service is lacking in the White Marsh Mall area that should be addressed in this study?

A meeting open to the public in November 2022 brought out many residents who expressed their concern that Baltimore County is not doing enough to collaborate with the community. Baltimore County Executive, Johnny Olszewski, Jr., has shown an express desire to support the revitalization of Security Square Mall and we are asking for similar consideration to be made for White Marsh. Security Square Mall received $20 million in state and county funding including a commitment by Johnny Olszewski’s administration to buy the former Sears building. The largely-vacant mall in West Baltimore looks far too similar to our once-bustling mall in White Marsh. We sent a letter to the County Executive and County Council Chairman asking for an Adequate Public Facilities Study to be conducted not just in White Marsh, but across the county. It is imperative that more research be done before a possible four-story building of 500+ apartment units is built in the former White Marsh Mall Sears location with up to 1,500 residents.

The Sears storefront at White Marsh Mall has been closed since 2020. This represents an epidemic taking place across the country and there is uncertainty of the future of the mall designs from forty plus years ago. Sadly in the same year Sears had closed at the White Marsh Mall, they almost defaulted on its $110 million mortgage due to closings from the pandemic. The next year, in 2021, White Marsh Mall’s property value was reappraised to $124 million, dropping from a 2013 appraisal of $300 million, according to a report from the Baltimore Business Journal. We recognize that many malls are struggling across the country and before taking any steps, we want a strategic plan to be put into motion.

The Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO)we are advocating for will take into account factors like the current emergency room wait times in our local hospitals. Maryland is ranked 50 out of 50 for ER wait times! We also know that just down the street from the mall are two new housing projects. New housing projects include an apartment complex behind the White Marsh Library that offers 300+ units and over 800 houses being built between Perry Hall Boulevard and Honeygo Boulevard. The APFO will determine if the community can sustain another apartment complex when roads are failing and schools still have trailers to sustain overcrowding? Also, the wastewater treatment plant at Back River cannot possibly handle additional sewage at this time. As legislators, we are not opposed to development as a blanket statement but the White Marsh/Perry Hall area has exploded over the last 20 years and the infrastructure needed to support a good quality of life must be taken into account.

In an already overcrowded school district, children in these apartments would be designated to attend Rossville Elementary, Parkville Middle, and Overlea High School. This area’s infrastructure cannot sustain more traffic. Everyone knows if I-95 is shut down, that Philadelphia Road, Route 40, and Belair Road already cannot handle the overflow traffic. The proposed development at the mall will not be required to provide any community benefit to their project like greenspace. It is obvious that an informed plan is needed before development takes place! We are urging the County Executive and County Council Chairman to take up the APFO immediately and allow public hearings and input as any projects move ahead.

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