Groups oppose outlet mall plan Neighbors of site near BWI fearful of increased traffic

December 07, 1997|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

An alliance of 30 civic associations is preparing a presentation to the county executive and County Council outlining the groups' opposition to a 1.5-million-square-foot outlet mall developers are considering for a tract near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Representatives of several of the associations decided to put together the presentation last week after they met to discuss the Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp.'s proposal to build the mall on 1,000 acres near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Routes and 176.

Residents fear that the mall would "change the whole atmosphere of our community," said Mike Shylanski, president of the Greater Severn Improvement Association.

Marie Cook, president of the Provinces Civic Association, said the West County Federation of Civic Associations would make its pitch to Executive John G. Gary and the council next month.

The mall, which would bring about 3,500 jobs to the area, would be similar to the company's Potomac Mills center in Dale City, Va., which is one of Virginia's largest tourist attractions.

Gary and representatives of the BWI Business Partnership and the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. have expressed support for the mall and the economic growth they say it would bring. But those who live closest to it fear it would attract too

much traffic, said Del. Michael W. Burns, a Republican who represents the area.

"We get the commercial and the light industry and industry, and there is a feeling in my area that we have done our bit for this county's economic development," he said. "It's time for other places to pull their weight, too."

The property is zoned light industrial, which Burns said would have to be changed to permit construction of the mall.

Ed Vinson, a Mills vice president, said he has heard complaints through company representatives who have been to west county community association meetings in the past month. He said his company's plans are tentative and that it won't decide whether the site is viable until traffic studies and other plans are completed early next year.

"The plans that we have to date are totally subject to change," Vinson said.

Mills operates seven Potomac Mills-style malls across the country. The newest one, Arizona Mills, opened in Tempe on Nov. 20. Most have hundreds of stores, movie theaters and chain restaurants. Vinson said the average mall costs about $200 million to build.

Vinson said the Harmans site would be ideal for a Mills mall because of its access to interstate highways and the proximity of the airport.

Kevin Barrett, a retail broker with the Towson-based real estate company KLNB Inc., said Mills' plans for a mall between Baltimore and Washington reflect a trend of placing discount stores close to metropolitan areas.

"What's traditionally driven outlet-type centers to be pushed far from metropolitan areas is that the department stores dictated to the manufacturers that they didn't want the goods to be discounted in stores close to them," Barrett said.

William A. Badger Jr., senior vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., said the mall would have "tremendous significance" for the county.

"If you look at other places where they've done this, it has stimulated additional development around the mall," Badger said. "There are hotels, and there's a lot of retail that have sprung up around it."

That is what residents fear, said Shylanski of the Greater Severn Improvement Association.

"We're not saying there would be no benefits to this whatsoever, but we hope that there will be special attention to the roads and the general attractiveness to that area and control over future growth," he said. "People are also concerned the rural character of the area is going to change forever."

Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman, said the executive is "more than willing to hear what the residents' concerns are."

Gary "has not said that he totally endorses [Mills Corp.'s] plan, but he thinks it's an appropriate use of that property," Ritter said.

Cook said she has mixed feelings about the mall, which would be less than a mile from her home in the Provinces, a community of about 1,000 homes.

"The land is going to be developed, and if it's not going to be a mega-mall, it's going to be something," Cook said.

"If we're anti-mall, then what are we going to get? Another jail or composting facility or an asphalt plant? I'm not optimistic."

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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