Hundreds of protesters flooded a meeting Wednesday, during which Wal-Mart’s plans to build a new Supercenter in Bel Air were met with concerns from the committee charged with recommending projects for county approval.
Wal-Mart said after the meeting that it would address comments made by the Developement Advisory Committee and work to meet state and local requirements for the new store proposed along Route 924 near Plumtree Road.
DAC Chairman Moe Davenport said that the plans for a 186,000 square foot Supercenter raised issues that he characterized after the meeting as “significant.” They include design, parking, environmental concerns and a traffic study conducted to address the impact on nearby intersections. As such, DAC denied the plans as submitted, Davenport said.
For a project of this size and scope, an initial denial followed by resubmissions is not unusual. However, Davenport said that it was up to Wal-Mart to determine whether it would address the committee’s concerns and submit revised plans for consideration. There was a lot of work to be done, he said, but the timeframe was up to Wal-Mart. “The ball is in Wal-Mart’s court,” Davenport said.
Wal-Mart issued a statement after the meeting indicating it intended to proceed with the new store. The statement also cited community support for the project, despite the protests from citizens at the meeting:
“We were pleased to receive comments on our plans from the Development Advisory Committee today.
We heard from a number of county agencies and state agencies about their requirements for our proposed new store, and we will work to meet those requirements.
The State Highway Administration requested some clarification of specific features included in our traffic plan, and we will provide that information.
Walmart has submitted to the county the signatures of more than 1,400 county residents who support our project. Many others in the community support our plans and their voices will be heard in the days ahead.”
If Wal-Mart resubmits plans as promised, they will be posted on the county Web site. Pete Gutwald, Harford County director of planning and zoning, said that, consistent with normal practice, there would be no further DAC meetings on the Bel Air Wal-Mart.
At the meeting Wednesday, DAC members representing county and state agencies took turns outlining concerns and requirements to be addressed before the company’s plans could be recommended for final approval by the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning.
Representatives from the State Highway Administration (SHA) listed a number of concerns in the existing traffic study and also requested that Wal-Mart provide a revised traffic impact analysis without a planned access to the site from Route 924. The revised study would be used to review the Harford County Council’s request that SHA deny store access from the state road, leaving two other planned entrances – one from Plumtree Road and another from Bel Air South Parkway.
Overall, the Wal-Mart traffic study contained deficiencies that were “significant enough to prevent an adequate review or to draw conclusions from the data,” according to Shane Grimm, Harford County chief of board of appeals and site plan review. He said after the meeting that technical errors and resubmittals were not unusual for such a project, but that, technical issues aside, the current traffic study ”would still fail to adequately address mitigation at the failing intersections identified in the study in accordance with our Adequate Public Facilities (APF) regulations.”
In addition to the traffic study, other parts of the Wal-Mart plan could not be approved as presented, Grimm said. Plans involving forest conservation, outdoor lighting, adequate parking, landscaping and mitigation of impacted wetlands all needed revision or additional details, according to Grimm’s meeting report, which appears below. (Story continues below.)
The DAC meeting was moved from its regular location in the county administration building to the county council chambers in expectation of a large public turnout, and the community did not disappoint. DAC committee members and Wal-Mart representatives were joined by approximately 200 citizens in the council chambers and some 100 more waiting to be let in.
Citizens’ comments extended the meeting to nearly four hours, and all were united in opposing the Bel Air store. Many cited the location near busy roads, residential neighborhoods and students walking to school. The Bel Air store would compound traffic backlogs, cause increased accidents, draw crime, and otherwise diminish the quality of life, speakers said. Others urged the company to expand the Abingdon Wal-Mart, citing millions spent on state road improvements near that store’s access road.
A presentation by the Bel Air South Community Foundation, a citizens’ group opposing the Bel Air store, included information about Wal-Mart stores around the country that were abandoned and for sale, with Supercenters built nearby.
Del. Glen Glass spoke against the Bel Air store, indicating he believed the scheduling of the DAC meeting during the day rather than in the evening was a violation of the public’s right to be present.
