Residents try to stop mega-mall

Campaign aims to deny permits for Mills Corp.

`Is it too late?'

Last-ditch effort starts as bulldozers do preliminary work

June 27, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Even as bulldozers are clearing trees for a proposed mega-mall in Hanover, opponents of the 1.4 million-square-foot Arundel Mills shopping complex are stepping up efforts to stop construction.

Convinced that many northwest Anne Arundel County residents aren't aware that county officials approved the $250 million development a year ago, a newly organized group has launched a last-minute door-to-door information campaign.

Today, they plan to finish a weekend sweep through Severn, Jessup, Hanover and Harmans to distribute about 5,000 fliers outlining their objections to the mall. The group is also collecting signatures for a petition to give to federal and state environmental regulators reviewing the project. The deadline for public comment is Friday.

"The perception is that everybody wants this [the mall], and my feeling is we've got to change that rather quickly," said Gary Mauler, who is on the board of directors of the Jessup Improvement Association, which opposes the mall.

"It looks like we've got the momentum starting; the question is, is it too late?" Mauler said.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment are expected to rule within the next few weeks on the mall developer's application to build on regulated wetlands and forests in the Piney Run watershed.

If the Virginia-based Mills Corp. obtains the necessary approvals, the company faces no major obstacles in its plan to clear 400 acres near Route 100 at the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Mills officials have scheduled a groundbreaking for July 15, and a grand opening late next year.

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

The proposal generated little criticism a year ago when a zoning change and special financing sailed through the County Council. County Executive Janet S. Owens, most local elected officials and many community groups support the mall.

Opposition surfaced at a June 17 public hearing, sponsored by the federal and state agencies reviewing Mills Corp.'s request to build on wetlands. About 300 people attended to voice concerns about the environmental, economic and aesthetic impact of the mall.

Supporters said the project will bring jobs and much-needed tax revenue to the county.

A core group of about 20 Arundel Mills opponents met last week to brainstorm about ways to spread their message and developed the plan to target neighborhoods closest to the site and most affected by the proposed project.

Lou Ann Maclay lives in Silva-De-Amor, a development off Clark Road, which would have to be realigned by the mall's developer. She said she found out about the proposal in October through a notice from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"I thought it was just me, then I started calling my neighbors and found out they didn't know either," said Maclay, who, with three homeowners in her development, has put her house up for sale. "I am totally in shock over this whole thing."

`Purposely excluded'

Maclay, who attended the public hearing, said she was surprised to learn that Mills Corp. officials had met regularly with community leaders over 18 months to inform them about Arundel Mills. She said representatives from her community and others off Clark Road, including Ridgewood Estates and Ridge Field, were not included in the talks.

"I sat there and listened to how the county and Mills had solicited input and it made me feel that we were purposely excluded because we would have substantial concerns that would jeopardize the development," Maclay said.

Dennis Connolly, a Mills Corp. vice president, said the company contacted 40 community organizations and formed a task force that included leaders from many of the groups. But he said he wasn't sure how the groups were selected.

The developer has promoted the project as a benefit to the county, saying it will generate $5.2 million a year in county taxes and 3,500 permanent jobs.

But opponents worry that it also will take business from local and regional retail operations, pollute and add traffic, as well as destroy environmentally valuable and historically significant property.

The mall's critics are angry that the developer has started preconstruction work without permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"I was driving up Ridge Road last week and I smelled freshly cut wood," said Cathy Castellan, who lives near the proposed project. "Then I saw the bulldozers, and my heart just sank."

John Morris, a spokesman with the county's Department of Public Works, said the county granted Mills Corp. a mass-grading permit May 28 for generic leveling and ground clearing. The permit does not allow work affecting wetlands, he said.

Castellan, a resident of Ridgewood Estates, a subdivision that would be in the mall's back yard, said many of her neighbors have no idea about the scope of the project.

"They were appalled at the amount of forest that will be destroyed," she said. "The people I talked to said, `Whoa, wait a minute.' "

`Not a done deal yet'

Mauler said he expects 80 percent of the residents contacted this weekend to sign a petition opposing the mall.

"It's a matter of getting the word out," said Kevin Fields, vice president of the Jessup Improvement Association. He pointed out that plans for the Odenton Town Center were abruptly halted more than 10 years ago because the Army Corps of Engineers denied a necessary permit.

"It's not a done deal yet," Fields said.

Pub Date: 6/27/99

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