Miller says he'll narrow Safeway bill

Senate chief remains opposed to project


March 11, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Hoping to ease the concerns of Anne Arundel County officials, the president of the state Senate says he will more narrowly tailor a bill aimed at stopping a Safeway supermarket and strip mall in Deale.

But Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller has not softened his opposition to the proposed 77,000-square-foot plaza, which has divided the tiny South County community on Rockhold Creek.

"It's insanity personified, and county government is rubber-stamping this insanity," Miller said Friday after a public hearing on his bill before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. He wants the company to scale back the proposal or abandon the 16-acre site.

County Executive Janet S. Owens said she appreciates Miller's proposed changes but still opposes his involvement in what she considers a local land-use issue.

"I can't imagine me or any local official ever being happy with state intrusion, but that's certainly their prerogative," Owens said, referring to the General Assembly.

Miller's bill would prohibit new commercial developments in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties from using residentially zoned land to manage storm water. The county has required Safeway to use the residentially zoned land for that purpose. As written, Miller's bill would apply to all areas within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay or its tributaries.

The Owens administration says that would cover the entire county and could thwart all sorts of projects involving residentially zoned land. Those include expansion of Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the redevelopment of the former David Taylor Research Center near Annapolis.

Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat whose district includes Deale, has offered several changes to address these concerns. Only tidal tributaries would be affected - which he said would include the Severn River, the South River and Rockhold Creek - not every creek and stream in the county.

Also, he would exempt county and state projects. Moreover, he said, the bill excludes all projects started before Jan. 1 this year. That would allow existing developments to expand, he said, although Owens wants that spelled out.

"That isn't clear in the bill," she said.

At Friday's hearing, a parade of Safeway opponents, wearing "Stop the Shady Deale" stickers, repeated familiar arguments about potential harm to the bay from runoff and to local merchants from a big commercial complex.

They represented some of the 18 groups, including the American Bald Eagle Foundation and the Alliance for Rural Business, that recently asked Safeway to reconsider the project.

Tracy's Landing resident William Kitzmiller called approval of the Safeway project "a stain on the record of the county."

Critics are challenging the county's approval in circuit court. In any event, construction couldn't start until June 15 because it might disturb a nearby bald eagle's nest.

Project proponent Joe Rooney of Tracy's Landing said the modern plaza would attract consumers into Deale's down-at-the-heel shopping district. Boarded-up stores are "all over the place, small shops that couldn't make it," he said. He also disputed claims that the property is pristine, pointing out that it sits at a major intersection.

"This isn't some farmer's field," he said.

Lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano spoke for Safeway. Miller said a local planning group opposes a supermarket as large as the one proposed, but Bereano said the project has received approval from county, state and federal regulators.

"The game is over, and this bill changes the rules," Bereano said. "That's unfair."

Largely absent Friday was the recent verbal back-and-forth between Owens and Miller, who are known to have a chilly relationship.

Owens, a supporter of a smaller Safeway, spoke of wanting to work with Miller, and Miller said Owens is "my friend and continues to be my friend."

He said he wants to pass a bill that "has a positive impact on the county."

But as he left the committee room, Miller delivered a blunt message to Denis Canavan, the county's planning director.

"This bill's going to pass," he said.

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