Residents of Lauraville and Hamilton are rallying to oppose the construction of a mega Royal Farms gas station on the corner of Harford and Glenmore Avenues. The area has seen a recent transformation involving the addition of small, locally-owned businesses, which increase property values and walkability, which in turn grows demand to live in the neighborhood.
City Councilman Robert Curran gave little credence to the wishes of the residents, responding that he “take[s] with a grain of salt all the opposition at this time.” Curran has stated that he has friends among Royal Farms’ Operating Engineers and has given them his support, even though his endorsement of the mega gas station conflicts with research conducted in the Royal Oaks community in Michigan that shows that proximity to gas stations brings down property values.
Many residents believe that the addition of a mass commercial enterprise would make the area seem less like an up-and-coming community for homeowners and more like a truck stop. The area where the construction is scheduled to take place is at a busy intersection, and described in the Baltimore Brew as a “24-hour, 5,121 square-foot convenience store with 7 pumps (each with two fueling devices) and 74 parking places.
In addition, the idea of using the lot for a car-focused business goes against all contemporary knowledge about neighborhood revitalization and increasing the desirability to live in an urban environment. The trend for cities to become more pedestrian and environmentally friendly through innovative urban planning is on the rise. Real estate agents in some areas of the country are even including a Walk Score in the descriptions of homes they are trying to sell. Baltimore’s average Walk Score is 64, which suggests we need fewer gas stations and more small businesses like those that have been attracted to the Hamilton area. According to an article by the Urbanite, even suburban areas like Columbia are implementing plans to reduce dependence on cars, promote small businesses, and increase walkability.
Good’s article about walkable neighborhoods reports that “six in 10 people would sacrifice a bigger house to live in a neighborhood that featured a mix of houses, stores, and businesses within an easy walk.” Even Baltimore City has shown an interest in increasing pedestrianism and ground-floor-retail in their redesign of the area around Baltimore and Hopkins Plaza, and in their new zoning code.
Despite the political push for the creation of the gas station, residents are being proactive about stopping construction. Last weekend, 65 residents protested at that intersection, waving signs to express their disapproval. “This area is one of the places that could attract young families – it’s undergoing a bit of a renaissance,” resident Nick McDaniels was quoted as saying in The Brew. He was one of the dozens who expressed the opinion that a mega gas station would interrupt the progress of the neighborhood by bringing down property values and ushering in undesired foot and motor traffic.
The residents of Lauraville and Hamilton will continue to protest against the gas station by gathering support from neighboring communities and educating local homeowners about what is happening in their neighborhoods. An interesting detail is that there are several community associations have had or will have a vote on whether the Royal Farms should go ahead, and they are split: Westfield Improvement Association voted against it unanimously, Lauraville and Hamilton Hills have yet to vote on it, and Glenham-Belhar narrowly approved it, a decision touted by Curran as the reason for his support. A recent podcast on the Marc Steiner Show revealed that Keith Bunner, the treasurer of the Glenham-Belhar Community Association, was once a Royal Farms store manager.