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Walmart supporters, opponents speak to council again

Walmart supporters and opponents brought their concerns again to the Harford County Council Tuesday night.

Jerry Newtze, of Wheel Road, told council members there is a need for Walmart to move to Plumtree Road in Bel Air because its current location has only one way out and the area, even with the new overpass, is highly congested.

"I think if we put the Walmart at Plumtree, it will relieve some of the traffic down at that intersection," he said. "If Walmart is going to pay for the infrastructure, and being that it is zoned commercial anyway, I believe they should have the right to purchase property."

He noted there is a Target store on MacPhail Road and a second store next to Walmart in Abingdon.

"I don't see why people are trying to block the construction of the new one," he said about the proposed Walmart.

Mike Taylor, of Temple Hills, disagreed, telling the council he questioned some of the "myths" listed in a Baltimore Sun gallery about the top 10 myths about the Bel Air Walmart.

He said he disagreed with the idea that there is not overwhelming opposition to the store.

Although some supporters were at Tuesday's meeting, Taylor said he took a survey of neighbors in his area and everyone disagreed with bringing the Walmart there.

He also said the Festival at Bel Air shopping center has two vacancies with the closing of Cornerstone Kitchen & Bath and Honey Baked Ham Company.

"With a Walmart across the street, there's going to be a lot more vacancies, trust me," he said, adding he just wants to keep the issue alive.

"A lot of people think we're not out there still. We are out there," he said.

Helen Mann, of Hunter Chase Court, said she read an article in USA Today about small towns embracing "the arts, European-style design and walkable traffic patterns," and said she thinks Bel Air can be made even better by not having a Walmart.

"We can do so much better than Walmart if we just be a little more forward-thinking," she said.

On a separate subject, Morita Bruce, of Fallston, told the council she disagreed with their recent decision to approve tax-increment financing for the James Run project at Route 543 near I-95.

Bruce said although "one would almost need a crystal ball to figure out what will happen" with the site, she thinks the TIF approval gives the developer an unfair advantage.

She pointed out that the developer has said very little about what the project will consist of and has not explained how the project will generate a substantial number of jobs.

"It could turn out to be nothing but a bunch of apartment complexes with a little bit of retail," she said. "We don't know what is coming and there's only one line in that 400-some-odd pages TIF bill that says what they're going to do with that property, and all it says is, we're going to build a corporate office complex with no offices, lodging houses and retail."

She thanked Councilmen Jim McMahan, Chad Shrodes and Joe Woods for voting against the financing.

To Wood, she said: "You recognized that this is anti-competitive and that this hurts for those that do pay their own way."

She questioned what the effect will be on other businesses, asking how existing businesses are going to compete "against this government-subsidized competition."

"How many of those will go under because of this unfair competition? Will James Run actually destroy as many jobs as it creates?" she asked.

Bruce said the only thing the road improvements promised by the developer will accomplish will be to offset the load of the James Run project itself.

Also at Tuesday's meeting:

- The council re-elected Dick Slutzky as vice president of the council.

- Harold Breaux was recognized as a Harford Living Treasure for being a mathematician and scientist at Aberdeen Proving Ground and historian.

- A bill allowing $17.9 million instead of $10.3 million to be borrowed for the Bush Creek Pumping Station 4th Pump was passed by the council.

- Council President Billy Boniface announced an art show of northern Harford County artists at Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church on Friday.

- The council approved a resolution for a lease purchase for energy equipment for Harford County Public Schools. The energy performance project costs $16.1 million and includes energy-saving devices throughout schools.

The lease is with JP Morgan Chase Bank and the equipment is being acquired from Johnson Controls.

-Council members talked about the new APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, which was officially dedicated earlier Tuesday afternoon. Boniface called it "such a jewel" for Harford County and noted it was a major partnership between the county and state. McMahan also said it is "beautiful" and he is convinced it will be a "centerpiece" for the county. Shrodes said it will prove to be a great investment for the county, not just the students at the college.

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