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Safeway gives up its contested plan for store in Deale


Stymied by powerful politicians, determined residents and even, it seemed, bald eagles, Safeway Inc. announced yesterday that it is abandoning a years-long effort to build a supermarket in the small southern Anne Arundel County community of Deale.

"We will not be building a Safeway," said grocery chain spokesman Gregory A. TenEyck.

That decision had seemed increasingly likely since the General Assembly, led by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, passed a law this spring aimed at blocking the proposed 77,000-square-foot supermarket and strip plaza.

Miller, echoed by a vocal group of area residents, attacked the project from several directions. They said it would hurt the quiet character of waterfront Deale, even though critics said it is no longer a sleepy fishing village. And they said the store could harm nearby Rockhold Creek, though no one offered proof.

"We're happy," said Amanda Spake, president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, which has hammered away at Safeway for years. "We think they are taking the right course for the community. We think they heard the community."

For residents who quietly supported Safeway, yesterday's decision means they will continue to have to drive about 20 minutes to Edgewater to buy food at a full-service grocery store.

Safeway does not know what will become of its 16 acres, much of which it bought more than a decade ago, TenEyck said. A sign announcing "Safeway Coming" has marked the site for most of that time.

The company, with 70 stores in Maryland, including six in Anne Arundel County, will explore other ways to develop the land or may sell it, he said.

Spake said her group hopes to work with Safeway to find a use that most residents could embrace, such as a community hall or recreation center.

Little about the project has gone smoothly for Safeway. The county initially denied the project because the property was in a flood plain. After Safeway engineers pointed to an obscure measurement that changed that conclusion, county engineers reversed themselves.

But the residents group stepped up its efforts, accusing County Executive Janet S. Owens of abandoning her promises to support Smart Growth. The group commissioned a 12-foot-tall papier-mache puppet of Owens labeled "Queen of Sprawl."

Two events several months ago turned the tide against Safeway. Miller, a Democrat whose district includes Deale, announced he would sponsor legislation prohibiting the type of storm-water management system Safeway had proposed at the county's behest.

And the state Department of Natural Resources said that construction could not begin at the site until June 15 because a bald eagle's nest was nearby.

Miller's bill passed easily -- and with the grudging support of Owens -- but it does not take effect until July 1.

Owens said yesterday she will be disappointed if Safeway withdraws entirely from its plans.

"Most residents want a grocery store and pharmacy," she said. "My concern and the concern of most others has always been the excessive size of the store that Safeway had proposed."

Owens had urged the County Council to rezone Safeway's land to limit buildings to 25,000 square feet. Safeway had strongly opposed that idea.

The state's bald eagle biologist said that the once-active eagle's nest was empty. That raised fears among Spake and others that Safeway would try to clear the wooded site before July 1 to make the store a fait accompli. But TenEyck said yesterday that would not happen -- and that Safeway had no plans any longer to build a store.

Safeway could try to revise its storm runoff plan to comply with the new state law, but TenEyck said that would be unlikely to win county approval "in the current political environment."

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