Carytown business community thinks outside the box

Some Carytown merchants and nearby residents who oppose a Baltimore developer’s plan to turn a mid-century Verizon office building into a more than 41,000-square-foot retail property have started a campaigned called “Don’t Big Box Carytown.”

This story first appeared on, Richmond’s leading source for business news.

(From Al Harris)

Every protest needs a slogan.

Some Carytown merchants and nearby residents who oppose a Baltimore developer’s plan to turn a mid-century Verizon office building into a more than 41,000-square-foot retail property have started a campaigned called “Don’t Big Box Carytown.”

Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market is spearheading the effort. The food store’s website currently displays a large colorful banner bearing the slogan.

“It is a big deal,” said Paige Bishop, Ellwood’s new marketing manager. “Merchants in Carytown and residents that live in the neighborhood have let us know they are not thrilled about what’s going on.”

Rumors have been rampant that a grocer might be moving in.

“Pretty much anyone would agree that having four grocery stores within a block and half is a little bit of overkill and over saturation of that market,” Bishop said.

A new grocery store at that site would compete with Ellwood’s, Kroger and Martin’s.

As part of the campaign, Bishop said the group created a petition to send to city council opposing the special use permit needed to allow retail use of the property. The petition also states that the SUP “violates the City’s Master Plan, and would encroach unduly on the Museum District and diminish the unique charm of Carytown.”

So far Bishop said the group has more than 370 signatures. A Facebook page, Save Carytown, has also been launched as a place for people to go for information.

Bob Broomfield, president of the Carytown Merchant’s Association and owner of the Play N Trade video game shop, said that the CMA has not come down on either side of the issue yet but that he has many concerns about the proposal.

“We think there are a lot of things being glossed over,” Broomfield said.

One of those is exactly what retailer the developer, Maryland Financial Realty, plans to bring in. At a recent meeting of merchants, residents and the developer, Broomfield said that the developers would not go into specifics as to what retailer would occupy the space.

“They won’t say if they have one, their focus is getting the [special use permit]. Once they get that they can bring in anybody they want,” Broomfield said.

Broomfield said the CMA will meet soon with the Museum District Association with the objective of forming an official, united position. Broomfield said some CMA members have said that they support the plan and welcome more retail to the area, while others are strongly opposed. Still others, such as Broomfield, are undecided.

“There are a lot of things still to find out, and I don’t want to make any assumptions. We are not reticent to get involved – we just want to be sure when we get involved we have the right information,” Broomfield said.

Andy Condlin, an attorney with Williams Mullen who is representing the developers, said that potential tenants will not commit to the project until the SUP is approved.

“We do not have a specific user in place at this time,” Condlin said.

In fact, he said that he expects more than one user for the property.

“The intended use is for a mixed-use building that would include retail, office, and maybe medical office,” Condlin said. “The building is 40,000 square feet; we don’t think any single user is going to take all that space.”

Condlin said even if they land a major national retailer, it would not be incompatible with the neighborhood, which includes such chains as Kroger and CVS. He also said they have received some support from merchants and residents who stated at the meeting that additional retail could only help bring more business to everyone in Carytown.

As for a grocery store going into the space, Condlin said there has been some interest but no commitments.

Condlin said that the developers are currently revising the SUP to address 14 revisions that were requested by the city department of Planning and Development Review.

Among the requests is for a traffic analysis to determine how the new uses will affect congestion on the surrounding streets. The planning department also requested more detail as to walls, fencing and other architectural considerations. City planners wanted the developer to provide more on-site parking.

The final recommendation was for the developers to “further reduce the number of commercial uses to those users that are guaranteed to occupy the space.” That means the revised SUP may shed more light on whether the developers are targeting a grocery store or not.

Bruce Tyler, the 1st District city councilman, said he has heard concerns from residents in the area but is waiting for the final planning department report before he takes a position.

“I want to take a look at the whole report,” Tyler said. “The Special Use Permit is very clear: There are five things they have to do to be successful, and that is the criteria I will use for the final consideration,” Tyler said.

Those criteria as outlined in city planning documents are that the proposed use will not be detrimental to public safety, a generator of traffic congestion, a fire hazard, a cause of overcrowding or a strain on public services.

A vote on the SUP has not been scheduled yet.

Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to

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