Opponents of the long-contested plans for a Safeway strip mall in Deale are posting signs throughout south Anne Arundel County, stuffing fliers into grocery bags and making buttons in preparation for another battle.
The Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled a public forum at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 at Deale Elementary School, and those opposed to the project want the community to be there. Corps representatives will explain its reasons for permitting the project at Routes 256 and 258.
"This meeting has been a long time in the making," said Amanda Spake, president of a South County environmental group that opposes the project. "This is the first and only time people have been given a public forum to express their opinions."
The group, South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), along with residents and business owners have been fighting the proposed shopping center since the Corps granted a wetland permit for construction two years ago. Safeway, which owns the land, wants to build a 55,000-square-foot store on the site, as well as a strip mall.
Opponents of the project fear a Safeway would destroy sensitive shoreline, create acidic runoffs that could contaminate waterways and bring more development. SACReD also contends that more wetlands will be affected than the corps estimated in 1997.
According to an environmental consultant hired by SACReD, the wetlands have tripled in size from 0.9 acres to 2.7 acres since the corps' study in 1997.
To spread word of the meeting, SACReD teamed up with the Alliance of Rural Business to pay for and post signs, including one at the entrance to Shady Side along Route 468. Concerned business owners and residents also have been showing up at community meetings and telling neighbors about the forum.
Want to 'remain the same'
At his store in the 6100 block of Shady Side Road, Mohan Grover tells customers about the meeting and offers them a flier as they stop by for groceries. Having lived and worked in the community for 25 years, Grover said, he knows most of the residents.
"We are proud of our community and want it to remain the same," Grover said. "I think there will be a good crowd at the meeting."
Grover worries that a Safeway and strip mall would draw too many people to the area, which is characterized by its medium-sized businesses and close-knit feel. People chose to live here, knowing there wouldn't be major stores nearby, he said.
He said it is important for residents and business owners to voice their concerns.
"Somehow we've been neglected," Grover said. "All that the community wants from them is to review the application and the project with us."
Discussion on permits
Debi Horne, a Corps of Engineers spokeswoman, said the meeting was called to discuss the project and explain why the wetland permits were granted.
"There was some public outcry, and they wanted to get together and discuss what's going on out there," Horne said.
Dick Christopher, who manages nearby Food Rite, said the Safeway issue has become "explosive" in the community, similar to the successful 12-year fight to prevent a housing development on Franklin Point.
"This is the last hope of forestalling development in this area," Christopher said.