Ahead of a much anticipated match-up next week that both sides were girding for, the Zoning Board hearing on a proposed Royal Farms store and gas station in northeast Baltimore has been postponed.
Residents got word today that a lawyer for the convenience store chain asked for the postponement because a sign advertising the time and place of the December 5 hearing was never posted on the property, at 5901-21 Harford Road.
A new hearing date has been set for next year: February 6.
Opponents of the plan, an alliance of neighborhood groups that has been fighting the project for more than a decade, call it a delaying tactic engineered by the company.
“I’m outraged,” Westfield Neighborhood Improvement Association leader Angela Jancius said on social media.
She and other members of NoRofo Hamilton had been cranking up their efforts – organizing a letter-writing and petition campaign and arranging transportation to get witnesses to next week’s hearing.
Convincing community members to set aside time in the middle of the day – an all-day hearing had been scheduled, starting at 10 a.m. – was no easy task, said Jancius, who blamed Two Farms Inc., Royal Farms’ corporate owner, for the delay.
“Has the balance of money and power become so out-of-kilter that an A-team of corporate lawyers can just drag the community through the mud for decades, if that’s what it takes?” Jancius wrote.
Meanwhile, one of the proponents of the plan – Andy Pierre, a public relations consultant hired by Royal Farms – pointed the finger at the city.
“It’s because the city failed to post the required notice signage on the property informing the community about the hearing,” Pierre wrote.
“Manipulating the process”
Rebecca Witt, executive director of the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA), sent a letter to the nearly 100 parties in the case, apologizing for “a mix-up” that resulted in the sign not being posted and the need to reschedule.
Appellants are normally asked to post these signs after receiving information from the BMZA about what information should be included.
When a meeting is rescheduled, the staff assume the appellant will update the sign with the new date and time.
In this case, though, the property was last posted to allow the board to rule on a procedural matter. Not realizing that, a staffer assumed the December 5 date was for a rescheduled hearing, and that Royal Farms would simply update and post the signs.
Residents point out that the company was well aware of the date of the upcoming hearing and whether signs had been posted.
“It’s nothing more than a delaying tactic on the part of the appellant to allow more time to spread its propaganda” – Jody Landers.
In an email to Witt, opponent Jody Landers said the last-minute protest over the absence of notice signs “is nothing more than a delaying tactic on the part of the appellant to allow more time to recruit proponents and spread its propaganda.”
Landers, a Lauraville resident and former member of the City Council, included photos to drive home his point.
“Royal Farms has had ten 4‘×6‘ signs posted on the property for weeks now advocating for the gas station, including one that has the date of the BMZA hearing,” he wrote.
“I doubt that any reasonable person could make an argument about there not being sufficient notice of this zoning appeal and the December 5th hearing date, even without the prescribed signs being posted,” Landers wrote.
John Murphy, an attorney representing the opponents, said they agreed to a new date fearing to do otherwise would offer grounds for appeal.
“It is absolutely despicable that Royal Farms is able to manipulate the appeal process in this way and inconvenience so many people,” Landers said.
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