Wal-Mart withdraws Crofton plan

Retail giant made changes but could not overcome community opposition

May 04, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson and Phillip McGowan | Nia-Malika Henderson and Phillip McGowan,sun reporters

Amid a groundswell of community opposition, Wal-Mart announced yesterday that it has backed out of a plan to build a 121,000-square-foot Supercenter in Crofton.

After meetings with County Executive John R. Leopold and property owner William Berkshire, a spokesman for the retail giant noted that despite making several concessions, "it has become clear to us that there are various views about a project of this size and scope at this specific site and its relationship to the County's long-term development profile."

"We felt, therefore, that it is in the best interest of all to withdraw our pending site development plan," Brian Hopper, a Wal-Mart official, said in a statement.

A company representative did not return a call seeking comment yesterday afternoon.

The agreement to have Wal-Mart drop its plans was made final one day after Leopold announced that the county would spend $6.1 million to buy and preserve land in Lothian where a shopping center anchored by a Target store was planned.

Leopold, who brokered the Wal-Mart withdrawal, had opposed the development on 20 acres on Route 3 near Cronson Boulevard because of traffic and environmental concerns. He began meeting with Berkshire shortly after taking office in December.

"Clearly, it's an established principle that I am not going to support any development if the infrastructure is not built in advance to service that project," said Leopold, who also opposed a proposed state horse park in Gambrills and before that, a plan for an auto-racing track in Pasadena.

Berkshire stands to gain from Wal-Mart's exit. The 20 acres have a commercial zoning designation that, in the five years since he and the retailer reached an agreement, has been modified. Now, a mixed-use project of homes, retail and offices is permitted on that land.

"The current conditions are such that we can take ... the land and make it more compatible to the current wishes and thinking of all of the players," Berkshire said.

Since last spring, West County residents had vigorously opposed Wal-Mart opening in the upper-class suburb of Crofton. More than 300 people protested the plan at an April 2006 meeting, saying the development would further clog the highway, harm the Patuxent River watershed and attract crime.

Residents protested in front of the property, wore "Stop Wal-Mart" buttons, and made calls urging opposition.

Wal-Mart later made several modifications, including shrinking the store's size by nearly 25 percent and preserving trees. But in March, it incited a new wave of anger with its announcement that the store would be a Supercenter, joining two other grocery stores near Route 424.

Yesterday, County Council members Edward R. Reilly and Jamie Benoit, who represent West County, welcomed the news of Wal-Mart's withdrawal and said the next developer should consider community and environmental concerns.

Torrey C. Jacobsen Jr., president of the Greater Crofton Council, an umbrella organization that led the community opposition, predicted that will happen.

"This should show the entire county that working with the homeowner associations and groups like mine works," he said. "Wal-Mart learned the hard way. I am so happy, I'm ecstatic."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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