Rebuffed by the planning board two months ago, the nation's leading discount retailer will try again before the zoning board tonight. Wal-Mart will ask to build a department store and members-only wholesalebuying club on 54 acres in Ellicott City near U.S. 29 and U.S. 40.
To build a 114,000-square-foot department store and a 130,000-square-foot buying club on an extension of Ridge Road, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will have to persuade the zoning board it made a mistake in 1985 when the land was zoned for office rather than retail use. The county erred by failing to anticipate a downturn in demand for office space, Wal-Mart says.
The company also will argue that the character of the neighborhood has changed sufficiently to warrant new zoning. Enough other retailbusinesses have opened in the area to constitute a change, the company says.
A mistake or a change in the character of the neighborhood are the only grounds for zoning changes between comprehensive rezonings of the county. Comprehensive rezonings occur about every eight years.
The planning board, which screens zoning petitions before they are presented to the zoning board, rejected both of Wal-Mart's arguments. It voted unanimously in November to oppose the change.
Forthe board, it seemed a case of the right store in the wrong location. Board members said the store would add too much traffic to the Ridge Road intersection.
There is no money in the state or county budget to make improvements to the intersection, but Wal-Mart could be forced to make them if the county's proposed adequate facilities ordinance is approved by the County Council next month, as expected.
Theproposed ordinance would require developers to make improvements to a nearby intersection if that intersection becomes more congested as a result of the proposed development. Another alternative would be for the developer to pay the county a fee in lieu of making the improvements.
Wal-Mart estimates the proposed Ellicott City stores would create 400 jobs -- 250 jobs at Wal-Mart and 150 at Sam's.
The hearing room is expected to be filled tonight with people opposing the petition. Most piecemeal zoning cases are heard in one evening, but this one may take a least two nights because of all the opponents, county officials say.