Three food giants in 'Store Wars'; Safeway, Food Lion, Shoppers Food ponder sites a few miles apart


On three parcels of land, just miles apart, three competing supermarket giants are considering building large grocery stores in southern Anne Arundel County, a small-town kind of place where residents are notoriously anti-development and environmentally conscious.

Because the sites are so close and the market is limited, probably only one store will go up. There likely will be a mad dash to see which chain can negotiate its way first through a maze of zoning laws, building-code plans, state environmental rules, and angry, inhospitable residents.

Locals have dubbed this latest chapter of the region's development drama "The Store Wars."

The race is in its first leg, and Safeway, Food Lion and Shoppers Food Warehouse are running strong, with no clear leader.

Residents, who say they would rather drive 20 miles to shop for groceries than to have a large supermarket in their back yard, are not shying from the contest, slinging clever one-liners and filing lawsuits.

The county, which will have to answer to the developers and the residents, is bracing for the ride.

"It's pretty obvious these proposals aren't going to be terribly popular in this particular area," said Andrew C. Carpenter, spokesman for County Executive Janet S. Owens, who ran on a campaign of slow growth but has not publicly stated her feelings about the proposed stores.

Carpenter said that if the stores are built within the guidelines of county zoning laws, personal feelings about development cannot stop the corporations from coming into the area.

"Mrs. Owens swore an oath to uphold the zoning laws that are on the books," he said.

Although the three proposals are in initial phases, this is what county officials know:

The Safeway complex, which would sit on nearly 15 acres at Bay Front and Deale Churchton roads in Deale, is proposed as a 55,000-square-foot store with about 30,000 square feet of "pad sites," or surrounding stores, that typically include small restaurants, liquor shops and dry cleaners. The developers have submitted site plans to the Office of Planning and Code Enforcement, which has not taken final action.

The Food Lion, which would be at Deale Churchton and Shady Side roads near Deale, would be a 37,000-square-foot store, with about 3,200 square feet of pad sites. This proposal would require rezoning of several acres. A rezoning hearing is set for March 16. Tom Mageneau, the developer involved with the Food Lion deal, could not be reached for comment.

The Shoppers Food Warehouse, in such a preliminary stage that no formal building plan has been filed with the county, would be situated on commercially zoned land east of the intersection of Deale Churchton and Shady Side roads occupied by Smith Building Supply.

Jack Smith, who owns the store, did not return calls about the potential deal.

South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), one of the most powerful anti-development groups in the area, is speaking out against the stores, arguing that the Safeway and Food Lion sites are wetlands.

SACReD also has questioned whether it is appropriate to make large-scale development decisions before the region's county-appointed small-area planning committee has begun to draft its suggestions for long-term growth on the Deale and Shady Side peninsulas.

South Arundel attorney Weems W. Duvall Jr. is representing Food Rite, a small, locally owned grocery in Deale across from the proposed Safeway site.

"Not only do we oppose the store because it would change the character of the community, but it would wreak havoc for local businesses," Duvall said.

Barbara Sturgell, owner of Happy Harbor Inn, said the area needs to be revitalized before it is developed. The Deale businesswoman noted nine vacant, boarded-up storefronts in the area.

She also said that the area's narrow roads can scarcely accommodate current traffic, and that expected additional traffic because of the stores would be "a nightmare."

"I'm not against growth," she said. "But I'm for responsible growth. I'm for revitalizing what's there."

A petition opposing the potential stores is circulating among small businesses and churches throughout Deale.

Pub Date: 2/07/99

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