Timonium council finds supermarket's plans unpalatable

Balto. County also wary of Wegmans store in light manufacturing zone

September 19, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Wegmans Food Markets could build the Shangri-La of grocery stores, but Timonium community groups, Baltimore County officials and local business people remain wary of the supermarket chain's plans to build on a 20-acre plot near Texas Station.

The Rochester, N.Y.-based company -- famous for its mammoth supermarkets complete with patisseries, hundreds of kinds of cheese, gourmet meat and fish, and in-house restaurants -- made its pitch last night to the Greater Timonium Community Council.

A crowd of more than 60 turned out, many concerned about the amount of traffic the store could add to an area that they feel is clogged with cars -- but others enthusiastic about the possibility of a high-end grocery in their community.

Wegmans' supporters, mostly people who have visited its stores in other states, said they can't believe Baltimore County would turn down the opportunity to have a store in Timonium.

William H. Rianhard, a management consultant whose business is based in New York state but who also has an office in Baltimore, said Wegmans stores are like Lexington Market at its best, combined with Fresh Fields, except with better customer service, a huge selection of gourmet prepared foods and a far broader selection.

"You go in and you don't want to leave, and there aren't many stores like that," he said.

But that's not the point, opponents said last night. The land Wegmans wants to build on is zoned for light manufacturing, and county officials and community group members said that kind of land use would have a greater economic impact with less effect on traffic in the area.

In August, before the company made its pitch, the community council voted unanimously to oppose Wegmans' plans. Members emphasized last night that they have no problem with Wegmans, but don't want the store in the proposed location.

Although the proposed site is near a Sam's Club and Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, it is zoned for light manufacturing, not retail. That's how community council members and county officials want it to stay.

Wegmans promised to make traffic improvements nearby, but many said they didn't believe it would make a difference.

County officials said they are concerned about getting the most economic impact possible from the property.

The site where Wegmans wants to build is one of the few left for light manufacturing in that area.

Wegmans estimates that the store would provide 150 construction jobs while it is being built, and employ 550 people when it opens. But Fronda J. Cohen, marketing director for the Baltimore County Economic Development Department, said that light manufacturing or a technology-related business, such as what is in Hunt Valley, would have much greater economic benefits for the county.

"When you have a finite amount of land which has that zoning, you want to be able to preserve as much of it as possible for those uses," Cohen said. "It's not about a particular company, per se, but it's about where we can get the maximum economic impact from a particular parcel of land."

Ralph A. Uttaro, Wegmans' senior vice president for real estate and development, said the parcel is exactly what the company is looking for. It is near large numbers of high-income residents and easily accessible by roads. The company hasn't found another site in the area that meets its needs, he said.

Wegmans has more than 60 stores in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The Baltimore County proposal is part of the family-owned company's plan to expand south.

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