The Wal-Mart War has returned to Calvert County.
Some local residents are battling the discount retailer's new proposal to build a 97,687-square-foot facility in Dunkirk. Opponents of the project assert that the Wal-Mart violates the intent of regulations passed by the county commissioners in August, which limited "big-box" stores to 75,000 square feet in minor town centers such as Dunkirk.
But Calvert County Planning Commission members said they might approve the proposed Wal-Mart because the facility is technically two stores -- a 74,998-square-foot main site with an adjacent 22,689-square-foot garden center -- that appear to conform with the regulations.
"There is a loophole," said Grace Mary Brady, a Planning Commission member.
The commission has asked its attorney, John Yacovelle, to determine whether there are grounds for rejecting the proposal. As of now, though, commission Chairman John R. Ward said the Dunkirk proposal appears to meet the regulations.
"I guess at the moment I have to assume that it's permitted unless the attorney can show in words or interpretation that this is a violation of what is intended," Ward said.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss the Dunkirk site at its meeting next week, but Ward said he might postpone a vote on the store for as long as a month. He said he wants to ensure that Yacovelle, who is out of town on a vacation, will be present during discussion of the Wal-Mart proposal.
Michael S. Smith, 48, of Dunkirk said the commission should reject the site plan because it clearly violates the intent of the regulations passed by the elected county commissioners six months ago.
"Whether you're in one building, two buildings or fifty buildings, you're still one entity," said Smith, a Navy contracting officer. "If you go into the (New York) Stock Exchange, it only lists Wal-Mart; it doesn't also list Wal-Mart Garden Supplies."
The big-box regulations, however, do not appear to prevent a company from locating a smaller store near a larger facility if the two sites are distinct and have individual outside entrances, said Emanuel Demedis, the county attorney.
"If they are putting up two distinct spaces, you don't add the square footage together," said Demedis, who added that he had not reviewed the Dunkirk proposal. "It counts as two separate spaces."
In the Dunkirk proposal, the garden center and main store have separate entrances and are not interconnected, according to Bobbie Hutchison, a county planner.
Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) said she is disappointed that the site, located on the northeast intersection of Route 4 and Ward Road, appears to circumvent the county's goal when it adopted the regulations.
"Does it violate our intent?" she said. "Sure. . . . It certainly violates what we had hoped to achieve."