Fighting an outlet mall Potomac Mills-type project: Changing neighborhood not cause enough to reject proposal.

December 16, 1997

REGARDLESS OF its location, a 1.5 million square-foot shopping mall will alter the nature of its surroundings.

The coalition of 30 civic groups that opposes the proposed development of a large outlet discount mall in northern Anne Arundel County's Harmans, near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Routes 100 and 176, is right about that. However, change in a neighborhood's character is not sufficient reason to reject the proposed mall.

Any large development brings change. Over the past 15 years, the north side of Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been altered tremendously. A neighborhood quilted by narrow roads and open fields that had somehow remained sleepy and rural in the middle of a bustling metropolitan corridor was transformed into an emerging "edge city" of office buildings, hotels and parking lots. The intensive development was located appropriately near the airport and major highways.

The completed extension of Route 100 to Interstate 95, linking the lucrative markets of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, makes the outlet mall project especially attractive. County master plans anticipated the development. The proper infrastructure is in place or under construction. This massive influx of building has brought thousands of jobs, increased property values and bolstered the tax base.

The criteria for whether Harmans is an appropriate spot for a Potomac Mills-style mall depends on answers to the following: Are existing roads capable of handling many more cars and delivery trucks? Will peak-hour commuter and mall traffic cause gridlock? Will the development destroy important natural features, such as springs, wetlands and forests? Will a change in zoning from light industrial to commercial remove a significant parcel from the county's inventory of industrial land and impede future economic development?

Even if the Arlington, Va.-based Mills Corp. decides not to build, the transformation of BWI's southern flank is inevitable. Empty parcels along Dorsey Road are likely to be developed, as happened north of the airport.

The opposing civic groups are better off focusing on the above questions rather than arguing that their surroundings should remain frozen in a time that vanished years ago.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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