Fight due on panel's Wegmans decision

The Baltimore Sun

The director of an organization representing unionized supermarket employees said yesterday the group will challenge last week's Howard County Planning Board decision that allows construction of a 160,000-square-foot Wegmans food store on an industrially zoned east Columbia site.

"We will be appealing it," said Torrey Jacobsen Jr., executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Retail Food Industry Joint Labor Management Fund. The Wegmans store would be far larger than the typical 60,000- square-foot stores built by chains such as Giant, Safeway, Food Lion and Super Fresh in Howard County.

"We don't believe in big-box [grocery stores]," he said. The group's appeal to the county Board of Appeals will be on behalf of unionized employees at stores such as Giant, Safeway and Super Fresh supermarkets, he said.

"The [village] centers Columbia is built around - they should be trying to preserve those," Jacobsen said.

His fear, Jacobsen said, is that if the ruling that the 12-acre site at McGaw Road and Snowden River Parkway in the Sieling Industrial Center is approved for retail uses, more big-box stores may follow Wegmans, a nonunion retailer whose store is to employ 650 people.

"It's going to hurt everybody," he said, whether a store is unionized or not.

Several people who testified before the board said they want the Wegmans store built, and one, Joshua Proteau of Owen Brown, said, "The village concept is a broken concept." Defending that outdated idea has stifled improvements, he and others said.

A spokeswoman for the Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans chain rejected Jacobsen's position that the board's decision is wrong.

"The use is an allowed use under current zoning. The Planning Board made the correct decision, and we plan to vigorously defend it," said Jo Natale, the company spokeswoman.

It was not immediately clear yesterday what effect an appeal would have on Wegmans' development schedule. Under county rules, an appeal can be filed within 30 days to the county Board of Appeals. In the past, appeals of contested projects have resulted in lengthy delays as parties battle, sometimes ending at the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Before proceeding, Wegmans must also return to the Planning Board for approval of a site plan for the store. Even with a quick approval process, it could not open a store before mid-2009.

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