Walmart should rethink its plans to move from Abingdon to a site closer to Bel Air off of Route 924 and Plumtree Road, Harford County Executive David Craig said Tuesday.
"I have serious concerns regarding the proposed construction of a Walmart at the site discussed," Craig said in a written statement issued by his office early Tuesday afternoon.
The statement comes 12 days after several hundred angry people attended a community input meeting on the plan for the Walmart, at which many of them shouted at Walmart representatives and denounced Craig and other county officials, many under the belief they were supporting the project.
Walmart wants to build a 185,000-square-foot store on about 17 acres at Route 924 and Plumtree Road, about 2.7 miles from downtown Bel Air. Company representatives said the store would be a replacement for a 19-year old store off of Constant Friendship Boulevard, near Route 24 and I-95 in Abingdon. The older store is about 130,000 square feet and does not have a full grocery section, like the one planned for the new store.
Residents of the heavily developed area around the site say traffic is already bad on nearby roads and would become markedly worse with a Walmart and some smaller commercial development planned on the site, which is heavily wooded.
In his statement, Craig said there is not much he and other county officials can do to prevent Walmart from building the new store. He added: "I stand with our citizens and urge Walmart to reconsider plans to relocate from Abingdon to Bel Air."
Craig also urged the company to work with his administration to find a "more amenable solution."
The Plumtree Road site was comprehensively rezoned in 2009 from high density residential to high density B-3 business, a change that was necessary for a commercial development of that magnitude to be built on the property.
A majority of the seven Harford County Council members, all of whom were in office at that time, signed off on the change to B-3, and Craig signed the legislation that also contained dozens of other zoning changes. Four years earlier, however, similar legislation — which also contained a B-3 change for the Plumtree property – was vetoed by Craig, but over his concerns about a handful of residential zoning changes elsewhere in the county.
The next step for Walmart in the county approval process is to submit a preliminary plan and have it reviewed through the development review process. There has been no indication from the company when it will submit the plan.
Craig was attending a function late Tuesday afternoon and was unavailable for further comment, county government spokesman Bob Thomas said. The county executive's complete statement follows:
"Harford County Government has been officially notified by representatives of Walmart of their interest in relocating from the current location at Constant Friendship near Abingdon to a site on Plumtree Road near Bel Air. The proposal includes plans for a Walmart Supercenter at the Bel Air location, which is a significant expansion beyond the size of the current store.
"I have serious concerns regarding the proposed construction of a Walmart at the site discussed. It is in my opinion the wrong location and not characteristic of the smaller type of retail we had hoped would complement the existing community shopping centers in the area. But more importantly, I have serious concerns about how the proposed project will impact traffic and public safety.
"I feel that it would in the long run be better for the county if Walmart were to re-invest in their Constant Friendship location. All too often, we are quick to abandon older facilities and communities in favor of new locations without looking at ways to revitalize what we already have. Now that the state has put the finishing touches on the new interchange at 24 and 924, the traffic situation in that area has improved greatly, and the current location is much better equipped to handle the volume of traffic that a store such as Walmart generates.
"While Walmart can, by right under the law, develop this property, I stand with our citizens and urge Walmart to reconsider plans to relocate from Abingdon to Bel Air. My administration is interested in working with Walmart to find a more amenable solution that will allow them to expand at their current Constant Friendship/Abingdon location. I encourage citizens to stay engaged in this process and to let their voices be heard. I hope that we can work together on a plan that is better for our citizens and our community."
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