The minutes of a meeting where government representatives cited deficiencies in Wal-Mart’s plans to build a Bel Air Supercenter have been published online by the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning.
At their October 17th meeting, the Development Advisory Committee (DAC) rejected Wal-Mart’s plans to develop Supercenter on a parcel at Plumtree Rd. and MD Route 924 and outlined the revisions necessary for reconsideration of the proposed development. Wal-Mart officials said after the DAC meeting that they would revise and resubmit their plans.
No such revisions had been received as of early Monday, November 26th, according to Shane Grimm, a senior planning and zoning official and member of the DAC committee.
The Development Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from county and state agencies who conduct a technical analysis of which regulations apply to a proposed development, and what the developer must do to comply with those regulations. Final approval of new development plans rest with the county department of planning and zoning, under Director Pete Gutwald. County planning officials have said that it is not unusual for a development plan to undergo revisions prior to receiving final approval.
Wal-Mart proposes to build a 186,000 sq. ft. Bel Air Supercenter on land that is zoned “B3, General Business District”, a designation that allows for the development of such a store. The Supercenter, which may be open 24 hours a day, is to include the sale of groceries, an automotive center, pharmacy with drive thru, and a garden center. Company officials said at a July community input meeting that the store could generate up to 10,000 vehicle trips per day.
Hundreds of area residents have protested Wal-Mart’s expansion in Bel Air and the related closing of its older store in Abingdon, which does not sell groceries Red and white lawn signs reading “No Bel Air Walmart” pepper the nearby landscape, and protesters have lined Rte. 924 and packed public meetings, saying the Bel Air store would add to traffic backups in the area and otherwise diminish their quality of life.
Elected officials have also publicly opposed the Bel Air Supercenter, so far to no avail. Harford County Executive David Craig urged the company to reconsider the move to Bel Air in favor of expanding the Abingdon store, but later said through a representative that the company was committed to the move. In early October, the Harford County Council passed a resolution asking the State Highway Administration to deny access to the Bel Air Supercenter from MD Route 924, “due to the unsafe conditions it would create for the surrounding community.” In consideration of the council’s request, the SHA has asked Wal-Mart to submit a set of plans without said access.
The complete DAC meeting minutes can be found here.
Below are excerpts taken from the minutes published in mid-November by the Department of Planning and Zoning:
Don MacLean – Volunteer Fire and E.M.S
“…Fire/EMS acknowledges there will be an increase in traffic in the area and that this will possibly increase Fire and EMS response times…”
Shane Grimm – Department of Planning and Zoning
“The Preliminary Plan, Site Plan, Forest Conservation Plan and Landscaping Plan cannot be approved as presented. All subsequent revised Site Plans and Landscaping Plans for Lot 1 shall utilize a larger scale for ease of review.
A total of 14.73 acres of reforestation are required for the development of this site. The FCP [Forest Conservation Plan] proposes 77% of the required reforestation to be planted in an offsite bank. The Harford County forest conservation regulations do not have forest conservation banking. The plan shall be revised to provide either increased forest retention to reduce the amount of required reforestation and onsite reforestation in accordance with Article VI of the Zoning Code. The plan shall specifically address buffering along Plumtree Road and MD Route 924. The reforestation areas shall be a minimum of 35-feet wide; however, the Department recommends that the buffer be increased to 50-feet and incorporate berms. Particular attention shall be given to the tractor trailer turnaround to provide the maximum separation from the adjacent roadways.
The consultant has submitted a request to reduce the overall parking requirement for the Wal-Mart to 80%. The consultant has not provided adequate justification to the Department of Planning and Zoning to warrant the reduction in parking.
Architectural renderings shall be submitted to the Department for review and approval prior to Site Plan approval. The rear and side elevations of the building shall mimic the architectural features and materials found on the front façade of the building.
A revised landscaping plan shall be submitted to the Department which demonstrates compliance with Section 267-29 of the Zoning Code. In particular, the plan shall provide for foundation plantings around the building. The landscaping plan shall also incorporate a bike and pedestrian circulation plan.
A detailed lighting plan shall be submitted to the Department for review and approval prior to approval of the Preliminary and/or Site Plan. The plan shall provide details and specifications for all lighting; including parking lot lighting fixtures and lighting fixtures attached to the building. The lighting plan shall also incorporate a photometric plan demonstrating that the lighting has been designed and controlled so that any light shall be shaded, shielded or directed so that the light intensity or brightness is directed down and onto the site and does not adversely affect the operation of vehicles. It is recommended that “nighttime friendly” lighting be utilized throughout the site.
The plans have been forwarded to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) for review. The MDE has offered the following comment: MDE Nontidal Wetlands Division identified a State-regulated emergent wetland on the project site, located near the existing terminus of Blue Spruce Drive. Because the proposed project is located within a Use IV watershed (tributary of Plumtree Run), any permanent impacts will require a Nontidal Wetlands and Waterways Permit. As part of the permit requirements outlined in COMAR 26.23.02, mitigation will be required for any unavoidable permanent impacts and the public will be given an opportunity to request an informational hearing. A 75-foot Natural Resource District (NRD) buffer shall delineated along the limits of the non-tidal wetlands on subsequent revisions to the plans.
A Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) has been submitted to the Department for review. The TIA has been forwarded to the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the State Highway Administration (SHA) for review and comment. Technical deficiencies were noted during the review of the TIA which must be addressed before conclusions can be drawn from the analysis regarding level of service and appropriate improvements to mitigate the development’s impacts at the studied intersections. The Department will forward detailed comments to the traffic consultant regarding the noted deficiencies. The deficiencies include, but are not limited to: 1) Harford County APF Guidelines requires that if the traffic impact analysis determines that a developer will cause an unacceptable Level of Service, the developer is required to mitigate his/her impact, regardless of the peak period analyzed. 2) Trip generation rates do not match all of the proposed uses and must be revised. 3) Auxiliary site locations must be specified on the site plan to determine acceptable trip distributions. 4) Revised study must identify acceptable and constructible improvements that will mitigate the site’s impact. 5) The Synchro analyses needs to be revised to: represent existing field conditions; include all study intersections; and signal timing must reflect all existing timing.”
