Walmart opponents push for Abingdon store expansion

Walmart opponents were back before the Harford County Council Tuesday night to once again make their case against the proposed new Bel Air store.

They also tried to show why it makes more sense to expand the Abingdon Walmart store instead, despite Walmart's insistence that expansion is not feasible.

Steve Tobia, of the Bel Air South Foundation, said 89 percent of Bright Oaks residents opposed the proposed store in a recent survey and also said Walmart's claim that traffic will actually improve makes no sense.

"For Walmart to say that we will enjoy a better driving experience by adding 10,000 cars is logic that is difficult to swallow," he told the council.

He said feelings toward the store have not changed and he still feels it will be "absurd" and "a terrible imposition on the Bel Air community."

He asked if the impact of the store on the lives of residents in the community just does not matter.

Walmart has the opportunity to continue serving the residents of Edgewood, Joppatowne and other southern areas at its current site, Tobia said.

"Instead of abandoning it, Walmart should make it the best it can be, a pleasure to shop in," he said. "We will soon find out what kind of corporate citizen Walmart chooses to be."

Another resident, Bill Wehland, showed photos of the Walmart property in Abingdon and the large tract of land around it he said demonstrates there is plenty of room for expansion.

He said an early plan for the property shows the possibility for expansion.

Wehland argued the store would "certainly" be able to get the majority of features it wants into the expansion, including the grocery and perhaps an "auto section."

He sharply criticized Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz's comments to The Aegis earlier this week that expansion is "unworkable" and would impinge on the store's ability to do business.

"I say, hogwash, bullcrap to that," Wehland said, adding it has become "increasingly obvious" that Walmart does not care to consider an expansion.

"They are basically saying to the public, we are ignoring you," he said.

Meanwhile, Wehland complimented the plans for a MedStar building near the same intersection.

"It's the type of Smart Growth that I support and I believe Harford County residents will welcome," he said.

Also during the meeting, the council unanimously approved a resolution allowing the county to file an application with the Maryland Transit Administration for the Statewide Special Transportation Assistance Program

The council passed a bill revising its erosion and sediment control plan to change some conditions under which soil can be disturbed, among other points.

A public hearing was held on an appropriations bill to cover expenses for Hurricane Sandy-related costs.

Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said the total is $1.2 million, to be split among three funds.

"We do anticipate getting money back from FEMA on the qualified approved expenses," she said.

Councilman Jim McMahan said he is concerned that the council does not "have any knowledge of what we're approving."

"I think it lacks a certain degree of transparency," he said.

The council introduced bills that would allow the capital program to be adopted by the county council on or before June 15 of each fiscal year, changing some requirements for private airports to be more in line with state regulations and allow the country treasurer to make any governmental charge by credit card or debit card.

"[Council administrator] Pam [Meister] came up with the idea that what we need is to get credit cards that we can call up when we need to go to an event," he said.

"We're certainly going to save a lot of money by giving our aide and council members with a limit of $500 per credit card," Councilman Dion Guthrie said, reassuring it will not be like the situation with the county school system in 2007, when about 400 employees got credit cards and ended up using them to pay for expenses for their spouses and children as well.

"The council is not getting $10 million credit cards," he said.

Guthrie said the council gets invited to many events with an admission fee each year and paying by check is very unwieldy.

Also at the meeting, Council President Billy Boniface said Councilman Joe Woods will be the new representative for the Maryland Association of Counties, so Boniface would replace him on the library board.

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