Council OKs taxing district Move seen as easing way for huge mall in Hanover

August 04, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Council considered last night laying out a welcome mat for developers of a proposed mall and entertainment center in Hanover, discussing a zoning change and the creation of taxing districts that would ease the way for the project.

The council, by a vote of 6 to 0 (one member was absent) approved a special taxing district and the issuing of $28 million in bonds. Most of the revenue would pay for building a new interchange on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and widening the roadway.

The Virginia-based Mills Corp. is proposing a 1.4 million-square-foot mall and entertainment center, to be called Arundel Mills, on 380 acres south of Route 100 and west of Ridge Road near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The company would build another 950,000 square feet in outer buildings, according to Mills officials.

The zoning change would allow a building of at least 750,000 square feet on at least 300 acres of land zoned for industrial parks, commercial office space and general commercial space, without requiring a public hearing on the development.

As a conditional use, "regional commercial complexes" would be subject to review by planning officials. But unlike special-exception uses, neighbors of the proposed development and others would not be allowed to air their opposition, or support, at a public hearing.

"Clearly, this is an important step in making this development a reality," said Edward B. Vinson, a Mills group vice president, of the legislation.

The company, whose first mega-mall project was Potomac Mills in Dale City, Va., now operates seven such malls in the United States. Consumers from surrounding states and other countries come to the malls for "shoppertainment," a mix of discount stores, movie theaters and restaurants, and stay an average of 3.5 hours per trip, Vinson said.

Several West County residents came to the council hearing to support the legislation, which is sponsored by Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Heights Democrat.

Allen Kuchera, a resident of Spring Meadows in Severn, was one of many sporting a colorful Arundel Mills T-shirt and "Yes, Arundel Mills" button, both provided by the developer.

"The pros would definitely be the jobs it would generate, the taxes it would generate," said Kuchera, a customer service representative. "The way it's been planned out, I think it will be an asset to the area."

But several Jessup residents and community leaders opposed the project and the legislation to help the developers.

Melanie Gutjahr, who has lived on Route 175 in Jessup for 15 years, said she is "passionate about shopping," but opposes the construction of a mega-mall in her backyard. She wore a T-shirt depicting a shopping bag with the word "NO" to the council meeting.

Traffic on the road in front of her home has worsened over the years, she said, even with the opening of highways like Route 100 and Route 32, so a mega-mall would only bring more cars.

And to Gutjahr, having an outlet center become one of the top tourist attractions in the state is nothing to boast about.

"Do we as citizens of Maryland want to have our No. 1 tourist attraction, with all we have to offer, be a shopping mall?" she asked.

For Rick Morgan, president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the answer is "yes."

The mall would be a "spectacular opportunity," to bring tourists to Maryland and to get those who are visiting the area to extend their trips and spend more money in other businesses.

Local malls like Marley Station in Glen Burnie would see a dip in sales for the first 60 to 100 days Arundel Mills is open, but return to normal business or even increase, said Morgan, who visited several Mills projects.

One point that swayed many residents in favor of the large project, according to Mike Shylanski, president of the Greater Severn Improvement Association, was the company's promise to build a separate shopping center accessible to local residents. The center will have a much needed grocery and other conveniences, cutting the driving time for some Severn area residents who now drive to Fort Meade, Odenton or Glen Burnie to shop, Shylanski said.

The company will also donate $250,000, outside of the taxes included in the legislation, to pay for improvements at the intersection of Route 175 and Ridge Road in Hanover, an intersection outside the mall's direct area of impact but one that residents wanted to see improved.

"We gave a lot of suggestions, and they listened," Shylanski said.

Under the legislation discussed last night, money from a tax increment district would pay for $28 million in bonds for road improvements. Property taxes from the increased value of the Arundel Mills project will go toward those projects. In addition, a special taxing district would be created to levy taxes on the Arundel Mills property in case the first district did not raise enough money. Outside the taxes, the corporation will have to pay another $3 million to meet the estimated $31 million cost of road, water and sewer projects.

Because of a delay in the public advertisement of the hearing, the council can't vote on the zoning bill until the Aug. 17 council meeting.

Pub Date: 8/04/98

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