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2000-05-16
Kent Island, MD. Dumbing Down Smart Growth

The state of Maryland is learning a civics lesson that smart growth can be outsmarted by wealthy developers. In Kent Island, Maryland, residents have been fighting a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter ("Kent Commons") since the fall of 1999. The Up Against the Wal committee has noted that the 150,000 s.f. supercenter is slated for land designated for "marina growth", and is an incompatible land use with the Master Plan. Despite the fact that the developer has promised to build the "nicest Wal-Mart in the nation" (see 1/5/00 newsflash below), residents say this is an unwelcomed gateway to greet visitors as they come off the Chesapeake Bay bridge. That viewpoint has been reinforced by no less than the Governor of Maryland, Parris Glendening, who championed a "smart growth" law in his state, only to watch companies like Wal-Mart build around it. The Maryland law says that public money cannot be used to fund developments in areas that are not served by public water or sewer, roads and schools. A county would have to submit a plan to the state to demonstrate where they want growth to occur, and developments beyond those boundaries would be unable to receive state support. The problem is, a deep-pocketed developer who is prepared to pay for its own infrastructure work, as an example, can build its superstore without resorting to state support. In The Capital online, citizen's attorney Phil Hoon is quoted as saying "Smart growth is not as helpful as we thought it would be. As long as developers are paying their own way, smart growth has nothing to say about it." The Capital story yesterday quotes Governor Glendening as saying the Kent Island Wal-Mart would create a "terrible entrance view" to the eastern Maryland shore. "I have directed every single agency that no state resources should be used in any way to make any of those projects work," the Governor said. "But the reality is that smart growth does have some built in limitations." Wal-Mart's reaction to the Governor's "terrible" comment? The Capital quotes a Wal-Mart official as saying his company does not ruin communities or contribute to sprawl, but revitalizes areas by bringing in business. "We try to go where we can best serve our customers," Wal-Mart said.

What you can do: Governor Glendening is correct: his smart growth law has some built in limitations. But as we have written elswhere on this page, local communities are free to write zoning ordinances that have no "dumb loopholes" for companies to find. We mentioned, for example, the town of Boxboro, MA (see below), which recently passed an ordinance capping the size of buildings, so that large retail stores are simply not a permitted use in commercial zones. This is much "smarter" than the Maryland "smart growth" law, and will keep out the Wal-Marts and the Home Depots. The town of Hatfield, MA just passed a "major development review" ordinance that requires a cost/benefit analysis for any large store proposal, and allows the town in a special permit situation to turn down a project that would have a detrimental impact on surrounding properties. This also is "smarter" than the Maryland law. When it comes to stopping big stores, local government actually can outsmart the corporate bulldozers, without state assistance. The Kente Island case is likely to end up in the courts, because the Wal-Mart plan clearly violates the area's long-range growth plan, along with other local inconsistencies with zoning law. For further information about Up Against the Wal, or to help financially with this fight, contact Marie Moroney at mariem@dmv.com, or Stan Ruddie at SRuddie@aol.com










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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