Rich Zeller – State Highway Administration (SHA)
“The SHA also received a County Council Resolution which requests the SHA deny access to MD 924. The SHA will consider the County Council Resolution during the project review and coordination process with the County and developer. The SHA’s primary concern is the safety of the traveling public. With this focus, SHA evaluates proposed developments across the state and the potential related impacts to the state roadway network, in conjunction with the local government Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances. The SHA reviews Traffic Impact Studies to assure that development-generated traffic does not compromise the safety and function of the state roadway network. During the process, SHA also reviews developer proposed roadway improvements to determine the need for and scope of mitigation to address the proposed development traffic impacts. The primary goal is to ensure that developers and/or the County provide roadway improvements that mitigate the effects of the increased development traffic on the roadway network. SHA’s review and the issuance of access permits must be accomplished in a consistent manner in compliance with local government regulations and the SHA regulation, policies, design criteria, standards, and practices…
…The SHA reviewed the TIA [Traffic Impact Analysis] for the proposed Wal-Mart. The SHA focused our review on the state roadway network. Comments were not provided regarding intersections along the County network unless they affect a state roadway. The major report findings and the SHA comments and conclusions are outlined below. It is important to recognize that the TIS [Traffic Study] for the development project did not study the roadway network with a MD924 access denied as requested by the County [Council].
The proposed Walmart site and potential build-out occurs on a property located between MD24 and MD924 that is bordered by Plumtree Road to the north and Bel Air South Parkway to the south. The development consists of an 189,564 sf Walmart Retail Store, 4,880 sf convenience market with gas pumps, two 8,000 sf high turnover sit down restaurant, two 8,000 sf quality restaurants, and 4,500 sf retail space. Walmart proposes access via one full movement entrance on MD 924 opposite Bright Oaks Drive, one full movement access on Plumtree Road (a County roadway) and one full movement access on Blue Spruce Drive (a County roadway).
Spruce Drive is proposed to connect Plumtree Road and Bel Air South Parkway. The SHA reviewed the state routes and intersections with County roadways included in the TIS. The study analyzed 14 State intersections under existing, background and future conditions, and the roadway section under future conditions. The TIS concludes that the following road improvements would assist with operations throughout the region and would mitigate the proposed new Walmart Retail Store and the additional development on the site. There are four intersections that were identified. MD24 at Plumtree, MD24 at Bel Air South Parkway, MD924 at Bel Air South Parkway, and MD924 at Bright Oaks Drive/Site Access and the improvements for them.
There are quite a lot of improvements due to the fact the SHA is asking initially the traffic study must be revised to show the development traffic impacts under the situation where access would occur only from Plumtree Road and Bel Air South Parkway. This scenario is necessary to understand the impacts to the state and County roadway network based upon the County request that SHA deny access to MD924.
It is not clear whether the improvements listed in the TIS are or are not feasible within the existing right-of-way for the state and/or County roadways. The SHA requests clarification on how the traffic mitigation improvements will be accomplished if Walmart is not able to acquire the right of-way necessary to construct the roadway improvements. If these improvements required under the County APFO [Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance] are not practical, please clarify how this affects the development approvals for adequate facilities
The SHA suggests that this development be considered at the regional level. The trip generation could be analyzed with a calibrated regional transportation demand model. This includes a select zone analysis on the proposed Walmart zone with site trips tracked throughout the modeled study network along with percentages to each study route. It might be advantageous to consider local data, I.E. current trip production from the existing Walmart at Constant Friendship. The SHA suggestion for this analysis is based upon the following. The developer proposes to relocate the existing Walmart from the Constant Friendship to the new location. The regional draw for similar developments and the remaining commercial land onsite may develop beyond the retail uses assumed in the report.
All study intersections must operate at acceptable levels of service or propose improvements to mitigate the development generated trips. From a general perspective, the current TIS should include the following improvements to address this comment. There are 7 or 8 intersections where improvements would be needed. Again, since they are going to revise the study he probably doesn’t need to mention all those improvements. The consultant will be able to look over them.
The Highway Needs Inventory includes a project to widen MD24 from MD 924 to US1 as a six lane open section roadway. When the property adjacent to MD24 is developed, a 55 foot setback dedication from SHA’s existing right-of-way line along MD 24 will be required.
Bicycle and pedestrian accommodations consistent with SHA policies, standards and practices will be required as part of the plan review process.
The Synchro study network should include all the study intersections. Also no vehicle queuing should extend outside the study limits. The Existing condition scenarios do not represent existing conditions. These scenarios should be calibrated based on travel time runs and field observations. Background and Total Traffic Synchro networks should be based on these calibrated networks. The model uses 90 second signal cycle lengths for AM peaks, and 120 second lengths for PM and Saturday peaks. The existing cycle lengths are 120 seconds, 150 seconds, and 120 seconds for AM, PM and Saturday, respectively. The model should apply these lengths.
Was the signal system optimized on a system level, or by individual intersection in the background and total conditions? It appears that several left turn phases are not sufficient in processing the large number of turning vehicles at some intersections. Please clarify and modify as needed.
Signal detectors were coded incorrectly through the network. Proper placement of the detectors may provide some marginal improvement in observed queuing and congestion. The SHA is saying that the plan should be withheld until resolution of the traffic impact study and access issues.”