Shopping Center Plan For Waysons Draws Fire
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Plans for a large shopping center in the Waysons Corner area, with parking for 1,100 vehicles and a Target store as its retail anchor, have triggered bitter opposition from a group of residents who say the development would be out of place in rural south Anne Arundel County.
The Centre at Waysons Corner would be built next to the area's commercial district, which consists of a bingo hall and a few other businesses just off Route 4. Though developers say the plans have been in the works for more than a year, the project became a public controversy only this summer.
In just a few weeks, it has inspired vocal and organized opposition, reminiscent of a fight between 1999 and 2001 against a proposed Safeway store in nearby Deale. For emotion or theatricality, this squabble hasn't matched the Safeway battle -- which featured a giant puppet of County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) -- but it may be on its way. The Safeway store was never built.
"When you start to question, 'How will it affect our way of life?' I think, fairly dramatically," said Andrew Gaeta, who lives on 100 acres in Lothian, a few miles from the planned site of the mall.
Gaeta is president of the Lothian Civic Association, which was formed to oppose the project. He said the development could bring more traffic and litter to roads, increase crime and worsen pollution at the nearby Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary.
"We read this mall development as the beginning of the end, so to speak," said Gaeta, who moved to the southern part of the county more than a decade ago from Connecticut. He works, "ironically," he says, as an agent for manufacturing companies, dealing with big-box retail chains.
The developer of the Waysons Corner project, Annapolis-based Petrie Ross Ventures, says that its plans conform with the zoning for the site. Though the area is largely wooded, it has been designated for commercial use for decades.
"You've got a few people out there that are making some noise and, you know, they're causing lots of trouble," company chairman Walt Petrie said. "But at the end of the day, we're doing everything by the book."
"At the end of the day," Petrie said, "I don't think it can be stopped."
The project, as described on Petrie Ross's Web site, would cover 28.5 acres and include space for three restaurants, a bank and several retail stores in addition to Target.
The center's site development plan is under review by Anne Arundel planning and zoning officials, said Pam Jordan, a county spokeswoman. She said that officials would consider the South County Small Area Plan, a set of recommendations adopted in late 2001 and aimed at keeping the area generally rural.
"Certainly, we try to honor the recommendations," Jordan said. "But if the underlying zoning permits this kind of development," then property owners have a right to proceed.
The opponents have hired traffic and environmental consultants to critique the Petrie Ross plan. They also heckled, interrupted and outright booed representatives of the developer during a raucous public meeting Aug. 15 at the Waysons Corner Bingo Hall.
According to a transcript of the meeting, audience members mentioned concerns about garbage, traffic and crime, and one worried that Waysons Corner would "turn into a place no one could love."
In a sign of how deeply felt development battles can be in the southern part of the county, one speaker saw a parallel between this battle and an earlier, even more hard-fought, one.
Not the Safeway fight in Deale. The speaker was, apparently, talking about the War of 1812.
The largest naval battle of that war, and in Maryland history, was the Battle of St. Leonard Creek in 1814, in which Commodore Joshua Barney and his Chesapeake Flotilla blasted through a British blockade in the lower Patuxent and sailed up the river toward Upper Marlboro. Historians say Barney tied up British naval forces for four months.
"We kicked the British out of here trying to invade Washington," one unidentified audience member said, according to the transcript. "We're going to kick Target out, too."