Developer marks groundbreaking of Arundel Mills, despite protests

July 16, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

The developer of the $250 million Arundel Mills mall pulled out the stops yesterday for a glamorous groundbreaking gala at its construction site in Hanover, while a small group of opponents brandished anti-mall signs in the streets.

Inside a large white party tent, Mills Corp. executives read the list of the first tenants to sign up for stores in the 1.4 million-square-foot mall and promised more tax revenue, jobs and shopping for the county. Outside, about 20 members of Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development warned of traffic congestion and irreversible environmental damage.

The group formed about a month ago in a last-minute effort to derail the Arundel Mills project, which has the support of most local elected officials.

"We're convinced there are more people out there who don't know how big this mall is going to be and how it's going to affect our quality of life," said Cathy Castellan, a member of the Concerned Citizens group, whose neighborhood is adjacent to the mall site.

More than 200 business people, community leaders and elected officials attended the groundbreaking, but Mills began bulldozing trees last month on 400 acres near Route 100 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Guests mingled and nibbled on platters of shrimp, ham, pastries, quiche and fresh fruit as a jazz band played.

Arundel Mills is scheduled to open by Thanksgiving, pending approval of environmental permits by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment. They are expected to complete their review by the end of the month.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said yesterday that she is "regrettably comfortable" with the Arundel Mills project, although she occasionally criticized it when she was running for office last year.

She said she found the timing of the protesters' recent opposition to the mall "ironic."

"On the campaign trail, I raised some of these same concerns; I felt like a lone voice," Owens said. "The Sierra Club of Annapolis came to me two months ago and I said, `Where were you a year and a half ago?' "

The Concerned Citizens began protesting the mall after a June 17 public hearing held by federal and state agencies reviewing Mills Corp.'s request to build on wetlands. Group members say they have nearly 1,000 signatures of people opposed to the mall, most of them collected in a door-to-door sweep of northwest county neighborhoods. The group sent its petitions to state and federal regulators, the county executive and County Council members.

Yesterday, group members positioned themselves on Ridge Road with protest signs: "Just Say No to 50,000 Cars a Day," "Travel Alert: Mega Mall Coming." The warning signs stood side by side with Mills' signs: "It's not a Mall, It's Shopping with Class."

The Concerned Citizens group is hoping that the Army Corps of Engineers will decide to do a detailed environmental study on the mall site.

"We'd like the Corps to slow things up and get an objective evaluation on the impact the mall will have on the environment and the community," said Concerned Citizens member Kevin Fields. He said group members worry the mall will lead to more commercial development in the area.

Mills Corp. officials said yesterday that they have signed leases for their first five tenants in the 200-store complex: Jillian's, an entertainment complex with virtual rides and bowling; Sun and Ski Sports, a retailer with a focus on skiing, snowboarding and in-line skating; FYE, a music video and electronic store; Iguana Amerimex, which will sell pottery and Mexican colonial furniture; and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Mills officials say the mall will generate more than $4.2 million annually in sales taxes for the county and will create about 3,000 jobs when it is fully leased.

They predict the mall will draw as many as 18 million local shoppers and tourists a year.

Owens said her transition team spent 2 1/2 months reviewing the Arundel Mills project after she took office, and she is satisfied it will benefit the county.

"I understand about the trees coming down and the traffic, and I think all of the elected officials and community groups have worked with Mills to address some of those concerns, and I hope they have," Owens said.

"I think they'll be good corporate neighbors and partners," she said. "They have to be."

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