Mall builder states plans

Developer to preserve 29 of 33 wetland acres on Hanover site

June 18, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

At a public hearing that drew more than 300 people to Harman Elementary School last night, developers of the proposed Arundel Mills mall presented their plans to preserve forests and wetlands on the project's 400-acre site in Hanover.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment have been reviewing the mall project for nearly a year. The agencies scheduled the hearing at the request of mall opponents who have expressed concerns about the project in the past few months.

The Mills Corp., a Virginia-based company, is proposing to build a 1.4 million-square-foot shopping complex near Route 100 at the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The firm needs permits from the two agencies because it plans to build on wetlands and forests in the Piney Run watershed.

Mills Corp. officials said last night that they have worked over the past 18 months to reduce from nearly 5 acres to 1.39 acres the area of wetlands that would be affected by the project. Twenty-nine of the 33 acres of wetlands on the site will be preserved, they said.

On the 400-acre site, 160 acres will remain forested open space, one third will include the mall and parking lots, and the remainder will be outer buildings, including a hotel and office space, the developer said.

"This wasn't the developer just coming in and saying this is what I want to do," said Kevin Kelly, Mills' environmental consultant.

The site will include four storm-water management ponds and a system to maintain water quality and reduce erosion. In addition, state and federal regulations require Mills to monitor wetlands and stream conditions.

"We believe responsible development is very important," said Dennis Connolly, a Mills vice president and a senior development director on the project. "It's important to the community where we are and it benefits us."

The Arundel Mills project has the support of County Executive Janet S. Owens, most local elected officials and many community groups. Almost a year ago, when the County Council approved a zoning change and special financing package that allowed the project to go forward, critics were few.

But recently, critics of the project have raised concerns about the environmental, economic and aesthetic impact of the mall. They say that the $250 million project will harm local and regional retail operations, add to pollution and traffic congestion, and destroy environmentally valuable and historically significant property.

"I'm concerned about the traffic, the pollution, losing the wetlands, the woods and the environment," said Hanover resident, Cathy Castellan. "We have malls so close, it just seems like a monetary decision and not truly an environmental decision."

Meredith E. Lastbury of Annapolis, one of the founders of Citizens for Better Landscapes, which opposes the project, was not impressed with Mills' efforts to reduce the amount of affected wetlands.

"These are very valuable wetlands in terms of water quality," Lastbury said. "The acreage isn't as important as the water quality functions they provide."

Arundel Mills would be the largest mall built in the county, with perhaps 200 stores -- including discount retailers and factory outlets -- a 30-screen movie theater, restaurants and a skateboarding facility.

The developer touted the project as a benefit to the county and said it will generate $72 million a year in taxes and 3,500 permanent jobs. Mills also said the "shoppertainment" center could become a tourist attraction in the same way that its Potomac Mills mall has brought visitors to Prince William County in Northern Virginia.

State and federal officials could make a decision on the wetland application permits in the next few weeks.

Pub Date: 6/18/99

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