In a closed door meeting brokered by the administration of Harford County Executive David Craig, executives of Wal-Mart met Monday with the Abingdon Community Council to discuss the company’s plans to build a Supercenter in Bel Air. Plans for the store have sparked fierce opposition from area residents.
Craig’s chief of staff, Aaron Tomarchio, said prior to the Monday meeting that it was closed to the public by both Wal-Mart and the county administration in the hopes of having a “constructive dialogue” between the community council and the company, after Wal-Mart officials were shouted down at a public input meeting on the proposed development held in July.
“It took a lot to get [Wal-Mart] to the table,” Tomarchio said, describing Wal-Mart officials as being “horrified” at the tone of the public input meeting, where residents objected to the traffic and other effects from the mega- store. Tomarchio said the company agreed to the meeting because they were asked to do so by the Craig administration and because they were “taken aback by the ferocity of the opposition.”
The Bel Air South Community Foundation, a community group formed to oppose the Bel Air Wal-Mart, learned about the closed door meeting hours before it was to take place and called for a protest outside the county offices where the meeting was to be held. The group posted a Facebook message on Monday afternoon decrying the lack of transparency and blaming Craig for excluding Bel Air residents:
“Let our elected County Executive, who has refused to have a public meeting on this subject with his constituents, the folks who live here and HE is responsible too , that ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and it is time to hold him accountable for not stepping up to the plate and at least signing the petition opposing the WalMart, or even inviting anyone from Bel Air to be a part of this meeting. This is why, more then ever, a Bel Air Community Council is necessary! ….Please come out and let them know this lack of transparency and openness is suspect at best, sinister at worst!”
Abingdon resident Steve Tobia questioned why groups such as the Bel Air South Community Foundation were not given a seat at the table. Tobia, a volunteer with the group, expressed concern that the meeting would not be about stopping Wal-Mart, but would instead focus on concessions the company might make as they move forward with the new store. Asking why the meeting was limited to the Abingdon Community Council, Tobia said, “Who is representing the people?”
Community council members are appointed in Harford County by the county executive to act as a liaison between the administration and the community; council members must live in the area they represent. The Abingdon Community Council serves an area south of Bel Air that encompasses the proposed store site.
Tomarchio said that Monday’s gathering was the first time the county set up a meeting between a community council and a developer, and that the council was intended to represent the “voice of the people”. He said the council had been gathering input from area residents and that groups such as the Bel Air South Community Foundation could channel their input through the community council.
Asked Monday whether the Abingdon Community Council had gathered community input for the meeting planned for later in the day, Chairperson Cynthia Hergenhahn said she was not at liberty to speak about the meeting and declined to comment further.
Wal-Mart plans to close its Abingdon store and build a Supercenter in Bel Air on an undeveloped parcel south of Plumtree Road along MD Route 924. The store would include an automotive center, pharmacy with drive-thru, groceries (with a separate market entrance), garden center, and screening in back for building services. The new store could be open 24 hours a day, with traffic ranging up to 10,000 trips per day, according to company officials.
Although county zoning allows for a Wal-Mart at the Bel Air site, County Executive David Craig met earlier this year with company officials to persuade them to expand at their Abingdon location rather than open in Bel Air. Tomarchio noted that the company had a right to make the move, and although there were still hurdles in the development process, he said that talks with Craig did not alter the company’s plans.
In an effort to thwart the Bel Air store, the Harford County Council last week approved a resolution calling for the State Highway Administration to deny Wal-Mart access from Rte. 924, the proposed main entrance to the store, “due to the unsafe conditions it would create for the surrounding community.” Tomarchio said that while the move was an act of support by the county council, it would have little effect on the SHA, which will review the project “by the book.”
Prior to the meeting Monday, Tomarchio said that he expected the meeting between Wal-Mart and the Abingdon Community Council to focus on three topics: why Wal-Mart can’t expand at its Abingdon location instead of moving to Bel Air; expressions that the company is not wanted in the Bel Air community; and if the Bel Air store moves forward, what the community does and does not want it to entail. Tomarchio said that notes from the meeting would be taken by the county and made available for publication.
