Developer says center must grow or die Delay of Wal-Mart project has owner concerned

traffic worries officials

July 01, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Developer Gary Rappaport, who is hoping to attract a Wal-Mart to his aging shopping center in Mount Airy, has become stuck in traffic -- at least for the time being.

Told by the town planning commission Monday that his traffic plan for the project is inadequate, Rappaport must scramble to come up with an alternative that will satisfy town officials and undergo scrutiny from state highway authorities.

Rappaport warns that the independent traffic study ordered by the commission can delay his plans for a project he says is vital to the health of his shopping center.

"We have to reinvest and build anew," said Rappaport, a Vienna, Va.-based developer seeking to carve a 14-acre lot from his Mount Airy Shopping Center for use by a major retailer. "Without improvements, this center will die. We are losing tenants and having problems leasing space. This will continue unless we improve."

The commission's surprise vote Monday night came even though Rappaport had proposed building an intersection with a signal at the shopping center and improving access to Route 27.

Commission members -- who had been expected to approve a preliminary site plan for the project -- said those road improvements might not be enough.

Overloaded streets

"Development has already overloaded town streets," said Councilman William R. Stroh, liaison to the planning commission. "We need a traffic study that is in the town's interests. We cannot approve [the proposed site plan] without State Highway [Administration] comments."

The study "must include all adjoining streets, both existing and future," said Bob Mead, town planning commissioner. It must include everything under construction, and take into account "the 800 new homes on the east side of the town and the industrial park," he said.

Linda Boyer, former mayor of the town of 5,500 residents, said the traffic study is essential. "There are too many traffic problems in Mount Airy now to grant this proposal in a vacuum," she said. "The developer has a right to develop, but citizens have the right to safe streets and easy access to shopping."

Losing tenants

Rappaport purchased the 100,000-square-foot shopping center a year ago with plans to expand Safeway, the center's anchor food store, and build a Wal-Mart. The center has lost many tenants in recent years, including the post office and a hardware store. About 20 percent of the space remains vacant.

"Access has become a problem," said Rappaport. "Safeway, our largest anchor tenant, is tenuous as to the long term. We have to rejuvenate this center."

Wal-Mart has not been officially identified as the proposed tenant, but the Arkansas-based retailer's interest in building an 85,000-square-foot store on the 14-acre site at Ridgeville Boulevard and Route 27 has been widely publicized.

Residents opposed to the project fear that traffic generated by the store would have an adverse effect on nearby intersections.

According to estimates developed by the Institute of Transportation Engineers, a store the size of Wal-Mart in Mount Airy could generate as many as 5,000 trips daily.

"We use those figures as a reference when we are estimating," said Janet Gregor, county transportation planner. "The numbers are not perfect and they reflect studies done in the Midwest."

Highway agency role

The State Highway Administration has seen proposals for the expansion of Safeway, but has not received any information on Wal-Mart. It must review all proposals before allowing any improvements to state roads.

"We have asked the developer for a traffic impact analysis," said George Miller, state traffic engineer. "We have had no updated submittal sent to us. Our responsibility is to review and determine the validity of the request."

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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