The following editorial and letter to the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning were written and provided by Bill Wehland of Bel Air:
Recently the traffic company representing the proposed new Bel Air Walmart responded to the latest Harford County deficiencies of June 7, 2013. This group has again failed to comply with the county’s request for traffic mitigation plans at key intersections. Instead they continue to ask that the county approve the site plan and than they will comply and provide the intersection mitigation drawings.
If this group were capable of providing acceptable mitigation plans one would think they would have already supplied them as requested. It is becoming increasingly apparent that traffic mitigation at the intersections of Routes 924 & 24 with Plumtree Road, Bel Air South Parkway, Wheel Road, Bright Oaks Road, Patterson Mill Road and the proposed Blue Spruce Road is not feasible or possible without compromising the safety of the public and the roadways.
I still believe it is essential that the Planning and Zoning Department with State Highway Administration and Public Works Assistance examine the big picture of how all the proposed projects in the area converge and than determine the overall impact to traffic congestion and the safety of the public. The current system of reviewing and improving development projects in sequential and isolated steps fail to take a comprehensive view of the increased traffic generated by all the proposed developments. The reality is that one project will not have much of an effect but when added together with a proposed Walmart Supercenter in the midst of other proposed projects in an already congested area, a traffic nightmare is inevitable.
I believe the recent amendment passed by the County Council to create a Maryland Route 924 corridor plan focused on land use, transportation connectivity, and quality of life along the MD 924 corridor from Lake Drive to Porter Lane is one step in the right direction. Secondly, the current grading system to determine whether an intersection passes or fails is antiquated and should not be used as the sole criteria whether new development can be approved in a congested area.
It is my belief there are two possibilities to stop the proposed Walmart project:
(1) Walmart is unable to meet the P & Z /SHA requirements for traffic mitigation and site plan is not approved.
(2) Walmart decides to abandon the project at this location.
It is my hope both will happen.
August 23, 2013
Mr. Alex Rawls
220 S. Main Street
Bel Air, Maryland 21014
Subject: Walmart Bel Air Traffic Study
Reference: (a) Traffic Group Letter dated August 14, 2013 to Alex Rawls
(b) SHA Letter dated August 12, 2013 to William Wehland
(c) Wehland letter to Alex Rawls dated May 8, 2013
Dear Mr. Rawls:
I noted from the Harford County web-site that The Traffic Group, representing the proposed Plumtree/924 Walmart location, responded again on August 14, 2013 to the Harford County comments from your department contained in your letter dated June 7, 2013.
Again, I do not believe they have satisfactorily complied with your request for detailed traffic mitigation plans at key intersections in this latest submittal. Some of their responses are no different than the unacceptable ones contained in their letter dated April 11, 2013 which I addressed in my letter to you on May 8, 2013 and you addressed to them in your letter of June 7, 2013.
In response to four of your June 7, 2013 comments they state the following:
“It is understood that mitigation of failing intersections are necessary to satisfy Harford County APF. The mitigation for each of the required intersections will be outlined by Harford County with the Site Plan Approval letter. In order to address this comment, fully engineered intersection mitigation drawings will be necessary which are typically provided after Site Plan Approval. Please note that we have provided intersection conceptual plans that indicate the improvements are feasible.”
This is an unacceptable response and believe you will agree. This is not a “typical” project based upon the controversial issues relative to traffic and safety and the amount of traffic that a Walmart will generate in this area. The Planning and Zoning Department (P & Z) has continually requested detailed mitigation plans and they continue to be non-compliant. If they were capable of providing acceptable mitigation plans they would have already submitted them. There is no logical reason for the P & Z or the SHA to accept the above statement or statements such as “This comment is informational and understood”. If they understood the comment they should be able and made to demonstrate how they will comply.
I received a letter dated August 12, 2013 from Mr. David Peake of the SHA responding to my letter to him on May 11, 2013. In this letter he indicates that the SHA is currently reviewing a revised TIS prepared by the developer’s team for the proposed Walmart. He states the reviews are an iterative process and there are usually several TIS submissions until the study appropriately defines the traffic impacts. Additionally, he states the study must also identify potential roadway improvements required to mitigate the development-generated traffic impacts. In his letter he expects to complete the review and provide comments to the county by the end of August. Apparently the SHA comments to the earlier Walmart revision in April must still be submitted to P & Z for your submittal to The Traffic Group representing Walmart. Is this true?
I still believe it is imperative that the Planning and Zoning Department with State Highway Administration and Public Works assistance examine the big picture of how all the various projects converge and what the real impact will be to traffic and safety. The current system of reviewing and approving development projects in purely sequential and isolated steps fail to take a comprehensive view of the increased traffic created by all the proposed developments within a one mile radius. Based upon the recent approval of the Med Star and assuming Med Star has accepted your conditional approval, I believe Walmart must now include the Med Star generated traffic into any further TIS submittals. Furthermore, an amendment was recently passed by the County Council to create a Maryland Route 924 corridor plan focused on the land use transportation, connectivity, and quality of life along the MD 924 corridor from Lake Drive to Porter Lane.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that traffic mitigation at Routes 924 and 24 with Plumtree Road, Bel Air South Parkway, Wheel Road and Patterson Mill is not feasible or possible without compromising the safety of the public and the roadways.
It is time for P & Z to tell Walmart their site plan will be disapproved for any further non compliance, and the unsatisfactory and vague responses being provided.
I would appreciate receiving a copy of your reply to the August 14, 2013 letter submitted by The Traffic Group.
Thank you for your cooperation and I look forward to hearing from you.
Cc Mr. David Peake, SHA Metropolitan District Engineer, Baltimore and Harford Counties
Mr. Steve Foster, State Highway Administration, Access Management Division
Mr. Pete Gutwald, Director of Planning and Zoning
Mr. Shane Grimm, Chief Board of Appeals and Site Plan Review