As a New Jersey developer prepared this week to submit detailed plans for a Wal-Mart discount superstore in Parole Plaza, county officials said they saw few obstacles to such a project, despite a community panel's hopes for a "town center" on the site accessible by public transit.
Developer Carl Freedman circulated blueprints last month of his plans for the shopping center he owns west of Annapolis on West Street.
He is expected to provide county officials further documentation of his plan, which calls for tearing down several buildings on the site and building a 135,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store, 3,000-seat multiplex cinema, three office-residential towers, a hotel, retail stores and a grocery store.
Freedman's blueprints show the shopping complex surrounded by parking lots; no provision is made for public transportation.
County planners said they would consider Freedman's official proposal within 30 days of receiving it; the preliminary plans appear to meet zoning requirements.
"As long as he stays within the existing footprint [dimensions] of the buildings there, he does not need any special approval from the county to proceed," said Tom Andrews, acting director of the county's Department of Planning and Code Enforcement. Wal-Mart officials said they were working with Freedman on his proposal and hoped to open a store in Parole.
"For us, Annapolis presents a great opportunity to establish a presence in the market," said Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris.
But Freedman's latest plan for the site--he has proposed three others since 1996--is being criticized as too dense, with inadequate transportation accommodations for the congested area.
In 1994, a community planning committee drafted a redevelopment plan for Parole, envisioning a town center built on the shopping plaza, which now has the feel of a forgotten truck stop. A vast, mostly empty parking lot surrounds a vacant store, a Sears, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. electronics and appliance store, a bicycle store, a small-engine shop and a weekend flea market.
The committee hoped to spur development of a grid of new streets, high-rise apartments, offices and neighborhood stores knit together by public transportation. "A mini-Manhattan" some called it.
Freedman, whose family developed Parole Plaza in the 1960s and still owns the property, proposed such a project in 1996.
But community activists criticized his plans for a Target store, and two variations on that plan fared no better.
Opposition to the earlier proposals was led by Barbara Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis), a local land-use lawyer who was elected to the County Council last year on a platform of restricting development. She has vowed to stop the Wal-Mart plan.
"We cannot let this happen. We have to enforce the Parole plan," she said.
Jimmy Martin, a local businessman who supported Freedman's original proposal but is unenthusiastic about a Wal-Mart, said Samorajczyk had "painted the developer into a corner."
"She of all people should have realized when she was attacking the first three projects that this might happen," he said. "It's really sad. We lost the opportunity to work with the developer, and now we're left with this extremely mediocre design."
If the new buildings do not exceed the dimensions of the buildings currently on the site and meet county requirements for parking and traffic flow, Freedman can do pretty much as he pleases with the property, county officials say.
Chris Soldano, planning administrator for the central part of Anne Arundel, said the county will complete its review of the plan within 30 days.
Freedman also will need the approval of the county traffic engineer.
Samorajczyk said she would argue against the store on the grounds that local roads cannot handle the expected growth in traffic.
A traffic consultant hired by the county told the Parole Growth Management Area Committee last month that a preliminary study of intersections in the area shows that five around the Parole site have more daily traffic than they were designed to accommodate.
Even with a variety of street improvements, Samorajczyk said, the study indicated that 15 intersections would be deemed too congested in 2020. The study was conducted before the Wal-Mart plan was announced. "I don't think the roads in Parole can handle Wal-Mart traffic," she said.
The final draft of the traffic study will be completed in the fall, said Noreen Walker, the consultant for the firm of URS, Greiner, Woodward, Clyde.