Vol. 8, No. 4
January 27 - February 2, 2000
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In Deale Safeway Ruling, AA Citizens Win

Anne Arundel County’s Department of Planning and Code Enforcement displayed sound judgment last week in denying Safeway’s plan to build a grocery-fast food complex in the southern part of the county.

It wasn’t a matter of being anti-development, as some have characterized a spirited band of local citizens during this protracted debate. The question here was one of scale and the resulting damage that this, a not-so-smart development, would have caused in a sensitive, rural area.

This is not just a grocery. It’s a complex of stores and pavement equivalent to 11 football fields wanting to settle down on a wetland.

As Anne Arundel County proceeds with its General Development Plan, its first duty is to weigh the power of the environment to sustain the development where we’ve chosen to put it. To located its supermarket on land with the properties of a kitchen sponge, Safeway requested a variance. That’s a special exception from county rules that protect floodplains and creeks that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

To argue why it should get a variance, the Safeway chain hired a battery of lawyers and consultants, who produced a fat document promising mitigation. In other words, they’d move some dirt, dig some holes and promise to engineer away the risks.

But the county wasn’t convinced: “The cumulative effect of the clearing, grading, construction of stormwater management ponds, channels and installation of three large storm drainage pipes under Swamp Circle Road, as well as the potential problem from acidic soils, present the possibility of serious environmental consequences.”

That’s well said, and it reaffirms the conclusions of experts without a financial stake in the outcome.

Wait a minute. Does this decision mean the communities in what used to be called Anne Arundel’s “Great Swamp” are condemned to a frontier existence?

We hope not. We hope that merchants who fought the Safeway will redirect their energy into upgrading what they offer our growing community. We’d like to see people in southern Anne Arundel clean up their businesses, inside and out, and work within their existing footprints to give customers better selection, attentive service and compelling reasons to shop at home.

We hope, too, that the guardians of the environment don’t hoot every proposed development out of town.

This decision — which can, by the way, be appealed by Safeway — can be a real victory for smart growth if it pushes locals and would-be developers to imagine smart, sustainable ways to use our shared, spongy space.

If the most opinionated among us say no to every change, two things will happen: They will lose clout and we will lose progress.

In the case of the Safeway, citizens were right to fight a sprawling, cookie-cutter complex that had no business dropped in a swamp. And County Executive Janet Owens — who’s feeling a lot of heat nowadays for having hired “pro-development” guys to take over the department that makes decisions like this one — deserves our thanks for having the guts to listen.

Also deserving applause is Anne Arundel County soon-to-be divided Department of Planning and Code Enforcement. The department did the right thing, making this decision within the context of the General Development Plan and the continuing Small Area Planning process. That gives all county citizens reason to believe government is working for us — not just for special, deep-pocketed interests.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly