The following letter was sent from William F. Wehland to sent to Nina Albert, Director, Wal-Mart Community Affairs and Wal-Mart executives Jim Walton (CEO), Michael Duke (President), William Simon (Executive VP), Bill Wertz (Community Affairs/Media) and Tom Kleine (Attorney-Troutman & Sanders). A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication.
Dear Ms Albert:
On November 29, 2012 Steve Tobia and I had the opportunity to meet with you for the purpose of discussing the potential expansion capabilities of Walmart Store # 2009 at Constant Friendship in Abingdon. We pointed out that the original store built in 1992 as 116,097 SF had accounted for a future expansion on the site plan of 30,000 Sq. Ft. in the rear of the store. A 4,000 Sq Ft. addition had been added to the right front and presently there is a Garden Center to the right side of approximately 14,600 Sq. Ft. A drawing was provided to you along with actual photos and measurements that show an expansion of 30,000 or more Sq. Ft. is also possible to the left of the store. The number of parking spaces is adequate for any type of aggressive expansion.
At the meeting you told us you were unaware of the 30,000 Sq. Ft. future expansion capability to the rear of the store and did not know all of the reasons for not being able to expand. You mentioned it is a preference of Walmart to expand an existing store rather than build a new store but that the expansion would not be accomplished on more than two sides of a building. You promised to get our drawings and comments to the right people for evaluation.
On December 6, 2012 by E-mail you apologized for the delay and promised again to provide our drawings and comments to the appropriate people with Walmart. You promised to get back to us about any setbacks and buffers so at least we all knew which ones they were.
On December 10, 2012 Steve Tobia sent you an E-mail discussing, in more detail, logical reasons and concepts for expansion capabilities. By your E-mail of December 31, 2012 you indicated there are other factors to consider and ended with a statement that relocating is a better option and that is why Walmart is exploring how to make that option a win-win for all, including the community. You further indicated that you had already heard our feedback and that of the community and were looking for solutions that would improve the community’s experience along the Route 24 and Plumtree corridors. Once again you said the previous calculations and comments would get to the right people.
It is a matter of record that on October 8, 2012 your team had a closed session with the Abingdon Community Council officers and representatives from the County Executive’s office. The official minutes of the County and Abingdon Council quote you as saying the following about expansion:
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 parking spaces.
4. Expansion to the side would also interfere with a storm water management buffer.
5. Walmart would not close a store for remodeling because jobs would be lost.
My response to those statements is as follows:
1. There is no need to expand to the front and an expansion on a sloping parking lot could be done if necessary.
2. The viable storage business does not interfere with ability to expand to the rear and future expansion had been accounted for on the original site plan approved by the County.
3. There is no need to expand to the west side where the present garden center exists.
4. Expansion to the left side will not interfere with the SWM which is to the forward side of the store and to the far left of the parking lot.
5. The expansion to the rear and left side would not interfere with daily business and the store does not need to close down while remodeling is accomplished. This has been done in the past at other Walmart locations.
It is my understanding you also have said you cannot expand all four sides of the building while maintaining store operations and the minimal available expansion envelope would be primarily to the rear. Additionally, you would need a 60 foot portion of the parcel behind the store and you were precluded from expanding to an adequate size needed in a potential expanded store.
My response to those statements are there is no need to expand on all four sides of the building; you have 80 foot or more to expand to the rear; you can achieve an expanded capacity to equal or exceed the store proposed at Route 924 and Plumtree and the existing Supercenter at Fallston. It is simply a matter of being creative and properly engineering the existing location which Walmart has done in the past.
I have taken issue with recent comments made by Bill Wertz in The Aegis that the Abingdon store is not eligible for expansion; expanding the store would involve much disruption of activity; business could not be carried out in a satisfactory way; and Walmart is working on a traffic plan that will be satisfactory to both the State Highway Administration and County.
To date Bill Wertz, yourself, and other Walmart personnel have not provided to the public any credible explanations as to why expansion is not possible at the existing location. You have not responded as promised to the information provided to you on November 29th and subsequent E-mails after that meeting. I find this to be quite disturbing for an individual responsible for community affairs who readily admitted during our meeting in November that Walmart had not done a good job of informing the public why expansion was not possible at the existing location. You said this needed to be done as promised at the Community Input Meeting in July.
Please understand there are many communities in Maryland and the United States that desire and welcome a new Walmart. Our community supports the Constant Friendship and Aberdeen Walmart stores as well as the new Supercenter at Fallston, all of which are in close proximity to your proposed site. However, you and other Walmart personnel, including your top executives, are well aware our community is strongly opposed to this re-location and continue to move forward without any regard to the community concerns. The residents have provided many legitimate reasons why we do not want a Walmart at the proposed location and are very happy with the three existing stores.
Based upon the comments you have received from the Development Advisory Committee to your submitted TIA, any additional traffic will compromise the safety and function of the state highway roadway network along Route 924, 24 and the major intersections near the proposed site. It is highly probable Walmart and your traffic engineers will not be able to mitigate the traffic and safety concerns. This alone should drive Walmart to stop the pursuit of a new store and instead shift the focus to optimize the Constant Friendship store expansion.
While we recognize that Walmart has a legal right to build a new store at the proposed location, we also hope Walmart recognizes the value of their standing in this community for many years and the responsibility with which that comes. We believe the community has shown in action and by providing Walmart with sound and logical reasons that this is not the proper location and why Walmart is not wanted at this location. Mr. Pete Gutwald has stated that Walmart has not approached the Planning and Zoning Department relative to expansion capabilities and will be happy to pursue all of the possibilities to expand. It is our hope that you consider the concept of expansion at the highly visible existing site at I-95 and Route 24 in lieu of re-location to an area that is already beyond its development and traffic capacity.
The County Executive, County Council, the Director of Planning & Zoning Department, the local community organizations and the citizens are all willing to work with you to make the expansion at Constant Friendship a workable solution that could end up being a cost effective solution and in your best interests and those of the surrounding community.
It is our desire to have a continuing dialogue with you and I personally look forward to the courtesy of a response.
William F. Wehland