Battle over Safeway intensifies

In Deale, proponents begin speaking out

May 26, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Years from now, it might be called the shopping center that divided a community.

Not even a reality, a planned 55,000-square-foot Safeway and strip mall in the small southern Anne Arundel County town of Deale have caused fireworks at meetings, inspired the creation of organizations to support opposing views and created tension in the community -- from spontaneous arguments between strangers to bitter quarrels between neighbors.

As both sides prepare for an appeals hearing before the county next month, the battle has intensified as local supporters of the development have started to speak out.

Some talk about a need for a supermarket nearby, while others say Safeway hasn't gotten a fair chance to present its project.

"People are tired of all the rumors and name-calling," said Claire Mallicote, a small-business owner and founder of Friends for Fairness to Safeway. "The Safeway issue has made this a dirty little town."

In a community of about 3,000, talk of building a large-scale shopping complex -- let alone any major development -- spreads fast.

When Safeway Inc. applied to the county to build an anchor store and six to eight retail shops two years ago, the opposition was quick to rise.

Led by an environmental group, South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), small-business owners (who eventually formed their own group) and residents rallied against the development. They passed out fliers, printed buttons and posted "Stop the Sprawl" signs -- many of which stand along the narrow winding roads in the area.

A commercial development such as Safeway, they argued, would shatter their slow-paced lifestyle and harm the environment.

Fueled by the fear of development in a rural area, SACReD and its supporters claimed a temporary victory Jan. 21 when the county denied Safeway a required flood plain waiver, which it needed to build on the site.

But after pouring thousands of dollars into the project, Safeway wasn't ready to give up.

The company filed an appeal with the county's Board of Appeals, contending that it has been working with the county for several years to develop the land.

The hearings are scheduled for June 28 and 29 and July 12 at the Arundel Center.

Store fights back

Safeway, which has a regional headquarters in Lanham, has increased its presence in Deale and neighboring Shady Side.

Company officials haven't posted signs or printed buttons, but they have held meetings, mailed fliers and created a Web site (www.dealemarketplace .com), said Greg TenEyck, a company spokesman. As of yesterday afternoon, the site has received more than 500 hits.

"We found there was a lot of information -- much of it not accurate -- disseminated by the opponents," TenEyck said.

The company mailed 10,000 pamphlets, which included a mail-in card to show support for the project, to households in the Deale/Shady Side area.

As of early last week, TenEyck said, he had received more than 1,000 responses.

"By and large, the mailer was very well-received," TenEyck said. "We provided the silent majority a chance to give their opinions."

Voices of support

The efforts have paid off, Mallicote said, because people have been stopping her in restaurants and on the street to offer their support.

As support for the project has gained momentum, Mallicote and her organization of about 15 people have been collecting signatures (at least 500) and encouraging those who were afraid to speak out to become more active.

Since the start, say supporters of the project, they felt intimidated by the opposition and were often portrayed as being anti-environment. When they did speak out, as a few did at a public forum held by the Army Corps of Engineers in December, they were often answered with jeers and glares.

Karen Krus, a member of Friends for Fairness to Safeway and one of the few who spoke in favor of the project at the December public hearing, said people avoid talking about Safeway because it often leads to arguments.

`The hot topic'

During a recent afternoon at Mallicote's store, Krus was talking to someone about the need for Safeway when a customer began arguing with her.

"If you want a Safeway, move to Edgewater," the man said as he turned away.

Krus said that she did not know the man, but that such confrontations were typical.

"It's the hot topic," Krus said.

Amanda Spake, president of SACReD, said she thinks the majority of the people in the Deale/Shady Side area -- where most of the organization's members reside -- don't want a Safeway.

"They [Safeway supporters] need to look at the environmental issues in the current Safeway project," Spake said. "I think the county made the right decision by denying the flood plain waiver."

So did those mapping out the county's future for the next 10 years.

Rezoning recommended

The Shady Side/Deale Small Area Planning Committee, which is drafting a plan to guide land use and development in the area, has recommended rezoning the Safeway site and other property surrounding it.

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