A 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart proposed for dilapidated Parole Plaza outside Annapolis has cleared a major hurdle and could open for business within a year.
The County Council has killed a bill that would have blocked "big box" stores in the cores of Parole and Odenton.
The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk of Annapolis, was defeated on a 4-2 vote Wednesday night after hours of discussion and public testimony, some of it emotional.
"It was the right vote, and I applaud the council people for voting the just way," said New Jersey developer Carl Freedman, who has been trying for years to revive the suburban-style plaza his family built 40 years ago.
Freedman hopes to begin demolition as soon as next month. The Wal-Mart, a supermarket and several smaller shops, including a high-end electronics retailer, could open next summer, he said. A Sears store will remain, at least for the time being, because the retailer's lease has 11 years to run.
Freedman must address a host of concerns before the county will issue necessary permits. In March, the county granted conditional approval, and Planning Director Denis Canavan said he is working with Freedman.
"I think it's absolutely in keeping with the spirit of the plan," said County Executive Janet S. Owens, who had threatened to veto Samorajczyk's bill. "We can move ahead and see real positive development at Parole. To clean up that blight is really exciting to me."
The vote ended Samorajczyk's attempt to restrict the size of big stores. Her proposal, similar to ones adopted by local governments around the country, would have limited building "footprints" to 80,000 square feet per story.
Only Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican, sided with Samorajczyk. Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, abstained, saying she was torn.
Samorajczyk cast the outcome in a positive light. "Out of every effort like this comes something positive," she said. "We certainly have raised awareness."
She noted that people can sue the county if they feel it has ignored a 1994 Parole redevelopment plan that calls for an urban streetscape convenient for pedestrians on the plaza's 30 acres. A store such as the Wal-Mart would blur that vision, she said.
Critics of her bill raised a number of concerns, among them that it would send a bad message to businesses in general and unfairly target Freedman. They also noted that the Parole Growth Management Committee took no position on her plan.
The up-or-down vote, taken after 11 p.m., was not expected when Wednesday's meeting began. At least one amendment was scheduled to be introduced, and any modifications would have prolonged the debate about Parole Plaza at least until next month.
"I think people just got tired," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Millersville Democrat. "It got beat to death from all sides. We had been lobbied by everybody from a to z."
Klosterman said Samorajczyk should have compromised by agreeing to grandfather in the Wal-Mart while restricting the size of subsequent stores in the town centers. "Now she doesn't even have the 80,000-square-foot limit on additional stores," he said.
Klosterman introduced a bill that would have done that while eliminating Odenton town center from the measure. But he said he will withdraw the bill because "there is no need for it now."
Before Freedman receives approval to build, he must make a point-by-point response to Canavan's concerns. Among those is a request for details on a planned extension of Holly Avenue that Freedman would finance.
In addition, Canavan required Freedman to enter "good faith" discussions with the county on the viability of a two-story Wal-Mart. If that is deemed impossible - which Samorajczyk said the developer has not demonstrated - Freedman must consider having the Wal-Mart face Forest Drive instead of Solomons Island Road.
A second phase would include additional boutiques alongside the Wal-Mart and a five-story building above the Wal-Mart with nearly a half-million square feet of office space. The timing of the second phase is unclear, Freedman said, because it can proceed only after Sears leaves.