Walmart opposition may have won a victory in that the retail giant won't pursue an entrance and exit off of Route 924, but traffic in the area promises to get worse anyway.
The harsh reality is that decisions made decades ago about the area on either side of Route 24 from Wheel Road south to I-95, and bounded on either side by Route 924 and Tollgate Road, will preclude any easing of traffic congestion for decades to come.
Lately, Walmart has become a lightning rod for anger relating to concerns about the ever-increasing difficulty involved with navigating the area by car. The fear is Walmart's proposed move from its Constant Friendship site near the interchange to an expanded store between Routes 24 and 924 near Plumtree Road will increase the amount of traffic in the area.
Odds are, the expanded store will draw more customers, resulting in more congestion. The change in location also is likely to shift some of the congestion northward in the Route 24 corridor. And there's the reality that the old Walmart site won't revert to woodland, but rather is likely to end up as another traffic-generating retail operation.
All things considered, however, the changes brought about by Walmart's potential moves are likely to be incremental in terms of size and inconsequential in terms of location. The reason is simple: the area already is congested because it has been transformed from suburban tracts and farmland to an urban district in a matter of a dozen and a half years.
On top of that, it's prime for more development.
Even as Walmart has been obliged to forgo its plans for an entrance and exit from Route 924 at the Plumtree Road site, the new location is likely to be approved over the long haul, if not for Walmart, certainly for some other commercial operation. If Walmart does end up at the new site, another commercial venture will end up at its old location.
And on top of that, there's more development in the works on a little more than 15 acres near the existing Walmart that will only increase traffic there over the coming years. A plan is in the works for a senior housing complex, garden apartments and yet another storage facility on the property off of Arundel Court.
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Presented to the county recently is a proposal for a 72-unit mid-rise senior housing building, an 84-unit garden apartment complex, a storage facility of 58,000 square feet, plus a 4,000-square-foot community center, all on a property that is barely noticeable to casual shoppers taking advantage of the abundance of Constant Friendship retail opportunities.
Meanwhile, MedStar has plans for a major medical facility near the planned Walmart destination site, and no doubt there are a few other opportunities in the area for what is often referred to as infill development – relatively small projects on parcels of up to about a dozen acres.
Going back 25 years, the vast retail area that is home to the existing Walmart, as well as a Target Greatland, a Lowes, a B.J.'s and a dozen smaller businesses was little more than a dirt road off a nub of the end of South Tollgate Road when the plan in place was for an outlet mall. That plan succumbed to both public irritation and its having been proposed on the eve of an economic downturn, but the realities that made the mall proposal realistic remained when the economy turned around and a different kind of shopping experience was the result.
Still, the location near a major population center in the county and the convenience of an interstate interchange made development all but inevitable.
At present, there are indications an economic downturn is giving way to better times, the proposed construction in the area being one indicator. To the degree that an upswing is in the offing, there will be substantial pressure for development in an area that is designated for development.
That development may include a new Walmart and something else moving into the old Walmart site, or the new Walmart may end up being defeated. Just as the proposed Constant Friendship outlet mall was defeated 25 years ago, only to be replaced by Lowe's, Walmart, Target and B.J.'s.
The reality is the Route 24-924 territory will continue to be built out for the same reasons it has been over the past five decades: It makes good business sense and that's what's allowed on the land.