Wal-Mart plan to shrink

Opposition spurs retailer to agree to trim the size of Crofton store

August 25, 2006|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Amid rising opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart in Crofton, the discounting retailer will trim the size of the store by as much as 20 percent, and the state has agreed to hold a public hearing on the project.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is not required to hold a forum as part of its consideration of a crucial license that would allow Wal-Mart to bury wetlands near the Little Patuxent River, said Julie Oberg, an agency spokeswoman.

"Public interest is driving this hearing," Oberg said. "We are trying to be very responsive to the community and elected officials."

Civic leaders said they want to summon enough opposition over environmental concerns at the forum to kill the project, a 143,000-square-foot store on 20 acres along Route 3. Challenging Wal-Mart on environmental grounds, they have said, would provide their strongest argument.

"This is our opportunity, our golden egg," said Torrey C. Jacobsen Jr., president of the Greater Crofton Council, an umbrella organization of western Anne Arundel community associations. "We want to pack the room, to say the community does not want this at any size. At all costs, we don't want this built."

Annapolis attorney David M. Plott, a representative for the retail giant, said this week that company engineers are working to shrink the size of the store. It wasn't clear yet exactly how much, he said. Project engineers are awaiting comments from county planners on the initial plans before any resubmission.

"Any project like this is an evolving process," he said.

County Council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, said that Wal-Mart officials informed him that the store size would drop to 115,000 square feet - a 20 percent reduction. Reilly said he did not know how the smaller footprint for the store would affect parking or Wal-Mart's plans to fill in less than a quarter-acre of wetlands.

"I am encouraged that they are starting to listen to the citizens," Reilly said of Wal-Mart, although he remains opposed to the store.

Jacobsen, a Democratic candidate for state delegate, said Wal-Mart's revisions would help get the project through the county approval process, but that a smaller store won't mean fewer cars there.

"The same traffic will go through," he said.

Wal-Mart announced plans to build a Crofton store this spring, and the Greater Crofton Council responded with a petition to oppose the store. The council is supporting a limited building ban on the state highway until major improvements are made.

State highway officials told The Sun this month that they expect to receive approvals for a $700 million overhaul of the Route 3 corridor by the end of the year, and could begin construction of a boulevard-style highway by 2009.

Prodded by local lawmakers facing re-election this fall, MDE announced Wednesday its planned public hearing on Wal-Mart's application for a nontidal wetlands permit. It will likely be held late next month, although details have yet to be ironed out.

Oberg said that, as part of the hearing, Wal-Mart officials would present the project. MDE would hear public testimony and allow residents to send in written responses for up to an additional week.

MDE sent out public notice two years ago when the property owner at the time, William D. Berkshire, submitted a proposal for a generic big-box store, Oberg said. The agency received no requests for a hearing and no public comments, and therefore was not obligated to put out another notice when Wal-Mart took control of the land, she said.

Reilly said that he broached the topic of a public hearing last week with MDE Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick at the Maryland Association of Counties' convention in Ocean City.

"[Residents] want to be heard," Reilly said. "They don't want this ramrodded down their throat."phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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