Improvements Slow To Come For Pines Plaza After Last Year’s Purchase

Improvements Slow To Come For Pines Plaza After Last Year’s Purchase

BERLIN – Nearly a year after the $2.4 million sale of Pines Plaza to a Pikesville-based company, little has changed at the dilapidated shopping center.

In spite of promises to revamp the aging strip mall and fill its many vacant storefronts, the handful of merchants still leasing space in Pines Plaza say they’ve seen no improvements since America’s Realty took over.

“I’ve got brick crumbling out front,” said Tanya Knott, one of the owners of Whisker’s Bar and Grill. “Lights are out. They’ve done the bare minimum — trash once a week and the grounds.”

In March 2014, America’s Realty purchased Pines Plaza for $2.4 million. Company officials, who did not return calls for comment this week, said at that time that improvements to the facility would begin within 30 days.

Knott said she was hopeful when she learned of the sale, since Pines Plaza had been deteriorating since construction of the nearby Pennington Commons shopping center, but that no changes had been forthcoming.

She was even more discouraged last fall when county officials informed merchants their water was about to be cut off because of unpaid fees by the property owner. Although the matter was resolved before that happened, Knott said it was a frustrating experience.

“We pay top dollar for rent here,” she said.

At this week’s meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners, officials indicated they were going to make a strong effort to collect the rest of the money owed by the property owner for EDUs (Equivalent Dwelling Units). County staff reported that the company had asked to reduce Pines Plaza’s EDU allocation from 64 to 25. Commissioners approved the decrease but instructed staff to inform the company that if the $132,500 cost of those EDUs was not paid a lien would be put on the property.

Bob Mitchell, the county’s environmental programs director, said he wasn’t sure why the fee hadn’t yet been paid.

“We anticipated that they’d be a savior for the area,” he said. “They certainly have deep pockets.”

Commissioners agreed they needed to be firm in requesting payment of the fees.

“They could drag this on quite a while,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

Commissioner Ted Elder said he thought threatening a lien was a better idea than cutting off the facility’s water.

“That way it has less effect on the tenants that are paying their bills,” he said.

Knott says she has appreciated the understanding county staff have shown tenants at Pines Plaza during the past year. Nevertheless, years of trying to run a business in a shopping center on its last legs have taken their toll. Whisker’s is now for sale.

“We finally put it on the market …,” Knott said. “It’s a shame because it’s a great location.”