Hundreds of residents packed the Harford County's council chambers at 212 South Bond Street on Wednesday morning, where the county's development advisory committee recommended postponing the controversial Bel Air Walmart project to address community concerns.
The DAC chairman, Moe Davenport, strove to give everyone interested a chance to speak and told the crowd the DAC is not approving the plans until Walmart satisfies all the requirements of traffic mitigation, site design and other issues.
He said a development "of this magnitude" could take one to two years to move forward and Walmart could still turn around and walk away.
"Obviously this is a passionate issue. We take it very seriously here. We're going to review the plans. It's back in Walmart's court. We denied the plans as submitted," Davenport said.
The meeting was moved from its usual location across the street but the space still proved too small, and dozens of residents opposed to the store at Plumtree Road and Route 924 were left to stand outside.
A handful of security guards strictly enforced the fire code by forbidding anyone to stand inside the chambers.
The county planning and zoning director, Pete Gutwald, attended the meeting, as did County Councilman Dion Guthrie.
More picketers outside continued to hold "No Walmart" signs and chanted loudly as the meeting went on.
More than 50 people were still trying to get into the building 10 minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. start. By 9:30, the line stretched more than a block long to Hays Street, according to a caller who was standing in the line.
County Risk Management Director Rocky Gonzalez said he counted about 200 people waiting outside at the peak of the crowd.
Capacity of the council chamber is 259 people, Harford County government spokesman Bob Thomas said.
The chamber has about 175 permanent seats. In anticipation of the large crowd, Thomas said, folding chairs were added. It still wasn't enough.
The Walmart plan review was the only item on Wednesday's DAC meeting agenda. The meeting ended at 12:30, three and a half hours after it started.
The proposed new Walmart location is on the south side of Plumtree Road between Routes 924 and 24 in the Bel Air South area. It's a location and a plan many residents say they feel is unnecessary and could be detrimental to the community.
Other residents, however, have expressed support for the project and a counter-movement to back the new store has surfaced in recent weeks.
Following the meeting, Walmart representatives sent a statement to The Aegis saying they were pleased to get comments from DAC members and know plenty of residents who support the store.
"We heard from a number of county agencies and state agencies about their requirements for our proposed new store, and we will work to meet those requirements," the statement said. "The State Highway Administration requested some clarification of specific features included in our traffic plan, and we will provide that information."
"Walmart has submitted to the county the signatures of more than 1,400 county residents who support our project. Many others in the community support our plans and their voices will be heard in the days ahead," the statement read.
Traffic, access issues
Richard Zeller, of the State Highway Administration, got several rounds of applause for saying the SHA will consider the county council's request to deny Walmart access from Route 924 to the planned store site.