Bel Air South residents – who have spent months working to stop Walmart's effort to close its store at Constant Friendship Boulevard and build a new one at Route 24 and Plumtree Road – were shocked at the Harford County Council's decision not to vote last week on legislation which would have slowed down the project.
Bill Wehland, a resident of Bel Air South – he lives west of Route 24 – has been outspoken about development in the area of Plumtree and Route 24.
"It just bothers me so much that a council sponsors a bill and can't get a second," he said during the public comment portion of the April 16 council meeting.
Wehland encouraged residents to stay involved in the fight against Walmart in Bel Air South.
"We don't need them," he thundered. "We don't want them and I can't make it any clearer than that!"
More than 20 people pleaded during a public hearing last week for council members to support Bill 13-16, sponsored by Councilman Jim McMahan, but the bill died after council members declined to vote on it.
Had it been passed, the legislation would have required commercial and retail establishments, which are larger than 75,000 square feet and slated for areas zoned B3 for business, to go through a much stricter approval process than what is on the books in Harford County.
The ultimate approval would rest in the hands of the county council, acting in its traditional role as the Board of Appeals for large developments.
Local residents Steve Tobia and Skip Panowitz, members of the Bel Air South Community Foundation who have been among those speaking out and organizing protests against Walmart's planned moved to their community, were also shocked by the council's decision.
"There were already amendments that had been approved that essentially took any impact that it would have had on the Walmart project off the table," Panowitz said Monday. "So, why not second the motion, and then if you're not satisfied with the content, vote against or table it or whatever the case may be?"
Tobia, who said he was "flabbergasted" by the decision not to vote, said residents would continue their fight, even without the council's support.
'It would have been nice'
"With or without them we're going to continue on," he said. "It would have been nice to have them on our side, but we'll press on without them."
The statements made by bill supporters during the public hearing were precisely what made Councilman Dion Guthrie – who had been a supporter of McMahan's bill – join his five fellow council members in not offering a second after McMahan made a motion to accept the bill.
Council President Billy Boniface said later he could not offer a second, as president.
"The people who testified on behalf of the bill, they basically were the reasons why I did what I did," Guthrie said in the days following last week's meeting.
Guthrie, along with Boniface and Councilman Joe Woods, was a co-sponsor of Bill 13-16.
Walmart has been working with county officials for at least a year to get approval for a 186,000-square-foot store on 17 acres at Plumtree Road and Route 24.
The store would replace Walmart's smaller establishment off Constant Friendship Boulevard in Abingdon, and the new store would include a grocery section.
Opponents of the move to Bel Air South have been encouraging Walmart to expand its Constant Friendship store, one of four in Harford County.