Councilwoman Almond gets it. Unfortunately, Councilman Jones doesn’t.

For those of you interested in the redevelopment of what used to be the Owings Mills Mall property, there’s a great article we recommend that you read. It’s called “An Uncertain Future.” It’s a highly informative piece that includes some choice quotes from Baltimore County Council Members Julian Jones who represents District 4 where the mall property is located and Vikki Almond who represents adjacent District 2.

Not incidentally, the article was written not by the Baltimore Sun or Baltimore Business Journal, nor was it broadcast by one of the local network news affiliates. It’s the December 30 cover story for the Baltimore Jewish Times whose offices, as it turns out, are in Owings Mills. The BJT is a weekly magazine. Sure, as its title indicates, it’s a publication for the greater area’s numerous Jewish families, but a lot of what it talks about is of interest and, oftentimes of critical importance to everyone. The BJT’s December 30 cover story is one of those times.

This post focuses on quotes published in the BJT cover story by the two relevant Council Members. Here they are, copied (in bold Times Roman) exactly as they appeared in the December 30 article.

We’ll start with Councilman Jones…

“It is extremely important that we get the mall right and that it is complementary of what’s been going on so far,” said Baltimore Councilman Julian Jones, whose 4th District includes the mall. “What I call it is the Triple Crown of Owings Mills – and that third crown, the mall – needs to be complementary of those two developments [Foundry Row and Metro Centre]. We want the mall, or town center, to be something everyone is happy and proud of.”

Does Councilman Jones seriously think his constituents will be “happy and proud of” a unimaginative big box strip center that succeeds only by stealing customers and whole stores from established centers of commerce nearby?

Far from being “complementary” to the local economy, Kimco’s plans for its new Owings Mills Town Center are just the opposite. Councilman Jones’ rhetoric seems designed to placate his constituents, but it’s wishful thinking that makes it very hard to take him seriously.

The legislation he’s talking about in this next quote is Bill 85-16 that Jones introduced on November 21 and that would have prevented a Walmart Supercenter from anchoring Kimco’s Town Center. He subsequently pulled the bill just 8 days later, precluding any discussion or a vote at the next working and legislative sessions.

“To be reasonable with [Kimco], we pulled the legislation,” Jones said. “It doesn’t mean I can’t put in legislation anytime I want, so it was never an issue of now or never. We have plenty of time to do whatever we think is necessary.”

Jones added: “At the time, I thought it was necessary, but there were some internal agreements that were made, which is why the bill was pulled.” He said he could not elaborate on those “internal agreements” because “Kimco is under a confidentiality agreement,” and he “has to be respectful of that.”

In what way was pulling bill 85-16 “reasonable”? Either Kimco is planning to anchor its new Town Center with a Walmart Supercenter – resulting in the closing of the Supercenter in Randallstown’s Liberty Plaza – or it’s not. In fact, Councilman Jones’ comments to the contrary, the only reason to pull the bill was to give Kimco more time to revise its site plans and present a more compelling proposal, including a Walmart Supercenter, that the County will approve with minimum public input.

“Internal agreements”? “Confidentiality agreement” with whom and about what? And why does Councilman Jones care?

– His constituents are adamantly opposed to wasting the redevelopment of the mall property by using a Walmart Supercenter to anchor a big box store strip center.

– People living in the affected neighborhoods don’t want Kimco to do anything that will trash significant sections of commercial activity on Liberty and Reisterstown Roads.

– He had 100% support for Bill 85-16 among his counterparts on the Council and from County Executive Kamenetz.

Against all that, he’s opted to disregard the best interests of voters and local businesses to be polite to one corporate entity, Kimco.

After his most recent meeting with Kimco, Jones said – when looking at other retailers in the area – he “would imagine Kimco is talking with retailers such as Lowes, Target and Costco.” He also confirmed that Kimco officials have had discussions with Walmart about adding one its supercenters as an anchor, but there has yet to be an agreement.

Listen to exactly what Jones is saying. That he’s waiting for Kimco to reach an agreement with Walmart to do something about it then, retrospectively? That a Lowes, Target or Costco are somehow “complementary” with the existing Home Depot, Walmarts and Sam’s Club just a few miles away?

