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Walmart opposed again at Harford council meeting

About 30 residents made their opposition to the proposed Walmart at Plumtree Road and Route 924 clear to members of the Harford County Council Tuesday at their meeting.

The Walmart issue was not on the agenda for Tuesday's council meeting, although the council is expected to review the zoning guidelines that allow such a project on the site at some point this fall.

At least one resident also expressed concern about the apartment building planned near the Walmart site and said he does not believe it could legitimately be built according to the county's own plans and designations for Route 924.

Residents said traffic is already bad on Route 924 and would be made worse by the Walmart.

Bill Wheland, of Cedar Springs Road, got a loud round of applause, as well as praise from Council President Billy Boniface, for trying to show the apartments planned near Walmart should be scrapped because a recent traffic analysis done for them was incomplete, while the analysis for Walmart has not been done at all.

He said that while planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald claimed Route 924 is defined as an arterial road, Wheland said his research shows it is only an arterial road between Route 1 and the Bel Air Bypass, not at the Walmart site.

He said he believes the apartments will become Section 8 housing and some have even called it "the Walmart apartment complex."

The plan should be disapproved for reasons of unlawful violation, he said.

"I believe the county can find justifiable reasons if they do due diligence on all of these impacts," Wheland said. "I believe if the Walmart goes away, so do the apartments."

Boniface called the presentation "well-researched" and "well-done" but said he should speak with the council administrator because the council members, who also serve on the zoning board of appeals, are not allowed to comment on zoning issues.

Ted Janes, of Glenwood, said he has been a bus driver on Route 924 for five years and cannot imagine 10,000 more vehicles on the road daily, which is the number Walmart provides.

"How on earth can that be done safely?" he said, adding he has seen at least 12 accidents at the gas station across from Lorien and has seen numerous students cross the road to get to a convenience store.

"It's a real safety issue that I think people have to be aware of," he said.

Gary Ambridge, of Patterson Mill Road, said he liked the thoroughfare as a dirt road and knows there is something the council can do to stop the Walmart.

"This is what we elected people to do," he said angrily, to audience applause. "Stop it. We don't want it."

Michael Taylor, who lives a mile from the proposed site, said half-jokingly: "How do you keep a community together? You propose a Walmart. How do you destroy a community? You build it."

Nancy Grief said she has traveled around the region and seen many Walmart stores on main roads, not ones like Route 924.

"This store belongs on one of the main thoroughfares," she said, adding she had nothing against Walmart but just does not want it in her area.

"I love Walmart but I don't want it here where we can't get in and out of our neighborhood," she said.

Also at the meeting:

-The council announced it is Emergency Preparedness Month and deputy manager Rick Ayers reminded residents to have three days worth of water, have food in storage and be prepared for emergencies.

"I hate to say it, but we are in the age of terrorism and we do have a power plant across the border in Pennsylvania that could affect Harford County," he said, adding Harford also has a major interstate and prominent bridge in it.

"The federal government will be there eventually during a disaster, but if you remember Hurricane Katrina, it was four, five, six days when they got there," he said.

-Ryan Burbey, the new Harford County Education Association president, said he got the value of education being a top priority from his grandfather, who helped build Mountain Christian Church but only had an eighth grade education.

Burbey said that is no longer possible in today's world and government entities need to compromise with other organizations so everyone can move forward together.

He asked the council to move beyond the "politics of bashing public servants" and applauded the activism of the residents in the audience.

-Annie S. Brock was appointed to the Commission for Women.

-Richard Sparr was appointed to the Human Relations Commission.

-Kemba Lydia-Moore was appointed to the Harford County Community Mediation Commission.

-Alan Getz and Stanley Getz were recognized for their lifelong contribution to life in Harford County, including giving funding to establish a children's park on Route 24. Councilman Jim McMahan presented them with two slingshots he said they used to shoot stones as children.

Alan Getz said of Bel Air and Harford County: "It was a great place for me to grow up, for my children to grow up and the community has always pulled together."

-Council members mentioned the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Dion Guthrie said: "One thing I think we all remember from that day [is] you all remember where you were and what happened."

-Councilman Joe Woods said while the week of 9/11 is always hard for him, it was made harder this year because of the deaths of Harford County Sheriff's Cpl. Charles Licato and Aberdeen Police Ofc. Charles Armetta. "It's been a hard week. God bless everyone," Woods said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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