Wegmans drops plan for site in Timonium

Supermarket chain faced traffic, zoning objections

January 30, 2003|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,SUN STAFF

Wegmans Food Markets Inc., known for its in-store dining and hundreds of varieties of produce and cheese, has withdrawn plans to build one of its huge supermarkets in Timonium because of heavy opposition from businesses and community groups.

But the family-owned grocery chain, based in Rochester, N.Y., still hopes to open its first Maryland supermarket somewhere in Baltimore County, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

Wegmans had proposed building a 130,000-square-foot grocery store on 20 acres off Beaver Dam Road north of Padonia Road. It would have employed 450 to 550 people, the company said.

Critics raised concerns over increased traffic congestion and objected to a retail store on land zoned for industrial use, though it is adjacent to several large retailers.

"We have withdrawn from the Timonium site," said Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokeswoman. "It's pretty simple. We listened to the community. It was clear that the community was not in favor of this project. We don't want to fight our way into an area that doesn't want our store."

The Greater Timonium Community Council, an umbrella group of about 30 local community associations, and a group of local business owners, including Manekin LLC, Keelty Co. and Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust, opposed the store at the proposed site. Wegmans had an option to buy the property from Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Inc. A representative of Jacoby did not return phone calls yesterday.

But Wegmans has not ruled out the Baltimore region entirely as it makes a push into Maryland from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The 87-year-old company runs 64 supermarkets in those states and will open two stores this year, one outside Philadelphia and one in Woodbridge, N.J. Another store is to open early next year in Sterling, Va.

Wegmans, ranked as the 10th-best company to work for in America by Fortune magazine, operates what some experts consider the best-run supermarkets in America. The stores typically include in-store dining for 260 people - everything from sushi to Asian buffets to gourmet sandwiches - carry 700 varieties of produce and 400 varieties of cheese and are known for being customer service-oriented.

"We still think Baltimore County is a good market for one of our stores," Natale said. "If we find a viable site, we will pursue it. We will continue to look at sites."

The chain will also look elsewhere in the Baltimore region, Natale said. She said she could not be more specific.

Fronda Cohen, director of marketing and communications for Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development, said county officials have talked with Wegmans about other sites.

"We have had conversations with them about alternate locations," she said. "They are evaluating what locations might work for them."

Natale said Wegmans had never submitted a formal development plan to Baltimore County and had been working through the traffic issues.

Wegmans estimated that its proposed Timonium store would generate 6,830 auto trips a day, while a group of business people and property owners - Suburban Property Owners Encouraging and Advocating Reason, or SPEAR - estimated that Wegmans would add more than 26,000 auto trips a day to nearby roads.

Natale said Wegmans will be evaluating store sites that offer at least 15 acres, a population density that can support a 130,000-square-foot store and accessible road networks. The chain has built free-standing stores and stores in large retail developments, she said.

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