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Smart Growth enters Parole Plaza talks


Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants to make the Parole area outside of Annapolis a state model for his Smart Growth initiative, an Anne Arundel lawmaker said yesterday -- a suggestion that could further impede a proposal to build a Wal-Mart in the Parole Plaza shopping center.

"The governor is really interested in this," said Del. C. Richard D'Amato, who said he spoke to the governor about the issue at a fund-raiser Friday.

D'Amato's announcement comes on a wave of disagreement surrounding development plans for the largely vacant Parole Plaza.

The Wal-Mart proposal is the most recent effort to revitalize the 40-year-old shopping center -- and the sixth proposal New Jersey developer Carl Freedman said he has submitted since 1994.

"This is the first time there is a substantial state interest in the Parole question," D'Amato, a Democrat, said. "It would be a potential initiative where the governor could demonstrate how he could go about this kind of urban development."

The area's political representatives and the governor's office agreed that zoning issues are matters of local concern. But state funding incentives for particular sorts of development could hold sway over the local development process and impede plans for a "big-box" store in what has been designated a town center.

D'Amato, along with fellow District 30 delegates Michael E. Busch and Virginia P. Clagett, and state Sen. Jon C. Astle, are scheduled to meet this morning with Paul Zanecki, head of the governor's growth commission, to discuss development and funding possibilities for Parole Plaza. While nobody is saying whether the specific Wal-Mart proposal meets the goals of the governor's Smart Growth program -- to regulate development to minimize sprawl and allow urban areas to prosper -- there is disagreement over whether the 135,000-square-foot proposal fits with the county's designation of Parole as a town center.

"Generally a shopping center, whether it's a mall with a sea of parking or a single store with a sea of parking isn't something that promises walkability, and generally isn't a project that you'd see as a Smart Growth project," said James T. Noonan, coordinator of the Smart Growth Policy Team for the Maryland Department of Planning.

The Wal-Mart proposal had sparked an emotional political battle in the past weeks, most recently prompting a prominent Anne Arundel company to weigh in against the development.

Last week, the executive vice president of USinternetworking, a business software provider located across the street from Parole Plaza, condemned the Wal-Mart proposal in a letter to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

The letter said the company moved to its Riva Road address a year before, expecting the development of an urban center across the street.

"It appears now that our expectations will not be met," wrote USi's Jeffery L. McKnight Sr. More than a week earlier, the Anne Arundel County Council defeated a bill to set a limit on the size of stores in the shopping area. The bill would have essentially prohibited the Wal-Mart.

Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, who proposed the bill, said the store did not fit with the County Council's 1994 Parole redevelopment plan, which calls for a pedestrian-friendly urban center. But the majority of council members agreed with Freedman that the presence of a Wal-Mart would provide a boost to the area.

Owens, who was on vacation last week, is scheduled to address the issue of the USi letter during a news conference today. She has not discussed the Parole area with the governor, said Andrew C. Carpenter, Owens' spokesman.

"The governor has not expressed to County Executive Owens any opinion about Parole Town Center," Carpenter said yesterday.

Jennifer Crawford, Glendening's deputy chief of staff, said the governor had not focused on any specific plans for Parole Plaza and said nothing was "in the works" for the area.

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