Mount Airy Planning Commission put a damper last night on Wal-Mart's plan for a large store in a Route 27 shopping center.
The commission voted unanimously to defer approval until completion of a comprehensive study to determine the impact of the store on traffic. The panel also wants to wait for a report from state highway officials.
Although town officials were coy about mentioning the Arkansas retailer by name, virtually everyone knew that approval of a plat carving a 14-acre piece from Mount Airy Shopping Center was the beginning of a process for Wal-Mart to build an 85,000-square-foot store.
"Until we get state highway comments, we cannot approve this project," said Councilman William R. Stroh, liaison to the planning commission.
The meeting drew an unusually large audience of about 60 people, including former Mayor Linda Boyer, who said, "The very qualities that attract new residents to Mount Airy are endangered" by Wal-Mart's plan.
A group of residents and business owners launched a petition drive and collected several hundred signatures of people opposed to Wal-Mart shortly after Mayor Gerald R. "Jerry" Johnson announced two months ago that the retailer had made overtures to the town.
Opponents voiced fears that the retailer would alter the small-town atmosphere and destroy Main Street businesses, and formed a group called Us Against the Wal.
They are organizing fund-raising and public relations campaigns and have vowed to picket other Wal-Marts, if that becomes necessary, said Catherine Ditman, a local business owner who founded the organization.
Residents were allowed to comment at the planning session, but were advised to keep the word "Wal-Mart" from their remarks.
"At this point, Wal-Mart does not enter the picture at all," Stroh said. "All we can act on is the subdivision plat.
"We can either approve or disapprove, but it is hard to disapprove under the current commercial zoning."
Gary Rappaport, the shopping center's developer and owner, said he is willing to lease the site to Wal-Mart and work on road improvements.
"We're losing tenants and having problems filling the center and that will only continue," Rappaport said. "It is easier to maximize financing if we can separate parcels from what is already there."
Mount Airy, a town of 5,000 residents, would be Wal-Mart's third and smallest outlet in Carroll.
Pub Date: 6/30/98