Denying a request from the developer of the Frederick Towne Mall, the Frederick Planning Commission has left unchanged the zoning for the linchpin to the long-awaited revitalization of the Golden Mile.
The current mixed-use zoning designation requires the development of both commercial and residential use, and prohibits the building of warehouse stores and super centers.
The mall sits at the far end of the Golden Mile, which stretches along U.S. Route 40 between U.S. 15 and Interstate 70 and is one of the first places visitors encounter when entering the stretch from I-70.
The mayor and Frederick Board of Aldermen have final approval of any zoning change, but consider recommendations from the commission.
David Severn, a lawyer who represents the developer, DLC Management Corp., had urged the commission to change the zoning to general commercial, which has fewer restrictions.
“It’s what it’s been historically,” Severn said the developer told him. “It’s what it’s surrounded by, and it’s the only zoning that represents an appropriate zone in this market to allow it to undergo much needed redevelopment.”
Severn did not divulge to the commission what store or stores might be able to move in if general commercial zoning were granted.
Three of the four members of the planning commission, as well as alternate member William Ryan, voiced their support for retaining the mixed-use zoning.
Commission member Josh Bokee said the research presented to the panel indicated that a mixed-use development would provide a better opportunity for the city.
“Mixed uses offer the best opportunity on stimulating investment through the Golden Mile,” he said. “It offers the greatest economic value for residents of the city. If residential is not possible today, it seems more of a phasing issue and not a zoning issue.”
Commission member Richard Stup was the only member to voice support for allowing the zoning change, citing a need for a catalyst at the mall. He said he agreed with some of his colleagues’ ideas, but wanted to see development at the mall sooner.
The five aldermen approved the Golden Mile Small Area Plan in January, which includes guidelines for developing the Golden Mile.
The area has been a frequent source of complaints from residents for years as stores have closed, leaving vacancies in some of the shopping centers.
Residents have also complained about safety in the area, and asked for it to be revitalized. The mall, which occupies a large section of the Golden Mile corridor, currently has just two stores inside its building.
“The condition of the property is an embarrassment to the city,” Stup said. “The only way that’s going to change, and the only way the implementation [of the Golden Mile Small Area Plan] is for things to start happening.”
Three residents spoke in favor of not changing the zoning, fearing a big-box store would take the mall’s place.
Sharon Glaser, who lives in the area, said she and other residents don’t want to see a Walmart replacing the mall.
“Do we need another big-box store like a Walmart?” Glaser said. “We already have two Walmarts within six miles of each other. Building another Walmart would probably affect the mom-and-pop businesses we already have here.”
The mayor and aldermen will discuss the zoning change at a future public hearing, a date for which has not yet been set.