Safeway Inc. may have won its two-year battle to build a strip mall in a bayside South County community, after county officials ruled that the property is not in a flood plain.
The county announced yesterdaythat Safeway does not need a flood-plain waiver to build on a16-acre site at Routes 256 and 258 in Deale. In January, the county had denied the grocery store chain the waiver, which is needed to build on a 100-year flood plain.
Officials from the county's Department of Planning and Code Enforcement said yesterday that the proposed site is not on a flood plain, based on the county's definition of flood plain, known as the "48-Inch Pipe Rule."
The rule states that if water from a severe storm can adequately drain through a pipe 48 inches in diameter, the area is not considered a flood plain. Safeway engineers sent the county calculations two weeks ago that show that the site meets that requirement.
"It [the site] is flooding, but it isn't a flood plain under county code," said MerrilE. Plait, chief engineer for the county's planning department.
The county made several recommendations to curb flooding in the area, and Safeway has included several storm management tactics, such as replacing old drainage pipes, that could improve the environmental impact on the site, Plait said.
"We've required them to go above and beyond the call of duty, and they've done it," said Plait, adding that the plan would reduce flooding around nine homes downstream.
The decision comes about three weeks before Safeway was scheduled to argue its case for a flood-plain waiver before the county's Board of Appeals and eliminates a major obstacle for the grocery store chain.
Safeway still needs to apply for buffer impact and deletion of road improvement waivers and to meet other recommendations before submitting a site plan for approval.
Upon site plan approval, which could be within two months, Safeway can resubmit its application for a grading permit and apply for a building permit.
"We will be moving forward as quickly as possible," said Greg TenEyck,a spokesman for Safeway. "Engineers are already working on it."
The spokesman said Safeway will withdraw its application to the Board of Appeals and proceed with its proposal to build an 88,000-square-foot shopping center and continue with its public relations campaign in the Deale/Shady Side community.
"The amount of support we've been receiving has been overwhelming," TenEyck said.
Safeway representatives were scheduled to announce the decision at a community meeting last night at Franklin United Methodist Church.
News of the announcement caught some off guard yesterday afternoon, especially opponents who claimed victory when the flood-plain waiver was denied in January.
"I don't believe that the county now sees it not as a flood plain," said Amanda Spake, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD), which has led a two-year campaign against Safeway. "I just don't understand it."
Spake said she does not know what the next step for the organization will be, but added, "The community is still against it, no matter what size the pipe."
Ever since Safeway resubmitted its plans in 1998, SACReD has been rallying residents against the project, saying it would harm the environment and destroy their slow-paced lifestyle.
The group posted "Stop the Sprawl" signs throughout the area, passed out petitions and, most recently, distributed "Strip Mall on Trial" tickets, inviting people to the appeal hearing.
Until about six months ago, supporters of the project had remained relatively silent, but they have become active.
A residents group, Friends for Fairness to Safeway, has held several meetings, and Safeway has mailed informational fliers and created a Web site (www.dealemarketplace.com).
Yvonne Matthews of Shady Side said many rumors about the project were circulating through the community, so she helped organize last night's meeting.
"They should have a right to share their side of the story," she said.
The two sides have clashed in recent months, as the Safeway question has caused heated arguments. The debate could become moot as Safeway completes its site plan.
TenEyck said the earliest Safeway could open is next year, depending on the speed of the approval process.
Safeway, which has a regional headquarters in Lanham, has owned the site, originally 9 acres, for about 10 years. The site was determined to be a flood plain, so developers worked with the county to create a storm-water management system.
Safeway requested a flood-plain waiver two years ago and presented plans to build on an expanded property after obtaining 7 more acres for storm water management and forestry issues.
The new site has two drainage pipes, which run under Swamp Circle Road.
After calculating the average storm water drainage from the combined site, engineers for Safeway discovered that it met the 48-Inch Pipe Rule and notified the county.
"We believe our plan is very sensitive to the environment," TenEyck said.