Official, owner disagree on plaza

Businessman says councilwoman using bill to target him

April 14, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A disagreement over how to breathe new life into haggard Parole Plaza, just outside Annapolis, is getting personal.

Carl Freedman, the New Jersey developer who wants to put a 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store in the shopping center his family built 40 years ago, rejects complaints that his idea is all wrong.

His frustration with county Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, a vocal critic, spilled over at a meeting Tuesday of the Parole Growth Management Committee, where he accused her of targeting him.

Two days later he was still fuming.

"She can't just throw my rights out the window, which she is trying to do," Freedman said in an interview Thursday.

The Wal-Mart plan has received tentative approval from county planners, but Samorajczyk is introducing legislation that could block it. She wants to ban "big box" stores over 65,000 square feet in parts of Parole and Odenton, and to impose design restrictions on stores over 25,000 square feet. She models her proposal on legislation being considered in Rockville.

Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, said her objection is not with Freedman or Wal-Mart itself, but with the scale of a sprawling, one-level Wal-Mart. She wants to preserve the "dream" of creating a mixed-use pedestrian-friendly environment on the site, as envisioned in a redevelopment program adopted by the County Council in 1994.

Freedman argues that he offered just such a plan in 1996, when he proposed a $100 million expansion to be anchored by a Target discount department store, and that Samorajczyk and others led the charge against it. He later withdrew the plan.

Samorajczyk -- who at the time belonged to a citizen group called the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation and had not been elected to the council -- recalls the 1996 plan differently. She said it failed to comply with the Parole redevelopment plan for a host of reasons, including an absence of residential units and a lack of office space. Instead, Freedman sought to double the plaza's commercial space to more than 800,000 square feet.

The county shared some of her concerns.

"That was part of Carl's problem in the plan," recalled Betty Dixon, land-use and environmental program manager. "It was basically about a million square feet of retail space."

Samorajczyk has said she would welcome Wal-Mart if it had more than one level, meaning it would have a smaller "footprint" and fit in better with the street-scape Freedman plans to add.

Denis D. Canavan, the county's planning director, approved Freedman's concept March 29 but attached several conditions. Those included entering discussions with the county about making the Wal-Mart two stories, and providing details on shops, restaurants and theaters along Holly Avenue, a new road that would cut across the property.

Freedman said a parking garage would have to be built for Wal-Mart to accept a two-story layout. Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment. While Freedman proposed building a garage in 1996, he said he cannot afford to do so now.

Samorajczyk said Freedman may have a point, so she suggests that the county create a parking authority to explore building a parking garage in the area.

The chances of passage for the "big box" legislation are uncertain. Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat, voiced skepticism.

"The prudent point of view is to be a little restrained, look at the big picture and make up your mind when you have all the facts," he said.

If all goes well, Freedman said Wal-Mart could open next year.

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