Safeway opposes rezoning of site

Delegates caught in dispute between Owens and Miller


April 05, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

As the fight rages over the future of a southern Anne Arundel County town, Safeway Inc. has accused County Executive Janet S. Owens of reneging on a promise not to rezone the site of its proposed supermarket in tiny Deale.

And the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has weighed in on the dispute for the first time. The environmental advocacy group says federal regulators have not paid enough attention to the possible impact of the Safeway project on nearby wetlands.

The latest blast of strong words in the supermarket saga comes as a bill to block the embattled Safeway moved to the House of Delegates, shepherded by the Senate president.

Safeway has criticized Owens for giving the company an ultimatum last week to shrink the proposed supermarket or she would urge the County Council to restrict commercial development on the grocery chain's 9 acres.

Michael Bessire, president of Safeway's eastern division, reminded Owens in a letter that she had pledged in June not to push for rezoning, even though she wanted a smaller store.

"Despite the considerable pressure being placed on you, we expect that you will keep your word and not attempt to rezone our property or otherwise stop our store," Bessire wrote Monday.

Owens declined to comment on Bessire's letter. Her staff said she would seek a meeting with company officials.

The zoning change Owens supports would limit any store on the Safeway property to 25,000 square feet. Safeway wants to build a 55,000-square-foot supermarket and 22,000 square feet of adjacent shops.

Bessire noted that the county planning department has approved the company's site plan and issued a grading permit, which is being challenged by opponents in Circuit Court.

Work has been delayed until June 15 because a pair of bald eagles is nesting nearby. County officials say zoning can be changed until work on the foundation begins.

Owens announced last week that she was supporting the rezoning in part to blunt Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's attempt to thwart the Safeway legislatively.

Miller, her political adversary, has said the store would damage nearby Rockhold Creek, and opponents of the project say it also would hurt local businesses and encourage sprawl.

Miller's bill passed the Senate 35-9 and is in the House.

At an Environmental Matters Committee meeting this week, some delegates seemed to share Owens' belief that the legislature should not get involved in a local land-use issue. Owens wants Miller to let the bill die, but he has shown no signs of doing so.

Of greater concern to Owens is the effect Miller's bill could have countywide.

His bill would prohibit stormwater ponds on residential land to support adjacent commercial complexes, a strategy that is key to the Safeway.

Owens says the measure could unintentionally block numerous projects around the county.

The county's House delegation will vote on the bill tomorrow.

That will force members to take sides in a dispute involving two key area Democrats, Owens and Miller, whose district includes a slice of southern Arundel.

"It makes it rather difficult," said Del. Mary Ann Love, a Glen Burnie Democrat who chairs the 13-member delegation. "We're going to offend somebody."

Love said the full House often defers to county delegations on local issues, but not always.

The bay foundation had avoided taking sides in the Safeway dispute but was "greatly troubled" after reviewing documents, said Theresa Pierno, executive director of the Maryland office.

Pierno has asked the Army Corps of Engineers in writing to revisit the project for several reasons.

She said wetlands at the site have not been properly delineated, that Safeway's 12-year-old wetlands permit is "antiquated" and that no steps have been taken to minimize the impact on wetlands.

The Environmental Protection Agency has raised similar concerns with the corps, but the corps has brushed them aside.

Pierno's letter "highlights all the environmental problems we've been speaking of," said Amanda Spake, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, a community group that has led the fight against Safeway.

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