A list of recommended conditions to be imposed on the project was presented to DAC by a representative from the office of Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti.
Other speakers quoted Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, who said the company would not go where it was not wanted, while several others called the high density business zoning of the Bel Air site a “mistake.”
That last assertion prompted the attorney for the land-owner to jump into the fray. “There is no mistake in the zoning of this property,” said Robert Lynch, who represents Evergreen Business Trust, which he said was controlled by Haron Dahan. The property is located in the development envelope, Lynch said, and as such was slated for high density development. He said a zoning change from residential to business use was approved by the county council because it would expand the tax base and avoid pressure on schools. Lynch said the council knew a big box store could be developed there under the B3 zoning that was last affirmed in 2009.
A Word From Wal-Mart…Part II
On Tuesday, one day before the DAC meeting, Wal-Mart met with The Dagger to discuss the project. Bill Wertz, Wal-Mart’s community and media relations director for the eastern division, outlined the benefits of the proposed Bel Air store. He also responded to some of the questions posed by The Dagger and our readers, and said that answers to the remaining questions noted below would be forthcoming; no responses were received as of Thursday afternoon.
Regarding the Abingdon site, Wertz said there were no plans to build a Sam’s Club once the store was vacated. He addressed several questions about an Abingdon store expansion as an alternative to the Bel Air store, by saying the company appreciated community input on ways it could be done, but store plans would not fit due to constraints at the site. When asked if the move to Bel Air was motivated by other factors, Wertz didn’t provide a direct response. He said that the Bel Air property with the proper zoning was located once the company decided they needed to move. When asked, how long Wal-Mart had been looking at the Bel Air site and if it was involved when the zoning change was made to high density business, Wertz said he did not know, but would find out.
Clarifying remarks made earlier by Wal-Mart representative Nina Albert at a closed door meeting with the Abingdon Community Council, Wertz said that the company gives back to communities at the state, national and local level. He said that $1 million was available through a Maryland grant program and that store managers also controlled a budget for local giving. Wertz did not know the amount of the local budget, but would find out. He also said that notes made public from Albert’s meeting with the Abingdon Community Council were not entirely accurate regarding the way local funds are allocated, and that he would check for details and respond at a later date. The notes in question were released by the Craig administration, which arranged the meeting.
Wertz said the Bel Air Supercenter would bring consumers a beautiful new store with a greater assortment of merchandise at low prices, including fresh produce and a garden center. Increased tax revenue and 100 new jobs would also come to the county as a result. When asked about the number of full time vs. part time jobs, Wertz was unable to provide a number, but said the majority would be full time. “This is a great project for the community”, he added.
Once approved, the store would take one year to build, Wertz said. Addressing a question about aesthetics, he said that the exterior would not be like the Abingdon store. Wertz said community input was welcome in that regard and the new store would reflect the company’s new branding. Regarding the other lots on the Bel Air site, Wertz said Wal-Mart has no plans to develop them, although the effect of potential development on those lots was included in the company’s traffic study.
Asked about opposition to the Bel Air store from the Harford County Council, Wertz that said the company was aware of their concerns about traffic. Whether or not access denied to the site from Route 924 would stop plans for the store, Wertz could not say if such access was essential. “We have an interest, just as the community does, in having a store accessible in a convenient and safe manner,” Wertz said, adding that the company was prepared to spend money to make that happen.
Regarding the public firestorm over the company’s plans, Wertz said that the company does its best to identify and resolve community concerns. Vocal opposition, he said, may not represent the community as a whole or the people who will shop in the store. Asked for the results of phone and mail surveys sent out by Wal-Mart to gauge support for the Bel Air store, Wertz said he did not have that information. Despite opposition in some cases, new company stores have typically proven to be immediately popular with customers and, a year later, many anticipated concerns have never materialized, Wertz said. “We want to be a welcome neighbor and part of the community that people are appreciative of.”
