Consensus eluded the Anne Arundel County Council last night on a proposal that would prevent the construction of a 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store at mostly vacant Parole Plaza outside Annapolis.
The divisions underscored strong emotions that have arisen in the debate over how to revive the ailing 40-year-old retail complex at the heart of what is supposed to be a town center.
With council members engaged in parliamentary maneuvering late into the evening, final action seemed unlikely on whether to limit the size of "big box" stores in the Odenton and Parole town centers.
In a possible sign of things to come, four of the seven members expressed concern with a proposal sponsored by Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, to limit stores in the town center cores to 80,000 square feet per story.
"If we don't get this, what do we get?" asked Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat.
Worried that Samorajczyk's bill would clear the way for several medium-size big boxes, Klosterman drafted an alternative bill that would grandfather in the Wal-Mart proposal. He complimented designs showing the store nearly concealed from view.
Samorajczyk has come under fire from New Jersey-based developer Carl Freedman and Wal-Mart, who say she is unfairly targeting their project. They note that county planners have granted conditional approval.
Samorajczyk says she is not opposed not to Wal-Mart specifically, but to any big box store at the center of Parole and Odenton. She has said she would welcome a two-story Wal-Mart, which Freedman and the retailer say is not feasible because it would require a multimillion-dollar parking deck to succeed.
"It is within our power to stop the blight of ... sprawl on our landscape," Samorajczyk said last night to applause from her supporters in the divided audience.
Her proposal has provoked a flurry of lobbying in recent weeks. Wal-Mart executives traveled from company headquarters in Arkansas to meet with council members and County Executive Janet S. Owens.
Owens, a Democrat, has broadly hinted that she would veto any attempt by the council to block the Wal-Mart. Last week, Owens called the project's design "beautiful" and said revitalizing the 30-acre plaza is long overdue.
Plans call for a brick facade and improved landscaping, along with construction of boutiques and, eventually, a multistory office building.
Samorajczyk agreed that new life is needed in the plaza, but only if it complies with a 1994 Parole redevelopment plan adopted by the County Council. That blueprint calls for a mixed-use environment convenient for pedestrians, and she fears a that a big box would make that impossible.
She also questioned last night whether a development agreement with the county could compel Freedman to build the subsequent phases that Klosterman and Owens find appealing. County Planning Director Denis Canavan assured Samorajczyk that it could.