Outraged over proposed Plumtree Walmart, Bel Air residents tell retailer it's 'not welcome'

Hundreds of people flooded Patterson Mill High School's auditorium Thursday evening, the vast majority to protest the proposed Walmart on Plumtree Road.

Several attendees, who came despite the rain, carried small hand-held signs that read "No 9/24 Walmart."

A short line of people holding umbrellas led up to the school's main entrance, waiting to come in. The meeting started almost 30 minutes late to allow time for those who were still arriving.

Among those in attendance were Bel Air commissioner David Carey and Harford County Council members, including Jim McMahan, who represents the area.

Residents were almost hostile, shouting as Walmart representatives spoke, booing each one as they were introduced.

One woman shouted from the crowd, "We don't want the Walmart!"

Throughout the meeting, residents shouted expletives and other angry words.

One woman seemed to sum up what most people in the audience felt: "What if the residents don't freaking want you?"

When the crowd calmed down, an animated presentation on the proposed site was given, also inciting comments from people, including, "It's in Bel Air!" in response to the video claiming the site was in Abingdon.

The main entry of the store would be off Route 924 with two access points - one public, one for trucks - off Blue Spruce Drive.

The store would be approximately 185,000 square feet and look very similar to the store in Fallston.

A traffic light will be installed at the intersection, which will be at Route 924 and where the Bright Oaks community is.

Wes Guckert, president of The Traffic Group, explained his firm would conduct a traffic study of the area, but has not been completed yet because the project is still in the first phase of the development process.

Attendees were able to submit questions and comments throughout the meeting, and many addressed the room from a microphone near the auditorium's stage.

Most questions and comments dealt with traffic.

One question submitted and read by Walmart Community Affairs Director Nina Albert was this person heard that the store can bring in as many as 10,000 car trips per day and wanted to know if that was correct.

Guckert said it could be that much.

One Evergreen Heights residents said "traffic will be a major situation" for Route 924.

"Significant road changes need to be made to accommodate the traffic," he said, and Harford County taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for it.

Tom Kleine, Walmart's lawyer, said Walmart and not taxes, "as part of the site plan approval requirements," would fund the improvements.

A resident of West Riding Drive called the project "a waste of taxpayer money."

"My concern is for the children who live across Route 924 and walk [to school]," said another resident. "None of us want you. Go away," which had many people get to their feet and cheer.

A woman, who also lives in Bright Oaks, said her home is three houses away from Route 924, "right where you want to put that light."

"My house is for sale and I can't sell it now," she commented. "I can't sell it with Walmart in my front yard."

The woman continued, "Why do you have to destroy the little bit of property in the county that is actually nice?"

People in the audience continued to shout as Walmart representatives spoke, including one woman who yelled, "You already have a Walmart down the road. Just use that one."

In response to several questions asked about what is wrong with the current site and why the store is moving, Kleine said the current site has "some limitations" to expanding, renovating and providing "the merchandise we would like to offer."

Nina Albert, Walmart's community affairs director, clarified that a grocery section is proposed at the new location and the Abingdon site "does not accommodate any expansion" to include groceries.

A Bright Oaks resident who said his name is Jay commented that he has "yet to find a Walmart whose primary entrance driveway is an exit from a residential area."

Many comments were also directed toward county council members.

"County councilmen, these are your voters," Ruth, a Bright Oaks resident, said. "Please remember that these people are opposed to this Walmart."

In response, one man in the crowd added, "And we can vote you out."

A man who said his name is Steve and lives in Overview Manor bluntly said, "You are not welcome at Plumtree."

"We will not let you or any other corporation place a burden upon us or our families," he continued. "We will fight you every inch of the way."

He proposed that residents boycott the store and implement a social network to extend "our reach and solidify our resolve."

He said distribution centers would be set up at Target stores to hand out bumper stickers advertising their opposition to the new Walmart location.

"From this point on it is a Target we will shop," he said. "Target is now our community store."

A few residents brought up concerns about crime and how the store proposed to handle it.

"That is something we'll respond to as we work with the sheriff's department," Kleine said in regard to determining security needs.

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