Royal Farms confirmed last week it is moving forward with not one but two stores in Aberdeen, within 1 1/2 miles of each other on Route 40.
With one store-and-gas-station combination ready for construction within Aberdeen city limits, on Route 40 across from Walmart, Royal Farms also held a community input meeting Thursday for a second site on the corner of Route 40 and Route 7.
The two stores would both be between 5,000 and 6,000 square feet and would both be on the north side of Route 40, but Royal Farms real estate director Jeff Bainbridge said the proximity still makes sense to capture more traffic coming from Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Route 715 area.
"This is not right on top of each other, but it's certainly close," he said. Without the Old Philadelphia Road store, "we wouldn't capture all the Route 7 traffic."
The Route 7 store is expected to begin construction in a year if it is approved by the county, Eric McWilliams of Bohler Engineering said. Ground could be broken for the store across from Walmart in as little as 45 days, Bainbridge said.
That Route 7 intersection is marked for major changes by the State Highway Administration, which is planning to widen Route 40 at the site, McWilliams said.
On top of that, McWilliams highlighted the two grassy areas directly behind the Royal Farms store as targets of future development.
"In the future, not associated with this plan, there's some additional properties that may also be developed into commercial [areas]," he said.
Also, unlike the store inside Aberdeen city limits, "this site fortunately is free and clear of the wellhead protection area," McWilliams added.
The Route 7 store will be in the southwest corner of the intersection and would take out the current A & B RV Mobilehome Service, which McWilliams said has already closed, as well as several other properties.
One of those residents, Frances Maudlin, said she was eager to sell the property where she has lived for 33 years to Royal Farms because she lives alone and the area no longer seems safe.
She said her brother used to live in an adjacent house and that a woman who lived in a trailer there will also be relocating.
Maudlin's daughter, Freddie DeRose of Bel Air, said the area no longer makes sense for residential use.
"As a residential area, I think it's time to go," DeRose said. "Right now, I don't think it's a great spot for a home."
Craig Miceli, who owns an acre with a liquor store directly across Route 40 from the Route 7 intersection, said he was surprised to hear the two stores would be so close together.
"I thought this was a joke, but this is real, huh?" he said to McWilliams.
After the meeting, Miceli agreed that Royal Farms will be an improvement for the area and hopefully enhance the value of his own property.
"From an investor perspective, it upgrades that corner," he said, explaining he had wanted to buy a parcel adjacent to his property but the tenant of the liquor store bid against him at an estate auction, leaving Miceli "kind of flailing."
"The Royal Farms is a light at the end of the tunnel for me," he said. "It is the first time I have heard about something really positive in that area."
Bob Hartman, of Paradise Road, however, thinks the store will definitely make congestion worse.
"The traffic is going to be a problem. It's just a mess down there," Hartman said. "You are talking about going across six lanes of traffic to get out of there [on Route 7]. That could be a nightmare right there."
McWilliams said a study by Traffic Concepts should be done in a week.
"I am not going to dispute that this will be a very, very busy intersection," he said, but added he does not "think it will be catastrophic to make a left-hand turn in rush-hour traffic."