“We want to be a welcome neighbor and part of the community that people are appreciative of.”. By forcing their way in and then saying you like that dont you??? That doesn’t work for me.
Common Cents says
What amazes me is that 99% of the people that are protesting this Walmart will become regular shoppers at the new store.
If you really don’t like them – boycott them AFTER they open. Flex your muscles and force them out. Surely that’s a better lesson anyway?
But we all know this Walmart will succeed. If that’s the case, then it shows that people actually DO want them there. And those that become regular shoppers are simply hypocritical.
Personally, it doesn’t affect me as I’ll be shopping at the one in Fallston anyway.
David A. Porter says
It is inappropriate to ascribe beliefs to others that you hold for yourself. If you behave in an honest fashion you tend to expect others to behave in an honest fashion. As for shopping at Walmart, I have never liked it, it was always the domain of people that wanted a good deal regardless of the effect on anyone else. I will not likely shop at the new Walmart any more than I shopped at the one located in that lousy setting down in Abingdon. If the people that oversaw development of this area actually had regard for the people they serve instead of the developers they enable, there would be a second entrance and exit on that road running from Walmart to BJ’s Wholesale Club. Again, immediate self gratification is what makes this place interesting for the rest of us.
@David A. Porter
I looked up pompous jerk in the dictionary and found your picture.
David A. Porter says
I remember you from High School Eric… you were the kid that had nothing to contribute to the issue but chose instead to make a personal attack on someone you just didn’t like. Such wonderful memories… are you still mowing lawns for the Rec Department?
@David A. Porter
Thank you for asking about my career success.
I still cut grass, I have a commercial landscaping business with 120
I understand you have no tolerance for the hardworking people like me,
but that’s okay…we don’t tolerate pompous jerks very well.
I will work harder on tolerating pompous jerks, I promise.
David A. Porter says
How lovely, tell me did your guys come through my neighborhood to pick up undocumented immigrants living across the street from me and sit outside the house and blast their horn for them to come out? I believe I had words with one of your drivers.
So David, you look at people living across the street and assume that they are undocumented immigrants, yet call every conservative you can racist……
Boycott them after they open? So let them build a their huge building then get them to abandon it, creating not one but two empty stores? Doesn’t make sense to me.
Protect it from what?
I think your fundamental assumption is wrong. You assume that people are protesting the store because they don’t want a Walmart or don’t shop at Walmart.
In reality, many people oppose the plan Walmart put forth as well as the location. The DAC denying the initial application justifies the first, which is that the plan was bad.
The second, the location, will be determined over time by a number of factors. Can Walmart come up with an acceptable plan for that location? If you read the comments by the DAC they are being asked to do a variety of things that will cram many different components into a small space– a space where Walmart is already deficient on the number of parking spots. It starts to look like they are trying to fit a bigger square into a round hole.
And even if they can do this and get it through, the final proof will be in the pudding on the roads. If things end up actually worse, then those opposed would have been right all along.
Whether the store is a huge success or not does not measure any of these factors or the reasons people are opposed to this development.
My sentiments exactly Common Cents.
OMG…This may be the dumbest post I’ve read on here. Are you a complete moron? Yea…let them build it first. Great idea! It would be very easy NOT to shop at Walmart when there is a target and 100 other places to buy the same sh!t. But why build it to begin with? Go bang your head against a brick wall…please.
Nancy Meadows says
I am all for moving the existing Walmart to the Plumtree Rd. area.I am happy that there will be more jobs available.I a happy that it will releave the traffic problems at Constant Friendship.I dont hear anyone complaining about the new art complex that is going to be built between 924 and 24.Talk about traffic problems.And some of the people protesting I wonder how you came up with your number of cars on 924. I think these people have too much time on there hands and dont know what to do with it. And while you are at it take a good look at the ugly storage unit going in by Burger King.Talk about a traffic problem you havent seen one yet.And if you dont live in Harford County keep your comments to your self. So for me I am glad to say GO WALMART. And by the way some of you who are seeking reelection this year you will not get my vote.Before you protest something get all the facts.
