Proposal for Wal-Mart gets tentative OK in Arundel

Parole growth committee angered by approval

April 11, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Forlorn-looking Parole Plaza, once envisioned as a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development where people could shop, live and work, instead would be anchored by a sprawling Wal-Mart store under a plan tentatively approved by Anne Arundel County.

Denis D. Canavan, the county planning director who approved the concept by developer Carl Freedman of Mount Laurel, N.J., concedes that the proposed 135,000-square-foot store "at first blush" does not fit the Parole redevelopment plan adopted by the County Council in 1994.

But he calls the plan a "dramatic" first step to reviving the 1960s relic near Annapolis. The center has a Sears but is mostly empty.

Canavan's approval March 29 has angered members of the Parole Growth Management Committee, who say the Wal-Mart would foster problems the county is trying to avoid: congestion, a lack of foot traffic and an absence of a town hub in Parole.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk says she plans to introduce legislation that would cap the building size on the site, possibly to 60,000 square feet. The cap would apply to Parole and Odenton, both "town centers" designated as hubs for residential and commercial development.

"To say the epitome of suburban sprawl is what was envisioned in a town center is ludicrous," said Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat. Her objection is not with Wal-Mart but with any "big box" store geared toward customers who drive up, make bulk purchases and drive away.

Wal-Mart faces battles over proposed outlets in a handful of Eastern Shore communities. Wal-Mart wants to build a "super center" -- a combination department store-supermarket -- on Kent Island, east of the Bay Bridge.

A group called Up Against the Wal is trying to stop the project. Queen Anne's County has granted conditional approval, and that county's planning panel could give the project the green light in June.

Samorajczyk might be too late to stop Wal-Mart from going to Parole. But her concerns echo a 1994 report by the growth management committee. It found that a chief shortcoming of Parole's shopping area was that it offered "no real sense of place."

"It is a nondescript collection of aging free-standing stores and restaurants interspersed with parking and a few `modern' strip centers of debatable visual quality," the group wrote.

Committee members thought Parole Plaza, the "urban core" of Parole, might be reborn as something like Reston, Va. There, a ready-made town was built, with shops, restaurants and a movie theater facing the street. Larger buildings hold offices and a hotel.

In a letter approving the Wal-Mart concept, Canavan attached several conditions. He said final plans he will consider for approval must include a detailed proposal for creating "active frontage" -- stores, restaurants, theaters and sidewalks -- on Holly Avenue, a new road that would cut across the property from Forest Drive to Somerville Road.

Canavan, who is authorized to give final approval, also said Freedman must discuss "in good faith" the viability of erecting a two-story Wal-Mart. Freedman did not return several calls seeking comment yesterday.

Samorajczyk said a multistory design would go a long way to addressing her concerns because it wouldn't be as sprawling.

Plans that Freedman submitted to the county call for Sears to remain and for construction of a supermarket with retail space above it. A line of shops is also proposed for land adjacent to Wal-Mart, with benches and bicycle racks sprinkled throughout.

Canavan's letter also refers to a second phase, which he noted "may include office and residential components that can ultimately fulfill the goals" of the Parole redevelopment plan.

Pub Date: 4/11/00

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