The owners of the Middle River Depot are going toe-to-toe with developers David Cordish and David S. Brown Enterprises over an attempt to force two rezoning decisions to referendum.
The media campaign highlights an already unusual attempt by two area developers to force zoning bills affecting Owings Mills and Middle River to the 2014 ballot—something that has never been done before in Baltimore County.
The ads called the signature collectors "hired guns who will do almost anything to get your name, address, social security number and signature."
The ad goes on to say "powerful developers" want to stop the redevelopment of the Middle River Depot and Solo Cup properties "just because they don't want competition."
David S. Brown Enterprises and The Cordish Companies are seeking to overturn zoning bills approved in August by the County Council through its Committee for Zoning Integrity. The group is also looking to collect signatures on petitions at area shopping centers.
Solo Cup, which is being redeveloped by Greenberg Gibbons under the name Foundry Row, would include a Wegman's grocery store. David S. Brown Enterprises, the developer of nearby Metro Centre at Owings Mills, opposes the Foundry Row project.
Cordish is the owner of the Carroll Island Shopping Center, which is near the proposed Middle River Station project.
Sal Smeke, a managing member for the New York-based Middle River Station LLC, said Friday that his partners are trying to present the public with their side of the story.
"We're not fighters," Smeke said. "We're very surprised that developers are against this project. Maybe they're doing it to save their old malls."
Smeke said the plan is to build a complex that includes a mix of retail, residential, and sports and entertainment that he said will bring 5,000 jobs to the Essex-Middle River area.
Smeke hinted that the group might run other ads, possibly on television and in print, in the next few weeks but declined to discuss specifics.
Cordish didn't respond to a request for an interview but in emails to a reporter in July, the developer said the Middle River Station project would hurt business at his shopping center and lead to the relocation of Walmart—his anchor tenant.
"How does it help the public, the County, or the residents to move a Walmart a few hundred yards, and close an existing shopping center, turning the existing center into a cancer in the community?" Cordish wrote, adding that "if [Middle River] Depot gets rezoned Walmart will close in Carroll Island and relocate. Carroll Island will be entirely vacant without Walmart anchor and the center will be a cancer in the area. That is why there is so much opposition from residents and civic groups. If there is no rezoning Walmart will be in Carroll Island for years to come. It is very successful store."
Brown and Cordish have until Oct. 15 to collect 28,826 verified signatures of baltimore County voters. They can extend the deadline by an additional 30 days if they turn in about one-third of the total required amount—9,513 verified signatures of registered voters.
The Board of Elections usually recommends that petitioners collect twice the required signatures in order to overcome typical rejection rates.