Miller bill targets plan by Safeway

Senate leader calls it Smart Growth issue

March 03, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

A long-running debate over the future of a small southern Anne Arundel County town has taken a new turn, with the state Senate president moving to block a Safeway supermarket and strip mall in tiny waterfront Deale.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has introduced a bill that would modify arcane rules on managing storm water runoff within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay -- but only in Anne Arundel and Calvert. His proposal would force Safeway to scale back drastically its proposed 77,000-square-foot plaza.

Miller and Safeway's opponents call the legislation bay-friendly and anti-sprawl, but others say he is meddling in a local land-use issue. And Safeway says the bill unfairly targets its project, recently approved by Anne Arundel.

"The only word missing in the bill is the word `Safeway,'" said Greg TenEyck, the supermarket's East Coast public relations director.

TenEyck said the company will fight the bill but predicted it will be an uphill battle because of Miller's influence.

Miller acknowledges that the legislation is directed at the supermarket project, which he has criticized in the past, but insists it is not "anti-Safeway per se."

"We're trying to protect the blue crab, trying to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, trying to restore the bay grasses. We're promoting Smart Growth," he said. "This sprawl in Deale, in a fishing village, is contrary to all environmental and Smart Growth concepts."

Asked why the bill would apply to Anne Arundel and Calvert but no other counties on the bay, he said he represents Anne Arundel and Calvert counties, along with Prince George's, where he lives. "I don't foist my will on people I don't represent," he said.

The Safeway project has seemed star-crossed in recent months. In November, just when final county approval seemed near, it came to light that a bald eagle's nest was nearby, prompting state natural resources officials to halt construction until June 15.

It has sparked colorful protest as well. In the fall, critics commissioned and then paraded a 12-foot-tall puppet of County Executive Janet S. Owens that featured a Miss America-style sash bearing the words "Queen of Sprawl."

To opponents, the project threatens Deale's small-town feel, not to mention small businesses such as Food Rite. They are also worried about the environmental impact. But some residents complain of having to drive 20 minutes to Edgewater to shop at a full-service supermarket.

Miller's bill would ban commercial developments from using residentially zoned land to manage storm water runoff. The Safeway relies on 7 acres of residential land for that purpose.

County spokesman John A. Morris noted that zoning "is typically a local issue."

Supporting agencies include the Maryland Department of the Environment, he said. The Army Corps of Engineers also has granted a wetlands permit.

The legislation runs counter to the Maryland Association of Counties' view of land-use responsibilities.

"We have always taken a position that land-use decisions are a matter best decided through local processes," said David S. Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

But Amanda Spake, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, called it "classic bay-protection legislation." She said her organization would support a smaller Safeway, perhaps 25,000 square feet.

But Weems W. Duvall Jr., a lawyer representing Food Rite, said Safeway's abandonment of the project would be "the only thing" that would cause him to abandon his legal challenge of the county's approval.

Safeway may soon have another headache. A lumber yard two miles away is about to be bought by a Virginia developer who has said in the past he might build a Food Lion supermarket on the site, said the yard's owner, Jack Smith.

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