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Bel Air Walmart is on Oct. 17 DAC agenda

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

6:47 AM EDT, September 28, 2012

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Site plans for the controversial Bel Air Walmart are on the Oct. 17 agenda for the county's Development Advisory Committee meeting.

The meeting will take place at 9 a.m. that Wednesday in the Harford County Council chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air, not its usual location at 220 S. Main St., to make room for an anticipated large crowd. It is open to the public.

The DAC agenda, Walmart's proposed plan and a summary of the July 19 community input meeting can be viewed on the Harford County Government website, harfordcountymd.gov, under the department of planning and zoning.

During DAC meetings, a committee comprised of several department representatives, such as State Highway Administration, water and sewer and planning and zoning, make comments and suggestions on proposed site plans.

The public is also given the chance to comment and ask questions of the developer or company representative in attendance

Having plans reviewed by the DAC committee is the next step in the ongoing saga for Walmart to relocate from its aging store in Abingdon to a planned new building off of Plumtree Road between Route 24 and 924 in Bel Air — a move most community members and some county officials are against.

Many Bel Air South residents banded together during the community input meeting this summer at Patterson Mill High School against the retail giant and, in so many words, said they didn't want the high-traffic store in their area.

Of the numerous concerns brought up in the meeting and since, traffic on Route 924 has been a major one, as well as the safety of kids as they walk to and from school and even questioning whether the move is necessary.

With the proposed site having been re-zoned B3 for businesses several years prior, county officials have noted that as long as Walmart continues to meet all rules and regulations — being reviewed by DAC being one — there is very little the county can do to prevent the new store from being built.

County representatives speak out

Del. Glen Glass, who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties, issued a press release earlier this week announcing his opposition to the new Walmart.

"It doesn't make any sense why they don't want to expand right where they are at," Glass said in the release. "The location is perfect being that it is right next to Route 24 and I-95, which gives easy access not just for residents of Abingdon but other communities. My constituents in Abingdon are opposed to this closure and I am very pleased that Harford County Executive David Craig is opposed to this as well and I stand with him in unity."

The delegate's main concern with the proposed site is traffic.

"A Super Walmart right in the middle of a fire station and two major schools would be impossible to deal with," he continued. "Increased heavy traffic would hinder the abilities of emergency services to get to and from the new firehouse, pose a danger to the students attending the nearby schools as well as school buses that will be frequently coming and going. It would be a major inconvenience for my Abingdon constituents to have drive to that location on a daily basis and deal with the mess this will bring."

Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie intends to attend the October DAC meeting.

After the community input meeting at Patterson Mill, Guthrie said he spoke to a few Walmart representatives about the potential move.

"They don't want any down time," he said, calling it a "fact of their overall greed."

Guthrie explained that Walmart wants to only close the Abingdon store once the Bel Air store opens so the company has no down time during construction.

"If they rebuild where it is then they'll be down for a year or two," he said, adding that Walmart reps said they didn't want their employees to be laid off or lose their jobs for that period of time during construction. "I don't believe what they said at all."

Guthrie wanted to clear up rumors that the public isn't able to speak during DAC meetings — the opposite is true, actually.

"If the citizens are not happy about some of the [DAC committee's comments], they have a right to ask questions," he said. "Sign up to speak, ask questions."

Guthrie added he'll be paying close attention to comments made at the meeting to make sure the company is complying with all county regulations.

Fellow Councilman Joe Woods said it is important to people to "stay on the message" and "really focus on the facts" and not have false information spread.

One of those rumors he heard from a Bel Air South resident ,who said she heard a county council meeting was canceled — which was false because it was a night the council wasn't scheduled to meet — because the council didn't want to discuss Walmart.

"We don't have a vote on this," Woods explained.

On the rezoning vote the council made in 2009 Woods said, "There's a rumor the council was given bad information [and] a mistake in voting. It wasn't." The councilman believes the store could have chosen that property through a special exception, even if it was zoned B2 or B1 for businesses.

Woods also wants to encourage people to speak at public meetings, including county council meetings.

"If you want to come and speak all night," he said. "Do it."