Bel Air resident Gary Ambridge prepared the following public comments for the October 17th Development Advisory Committee meeting and provided a copy to The Dagger for publication.
Development Advisory Committee:
I would like to thank the Development Advisory Committee for allowing me to speak and express my opinion unlike the closed session held by the County Executive and the Abingdon Community Council. I feel that the Abingdon Community Council was the wrong group to ask for “community” input as they do not live in Bel Air. The Bel Air South Community Foundation is made up of us who actually live here and have a real interest in the safety and health of our community.
The meeting held on October 8, 2012, was a farce. It did nothing but solidify Wal Mart’s purpose to destroy our neighborhood for more profit and the County just seem to nod its head, shrug its shoulders and smile while saying, “they have the zoning.” It is ludicrous that (county Chief of Staff) Aaron Tomarchio could think that the earlier meeting in July at the Patterson Mill High School with Wal Mart wasn’t “productive” if the purpose of that meeting was to “…meet with community members and hear what they have to say.” Wal Mart did hear what the community had to say, it was unequivocal and crystal clear: WE DO NOT WANT A WAL MART IN BEL AIR.
Nina Albert, director of community affairs for Wal Mart said that she appreciated that County Executive Craig was “…willing to have a forthright and honest discussion about what the community concerns are….” It’s not that the meeting in July was not “forthright and honest,” it was, it’s just that she didn’t hear what she wanted to hear. Allow me to reiterate what the Bel Air concerns are, and they are forthright and honest: WE DO NOT WANT A WAL MART IN BEL AIR.
Ms. Albert need not have concerns that it “…was difficult to have a real conversation ” with us in the July meeting as we heard what she had to say in her slick Power Point presentation. She, however, apparently did not hear what we had to say: WE DO NOT WANT A WAL MART IN BEL AIR.
The Abingdon Community Council provided a number of pre-conditions to Wal Mart. Allow me to simplify them for you: I don’t care if you sell guns and ammunition, have a car repair center, are opened 24 hours, have bright lights, allow overnight parking of any truck or vagabond, or any other thing you want to do – AS LONG AS IT IS NOT IN BEL AIR.
When the County Executive holds a private, closed-door meeting that does not include the very community who will be most affected by this monstrous store he is opening up the concern that this was just a ruse to allow another developer have his way. It reeks of back room politics and secret deals. And likewise, when (county spokesman) Bob Thomas says “to bring Wal Mart to the table we had to commit to a smaller venue…” just reinforces the impression that a deal was being made with Wal Mart. Why does the County Executive, or anyone else, feel that a smaller venue will produce a more accurate expression of the community’s desires? Our desires could not be more evident: WE DO NOT WANT A WAL MART IN BEL AIR.
Now the County is re-arranging the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic of our community and hoping the voters will think that they did what they could to save us from this run away truck’s breakneck careening over our lives. Every communication with the community that is directly involved in this immense store has given “…an open and honest discussion…” of our concerns and for the County Executive and the County Council to disregard them so that Wal Mart can have its way is dishonest. Politicians can make statements supporting us, pass non-binding resolutions to the State Highway Administration, but the proof is in the pudding.
We must hold our elected officials responsible for correcting the mistake THEY made. Council President Boniface admitted that each of the council members thought it would be something more in keeping with the existing character of the street, such as office buildings.”We let you down because we didn’t recognize the fact that you could have a big box come in there,” he said. “The Department of Planning and Zoning didn’t let us know that could happen.” (BTW they are supposed to know this and not blame someone else for this mistake.) Nevertheless, now is the time to correct YOUR mistake before it becomes OUR nightmare.
To force this Wal Mart, to say nothing about the improvements on the other 16 acres there, upon our community is wrong. It will lead to nothing but traffic gridlock that will dump more than 10,000 more cars daily onto out roads, millions in highway improvements which the State Highway Administration tells us will require Emmorton Road to be expanded to 6 lanes at county expense and may take up to 10 years to implement. Wal Mart will create untold dangers for our children and citizens. I will leave you with this last plea: WE DO NOT WANT A WAL MART IN BEL AIR.