Nancy, the 10,000 cars a day came from Wal-mart themselves. I think there is less opposition to an arts center as an art center would not cause an additional 10,000 cars a day. If you hate the traffic at Constant Friendship, just wait to your first trip to the new Wal-mart then you will see some traffic issues. And I think the people are protesting not because they have nothing better to do, but because they care about their community and are willing to put in the time and energy to protect it.
Harford Lassie says
Any chance of getting the remarks from SHA that cited how wide the road would need to be on 924?
They mentioned plans they are currently studying to make MD 24 a six lane road from Tollgate Road to US 1. I do not believe that they addressed how wide MD 924 would need to be. They discussed that the plans for Plumtree and Bel Air South Parkway were insufficient and they would have to acquire additional easements to widen them sufficiently.
In the age of social media..David Craig..county executive..has a page on facebook. If you cannot be at the meetings to protest, leave a message on his page. He wants to run for Governor. he will look if there are enough messages to deny the project
Mike, the County Executive does not have the power to deny this project. I wish he did, but he does not.
The only thing that the county can deny is certain permits related to building, lighting, etc. The county can deny them initially (as they have here) and require Walmart to do certain things, but once they meet the requirements the County must approve them. Continuing to deny permits will land the county in court which will not go well for the taxpayers. In the end Walmart will be here.
At this point we need to be lobbying Walmart, not the county. Flood them with letters, phone calls, emails, facebook posts, etc. They need to know that building here will not be a profitable proposition for them.
The Money Tree says
This is not a win; but it slows up the process just enough to allow for the community to coalesce into a force to be reckoned with. Mark my words Walmart doesn’t give up easily – they’ve done this strong arm process literally hundreds of times. They expect the intense resistance will give way to grudging acquiescense in due course. It’s up to us to maintain the pressure and open displeasure at putting a big box store on that site. When, Walmart goes away and it is my hope they give up, there will be stores in that location – let’s just hope what ends up planned is more to the scale and appropriateness of the location and neighborhoods that surround it.
BRAC Family says
The amazing thing is that Wal-Mart hires all these $500 an hour lawyers and traffic experts, and they still got all kinds of things wrong. I was at the DAC meeting, and a number of “Joe-average” local residents cited errors on the application, and they aren’t even hired to do the job! For example, the experts “forgot” to include the garden center as part of the square footage to be considered as part of the storm water management system. Forgot?? Its only a gazillion square feet, but the experts forgot to include it!
If those guys worked for me I would have fired them on the spot after hearing everything they did wrong in the application. Given that, how can you believe anything they say?
BRIGHT OAK says
Either they are sloppy or they intentionally excluded it hoping it would slip by. A smaller stormwater facility equals money saved.
BRAC Family says
I think your supposition is probably right: leave out some details in hopes that someone will miss it. Maybe they can get away with that in the hills of rural America. Not around here though.
Have you seen some of the stupid crap developers have gotten away with here? Walmart just didn’t pick one of the commities “buddy” developers. If they had things would have gotten by with out a second look. If you had lived in this county for more then 15 minutes you would realize that.
BRAC Family says
Oh – you mean the “money in the envelope under the table at a diner” routine? It’s more like Jersey here than I thought!
So Walmart was asked questiond by Dagger.
Some of Walmart’s if not most of Walmart’s answers were ” I don’t know I’ll get back to you.BTW didn’t you get Walmart’s talking points memo in the mail?”
They also asked if they plan to put a Sams club in Abingdon. I beleive that Walmart want 3 lots from the proposed Plumtree site–1 for SuperWalmart, 1 for Sams Club and 1 for Sams gas. The Daggers question was not probing enough on this issue. Walmart is only attempting to move forward on the SuperWalmart at this time. They want a set-up like they have in Golden Ring.
