Mount Airy defers Wal-Mart decision Officials say traffic issues surrounding planned store have yet to be resolved

October 28, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

After nearly four hours discussing traffic patterns with Mount Airy Planning and Zoning Commission, the developer of Wal-Mart is no closer to building a store in town.

A site-plan review of a proposed 85,000-square-foot discount store, such as Wal-Mart, on 14 acres behind Mount Airy Shopping Center, drew about 65 residents Monday. After lengthy discussion, the decision was deferred until Nov. 9.

The commission must decide if the developer has devised traffic patterns that will alleviate congestion around the center, a 20-year-old complex along Route 27. Traffic consultants and maps detailing access patterns did little more than confuse those present. "I am not convinced that we have solved the traffic issues," said Joe Jansen, a planning commissioner.

Consultants offered to bring a computerized model of the traffic plan to the next meeting.

For many, the only good news during the marathon session was the town planner's recommendation to deny Wal-Mart access to Main Street. If the store is approved, shoppers would use entrances at Ridgeville Boulevard and Route 27, both of which the developer will improve.

"Wal-Mart is a terrible thing, but a Main Street access for the store would be diabolical," said Jack Caddy, who helped found Citizens for a Better Mount Airy. The group was formed to fight Wal-Mart, but has broadened its scope to all community growth issues.

Jansen called Main Street the town's identifier. "Allowing access would take away the Main Street character," he said. "You would take away our past as well as our future."

Many residents waited until 10 p.m. for a chance to address the board. Their comments were limited to zoning issues, although several voiced opposition to Wal-Mart building in the town of 5,000.

Chris German, of South Main Street, said he was concerned with noise, glaring lights and truck traffic from the retailer, which might be open 24 hours. He asked that the developer's property along Main Street be dedicated to the town, possibly for a small park.

"The agreement with Wal-Mart says there always has to be an access point, even if it is denied now," said Gary Rappaport, a Virginia developer who bought the shopping center two years ago.

Caddy complained that residents were shut out of the process and ill-prepared for the hearing because town studies and recommendations were withheld from them until Monday.

"We deserve to know what the town is doing," Caddy said. "We want to be part of the planning process."

Mayor Gerald R. Johnson said town policy is to make information public when the project comes before the planning board.

"Before the meeting, the only people party to the information are commission members and the applicant," Johnson said.

Linda Boyer, a former mayor and member of the citizens group, said the town's traffic study for the shopping center lacked vital information. Traffic counts were taken in August before schools reopened, and counting did not begin until 7 a.m.

"Traffic on Main Street is extremely heavy at 5: 30 a.m.," said Boyer, a resident of the street. "We need good numbers from a realistic viewpoint. Otherwise, the deductions we make are not correct."

The property at Route 27 and Ridgeville Boulevard is zoned commercial, leaving the town little reason to deny the application.

"The property is zoned correctly for commercial," Johnson said. "The developer is willing to address the road issues."

Caddy expects the project to win preliminary zoning approval at the next session, but that approval will be contingent on solving traffic problems, he said. The citizens group is determined to continue its battle against Wal-Mart, he said.

Beth Woodley of Troon Circle directed her remarks directly to Rappaport.

"Mr. Rappaport, you don't live here and you don't know what we need," Woodley said. "When I come home, I want peace and quiet. I don't want to hear, 'Mrs. Jones, your tires are ready.' And I will hear that from the store."

The national chain, with more than 2,800 stores nationwide and sales of $93 billion in 1995, has four stores within a 30-minute drive of the town, two of them in Carroll County. Company officials say the number of customers is expanding in Mount Airy, which is situated where Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Montgomery counties meet.

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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