Wal-Mart near Wheatfields? HOWARD COUNTY


The residents of the Wheatfields subdivision off Routes 29 and 103 have an opportunity -- if they act wisely -- to have real input into how a nearby parcel of land is used for commercial development. The developer of the property, Robert R. Moxley, is seeking to have Howard County rezone his property to allow a large warehouse store, the type of retail operation so popular nowadays, to be built there.

Residents of Wheatfields, fearful that Wal-Mart is circling Howard County and just waiting for an opening to land, have begun protesting the proposed change. Assuming what has become the tedious and prescribed role of victim in such cases, residents are suggesting that county officials are trying to pull the wool over their eyes by insisting that no decision has been made and the opportunity for compromise still exists.

In effect, the community has needlessly backed itself into a corner in a way that begins to harden positions for all of those involved in this matter much too soon.

The course can be changed. A truce should be called. Wheatfields residents must be willing, however, to concede that Mr. Moxley has a right to develop his property. The current restrictions on it for office and light commercial use appear to fit -- the legal criteria of being a mistake that the county must change. Not only that, the location is ideal for a warehouse-type store. Whether it be Wal-Mart or any similar operation seems immaterial.

Residents have raised the specter of Wal-Mart to suggest that the county would do anything to lure the national retailer here. But if that were the case, county officials had every opportunity to do so -- and didn't -- when another developer proposed a

Wal-Mart and Sam's Club at the intersection of Routes 40 and 29 earlier this year.

The Wheatfields community still has power to leverage an acceptable compromise from the county and Mr. Moxley; it cannot be done through adversarial politics. Many options are available to sway Mr. Moxley to heed residents' concerns.

The most obvious is for the Wheatfields community to form an alliance with the county government and elected officials to pressure the landholder in the right direction. Changes in traffic pattern, buffers and other ameliorating alternatives could -- and should -- be won.

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