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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Walmart case worthy of a close look [Editorial]

It is necessary to look no farther than a high school civics book to come up with the basic idea that majority rule, unchecked, is nothing more than mob rule. For a society to be a democracy, it must abide by the rule of law and respect the rights of the minority.

It's a simple idea and one that should sound familiar to every American.

The simple idea is the reason the Bill of Rights was appended to the original U.S. Constitution, and the idea of being treated equal under the law is one of the many things that makes this country appealing to so many people who come from places that don't have such an ingrained sense of fair play. It's the reason the idea was reiterated and extended to protect individuals from the states when the 14th Amendment was added after the Civil War.

In the heat of the moment, however, the sensibilities of human dignities such as equal treatment under the law are sometimes forgotten. That's why, in addition to elected leaders who are apt to be swayed by the emotions of the people who put them in office, we have a court system whose job it is to sort out issues and ensure the rules are applied equally to all.

The recent filing of a petition for judicial review of proposed development in the congested Bel Air South-Route 924 corridor seems to be just the sort of thing that was intended when equal protection under the law was written into the Constitution.

There has been substantial opposition expressed by people living in the Bel Air South area about plans by Walmart to move the Abingdon store about two miles away to a new, larger location near the intersection of Plumtree Road and Route 924. The county executive and county council have both taken actions geared toward discouraging the move. This is their prerogative. There have been court rulings that give elected officials rather broad latitude to rescind permits or not issue them in the first place.

In this case, another major medical arts complex development is planned near the same intersection by MedStar Health, the company that owns Franklin Square Hospital and Union Memorial Hospital, among others.

The MedStar project, largely unopposed by the general public, has moved quickly through the permit process, though it also is expected to have a fairly substantial impact on traffic. Developers of the Walmart project, also expected to have a major impact on traffic, have been obliged by the county government to rework their traffic impact studies.

Certainly there are differences between a medical arts complex and the massive modern version of a general store that is Walmart, but traffic impact is traffic impact, and major developments of both varieties are apt to have substantial effects on traffic volume and flow.

There may well be mitigating factors the court finds that make the county's treatment of Walmart one way and MedStar another in terms of development planning, but it is certainly an issue that needs to be decided not on the passions of the moment, but rather on what is fair under the law.

The thing about rights and fair treatment under the law is once these principles are allowed to be ignored to the detriment of one person or group in a minority opinion, it becomes ever easier to ignore them altogether. In other words, when one individual's rights are not protected, it isn't long before no one has rights.

Feelings about the merits of a Walmart or a medical facility notwithstanding, a reasoned review of what has the look of an unfair situation is certainly in order at Bel Air South.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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