Phil from Joppa now in Bel Air says
When will the hearing/appeals process (or whatever the correct terms) be over? If not Walmart – what would be acceptable to those protesting? You won’t end up with just woods off of Plumtree Road. Isn’t this still a country that holds up the virtue of a responsible free market economy? If I had the good fortune to own a piece of land within the development envelope I would certainly want to be able to and expect to profit. As long as WM complies with rules, then what else is there? Or are we free market supporters as long as NIMBY doesn’t come into play. We have WM going into Bel Air, a DUMP going into Joppa, I live a stone’s throw from the JAIL – contrary to popular belief – Shang-ra-la – not in Harford County. Live and let live, now that the development envelope zoning of years ago opened the door.
BRAC Family says
The owner has the right to propose development within the rules, and the local residents have equal rights to try and stop the development. In the end, one or the other will prevail, and we’ll all move on.
Does that mean you will move to another location if the Walmart is built?
BRAC Family says
Maybe, maybe not. We’ll do a comparative analysis of all the variables and make our decision after carefully considering all factors, not just Wal-Mart construction.
long view says
Did you complete this same degree of analysis (including zoning in your neighborhood and surrounding community) before you chose to buy in your current location?
BRAC Family says
We did indeed look at many variables: school test scores; proximity to schools, shopping and public services; proximity to doctors offices/hospital; crime rate statistics; ease of commute from door to door. Before we bought, I drove from the several posible homes locations to my employer both in the morning and vice versa in the evening to understand the traffic patterns and flow. We would never make a major investment in a home without such analysis, but I’m sure that anyone spending hundreds of thousands of dollars would do the same.
long view says
I would appear that you were not thorough enough in doing your homework.
BRAC Family says
Everything about the loction is very good – it met all our criteria, except now Wal-Mart wants to come in. Our kids are very happy and doing well at RFES and Patterson-Mill, so that counts for alot. Many of our peers chose to live way out in the more rural areas of Harford and Cecil, and while beautiful areas, those are too isolated for us. So in the end, you can’t have it all; living closer in to the population center and more services raises the crowding and traffic issues. There’s some balance and if Wal-Mart builds, as a family we’ll have to take another look at the variables and decide what we want to do.
Jennifer Williams says
This type of development makes moving to Baltimore City more and more attractive every day. For those of us who have to endure the often hellish commute to Baltimore for decent jobs, why not move to Charm City?? Higher taxes, yes, but less gas, less stress, more time to spend with friends & family.
$10k a year in property taxes for a townhouse where your kids can never venture outside after dark? No thanks.
The Money Tree says
After dark? I wouldn’t let kids wander anywhere in Baltimore even in broad daylight. People get beat up on buses…robbed at stop signals, cars broken into. Ever notice how all the kids move to Canton or Fells Point when they first graduate college, but when they marry and have kids they bail out. Guess after you replace the 2nd stereo that’s been stolen out of your car (breaking windows in the process), Baltimore starts to lose it’s charm…charm city ain’t all that charming.
Young professionals choose to live in the city for the access to the restaurants and nightlife activities. They usually stay until they have young children approaching school age. At that time they do a cost benefit analysis–do I stay in the city and spend the money for private schools or do I relocate to a county with good schools and put that money into my mortgage payment.
BRAC Family says
Heck – if I wanted to pay 10K per year in property taxes, I’d move back to NJ!
A $189,000 townhouse in Towson Park In Baltimore County has property tax of $2,124 for the tax year of 2012. A $194,900 townhouse in Baltimore City has a $2,141 property tax for 2012. And a $193,900 townhouse in Bel Air South in Harford County across from Walmart proposed location has a property tax of $2,003 for the tax year of 2012.
BRIGHT OAK says
Thanks for the fact-check, D!
Ms Williams said Baltimore City, not the County.
You’re not going to touch a 3 bedroom townhouse in the city for less than $200k unless you’re willing to sleep in the bathtub every night. A $199k townhouse near Patterson Park has a $6200 city tax, but that is only two bedrooms.
Common Cent$ says
“If you build it, they will come”.
Just like Pied Piper, led rats through the streets!
shame on you says
Such a statement reveals that your idea of common cent$ is built on a foundation of ignorance and bigotry.
