Store agreement said near

Amendment would allow compromise on bill to limit Arundel Safeway

April 06, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will try again today to assuage County Executive Janet S. Owens' concerns about his bill aimed at blocking or downsizing a proposed Safeway supermarket in south Anne Arundel County, a key member of the county's House delegation said.

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, said Miller told him yesterday afternoon: "We've got it worked out."

Busch said, "There is an amendment that's going to be offered that they've both agreed to," meaning Miller and Owens.

Miller did not return a telephone call, and Owens declined to comment late yesterday.

Busch said the amendment would limit the reach of Miller's legislation. Owens has raised concerns that the bill as drafted would thwart not only the Safeway but also other commercial projects in Anne Arundel County.

Busch and the other 12 members of the county House delegation will discuss, and possibly vote on, Miller's bill this morning, as the General Assembly session enters its final weekend. The bill would still face a vote by a House committee and the full House. The Senate passed it 35-9.

Delegation members hope that Owens and Miller, both Democrats, can reach a compromise to end their contentious back-and-forth over the grocery store, which they both want to see smaller.

"I hope they're getting closer together," Busch said. "The best resolution would be that they could resolve the issue without legislation."

Earlier yesterday, Owens expressed dismay and amazement at the deepening imbroglio caused by the California-based grocery chain's proposed commercial complex in Deale.

"You'd think we were building a nuclear reactor," she said with a rueful chuckle. She likened the dispute to a "soap opera" with the current episode set at the State House.

Owens has tangled with Safeway as well as with Miller.

Yesterday, she fired back at Safeway after a top company official stopped just short of calling her a liar for seeking to rezone the chain's 9-acre property as a way of forcing a smaller store.

Owens denied promising Safeway officials that she wouldn't pursue rezoning.

"I don't even remember that conversation," she said during her weekly news media briefing.

Michael Bessire, Safeway's Eastern Division president, asserted in a strongly worded letter to Owens last week that she had made such a pledge in June.

On Monday, Owens urged the County Council to rezone Safeway's tract as recommended by a Deale planning advisory committee - unless Safeway voluntarily reduced the size of its store.

Under the zoning change, no store could be larger than 25,000 square feet. Safeway wants to build a 55,000-square-foot supermarket and 22,000 square feet of adjacent shops.

Owens declined to specify what an acceptable reduction would be.

She put the advisory group's recommendations to the council on a fast track, in part because she hoped that it would persuade Miller to withdraw his bill.

But the executive also said she has consistently told Safeway to reduce the size of its store.

Miller's bill would prohibit storm-water ponds on residential land from being used to handle runoff from commercial complexes in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties.

The measure would apply to land within a half-mile of the Chesapeake Bay or its tidal tributaries - about 40 percent of Arundel.

Miller, who said he is concerned about the Safeway's impact on a nearby creek, has modified his bill once before. He exempted state and county projects and deleted references to nontidal tributaries.

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