Arundel joins debate on whether to limit size, design of stores

Municipalities across U.S. restrict `big boxes' built by Wal-Mart, others

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

As she pushes to limit the size of "big box" stores in Parole and Odenton town centers, County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk is pointing to local governments around the country that have passed similar restrictions.

With mega-stores such as Wal-Mart moving farther into urban areas, some municipalities are responding by imposing size limits and design rules. In Rockville, officials are weighing a plan that combines both approaches.

"It's the job of developers to pave the world," said Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat. "It's the community's job to set rules."

But Samorajczyk's call to limit such stores to 80,000 square feet per floor - now before the County Council - has detractors who say she is targeting a 135,000-square- foot Wal-Mart proposed for dilapidated Parole Plaza.

This week, officials from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will travel to Annapolis to meet with council members, county officials and County Executive Janet S. Owens, who opposes Samorajczyk's bill.

"Quite frankly, at first blush it seems pretty selective and pretty well targeted at this project," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Davis.

The county's planning director, DenisCanavan, has given preliminary approval to the project but attached several conditions, including good-faith discussions on a suggestion to build a two-story Wal-Mart.

Samorajczyk denies any animus toward Wal-Mart and lists places where building "footprints" are restricted: Skaneateles, N.Y. (45,000 square feet), Walpole, N.H. (40,000), and Maryland's Chestertown (60,000).

Other municipalities have imposed design standards. In Lompoc, Calif., the Wal-Mart had to have a Mediterranean-style facade. (A committee of residents is drafting design guidelines for Parole.)

Samorajczyk's proposal would force Wal-Mart to shrink the proposed store or build it with two stories at Parole Plaza - something she said she would not mind, if it made for a more pedestrian-friendly environment.

Some multistory mega-stores have escalators for shopping carts; Ikea reports no problems with the devices at its Chicago and Los Angeles furniture stores. Target's eight multilevel stores (out of 921) use the lifts.

But lawyers for New Jersey developer Carl Freedman, owner of Parole Plaza, say a second level would require a parking garage and second-story entryway, raising construction costs $8 million. Samorajczyk calls that a "specious argument" and noted that a two-story Wal-Mart exists outside Los Angeles without a garage.

Davis said that store, in a building that Wal-Mart renovated, is the only one of its 3,000 stores not on one level. She described it as an experiment that is going well, but could not say whether Wal-Mart would try it elsewhere.

"Our customers have responded to the format we're working with right now," Davis said. Wal-Mart stores range from 50,000 square feet to 200,000 square feet and have a standard layout.

Freedman, who says his current proposal is the sixth he has submitted since 1994, is threatening to sue if Samorajczyk prevails.

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