When walmart is built councilwoman LIEsanti will get a BIG pay day from walmart.DO NOT TRUST HER she is working with them. She is pushing this whole thing and making it look like she is on our side. Just like her James Run rezoning big pay day. I bet the James Run TIF will be a bigger pay day for her. Someone official needs to look into her. SHE IS A LYING TAX STEALING CROOK !
HMM2.1 Them is mighty serious charges Mr. HMM2.1 Tell us what you know.
Love how people want all this government intervention to stop a company, within thier legal rights, to open up thier business. Somehow we all scream about wanting less government and now we want the state to disallow traffic on 24. I will shop at walmart with no issue, the blind hypocrites of the free-market are blaming the wrong people. If you didn’t want a walmart there the county should have rezoned it. You can’t pick and choose who can move into a legally zoned lot because you don’t like them. I’m sick of the part-time small gov hypocrites. Crying for limited government, but then changing thier outfits like superman in a phone booth whenever they want to them step in and stamp out business. Walmart will be moving in whether you like it or not….NEWSFLASH for you. You live in the Development T….this is nothing new and not a surprise MOVE! And to try and tell a company what they can and can’t sell…….GIVE ME A BREAK.
naureen bouchard says
what happens to the Abingdon Walmart employees when and if this goes through?
Uh, they transfer to the new store. What they aren’t going to drive an extra 3 miles?
There are a number of employees that do not have cars and walk to work from the neighborhoods surrounding Walmart. So the answer is no. They will not attempt to walk to the new location risking life and limb while crossing rt 24 in an attempt to get there. Also, Walmart has it’s employees REAPPLY for their positions when they move to a new location. So Walmart says no car, no problem….no job.
Save our Abingdon store!!
Common Sense says
What a “D” you are.
Pedestrian employees could easily take a bus
or find other employment makes a weak case
for Walmart to not do what’s in it’s economic
interest is silly.
Walmart exists to make a profit for it’s
Many of Walmart’s shareholders are pension
funds, mutual funds and your 401K.
Asked and answered…someone said why won’t they drive and the truth is not all employees drive. You pass Bel Air’s well developed public bus schedule to them and job counsel them. That can be your contribution to help them transition. And Walmart stock ownership is approximately 51% Walton family, 31% institutional investor and mutual funds, and 18% private investor/other, Yes, Walmart can make a profit….where they are. And while all the blog posting haters try to divert attention and distract readers from the relevant issues– we all know the real reason that the relocation of Walmart is unpopular and unwise is because of traffic and safety reasons.
Common Sense says
Walmart has a fiduciary duty to
shareholders to maximize profits.
Walmart does this by catering to
consumers, being strategically
and conveniently located, and
treating their employees well.
Oh and if you have a pension
or 401K investment it likely
includes Walmart stock.
Walmart is asking you for strategic
market penetration and optimization
advice now are they?
“There are a number of employees that do not have cars and walk to work from the neighborhoods surrounding Walmart.”
What exactly do you think that number is? I’m just guessing here but am going with less than 25…..
Ron Jeremy's Big Tool says
I’m willing to bet the ones who want the government to stop free market private business to moving into a properly zoned parcel are the same ones who call the police over dumb shit, like pickup trucks cutting them off in a wawa parking lot, or hunters coming out of the woods.
If they were proposing this development 5 or 10 years ago perhaps it would have drawn less opposition. When you wait to develop your parcel until after the addition of over 10 businesses, 3 schools, and a fire station it is more difficult and costly for a development to meet the minimum standards. Currently the surrounding infrastructure is overburdened and we do call upon our elected officials to demand 100% compliance to zoning and environmental regs and to protect the residents they represent. To those that complain about “community activists”, I must ask you what are you doing to improve your community? What is your legacy?
Common Sense says
Increased commercial property
Jobs created at the new Walmart
Jobs created at the re-developed
old Walmart location
Jobs for construction workers
architects, accountants, lawyers
and other support professions at
both locations before, during and