A traffic consultant gave more than five hours of testimony before the county Zoning Board Monday night on how thousands of vehicles attracted by the nation's largest retailer would affect U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.
Continuous grilling on details of the traffic study by lawyers representing opponents of two stores planned by Wal-Mart StoresInc. pushed the hearing into a fourth night of testimony, and possibly a fifth.
Wes Guckert, president of The Traffic Group Inc., a Towson-based consulting firm, said the study he did for Wal-Mart indicated the twostores would generate about 4,000 car trips (a vehicle coming or going) each weekday and about 5,000 Saturdays and Sundays, or 15,000 cars a week.
About 80 people attended the hearing -- most wearing orange "say no" stickers -- and signed up to testify against the project. Their turn will have to wait, however, until four experts testify to counter testimony of Wal-Mart's experts on planning and traffic.
"This is very important to us, so we'll be here no matter how long it drags out," said Stacy Breazeale, who owns a town house in the neighboring Ellicott Meadows development.
Breazeale's neighbors, theirbuilder, Joseph Wilder, and other residents are fighting Wal-Mart's petition to rezone the property from office/research to retail zoning. They fear round-the-clock deliveries and light, noise and other pollution if the board allows the 119,500-square-foot Wal-Mart department store and 132,500-square-foot Sam's Club wholesale buying club nearU.S. 29 and U.S. 40.
Wilder is completing 108 town houses in Ellicott Meadows and is planning another section. He said after the hearing adjourned that a Wal-Mart would be good for Howard County in another location.
"We are not just fighting against Wal-Mart. We're fighting for our existence," said the Ellicott City-based developer. "IfWal-Mart comes into existence, we will have to declare bankruptcy. Nobody will buy a house next to Wal-Mart."
Attorney Thomas M. Meachum, representing residents opposed to the project, asked Guckert if he envisioned a problem with tractor-trailer rigs coming from southbound U.S. 29 to the Wal-Mart site on North Ridge Road.
That would require the trucks to stop for the stop sign at the end of the ramp onto eastbound U.S. 40 and cross three lanes before turning left onto Ridge Road, Meachum said. Guckert said he did not see a problem with that.
Traffic problems are one of the major reasons county planners and the county planning board rejected the site plan Wal-Mart submitted with its petition.
The county's site-plan zoning process allowspetitioners to spell out what they plan to do with rezoned land. In order to legally qualify for rezoning, however, Wal-Mart must first prove that the 1985 office/research zoning is a mistake or that the character of the neighborhood has since changed.
The Zoning Board was to have heard testimony again last night, and was expected to schedule a fifth night.
Guckert testified that Wal-Mart has pledged to help make improvements to the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ridge Road,such as providing additional lanes on Ridge Road and U.S. 40 and a concrete median on Ridge Road between northbound and southbound U.S. 40.
"What guarantee is there that your client will make the improvements?" asked Wilder's attorney, Vincent M. Guida.
Guckert noted that Wal-Mart's promises were in writing, but said the company had only agreed to "participate" in other improvements, such as widening theRidge Road bridge over the ramp connecting northbound U.S. 29 and eastbound U.S. 40. Wal-Mart will not pay for all the work because it would correct problems that already exist, he said.