War of Words in Wheatfields HHTC HOWARD COUNTY

November 26, 1992

Now would be a good time for Howard County Executiv Charles I. Ecker to step to the plate on the controversial issue of rezoning property near the Wheatfields subdivision in Ellicott City.

So much heat has been generated by the prospect of a large warehouse-style store, possibly a Wal-Mart, on property near Routes 29 and 103 that Mr. Ecker can no longer sit on the sidelines. The issues involved, including the benefits that would accrue to the county from such a project and the fears of Wheatfields residents, are too important for that.

The demand for such a retailer in Howard is undeniable. Seniors and families want it. Tax revenues and job creation also cannot be dismissed.

Still, the impact such a project would have on the community of Wheatfields, including potential traffic problems, needs to be considered.

Absent a clearly stated position by Mr. Ecker, however, the situation has deteriorated into one of name-calling and protests by residents of the subdivision, many of whom are driven by misinformation and a lack of understanding about the process. Mr. Ecker could help change that. At the very least, he could fill the information vacuum that currently exists among Wheatfields residents.

Residents are mistaken in their belief that they've been snubbed by county officials in the government's zeal to get another warehouse-style store into Howard County. To the contrary, officials have appeared lukewarm about assisting Wal-Mart in finding a satisfactory location in the county.

Wheatfields residents also claim they were misled into believing there would be a small community shopping center built near their homes. However, the zoning change requested by the property's owner is not unusual and has merit.

The market forces driving this matter also do not equate to a sinister plot against the community.

It would stand to reason that a warehouse operation on the order of a Wal-Mart would want to locate in Howard, where the disposable income of residents far exceeds other communities. A BJ's Wholesale Club is already slated to open in Columbia early next year.

But Mr. Ecker needs to tell Wheatfields residents why another warehouse operation is or isn't a good idea for the county. It's time for him to get off the bench.

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