BY MARISSA GALLO, firstname.lastname@example.org
7:50 PM EDT, October 11, 2012
Walmart will not enter into written agreements pledging to address specific concerns raised in the community where a new store is planned south of Bel Air, company representatives informed members of the Abingdon Community Council and Harford County officials earlier this week.
The company will, however, make community donations through its foundations and individual stores, as it has for the two decades it has been in Harford County.
Members of the community council made several written requests to Walmart for the proposed Bel Air location on Plumtree Road during a closed door meeting earlier this week among them, representatives of the retail giant and Harford County government officials.
But in the minutes from the meeting released Wednesday by the county, Walmart said it would not enter into a "good neighbor agreement," in keeping with the company's normal practices.
Five members of the community council presented Walmart representatives with a packet listing the group's concerns, suggestions for how to expand an existing store in Constant Friendship – just a few miles south of the Plumtree site – and ways to support the Abingdon community.
The meeting was held in private and although the county executive's chief of staff and planning director attended, as did others on the executive's staff, members of the general public and press were not told about the session beforehand.
According to the minutes, the overall message, not surprisingly, is that the Abingdon community wants Walmart to stay at its current location and expand there. The company has said the 21-year-old Constant Friendship Walmart will close once the larger store planned at Plumtree opens.
Ways to expand the current store, the group suggested, are to build a multiple level parking garage, buy the storage facility next to the store and use it as part of an expansion or put the garden department on the roof as part of a green roof initiative.
The community council requested to enter into a "good neighbor agreement" with Walmart.
In the suggested agreement, residents requested:
• No new business tax breaks for Walmart, since the new store is just a move in location;
• Walmart to fund the initial cost of all infrastructure additions and improvements needed at the site;
• For Walmart's plan to limit environmental damage to the Plumtree Run watershed and Atkisson Reservoir;
• For attractive plantings of trees and shrubs; no overflow lighting going past the store's property; 24/7 surveillance inside and outside, including overnight security guards;
• No sales of guns or ammunition at the new location;
• No camper parking permitted overnight; and
• Hours of operation reduced to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
As for the Constant Friendship store, the community council members requested that the old location be converted into a viable retail store within three years or the property gets turned over to the county for its use.
In addition, the community council suggested supporting the community by buying naming rights to the new arts center planned near the Plumtree site; funding an early literacy center within Harford County Public Library system; funding the county's Childhood Obesity Task Force, Healthy Harford or initiating a new obesity fighting program; funding and maintaining the proposed Graham Park, also near Plumtree; and funding the local food pantry.
Stated in the minutes from the meeting, Nina Albert, director of community affairs for Walmart, said expanding at the current location wasn't possible for several reasons: "1. The parking lot slopes so no expansion can occur to the front. 2. A viable business is located to the rear of the property. 3. To expand to the west side would reduce the number of required parking spaces. 4. Expansion to the side would also interfere with a stormwater management buffer."
Albert added that closing the current store for remodeling would mean a loss of jobs.
Aaron Tomarchio, the county executive's chief of staff, asked what the plans are for the current location once it closes.
Walmart will shop for buyers, Albert said, once the Plumtree location is approved and work is in progress.
In response to the "good neighbor agreement," Albert said Walmart doesn't participate in those kinds of agreements, but does give back to the community through a foundation that gives money around the state and by giving each store a budget for charitable contributions.
Each store partners with schools, police and fire departments in the community, the minutes state, and the "giving" budget is based on store performance.
It was also noted during the meeting that the group meeting with Walmart reps could be expanded in the future to include additional community members, possibly from Bel Air South.