Some donned the same clothes they’d worn back in 2012. Others carried the same signs they’d brandished more than a decade ago.
Several protesters, now teenagers or college students, were little kids when they attended that first big demonstration against a planned Royal Farms convenience store and 12-pump gas station in their northeast Baltimore neighborhood.
They were near the project site on Harford Road again on Sunday – fists raised chanting the same chants as before – because the proposal for what they refer to as “The Mega-Royal Farms” is still alive.
“No Royal Farms!” they shouted.
“RoFo go away! Wealth over health!” one sign said.
Passersby honked their horns in support, prompting whoops and cheers from the group of 25 demonstrators.
“We’re getting a hella good reaction!” crowed one of them, Monique Smith, a homeowner who has lived in the Westfield neighborhood for 30 years.
Jobs and Fried Chicken?
The rally was organized ahead of a December 5 hearing scheduled before the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA), which has twice before approved the project.
Residents, who object to a 24-hour gas station across the street from a library branch and near a school, have been assisted in their fight by their counsel, veteran land-use attorney John C. Murphy.
Royal Farms has fired back with high-profile lawyers and lobbyists, who have described the gas station/convenience store as a job producer and disputed opponents’ contention it would be a traffic hazard.
In 2018, the residents scored a win when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals sent the case back to Zoning Board, saying the panel had misread the law when it approved “conditional use” zoning that the project needed to move forward.
Now, after a few more twists and turns, the proposal is back before a BMZA with an entirely new set of board members.
Organizers say the community plans to again argue that the store would constitute a traffic hazard at the unusual five-way intersection.
They will also contend that it does not conform with a new zoning designation and conflicts with changes to the intersection underway as part of a Complete Streets overhaul.
“Dangerous to begin with”
The group on Sunday included many of the veterans of the NoRoFo battle, including longtime Westfield Neighborhood Improvement Association leader Angela Jancius.
Three girls who had posed for a protest picture in 2012, posed again for this latest action: 15-year-old Ruby Sturm, 16-year-old Genevieve Kugler and 15-year-old Julianne Kugler.
But there were newcomers, as well – people who had moved recently to the neighborhood and were just finding out what was planned for the unsightly vacant lot at 5901-21 Harford Road.
“Come here, Angela, we have somebody new who wants to testify at the hearing,” someone called out to Jancius, who says 70 people came to a community meeting about the project earlier this year.
Among those joining the roadside hubbub was Shahmet Gordon, who moved to the Hamilton area a year ago and heard about the controversy on the Nextdoor website.
“I just bought a house right over there on Glenmore Avenue,” Gordon said. “It’s a dangerous intersection to begin with, and for them to do this to it is ridiculous!”
Asked by Jancius if she would like a “No Rofo Hamilton” sign to hold, Gordon answered, “Oh yes!”
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