Bigger outlet center would increase traffic Site in Queenstown en route to Ocean City

November 07, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

QUEENSTOWN -- A proposal to double the size of Chesapeake Village Outlet Center, spreading it to both sides of U.S. 50 at Queenstown, has raised troubling questions about traffic on the main route to Ocean City, and the wisdom of further commercial development in a congested and heavily traveled area. The outlet center expansion has become a lightning-rod issue, provoking a wider discussion of future land use and how to keep the area from sprawling into a strip-mall eyesore.

Opponents of the plan, which has not been formally presented to the town commission, say they are concerned about increased traffic at an already treacherous stretch of highway, the wisdom of commercial development at the headwaters of the Wye River and whether such development will ultimately benefit Queenstown and the surrounding area.

"My position is, if this is done well, I certainly won't oppose it," said Eleanor Vernon, executive secretary of the Queen Anne's Conservation Association. "But when we did our survey, most people were saying that they opposed it." Her group surveyed 1,000 households, polling the 500 residents of Queenstown and people who live in the immediate area.

The outlet center proposal includes a plan to annex 139 acres, known locally as the Wheatland farm, into the town. The property, owned by local developer Mareen D. Waterman, stretches from the headwaters of the Wye River to an area just off U.S. 50 where it passes Queenstown.

Waterman says that if the annexation plan is approved, he will sell the property to Horizon Group Inc., owners of Chesapeake Village Outlet Center, for expansion of the center. The Waterman property has been designated for development in the Queenstown community plan, a state-mandated effort to manage growth.

If the annexation is approved by county and town officials, the state will be asked to fund and implement a long-standing plan to build a "flyover," an access ramp over U.S. 50 to carry local traffic.

Planning officials and an attorney for the group hoping to expand the outlet say that their plans include protection of the areas around the river, with development planned for the area away from the river.

"Of that 139 acres, just a little over half will be developed," said Joseph A. Stevens, a lawyer with Linowes and Blocher in Centreville. His firm is representing Horizon Group Inc., the Michigan-based corporation that owns Chesapeake Village Outlet Center.

Although no detailed plan for the expansion has been prepared, zTC Stevens said it is likely the proposed expansion would look very much like the existing outlet center, which is about 219,000 square feet.

The conservation association said it was concerned about the viability of such a large-scale development in a county already rich in empty retail space, including two struggling outlet malls within 10 miles of the proposed expansion.

But supporters of the expansion point to the success of the existing outlet center, which does an estimated $50 million annually in sales. Horizon Group Inc. owns and operates 35 centers across the country, including one in Perryville -- evidence, supporters said, of the company's ability to plan and develop an outlet center that will flourish.

Residents of Hickory Ridge, a subdivision of 140 homes near the planned expansion, are concerned about more traffic on a road that is a summer nightmare.

"I don't think we're going to be able to stem development in its entirety," said Carl Clazey, president of Hickory Ridge Improvement Association. "Our main concern is traffic flow. We're locked in with beach traffic. The summer months are horrendous."

County planners and the lawyer for the development group said that the "flyover" across Route 50 would extend Route 18 the way it has been extended on Kent Island.

"It's always been in the long-term plan to have an overpass there -- it's a dangerous intersection," said Griffith, the county planner. "But it's like a lot of things on the Shore -- it's unfunded."

"We've told the state, "We're willing to participate financially if you will accelerate your plans," said Stevens. The amount of money Horizon would put into what has been estimated as a $4 million project has not been determined, he said.

Despite such assurances from planners and Horizon representatives, citizen opposition remains significant.

The Queenstown Area Citizens for Controlled Growth, a committee of the conservation association formed to monitor the town's long-term planning, sent out questionnaires to gauge citizen reaction, said Vernon. Nearly all -- 86 percent -- of the 193 respondents indicated they opposed the outlet expansion, she said.

The long-term development plan, which includes the outlet expansion proposal, has been approved by a citizens' advisory committee. The next step, county officials said, is a series of public hearings on the plan, and on the annexation of the Wheatland farm by Queenstown.

Pub Date: 11/07/96

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