Why might Wal-Mart be considering moving just a few miles, from their current location in Abingdon to a new one closer to Bel Air? An obscure provision tucked into the deed of a nearby land deal may hold the key.
As part of the 1988 land deal which created the nearby Constant Friendship Shopping Center, the land’s sellers agreed not to let other nearby parcels be used for a grocery store—such as those included as part of Wal-Mart’s Supercenters.
According to the May 12, 1988 deed, developer Constant Limited Partnership purchased from Emmorton Venture the land for what is now the Constant Friendship Shopping Center in Abingdon, near the intersection of MD Rt. 924 and Rt. 24. As part of the 1988 deal, landowner Emmorton Venture agreed to put a special restriction on nearby land it also owned, including land later purchased by Wal-Mart. The restriction appears to bar Wal-Mart from expanding the existing store into one of its “Supercenters,” which offer a full line of groceries.
Likely intended to limit competition for a planned grocery store in the Constant Friendship Shopping Center—the same space recently vacated by Weis Markets—the 1988 restriction prevents the land under Wal-Mart from being used for the “operation of a food store or food supermarket containing or utilizing more than 5,000 square feet…” for 30 years. In other words, groceries look like a no-go at the Abingdon Wal-Mart until 2018.
The relevant paragraph from the deed mentioning the grocery prohibition reads:
“That certain portion of Grantor’s remaining land which is presently zoned B-2 and C-1, as shown cross-hatched on Exhibit B attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference (the “Restricted Land”), shall not be sold, leased, or used for the operation of a food store or food supermarket containing or utilizing more than 5,000 square feet of floor area for the display, storage, preparation and sale of non-freshly prepared food products for off premises consumption including without limitation groceries, meats, canned goods, fish, delicatessen products, bakery products, pet foods, cereals, dry foods, snacks, fruits and vegetables. Notwithstanding the foregoing, such restriction shall not be applicable to the incidental or secondary, and not primary, operation of a gourmet food or speciality food department from a commercial building contructed on the Restricted Land if such commercial building (i) contains more than 90,000 square feet of floor area, (ii) is part of what is commonly called a “regional shopping mall” and (iii) is occupied by a major department store such as Macy’s, Hecht’s, Bloomingdales, Lord & Taylor or similar conventional department store chain. This convenant shall be a convenant running with the land for a term of thirty (30) years and shall inure to the benefit of Buyer, its successors and assigns.”
According to Pete Gutwald, Harford County director of planning and zoning, Wal-Mart is eyeing an undeveloped parcel at Route 924 and Plumtree Road in Bel Air, a move that has met with opposition from the nearby community.
Gutwald said that the Plumtree parcel, at about 30 acres, is more than large enough for a Supercenter and is zoned for business. But he said that he believed the company was investigating all possibilities, including expanding at the Abingdon site off of Tollgate Road near the intersection of Interstate 95 and Route 24.
Gutwald said that the Abingdon site is large enough to support an expansion but to his knowledge, his department had not been approached by Wal-Mart on that subject. Asked why the company might buy land and build from scratch rather than add on at its existing property, Gutwald said he didn’t have an explanation. Questions about the company’s plans posed by The Dagger to Wal-Mart’s corporate office went without response. But the answers may lie in a 23-year-old deed.
Here is the pertinent section of the 1988 deed: