The developer of a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Stevensville, MD has promised local residents a store that will be more attractive than most Wal-Marts (which is not very hard to accomplish). “Planners made it really clear that they want something much better than your typical big box,” said the lawyer for the McLean, VA developer. “That’s the road we’re taking right now.” The problem is — many Stevensville residents don’t want to walk down that road with Wal-Mart at all, and are offended by the idea of a superstore at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The 154,000 s.f. Wal-Mart is part of a complex that will include a 120 room Hilton hotel, and several restaurants. Many local businesses doubt that tiny Kent Island can support such a large project. A Kmart was built in Stevensville in 1994, and the proposed Wal-Mart is slated for an already bottle-necked section of Route 50. The head of the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce says his organization has great concerns about any large retail development. “The Chamber is gravely concerned about the traffic impact of any future development on this island” Chamber Director Doug Shreve told The Capital newspaper. “It’s going to create absolute gridlock on the island.” The Kent Island Civic Confederation also worries that the island’s economy is not big enough to host a Kmart and a Wal-Mart, given the fact that one outlet mall in town is already empty. “We already have an eyesore of the outlets…We don’t want one of these large retailers to go under,”said the Confederation’s President. In October, the County Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend approval of allowing the project on 28 acres of open land, despite the fact that the Stevensville Community Plan designates the area as Marina Growth. Planners say the land was rezoned in 1999 as “urban/commercial”, but the Wal-Mart still does not come close to meeting the definition of a Marina. In early December, Queen Anne County Commissioners voted to grant sewer and water service to the project, despite a petition against the project signed by 500 people. The President of the County Commission, George O’Connell, said the county could do nothing to stop this scale of a project. “We have no more business telling (developers) which property to invest their money in than we would have telling someone where to invest his or her money in the stock market. It’s a private property rights decision.” The next step is for developers to go before the County’s Planning Commission, and a resident’s group called Up Against the Wall has vowed to fight to keep the land for marine or tourist use. O’Connell told unhappy residents that “the developers say this will be the nicest Wal-Mart in the nation”. The Stevensville Wal-Mart could end up being the “nicest” Wal-Mart ever to be taken to court.
I’ll bet Wal-Mart real estate people promise “the nicest” store to everyone — yet all we see from the highway is that architectural graffiti called a big box store. Developers in Athens, GA (see below) promised residents one of the “most attractive” Wal-Marts in Georgia. Everybody’s getting that unique, special Wal-Mart. There must be instructions in the “Developer’s Guide to Wooing the Locals” that urges them to promise a prettier Wal-Mart than the “ordinary” ones they’re used to. Usually this amounts to a gable here and there, a different color scheme, or other cosmetics. But the “encroaching suburbia” feel of a superstore is unmistakeable. This Stevensville project is called “Kent Commons”, an appropriate name for this most common of stores. As for Mr. O’Connell’s quote about the private property rights of developers — he’s missed the last forty years of zoning law in America. The fact is Queen Anne County has the right to regulate size, location and intensity of land use through their zoning code. Mr. O’Connell should take his next vacation in Menomonee Falls (see next story) and see how far zoning rules can really go. For more information about Up Against the Wall, contact [email protected]