Abingdon Community Council member Carlin Cook attended the meeting and said that he and his fellow council members repeatedly told Wal-Mart that the community did not want the company to move from Abingdon to Bel Air. Wal-Mart officials were surprised by the community opposition and appeared to want input on the Bel Air store, Cook said, but they seemed resolute about the move from Abingdon. Company officials told council members that their business plans called for expansion and expansion at the Abingdon site was “not cost effective,” Cook said.
A list of concerns gathered by the Abingdon Community Council was also provided to Wal-Mart at the meeting. Cook said the list was provided in the event that county and state officials allowed the Bel Air store to proceed. Among the concerns listed were traffic, safety, store lighting, and environmental concerns. The community council also asked that store hours be limited; that the sale of guns and ammunition be banned; and that campers and squatters not be allowed overnight. Security cameras were requested to be on at all times.
As for the Abingdon store, the community council asked the company to provide upkeep of the vacant property and find a viable retail use within three years or convey the property to the county.
Cook said that company officials listened and said they would look into some of the proposals. Additional meetings are planned between the community council and the company, Cook said, following a Development Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for Oct. 17.
Below is the full report provided to Wal-Mart officials by the Abingdon Community Council:
ABINGDON COMMUNITY COUNCIL
PROPOSED WALMART AGREEMENT
The Abingdon Community strongly prefers that Walmart remain in its current location.
Possible ways to expand at the current location include:
• Build a multiple level parking garage.
• Buy the storage facility next door and use it to expand the current store.
• Put the garden department on the roof, as part of a green roof to reduce the foot print of the store.
Whether Walmart rebuilds at the current Abingdon location or builds at the new location, the community’s priorities are the same and will be listed in a Good Neighbor Agreement.
Good Neighbor Agreements
Good Neighbor Agreements are instruments that provide a vehicle for community organizations and a corporation to recognize and formalize their roles within a locality. The purpose of these agreements is to foster sustainable development in a community by reconciling economic development with the community’s welfare, including the health of its environment and its individual members. Since the first such agreement was signed in 1978 in Worcester, Massachusetts, several agreements have been signed in the U.S.
All of the issues included are considered vital commitments to meeting the needs of local residents and important for any large retailer interested in being a partner in the success of our community. We believe that the only way to truly commit to those priorities is with a legally binding agreement with the community.
The Abingdon Community seeks the following, in good faith, from Walmart.
1. No tax incentives Often the county lets a new business have tax breaks for 10-15 years. This should not qualify as a “new” business in Harford County and full taxes should be paid.
2. Surrounding infrastructure
Walmart, the Community, Harford County and the State of Maryland will agree, in advance, on all infrastructure additions and improvements needed at the Route 924 site.
Walmart will fund the initial cost of all infrastructure additions and improvements. Walmart will fund maintenance of this infrastructure for five years after the rebuilt or new store open. The community’s primary infrastructure concerns include:
a. Limit the increase in traffic volume on Route 924. Consider eliminating the auto center or drive up pharmacy to reduce traffic volume
b. Only allow right turns into Walmart from 924 and out of Walmart onto 924. No left turns from 924 into Walmart or onto 924 when leaving Walmart.
c. Install breakaway traffic signals in all directions to facilitate Fire and Police response in case of emergency.
d. Erect pedestrian bridges over both Routes 924 and 24 to accommodate pedestrian traffic of school children, customers and neighborhood residents.
3. Limit environmental damage to the Plumtree Run Watershed and the Atkisson Reservoir
Walmart’s proposed new site sits directly above a section of the Plumtree Run Watershed, which is designated by Harford County as a “sensitive” area. Walmart stores its chemicals and garden products outside, waters plants and cleans its facility, all of which contribute to water runoff from the site, damaging the watershed. Walmart should add an efficient water filtration system to collect all rainwater and drainage from the site. The Plumtree Run watershed already shows evidence of increased sedimentation due to construction activities, stream channel erosion in response to increased storm water runoff, and an overall increase in pollutant loadings due to the conversion from forest and cultivated land to residential and commercial land uses.
Harford County’s Department of Public Works Water Resources Engineering has prepared Watershed Management Plans focused on identifying and correcting water quality problems.
4. Site light, trees and shrubbery Plantings should be of mature trees and shrubs, with a large investment in pleasing aesthetics to encourage a community gathering environment. All lighting should be the most current LED with no overflow light going past the property into the roadway or into the surrounding community.
