Limited options to stop Walmart move, county officials say

There isn't much hope for Harford County residents who want to put an end to the proposed Walmart relocation in Abingdon.

With an attendance that overflowed into the hallway, the Abingdon Community Council meeting Monday evening was dominated by discussion about the proposed Walmart relocation.


Discussion started after a brief presentation by County Chief of Staff Aaron Tomarchio and Director of Planning and Zoning Pete Gutwald, in which Gutwald described the process Walmart has to go through to get approval.

Many residents have been protesting the proposed 185,000-square-foot store on Plumtree Road that Walmart announced at a community input meeting in early July.


Despite community dissent, Gutwald told attendees Monday that the property is zoned B3, which is considered high density business, and if the Walmart meets regulations it can be approved.

"I cannot deny the site plan or preliminary plans just because we don't like it," he said.

At the beginning of August, Craig said in an interview that the Plumtree Road property used to be zoned B3 and R4, for high density residential, but was comprehensively rezoned in 2009, after community input, to be all B3. People in surrounding neighborhoods "pushed" county council members, from the previous council, to remove the R4 zoning because they didn't want more housing units, according to Craig.

Rezoning is one of the only options available to residents right now, according to Gutwald. The other is to change the B3 zoning code to not allow the Walmart. Both would involve a lengthy legislative process and even then, Gutwald said, Walmart would probably have the preliminary plan in by then and could be grandfathered into the new legislation.

After later questioning, Gutwald told attendees comprehensive zoning is done every eight years but the county executive could initiate it at any time.

With limited options for preventing or delaying the Walmart, Tomarchio urged residents to get in touch with Walmart to tell the company how they want a new Walmart to be designed or what contributions they expect for the community.

Later on, one woman pointed out that several communities throughout the United States are successfully fighting Walmart and called Gutwald and Tomarchio "fatalistic."

Despite that, Gutwald continued that their comments and regulations only give the government so much power and if Walmart can't reach regulations, it wouldn't get approvals.

Other residents asked about the traffic studies and environmental impact, to which Gutwald said Walmart would have opportunities and ways of mitigating its issues and design to meet regulations. Having already gone through public review, even if Walmart's plans are denied at first, the company would just have to resubmit within the time period to avoid having to get public input again, he added.

Several people also mentioned the clause that the current Walmart in Abingdon cannot sell groceries, asking if that could be addressed so Walmart would simply expand instead of relocating.

During a meeting with the county executive, Walmart representatives said the groceries clause was a "non-issue" and it's moving to the Plumtree location because of the expected footprint of the store, according to Tomarchio.

At this point, Walmart has submitted the community input plan and just that morning, the delineation, which records what is at the parcel today. Nothing else has been done to date, Gutwald said.


Walmart has a year after the community input meeting to submit the preliminary or site plan, but it does not normally take that long to process such work, he added.

Tomarchio added that this size project is expected to take two years and the recently opened Fallston location took several years before coming to fruition.

A couple residents also voiced concerns about development in the Abingdon area in general, with one man asking when it would stop and another mentioning the dirt roads in the area when he moved several years ago.

At this, Abingdon Community Council Chairwoman Cynthia Hergenhahn told attendees about the recently approved Master Land Use Plan, which she said very few residents came to discuss when it was featured at the meeting earlier this year.

At the start of the meeting, Hergenhahn read the council's official stance opposing the Walmart and their requests for it, including entering into a community benefit agreement with specific initiatives and partnerships.

Another resident also suggested a boycott of the existing Walmart and several bumper stickers were passed out with the slogan "No Bel Air Walmart."

Despite all the negative feedback, Tomarchio encouraged residents to look at the "grand scheme of things," which is that it is a problem but a "good problem" to have to work through.

He had the same issue when the new Kohl's was built next to his daughter's elementary school, Tomarchio said, but the incoming Walmart and increased traffic are signs of a "thriving economy."

"That comes with living in a vibrant community," he said, adding that he knows it is not what the residents wanted to hear.

Several residents argued with Tomarchio's comments, including one woman who asked if he was a Walmart representative and told him to take his "sunshine" there instead.

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