About 140 people showed up last week to tell the County Council theydon't want Wal-Mart at U.S. 29 and U.S. 40.
And some of them threatened to make it a ballot-box issue.
"We are not here to discuss politics," responded Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-District 1. "The issue of politics does not belong in the zoning board....We're not bound by how much somebody contributes to a campaign or how many votes there are."
She objected when Ellicott Meadows resident Ali Boland said he and other residents wouldvote against council members who support Wal-Mart's plan.
Although none of the speakers at the five-hour Tuesday night hearing mentioned campaign contributions, Pendergrass and other council members havereceived contributions of $30 to $300 from developers, builders and others with interest in zoning decisions. Contributors include attorneys on both sides of the Wal-Mart case. Councilman Darrel Drown, R-District 2, said he is not aware of receiving money from the attorneys,and turned down campaign contributions from some developers.
The five-member council, sitting as the zoning board, will decide whetherthe store will be built. Wal-Mart is asking that 54 acres zoned for office and research use be rezoned for retail purposes.
Most, if not all, of the residents who showed up to applaude the 21 people speaking against the petition last week were from Drown's Ellicott City district.
Although Boland's neighbors in the Ellicott Meadows town house community make up much of the opposition the the two warehouse sized stores on adjacent property, many other residents of the U.S. 40 corridor showed up to protest. Most said added traffic, which a Wal-Mart expert estimated would be about 4,000 to 5,000 cars a day, would make already-congested U.S. 40 intolerable.
"Should the quality of our lives and our homes deteriorate so the heirs of Sam Walton make a few dollars more?" asked Darwin Perry, president of the River Mills Estates Homeowners Association. About one-quarter of the crowd wasfrom that community.
River Mills, which is off Patapsco River Road, already sees excessive traffic cutting through from U.S. 40 at North Ridge Road -- the proposed Wal-Mart site -- and Rogers Avenue nearthe county office complex, Perry testified.
He predicted traffic will gridlock on North Ridge Road at the access road for the Golden Triangle Shopping Center. Wal-Mart traffic plans would route its traffic from U.S. 29 through that intersection.
Jean Lubke of Ellicott Mills announced to the board that between Wal-Mart's eight nights of hearings, she and her husband found out she was pregnant.
"This delight is tempered by the grim reality that we are facing tonight," she said, adding that her child won't have a safe place to play and shewon't be able to sell her home to buy a larger one.
She scoffed at Wal-Mart's touting of American values and its "Buy American" policy, asking, "How in good faith can they say that when they're strippingour American dream away?"
Elaine Northrop, a top-ranked Realtor and resident of the Chestnut Hills neighborhood more than a mile from the site, agreed that property values would tumble with Wal-Mart in place.
"What happens to the young people who invest their meager savings to buy their first home?" She accused landowner Nicholas Mangione of "trying to line his own pockets at the expense of all the otherproperty values."
Organized opposition to Wal-Mart, including twolawyers from a firm hired by Ellicott Meadows developer Joseph Wilder, has turned the hearing into the longest board members or zoning attorneys can remember. Board Chairman C. Vernon Gray promised last Tuesday would be the last night but the hearing will continue with four expert witnesses for the opposition at 8 p.m. on April 28 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard county office building.