Bel Air, MD. Wal-Mart Still Trying To Open One Store, Close Another
This is literally an open and shut case. On July 7, 2012, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart planned to construct a 185,706 s.f. superstore on 16.7 acres of land just of south of Bel Air, Maryland. Concept plans were submitted to the Harford County planning and zoning officials. There are already 8 Wal-Mart stores within 29 miles of this site -- half of them are superstores. A superstore in Fallston, Maryland is 4 miles away, the Aberdeen supserstore is 12 miles away. This would be the 4th Wal-Mart in Harford County.
"I really don't understand," one reader told The Aegis newspaper, "why we need yet another Wal-Mart? I can drive to the Bel Air Road one in about 15 mins or the Aberdeen one or Abingdon one in 25 mins. I mean seriously, 4 walmarts within 30 to 35 minutes of each other. Isn't there a law about businesses and how close they can open up to each other? I thought there was something about how many of one name you can have within a particular area. Can you say monopoly?"
The new superstore proposal would cause the "old" Wal-Mart discount store 6 miles away in Abingdon to shut down. That nearby store is 19 years old -- close to the limit for a Wal-Mart store.
This parcel used to be high density residential, but in 2009 was rezoned dramatically to high density commercial. A county councilman told the media that "residents are alarmed about it, especially with the prospect of more gridlock in a heavily traveled corridor that includes the local high school."
This week, about 150 people gathered for three hours in Abingdon to protest Walmart's plans to close its store in Abingdon and open a larger store in Bel Air South. According to the Baltimore Sun, community groups have been holding rallies since the project was first announced nine months ago.
A company spokesman told The Sun: "Wal-Mart is working with local and state officials to alleviate concerns that have been raised about traffic at the proposed location for our new store."
Many of the residents at the rally held signs reading: "No Bel Air Wal-Mart" and "Expand the Constant Friendship Walmart." The neighbors in Bel Air South petitioned the company to expand its Abingdon store, and add groceries to that site.
In response to the Bel Air Wal-Mart proposal, the Harford County Council has introduced a Bill 13-16 that would require any retail development larger than 75,000 square feet to go through the zoning appeals process, which requires public hearings and more stringent approvals than what such commercial developments face. According to The Sun, the bill was sponsored by four of seven council members, including Council President Billy Boniface. A public hearing will be held on April 16 in Bel Air.
One opponent to the new store told The Sun: "I think we just keep building up community opposition, and at some point we hope Wal-Mart will feel it's just easier to expand than go where they're not wanted. But don't count on it. A Wal-Mart spokesperson told the newspaper, "We believe these protests do not reflect the strong community support for a new store that will generate jobs and a new, convenient shopping option for affordable food and other merchandise."
What you can do: Last July, another local resident commented in The Aegis newspapr, "They aren't going to keep the Abingdon store open if they build this one." Another reader said, "I grew up off of Plumtree Road and recently moved back...It makes me sick to see what they've done, so much concrete, everything paved . . . its so disgusting and sad that we citizens have no choice."
Readers who understand that citizens DO have a choice are urged to email Harford County Council President "Billy" Boniface at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear President Boniface,
Wild horses couldn't drag me to shop at the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Bel Air. This project is totally superfluous, and will not create any new wealth or jobs for the county. What it will do is shut down the Abingdon store, and force workers there to apply for their jobs at the new superstore.
This proposal is not about market need, but corporate greed. It's all about Wal-Mart market share. Ironically, this store will eat into Wal-Mart's own same store sales. This company has over built so many stores that its new units cannibalize its existing stores, adn the result is not a form of economic development.
The County should not approve a store of this scale near residential property. This land was zoned residential until 2009 -- and whatever is built there now should be compatible with the residential character of the community. These huge superstores are approaching their Ice Age, and one day in the not too distant future, Harford County will be trying to sell these empty monuments to greed to anyone who will tear them down.
Your Bill, 13-16, at least forces the project to go through a more deliberate review process, but what you really need to do is cap the size of retail stores at 60,000 s.f. If they can't fit enough cheap Chinese imports in a store that size, they should go back to the drawing board. "