Wal-Mart Drops Plan for Side-by-Side Calvert Stores

By Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Wal-Mart has abandoned plans for a controversial pair of side-by-side stores in Calvert County designed to skirt a local zoning ordinance limiting the size of big-box retail outlets.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based company said it was scrapping the unconventional proposal, which it had called one of the first arrangements of its kind in the country, in the face of widespread opposition from residents and elected officials.

The project, planned for the tiny hamlet of Dunkirk, attracted attention from communities across the nation that feared Wal-Mart would use the model to subvert their own size caps for stores. The two Wal-Mart operations proposed in Dunkirk -- each with its own entrance, utilities, bathrooms and cash registers -- would have had a combined area 30 percent larger than the 75,000-square-foot limit for a single retail store.

"I've gotten calls across the country from people worried about what I call 'the Dunkirk loophole,' " said Al Norman, founder of Sprawl-Busters, a Massachusetts-based group that helps communities fight big-box stores. "I'm glad Wal-Mart realizes it's in their own political and financial interest not to play games with ordinances by trying to wordsmith their way around size caps."

As a result of local opposition to the project, Wal-Mart plans to ask the county Planning Commission next month for permission to build a 74,998-square-foot general retail store without the 22,689-square-foot garden center that was originally planned, said Rhoda Washington, a company spokeswoman.

"This is a direct response to the community outcry," Washington said. She said she is unaware of plans elsewhere in the county to build side-by-side stores.The Planning Commission delayed consideration of the store's site plan this year to give the county commissioners an opportunity to pass legislation that would have thwarted Wal-Mart's plans. Residents advocated a measure that would have made it illegal for a company to build two side-by-side stores that exceed the size cap.

But County Attorney Emanuel Demedis said that such a law would be unconstitutional because the county has no authority to regulate the ownership of stores. As the commissioners debated how to proceed, the Wal-Mart site plan waited in limbo.

Richard B. Kabat, managing director for mid-Atlantic states for Charlotte-based Faison Enterprises, the store's developer, said Wal-Mart dropped its plans for a garden center to avoid further delay.

"They'd rather get in with a 75,000-square-foot store than no store at all," he said.

Residents said they will continue to push the county commissioners to tighten the sizeregulations, and Norman urged other jurisdictions to do so as well.

"I think community groups are now forewarned," he said.

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