5. Security The store will have manned surveillance cameras both inside and outside 24/7. Walmart will hire overnight security guards for inside and outside of the store.
a. No sales of any guns or ammunition at this location
b. No camper parking or squatters on property over night
c. Store Hours to be reduced to 7am to 11pm
The Empty Location:
We would like to see the vacant store at the Constant Friendship location converted into viable retail within 3 years or the property deeded to the County for their use.
As long as the property is empty and no development takes place, we expect Walmart to maintain, clean and protect, with 24 hour security, the empty parcel and building
Wording from a Good Neighbor agreement in Washington DC is included below. The Abingdon Community would like these same considerations in their Agreement.
The Washington DC agreement can be found at:
Traffic/Transportation/Infrastructure provisions include:
– Walmart will fund all infrastructure improvements made necessary by its stores based on assessments by the Harford County government for a period of 5 years after store opens
– Walmart will commit to responsible ongoing traffic alleviation studies and measures that promote walkability and increase the quality of life for residents such as pedestrian bridges over 24 and 924
Parking provisions include:
– Walmart will provide secure, accessible bicycle parking for workers and visitors consistent with Harford County’s draft pedestrian and bicycle paths.
Security provisions include:
– Walmart shall employ no less than two security police officers on its premises at all times overnight, stationed in locations determined by input from a community advisory board in the ward where the store is located.
– Walmart shall not sell firearms or ammunition at this location
-Manned surveillance cameras both inside and outside of the store 7×24.
Standard of Living — The enforceable community benefits agreement will include the following provisions designed to prevent the negative wage and employment impact Walmart stores in other locations have been proven to have:
Employment Standard provisions include:
– Walmart will pay every employee wages competitive with nearby retail/grocery and provide affordable health benefits
– Walmart will employ at least 65 percent of the employees on a full-time, 40 hour per week basis.
– Walmart will abide by a code of conduct with regard to its employees’ freedom to choose a voice on the job without interference from their employer.
Local Hiring provisions include:
– Walmart will use first source hiring: at least 75% percent of its employees will be Harford County residents.
Responsible, Local Contracting provisions include:
– Walmart will ensure that the store is constructed with local contractors, materials and manpower.
– Walmart will ensure that it contracts with vendors, advertising agencies, and other service providers (such as janitorial and maintenance service providers) that are locally-based, and that agree to binding “responsible contractor” codes of conduct, to be defined by community stakeholders.
Support for Small Business provisions include:
– Walmart will provide ongoing contributions to a fund managed by a council of community stakeholders that will provide incentives and support to area small businesses with amounts to be determined in consultation with community stakeholders.
– Walmart will provide advertising and business opportunities to Harford County small businesses to be determined in consultation with community stakeholders.
Healthy Communities — The enforceable community benefits agreement will include the following provisions designed to ensure that its stores have a positive impact on surrounding neighborhoods, the city as a whole, and the region:
Environmental provisions include:
– Walmart will use Green Building whenever possible
– Walmart shall match storm water retention standards through use of green infrastructure techniques to help clean up area rivers and creeks. (water filtration system)
– Walmart will abide by architectural standards developed in consultation with community stakeholders including building in conformity with area historical preservation standards, erecting trees/noise barriers between its stores and nearby homes, and funding the development of green spaces and parks nearby.
-Walmart will keep it interior and exterior clean, orderly and free of trash with ongoing maintained
Community Support provisions include:
– Walmart will provide substantial ongoing yearly funding for community funds controlled by community advisory councils.
– These funds will be designated for use by education programs, arts programs, recreation programs, programs for elderly residents, faith-based programs, and other programs to be determined by community stakeholders.
Specific ways to support the Abingdon community include:
Naming of the new Arts Center, to be built ½ mile from your proposed site
Fund an early literacy center in our library system
Funding of the Childhood obesity task force, Healthy Harford, or perhaps initiate a new obesity fighting program
Fund and Maintain Graham Park, again close to your site
Fund our local food pantry
We encourage you to review the attached pictures taken of your recently built Walmart. We would propose a similar feel to your store no matter which location you choose.
The Abingdon Community Council wishes to be a partner from this point on through the construction and the many years of community partnerships we expect from the Walmart Corporation