Residents don't like idea of Wal-Mart as neighbor


Residents of the Ellicott Meadows development aren't welcoming Wal-Mart to their neighborhood.

"I can't see how Wal-Mart coming here would help at all," said Bob Hrivnak, 45, whose townhouse in the 3200 block of Sonia Trail in the housing development backs to where the retailing giant plans to soon open a new store. "Our peaceful, quiet little neighborhood is going to be shot."

Another resident of the same block, Cheryl McKeon, 30, said of the store's site: "It's a nice big empty field, full of wildlife like foxes and deer . . . that's part of the reason we chose this spot. Now some Wal-Mart is going to change our neighborhood for the worse. It's a nice store, but I certainly don't want it in my backyard."

That's just the tip of the negative sentiments from residents and business owners who live or work near the 22-acre site of the planned Wal-Mart, just northeast of the intersection of U.S. 29 and U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

The nation's largest retailer received preliminary approval earlier this month to go ahead with the new outlet, and a local representative of the company said Friday that the store will open there by the end of next year's first quarter at the latest -- possibly as early as December.

The property on which it will be built is mostly owned by Mangione Family Enterprises, the owners and developers of Turf Valley Country Club, who also plan to build about 200 townhouses nearby.

Though the Wal-Mart first was proposed for the site several years ago, some residents and business owners yesterday said they were shocked to hear the news that the new store was coming soon.

Ellicott Meadows' residents and the development's builder, Joseph Wilder, were largely responsible for rallying opposition to the project during the 18 months of the retailer's 1992 piecemeal zoning battle, one of the longest in the county's history.

During that battle, more than 100 residents signed petitions against the store's proposed site. Attorneys and expert witnesses were hired to oppose the company's plans, saying they would have a negative impact on local businesses and increase traffic problems.

Yesterday, some residents and business owners talked of launching another petition drive against the store's impending arrival within the next few weeks. But they also said they realize their efforts likely would be fruitless.

They said they don't understand the need for the planned Ellicott City store, which will not be far from Wal-Mart's newly opened store on U.S. 40 in Baltimore County.

Their paramount concerns are problems from increased traffic: bottlenecks along Route 40, possibly increased crime and likely lower property values.

"The traffic is already bad enough on U.S. 40 without adding another retail store of that size," said Paul McMickings, owner of Vance Shoe Repair in the nearby Normandy Shopping Center. "When a store like Wal-Mart moves into an area, and there's already another one within a few miles, it's going to hurt everyone... from the larger owners like Kmart and Caldor's to smaller guys like me to the nearby homeowners. We just can't compete."

Added Mr. Hrivnak: "There goes the property value . . . down, down and down. What's so sick about the whole deal is the way they push the little guy around . . . from the homeowner to the business owner. We're the guys who are supposed to be patronizing the Wal-Marts. But their wiping out those of us who appreciate Main Street America."

Neighbors Al and Tiffanie Chandler, of the 3200 block of Sonia Trial, said they're nervous that they may not be able to sell their townhouse within the year as they have planned. Their home will have a view of the proposed store from almost every window.

"I think what frightens us the most is what's going to happen to our property value," said Mr. Chandler. "A Wal-Mart here will probably make the neighborhood be perceived as being less valuable, regardless of the style or condition of the home."

The townhouse deck of Judy Cascio, a day-care provider, also will overlook the store's parking lot. She said she's stunned to hear that the plans for the Wal-Mart were going ahead.

"I can't believe they're going to let a store that big come into a neighborhood where it's taking over homes," she said.

And at the nearby Bon Secours Nursing Care Centre, interim administrator Susan Ansel said having a Wal-Mart right in front of the facility won't serve the interests of its 150 resident senior citizens, either.

"This is a nice, quiet campus, and that's why we built out here," she said.

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