Walmart fired back at the Harford County Council late last week, issuing a brief statement Friday about new zoning legislation that could force significant delays on the proposed store the company wants to build south of Bel Air.
"While we are still determining if this action specifically impacts our Bel Air plans, we think legislation that sets up arbitrary hurdles for development and discriminates against business based solely on size is misplaced," Steven Restivo, senior director of communications for Walmart, said.
"Instead, we encourage the Harford County Council to evaluate policies that encourage job creation, spurs economic development and expands affordable shopping options for residents," the statement concludes.
The council introduced legislation at its March 19 session that would require developers of big box retail stores of more than 75,000 square feet to have their plans reviewed through the county's zoning appeals process, which would necessitate public hearings and additional approvals not currently required for such buildings.
The legislation, Bill 13-16, sponsored by four of the seven council members – Jim McMahan, Dion Guthrie, Joe Woods and Council President Billy Boniface – has been introduced at a time when Walmart is seeking county approvals for a new store planned at the intersection of Route 924 and Plumtree Road in the Bel Air South community.
A public hearing on Bill 13-16 is set for April 16 at 7 p.m. in the county council's chambers at 212 S. Bond St. in Bel Air.
Many residents of the area have been protesting Walmart's plans since they first surfaced in detail last spring. The company wants to build a 186,000-square-foot store on about 17 acres, which carries the requisite B3 zoning for a retail building that size. The company plans to close an existing, smaller store in the Constant Friendship community in Abingdon, barely two miles from the new store site.
Guthrie, one of the bill's sponsors, said last week the legislation is "absolutely" in response to Walmart's Bel Air South plans. He said the legislation is designed to make Walmart and other big box store developers "jump through some hoops."
The company's forest conservation and traffic study plans remain under review by the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning, Shane Grimm, the department's chief of plans review, said Thursday.
If the council approves the legislation before the Walmart plans receive final approval from planning and zoning, the new requirements could affect the project, although there would also be the possibility of a legal fight over its applicability.
Any legislation approved by the council would also be subject to a veto by Harford County Executive David Craig. Last year, Craig urged Walmart officials to reconsider their plan for a new store and to concentrate instead on expanding their existing store at Constant Friendship in Abingdon. Walmart, however, said it does not want to expand the Constant Friendship store and would press ahead with building the new one.