The Chicken's Fine; It's The Gas Pumps That Are The Problem

May 31, 2013

  In the middle of an up and coming neighborhood that has seen the rise of a quaint tavern, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a small batch coffee roaster, local activists are fighting the development of what they call a truck stop in their neighborhood.  Many residents in Northeast Baltimore say the last thing they need is a twelve pump, 24/7 Royal Farms at one of the most accident prone spots on Harford Road.  

Sheila Ebelein, president of the GlenHam - BelHar Community Association, says her members recognize that the lot is zoned for a convenience store, but they are worried about the traffic the gas station will generate.

“We want to stop the gas pumps from going in.” 

She cites a study from The Institute of Transportation Engineers that says the gas pumps will bring hundreds, maybe thousands more cars, through what is already a very dangerous and confusing junction.  

But Robert Curran, who represents this area on the City Council, says the residents are over-reacting. “If twelve gas pumps are going to be the downfall on Harford Road – well, I think that’s a little extreme,” he told WYPR. Ebelein and others say Curran, who has held the third district seat for 17 years, is failing his constituents in this fight.  They say he sided Royal Farms at a Baltimore City Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, (BMZA) hearing after having previously committed his support to the community association. The board approved the gas pumps last month and the community group is raising money for an appeal to Circuit Court.  

Recently, Ebelein and other community residents gathered to protest the development and to voice their outrage at Curran’s action. They were a few blocks away from the site in question, on the sidewalk of an existing Royal Farms.

Members of the Hamilton neighborhood protesting outside of the Royal Farms on Harford Road at Echo dale Avenue in Baltimore. They are protesting a larger Royal Farms store with 12 gas pumps a few blocks north of where this protest was held Saturday.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR
In addition to the worries about traffic, residents say there already is a multi-pump gas station just a few blocks down Harford Road at Northern Parkway, a major intersection equipped to handle the traffic. And there’s a 24-hour 7-11 just a few yards away.  While residents have gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition opposing the development, Councilman Curran says he’s proud of Harford Road. He concedes that this development doesn’t quite fit into his vision for the main thoroughfare in his district, but, he said: “I have to look at the bigger picture – I had to think about the vacancy on Harford Road. Is it the best thing for Harford Road? No. Is it the worst? No.”  He says he supports fewer pumps, too. And he acknowledges the traffic problem.  At the moment, he’s satisfied with what he’s been able to do about that – acquire $500,000 in city funds to realign the traffic pattern.  

But community members say they don’t want to use $500,000 of taxpayer’s money to accommodate a 12-pump gas station they don’t want or need; and that the planned realignment is as unsafe as the current situation.

Ebelein says the battle isn’t just about a gas station, but about a councilman siding with a corporate giant against his constituents.   She says folks might hear this story and think, “That’s terrible, but then again Royal Farms has such good chicken. “I say, put yourself in our shoes – get steamrolled like this and tell me if you think you would like to experience this. We feel like we have not been listened to.”

The Baltimore Brew has been covering this issue.

The GlenHam BelHar Community Association was on WEAA's "The Marc Steiner Show" talking about this issue.  Councilman Curran was on the show last year.