Proposal for mall decried at meeting

Lothian community is vocal about keeping area rural

August 18, 2006|By JOE PALAZZOLO | JOE PALAZZOLO,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A second community meeting to discuss plans for a Target-anchored shopping center in Lothian satisfied Anne Arundel County law - but definitely not most of the 450 people who attended.

Before Tuesday night's event began, the raucous crowd assembled at a Wayson's Corner bingo hall loudly derided the meeting's organization.

And before it was over, residents guffawed, groaned and lashed out at the developer's representatives, accusing them of playing down the project's impact on South County.

Outside the bingo parlor, "Keep South County Rural" was resplendent on T-shirts and signs. One sign next to the front door bore a white plastic Target bag and read: "Let's bag this Target idea."

The plan by Annapolis' Petrie Ross Ventures LLC is two-pronged. The first would see most of the 30 acres of woods across from Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary plowed to make way for a 128,531-square-foot Target with 559 parking spaces.

The second would include a bank, shops, restaurants and parking, bringing the total development to about 500,000 square feet, or about 10 football fields.

Petrie submitted the first half of the plan in June, but the county froze it because it had not adequately advertised a public meeting in May with residents living within 125 feet of the project. It was attended by only a handful of people.

Since then, community opposition has hardened.

Company Chairman Walt Petrie did not attend, and his representative, Robert J. DiPietro, barely made it through the introductions. The meeting, he explained over a staccato of sneers, would include a presentation followed by 15 minutes for questions - an allotment many found risible.

Then, he continued, the crowd would be invited to scatter to different posts to learn more about the storm-water runoff, zoning, traffic, leasing and economic aspects of the development.

At this, the Wayson's Bingo hall rattled. "Why don't you let us decide how the meeting is conducted!" yelled a man sitting in the back.

"We all want to hear the same thing at the same time in the same place!" shouted another. Petrie Vice President Terry Richardson was received in the same manner, his words alternately diced by outbursts from the crowd - "Surrender now!" - and the stumbling bingo hall sound system that whined and crackled.

Richardson was generally unflappable, even as members of the audience approached him midspeech to take the microphone.

He said the project fits into the South County Small Area Plan, which the county approved in 2001 as a guideline for future development. The plot just off Route 4 at the intersection of Southern Maryland Boulevard and Sands Road has been zoned commercial since 1952.

But the plan, as many pointed out at the meeting, advocates development of local businesses, not national chains and strip malls.

"The small-area plan is not the law," Richardson said. "It's a recommendation."

"There's a reason why this land-use map ... makes this land a commercial core," Richardson said. "If you're going to zone a property commercial, this is the place to do it."

A traffic study commissioned by Petrie Ross projected 3,500 cars daily and 6,000 on weekends traveling to the center - 1.6 million motorists a year.

But Richardson reiterated that the study showed no significant negative effects on the area, a reckoning many in the crowd received with moans, if at all.

"These roads have not been upgraded in 60 years," said Tom Wallace. "This is Mr. Petrie's party, and we thank him very much for inviting us here, but we don't want his gifts."

Wallace and others touched on other concerns, including the environmental impact of the development to the open forest, wildlife preserves and watershed, and the potential for crime.

Floyd Freeland, 60, added that the middle class in Lothian, particularly seniors on fixed incomes, would be shoved out if commercial development took hold.

"Property taxes were $300 when I moved here. Now, they're $3,000. What do you think is going to happen if they build this?" Freeland said.

After the meeting, Richardson said that Petrie Ross would continue to meet with neighborhood groups and solicit input from the community, but that the company's plan is firm.

"When you sift through all that emotion, the zone allows 30 acres of building," he said. "I'm not going to tell that guy down the street he can't do what he wants to his property if he's following the rules."

Target is hoping to open its store in Lothian in fall of next year, Richardson said.

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