Area residents are gearing up to fight a potential Wal-Mart Supercenter at the intersection of Plumtree Rd. and MD Rt. 924 in Bel Air, organizing a meeting for neighborhood representatives and circulating an online petition that has thus far gathered more than 180 signatures. The petition, addressed to “District Representatives of Bel Air South, and County Planners and Developers” opposes the store on the grounds that it will hurt existing businesses, increase traffic congestion and may add to crime in the area.
Pete Gutwald, director of planning and zoning for Harford County has acknowledged that the low-price retailer has expressed an interest in building a store at the now-undeveloped Plumtree location, which he said has both the necessary acreage and the appropriate zoning. But as of late last week, the results of a traffic study to be submitted by the company to the county, an early step in a multi-step approval process, was still pending.
Ruth Rhymaun-Coughlan, an organizer of the opposition group known as the Bel Air South Community Foundation, said a planning and information session held in late May attracted more than 60 people representing 30 area neighborhoods and homeowners’ associations. Among the potential issues, she said, was that a Wal-Mart at the Plumtree site would likely require the expansion of Rt. 924, which she said could cause a loss of property for six churches along that road. One of the churches identified by Rhymaun-Coughlan, the Bel Air United Methodist Mt. Carmel Chapel at Wheel Rd., includes a cemetery, which she speculated could be paved over if it was the subject of a government takeover via eminent domain. “I would never want to see that happen to the beautiful United Methodist cemetery. It’s an historical site in Harford County”, Rhymaun-Coughlan said.
Despite word from the county that Wal-Mart is looking at sites in addition to the Plumtree location, Rhymaun-Coughlan said that officials in planning and zoning told her that no other site is currently the subject of a company traffic study.
Rhymaun-Coughlan said the next step for the opposition group would be a town rally, still in the planning stages.
From the petition:
Target: To the District Representatives of Bel Air South, and County Planners and Developers
Sponsored by: Bel Air South Community Foundation
By signing below, I certify that I am opposed to the construction of a Walmart Super Center at the intersection of Plumtree Road and Emmorton Road (Rt 924) in Bel Air.
I believe that a local economy provides the community with the necessary financial and social support for balanced economic growth. I am convinced that having a Walmart Super Center will be a detriment to our community. In particular, the construction of a Walmart Super Center at this location will reduce local business viability.
We the undersigned, would like to urge the Planners, Developers and Public Servants of Harford County, and the representatives of our Districts, to consider our plea. We are opposed to the construction of a Walmart Super Center at the location adjacent to Plumtree Road and between Rt. 924 and Hwy. 24 in Bel Air, Md.
We feel that this would be an unfortunate change to the wonderful atmosphere that we now enjoy in Bel Air, and would negatively impact local traffic and community safety.
We are concerned that without community input, this project will go forward with little consideration for the impact to the neighbors of this potential new construction.
We do not oppose development of this parcel, but wish to help shape the nature and atmosphere of the future of our community.
Sincerely, the Undersigned.
Additionally, I believe that a Walmart Super Center will add significant traffic congestion and may also increase the rate of crime in and around residential properties in he 56 communities along the Route 924 corridor and adjacent to Patterson Mill Middle and High School.
Online Listing May Indicate Growing Interest in Bel Air Wal-Mart
A listing on the Web site of a little-known commercial real estate company indicates that Wal-Mart is seeking contractors for a new 150,000 square foot store at Plumtree Road and Route 924 in Bel Air. But it remains unclear whether the listing was initiated by Wal-Mart itself or was generated by the company in response to recent local press coverage.
The listing, dated April 19, was posted on www.ConstructionJournal.com. The site maintains a subscription-based database of commercial, residential, and retail projects nationwide, as well as links to local news clippings for various regions.
The April 19 entry details a project at the intersection of “Plum Tree Drive” and Route 924 in Bel Air to build an approximately 150,000 square foot retail building. According to the listing, bids will be accepted “by invitation only” and the status of the project is “Conceptual Design.” Four “Prospective Bidders,” none from Harford County, have indicated their interest.
Jesse Josephson, vice-president of sales and marketing for Construction Journal, declined to detail the sources for the listing. Requests for comment from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. went unanswered. Gutwald said he was not aware of the ConstructionJournal.com information.
Here are a few items from the listing:
Reported: 04/19/11 3:24 PM
Project Type: New Construction
Physical Address: Plum Tree Drive & Route 924
City/County: Bel Air, MD (Harford County)
Contracting Method: Bids by Invitation Only.
Status: Conceptual Design.
Estimated Value: Greater than $10,000,000
Wal Mart Inc (Eastern Stores Construction)
2001 Southeast Tenth Street
Bentonville, AR 72712
(479) 273-4696 fax: (479) 277-9367
Details: Retail, Approximately 150,000 sq ft New Construction.