And finally this…

Jones, who said Kimco is in the process of putting together a tenant mix, expects to learn more in the next few months about the New York-based company’s plans for the mall.

“It’s my goal to help [Kimco] be successful, because I want them to be successful.” said Jones, who added that he has conducted 10 to 12 meetings with Kimco officials. “I wish things would have moved faster, but we don’t have all the cards. It’s up to the retailers if they want to come here, which is the other part of this equation.”

So Councilman Jones wants Kimco to be successful. That’s nice, but it shouldn’t be an objective that takes precedence over and above the welfare of the tens of thousands of families he was elected to represent. Maybe some of Kimco’s local management team live in District 4 and will vote to re-elect him so his lack of action and support for Kimco’s process, whatever that is, won’t be a complete waste of his time.

He says Kimco is working on its tenant mix for the Owings Mills Town Center. Okay. If you were a prospective tenant, what’s the first question you’re going to ask? “Who’s the anchor?” So that’s where is Kimco going to start. By signing its anchor first, not with its tenant mix.

And now from Councilwoman Vikki Almond…

Ms. Almond is not only the Council representative for District 2 which shares the local economy on and near its border with Jones’ District 4, she’s also the outgoing County Council President and thought to be running in 2018 to replace Kevin Kamenetz when he terms out as County Executive.

“I have a problem trusting Kimco,” Almond said, “because their intent is on the bottom line. That may be good enough for them, but it is not good enough for us. Because Kimco doesn’t live in the area, they don’t understand that what goes on at the mall will effect all of us.”

Actually, by saying that “they don’t understand” she’s being kind. They get it alright. They just don’t care and, no argument, why should they? Kimco management is responsible to the company’s stockholders, not to the families of the greater communities in which its shopping centers are located. Responsibility for those families is Councilman Jones’ job.

The point is, Council President Almond gets it. Councilman Jones on the other hand got it when he introduced Bill 85-16 which would have prevented a Walmart Supercenter from anchoring Kimco’s mall property. Bill 85-16 would have protected the Liberty Plaza Supercenter just 3.3 miles away in Randallstown as well as the smaller Owings Mills Walmart/Sam’s Club on Reisterstown Road. Unfortunately, for non-specific reasons none of his constituents are buying – under pressure from, who knows, Kimco and/or major campaign contributors? – Councilman Jones pulled his constituent-friendly bill just 8 days later.

He got it and then forgot it just 8 days later. Well, there are at least two prominent, well-funded District 4 residents seriously considering running against him in 2018. Judging from reaction at the town meetings Councilman Jones held last August and the comments and emails we’ve been receiving since then, District 4 voters who supported Councilman Jones last time, in 2014, are sorely disappointed. They may support Councilwoman Almond when she runs for County Executive next year, but they’ll be looking to someone else to represent them on the Council.

By the way, for the record, Baltimore Rising is an independent non-profit organization. We’re not working for or taking contributions from Brixmor, the company that owns Liberty Plaza, or from any other property owners. Nor are the thousands of his constituents who oppose Kimco’s plans working for anyone.

Baltimore Rising’s only objective is to encourage development in the city of Baltimore and its surrounding counties that stimulates economic growth. Development projects should create net new jobs. They shouldn’t succeed at the expense of established commerce and neighborhoods. That’s why we care about what’s happening on Kimco’s mall property.

The old mall property is a great location with the potential to be of huge benefit to the local and regional economies and neighborhoods it serves. Unfortunately, it’s on the verge of being an opportunity lost. What a shame. Councilwoman Almond needs to be applauded for understanding this point. Councilman Jones? Not so much. Introducing Bill 85-16 showed understanding, real compassion for the concerns of his constituents and leadership. Withdrawing the bill just 8 days later took all those positives away from him in the eyes and hearts of the people he was elected to represent.

Councilman Jones, if you’re reading this, please re-introduce the bill. You have everything to gain if you do, and everything to lose, politically speaking, if you don’t. More to the point, it’s the smart and right thing to do.

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