Group seeks smaller Safeway

Project on track again after county ruled site not a flood plain

June 12, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

A South County environmental group is asking the county administration to scale down plans for a grocery store and strip mall - a last-ditch effort in a two-year battle against the development.

Safeway Inc. has proposed building an 88,000-square- foot shopping center on a 16-acresite at Routes 256 and 258in Deale, which some critics say is too large for the area. The project had stalled in January, when Safeway was denied a waiver to build on a flood plain, but the county reversed its decision last week, saying the site is not on a flood plain.

The decision, based on a county code definition of what constitutes a flood plain, all but cleared the way for Safeway, which still has to obtain waivers and apply for permits. For opponents of the project, such as the environmental group South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), the reversal was a devastating blow.

As engineers for Safeway finalize a site plan for the county, members of SACReD say they'd like to meet with company officials and county representatives to discuss their concerns.

"All sides ought to put their issues on the table to see if a compromise can be reached," said Michael Shay, a member of SACReD.

A spokesman for Safeway, which has a regional headquarters in Lanham,said developers plan to work with the county as the project progresses, and continue to meet with the community for input.

"We're going to be working with the county on the exact dimensions of the shopping center," said spokesman Greg TenEyck.

Andrew C. Carpenter, a spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens, said she has always considered Safeway's proposal too large for the site and the community.

"If the project does in fact move forward, she really hopes that Safeway would scale back its scope," Carpenter said, adding that Owens would be willing to meet with SACReD.

The group has led an aggressive campaign against the development since Safeway resubmitted plans in 1998 to build on the property. SACReD rallied residents and small-business owners by posting "Stop the Sprawl Signs," handing out fliers and printing buttons.

Opponents claimed a temporary victory in January when the county denied Safeway a flood-plain waiver. But Safeway engineers submitted findings to the county last month that showed the site was not on a flood plain.

Safeway's original property - a 9-acre tract at the site - was a flood plain, but after Safeway acquired an additional 7 acres, the property passed the county's "48-Inch Pipe Rule," which defines a flood plain.

The rule states that if water from a severe storm can adequately drain through a pipe 48 inches in diameter, the area is not a considered a flood plain.

The Safeway site is prone to water buildup, but county officials said the company's proposed storm-water management plan could reduce the amount of flooding not only on the property but in surrounding areas. The plan includes replacing two drainage pipes under Swamp Circle Road, and building onsite ponds to collect storm-water runoff.

Opponents of the project say environmental concerns surrounding the project need to be addressed.

Weems W. Duvall Jr.,a lawyer representing Food Rite, a small grocery store in Deale, said engineers are checking the information from Safeway to ensure that the site is not a flood plain.

SACReD members say they will continue to fight.

A few opponents of the project attended a local organization's dinner Wednesday - at which Owens was present - with black bands around their arms and carrying fliers with the heading, "Stall the Sprawl?"

The flier claimed that the Owens administration had "green-lighted the largest box store and strip mall South of Edgewater," and ended with the declaration, "Hold Janet Owens Accountable."

Carpenter said the county Department of Planning and Code Enforcement's decision about the flood plain is based on county code.

"County Executive Owens expects people to disagree with her administration on occasion, even expects it to get personal as it appears to have become in this instance," Carpenter said.

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