Proposed legislation that might have stalled development of the Bel Air Wal-Mart, failed for lack of a second at a Harford County Council legislative session held Tuesday.
County Council Bill No. 13-16 set forth special development requirements for stores 75,000 sq. ft. or larger, and subjected them to final approval by the Council, acting as the Board of Appeals. As such, passage of the bill might have slowed development of the Bel Air Wal-Mart, and allowed the County Council to apply certain conditions or reject vital aspects of the proposed store.
Supporters of Bill No. 13-16 hoped that it would thwart Wal-Mart’s plans to build a Bel Air Supercenter, which they said would create safety hazards and diminish the quality of life in the area. At the bill hearing Tuesday, the bill’s supporters also said that the county needed a way to rein in future big box development when it would overburden nearby infrastructure.
The bill’s opponents said at the hearing that it was anti-business, and it unfairly targeted Wal-Mart. Attorney Bob Lynch added, “You can’t invest in property if the rules suddenly change.” Lynch represents the Haron Dahan Foundation, which is poised to sell its Bel Air property at Plumtree Rd. and MD Rt. 924 to Wal-Mart for the development.
Adding to the controversy, it was unclear from the outset whether Bill No. 13-16 would apply to the Bel Air store, which is currently in the approval pipeline under existing law.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Councilman James “Capt’n Jim” McMahan said that the law would not affect the land where the project is proposed, but would prevent what he called “outlandish development” at other sites in the future.
However, Pete Gutwald, county director of planning and zoning, said that the law would apply to Wal-Mart if their site plan was not approved by his department before the new law took effect.
Wal-Mart officials issued a public statement saying they were looking at the law to see if it was applicable, but nonetheless decried what they called “arbitrary hurdles for development.”
Looking to remove what she called “ambiguity” in the bill, Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti introduced an amendment Tuesday prior to the bill’s failure, exempting projects, such as the Bel Air Wal-Mart, that had applied for county approval prior to the bill’s effective date. The amendment was co-sponsored by Councilman Dick Slutzky and it passed by a 5 to 2 vote, with Council President Billy Boniface and Councilman McMahan voting against.
Finally, Councilman McMahan made a motion to approve the bill as amended, which was met with silence from his fellow council members. Thus, the bill failed for lack of a second, leaving Wal-Mart to continue its quest for approval under existing law from the county department of planning and zoning.
On that score: Wal-Mart submitted a revised traffic study on Monday. A copy of the study can be found here: http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/PlanningZoning/Download/2023-1262.pdf