Developer vows to raze shops, build Wal-Mart

County considers law to limit size of `big box' stores

`Abridgement of my rights'

Plan would preserve Sears, include space for offices, homes


June 07, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A New Jersey developer plans to demolish a chunk of downtrodden Parole Plaza this summer, as the County Council considers legislation that would stop him from building a 135,000-square- foot Wal-Mart store on the site near Annapolis.

Carl Freedman, whose family built the shopping center 40 years ago, said he has obtained permits to raze several vacant buildings to clear the way for the Wal-Mart and several smaller stores. A Sears, Roebuck and a former Woodward & Lothrop building would remain from the original plaza.

"I won't live with any of this," Freedman said Monday, referring to Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk's plan to limit the size of "big box" stores in Parole and Odenton. "This is just an abridgement of my rights."

The council will not take final action on the bill until next month at the earliest. County Executive Janet S. Owens, a Democrat, has signaled that she might veto it if it passes. Freedman said he might sue the county if the bill becomes law.

The fate of Parole Plaza, built in the 1960s and adrift in an otherwise flourishing commercial district, has become the latest touchstone in the debate over sprawl and "smart growth" in Maryland.

Business groups from around the county have denounced Samorajczyk's bill as an anti-business measure that would scare off commercial investors and encourage development in pristine areas.

"We believe this bill sends a chilling anti-business message to corporations that want to invest in our town center," said William A. Badger Jr., head of the quasi-public Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.

An anti-sprawl group contends, however, that unwise development, even in a built-up area such as Parole, can create sprawl-like effects that hurt the quality of life.

"If we don't listen to what the community has said, through its planning effort, it sends a horrible message to people who live here," said Kristen Forsyth, program manager for the group 1,000 Friends of Maryland. In 1994, the County Council adopted a redevelopment plan that called for shops, offices and residential units in Parole.

Smart Growth Act noted

Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, noted that the Maryland Office of Planning said in a letter that her bill is consistent with the state's Smart Growth Act.

Modeled on legislation adopted in other cities, the bill would limit the size of "big box" stores in the heart of Parole and Odenton, town centers designated as hubs for residential and commercial development. She first proposed a limit of 65,000 square feet but agreed Monday night to raise it to 80,000 square feet. The council approved the change 6-1.

Samorajczyk often says she is not targeting Wal-Mart or any large retail outlet. Rather, she says her goal is the rebirth of the 30-acre site as a streetscape welcoming to pedestrians. She has said she would not mind a two-story Wal-Mart.

"I want to make it very, very clear: It is not an attempt to stop anything," she told the audience at Monday's meeting.

Freedman feels he has been singled out, noting that the council discussion focused only on his property. "You're not supposed to pass bills that affect only one property," he said. "It's illegal and a regulatory taking."

Freedman wants to keep the Sears, build the Wal-Mart and convert the old Woody's into a supermarket. A row of shops is proposed adjacent to the Wal-Mart, with benches, bicycle racks and landscaping.

A second phase could include offices and homes. Freedman said the Wal-Mart would be designed so that six stories could be built on top of it for stores, offices or a hotel.

Approval, with conditions

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

Canavan said he will not give final approval unless Freedman meets his conditions.

Freedman said a parking garage would have to be built before Wal-Mart would accept a two-story layout. He proposed building a garage in 1996 - one of six times he has suggested ways to revive the plaza - but he said he cannot afford to do so now.

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