Wal-Mart wants to tell its side of story in the battle over the company’s plans to build a Supercenter in Bel Air and close an older store in Abingdon. In a Friday afternoon email from the company’s public relations firm, The Dagger was offered an opportunity to ask questions in a meeting with Wal-Mart’s director of media and community relations, who will be in town next week. According to the email, the meeting is intended to give Dagger readers Wal-Mart’s point of view on the move – a move that has sparked fierce opposition from area residents.
The Dagger accepted Wal-Mart’s invitation to meet on Tuesday, and in keeping with our commitment to community journalism, we now offer a related invitation to our readers. If you have questions for Wal-Mart, please pose them in the comment section below. Where possible, we will seek answers to your questions, along with answers to questions of our own.
The uproar over Wal-Mart is focused on the Bel Air Supercenter, proposed to include an automotive center, pharmacy with drive-thru, groceries (with a separate market entrance) and garden center. The new store would be located south of Plumtree Rd. with a main entrance off of Route 924, and could be open 24 hours a day. Traffic to and from the store could hit 10,000 trips per day, according to a company representative who spoke at a community input meeting held in July.
Wal-Mart has solicited support for the Bel Air store through phone calls, surveys and mailers. Offering 100 new jobs, additional tax revenue, and energy-saving initiatives in the new building, the Wal-Mart mailer to area residents cited a study finding that Wal-Mart saves the average household more than $3,100 per year.
Opposing the new store, residents have picketed and spoken out at public meetings, citing traffic, public safety and other concerns. Yard signs reading “No Bel Air Walmart” pepper the landscape; a mailer opposing the store has been sent to area homes; a coordinating Web site has been formed (nobelairwalmart.com) and protesters have lined Route 924 in recent days, urging passing drivers to honk their horns in a display of solidarity.
The moves are a buildup to a Development Advisory Committee (DAC) meeting Wednesday between Wal-Mart and county and state officials. DAC meetings are held by the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning to review development proposals and to ensure compliance with development regulations. County zoning does allow for a Supercenter or similar store at the proposed Bel Air location.
The DAC meeting on the proposed Bel Air Wal-Mart Supercenter will be held on October 17th at 9 a.m. at 212 S. Bond Street, Bel Air, in the County Council Chambers. DAC meetings are open to the public and a large turnout is expected at the meeting Wednesday. According to a planning and zoning official, public comments at DAC meetings are generally solicited after the developer’s plans have been presented and DAC members have had the opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Public comments should pertain to the plan presented.
In the meantime, the minutes of a closed door meeting held last week between Wal-Mart and the Abingdon Community Council have been released and appear below. The meeting notes offer the most detailed explanation to date for the company’s plans to build in Bel Air, rather than expand at its Abingdon location, as area residents and elected officials have urged:
“Ms. Albert [Wal-Mart director of community affairs] explained the conditions for expanding at the current location are not viable for several reasons:
1. The parking lot slopes so no expansion can occur to the front.
2. A viable business is located to the rear of the property
3. To expand to the west side would reduce the number of required parking spaces
4. Expansion to the side would also interfere with a storm water management buffer
Ms. Albert stated that Wal-Mart would not close a store for remodeling because jobs would be lost. She further explained that no store is closed and relocated without a very thorough thought process.”
Below are the full meeting minutes released by the administration of Harford County Executive David Craig: