Preserve Rural Character
Preservation of Calvert County's rural character and quality of life is most important. "Buildout" of the town centers is essential to the long-term goal. Directing development to the town centers helps assure that outlying areas will stay "green."
According to Calvert County's Comprehensive Plan, "Town Centers are the primary designated growth areas in the county." Their buildout will "avoid scattered/strip commercial development along Md. Route 2/4, promote business growth by providing infrastructure and enabling businesses to benefit from proximity to each other . . . provide convenient access to goods and services for County residents [and] reduce travel-related energy consumption." In the case of Dunkirk, its Master Plan states that Dunkirk is a minor town center intended to "meet the commercial and public facilities needs of area residents."
The very important debate raging over the proposed "big box" ordinance has brought forth strongly held viewpoints. When not reduced to a referendum on one particular retailer, the debate focuses on whether a large retailer impairs the character of the community and its quality of life, and whether the presence of such a retailer in a town center is consistent with the Comprehensive and Master plans. The importance of the debate requires clarification of the difference between perceptions and realities at the heart of the issue.
Proponents of size restrictions believe that traffic created by a big box store will be greater than traffic created by smaller stores aggregating the same square footage. That is not the case. According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers . . . -- the authoritative source on traffic generation adopted by federal, state and local governments throughout Maryland and the country -- traffic generated by a 150,000-square-foot discount department store versus traffic generated by 150,000 square feet of multiple stores in one center will be approximately 20 percent less on a typical weekday and approximately 50 percent less [during] a typical Saturday peak hour. Why? Because the smaller the retail unit, the greater the number of trips it generates per square foot. A 7-Eleven can generate up to 800 trips per hour as people stop for only minutes to make a small purchase. Conversely, shoppers at a regional mall or a discount department store with multiple departments will shop for a much longer period during each trip.
The State Highway Administration and the county's traffic department recognize that a significant number of potential shoppers at a big box in Dunkirk Town Center are already on the roads in the area. By and large, drivers are commuting to work or to shop at some more distant locale. A large general merchandiser will not attract significant numbers of shoppers to Dunkirk from outside the trade area because general merchandise for family and home is readily available in Prince Frederick and Bowie, and Wal-Mart is intending to build a new store at Ritchie Marlboro Road and the Beltway.
Despite the fact that new traffic generated by the proposed Dunkirk Gateway will be only a portion of the total customers, it is prudent to widen and extend Town Center Boulevard, widen Ward Road, add turning lanes to Route 4 at Town Center Boulevard, add an exiting lane from the town park on the west side of Route 4, and dedicate right of way so that an additional Route 4 northbound lane can one day be installed. The state and the county agree such measures will fully mitigate the impact of traffic generated by the proposed full buildout of Dunkirk Gateway.
Proponents of the severe big box square footage restrictions claim that the Dunkirk Town Center, designated a minor town center, does not require the servicing brought by a large discount department store. Prince Frederick Town Center is several times larger and contains several times more retail square footage than Dunkirk Town Center can ever accommodate. By most accounts, retailers in Prince Frederick are thriving and satisfying the shopping needs of its trade area. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the population of the Dunkirk trade area is greater than Prince Frederick's. Whether one looks at a three- or five-mile radius from each town center, or the justifiable trade area of each, the population around Dunkirk is more dense. This is not to say that Dunkirk ought to be a major town center or that the ultimate buildout of Prince Frederick won't exceed Dunkirk; we suggest only that there is more than a sufficient number of people living in and around Dunkirk to support the existing retail there plus Dunkirk Gateway anchored by a Giant and standard size Wal-Mart. The primary retail tenants called for by the Dunkirk Master Plan are a supermarket, drugstore, variety store and small department store. The combination of Giant Food and the proposed Wal-Mart are precisely the uses called for by that Master Plan.
It is argued by some that local businesses will be hurt by a big box retailer (particularly Wal-Mart) in Dunkirk Town Center. Again, the perception is not consistent with reality. New competition unavoidably engenders change and some dislocation, yet the vast majority of businesses in the county are better served by giving shoppers an incentive to spend locally. If one frequently goes to Waldorf or Bowie or Annapolis to buy the basics needed for family and home, it is easier to buy an automobile, beer and wine, sporting goods, electronics, etc. at the more distant location -- because one's very basic needs are met there. George F. Will writes in his July 5, 2004, editorial in Newsweek that a study sponsored by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimates that Wal-Mart's entry into the local market would save county shoppers about $600 per household, and those savings, redirected to other spending, would create up to seven times more new jobs than jobs lost among competitors.
Any law that would prevent construction of an approximately 150,000-square-foot general merchandise store in Dunkirk Town Center would be counterproductive to the county's goals and objectives. The buildout of the Dunkirk Town Center has long been envisioned by the county's Comprehensive and Master plans. The goods and services provided by Giant Food and Wal-Mart not only meet the basic needs of the community, but they are consistent with the plans. Across the lexicon of retailers serving suburban markets such as Dunkirk, among the least intensive retail traffic generators are big box general merchandisers such as a standard size Wal-Mart. If our proposed project is fully built, as envisioned, traffic flow through Dunkirk will not change for the worse one iota. A standard Wal-Mart, or any other big box retailer for that matter, will not change the character of Dunkirk Town Center from minor to major. Calvert will be no less country with the addition of Wal-Mart to Dunkirk Town Center.
Richard B. Kabat
Dunkirk Gateway Shopping Center)
I have been campaigning for the box stores in our county, which I feel should be allowed. Now I have a few words to say about the Wal-Mart in Dunkirk.
Over the past few weeks I have been very open when listening to other residents talk about whether a Wal-Mart should be built in Dunkirk. One thing blares out at me all of the time. The opposition has blatantly been leading the citizens to believe that it is to be a Super Wal-Mart. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is to be a regular-sized store.
If and when the Prince Frederick store is made into a superstore, many northern residents would not find it necessary to come there for their needs unless it was food. Thus traffic from the northern section of the county would not be continuously driving 20 and more miles to Prince Frederick.
The county allows hundreds of homes to be built in the northern section of the county and has put no thought into their shopping needs. Not everyone is in the position to drive 20 or more miles to shop. Many just do not have the means to spend their money to drive extra miles to obtain their family's needs, especially when gas is at an all-time high. I know that when I worked, I had to drive on an average of 90 miles round trip just to get to work. This extended driving time left me little time to get home, prepare dinner and do the household chores; I did not have time for shopping. Saturday was dedicated to shopping, not just for food. This took most of day because of the distances I had to travel. This meant that most of the day was driving 30 or more miles just to get to Wal-Mart. At the time I lived in Dunkirk.
Constantly, I hear the leaders of Calvert County say that something must be done to alleviate the traffic in Prince Frederick. Putting stores in the Dunkirk Town Center would remove a great deal of the traffic that is caused by people coming here to the Wal-Mart in Prince Frederick.
Having a Super Wal-Mart in Prince Frederick would stop some of the traffic going through the county to get to stores in Bowie, Annapolis and other areas. I have heard many of the people in the county stating that if we have a store in Dunkirk, that people from the counties bordering Calvert will be coming here. That is just not going to happen. A Super Wal-Mart is going to be built in Upper Marlboro. Why would they drive miles out of their way to shop here?
The county has created Town Centers -- why? I thought that the purpose was to create shopping areas. Shopping that would serve the needs of the citizens. I am sorry, [but] fast-food establishments, grocery stores and gas stations just don't do it.
Many want the county to stay "country." This county has not had a country feel since hundreds of new homes have been allowed to be built every year. When you see trees, it is because the houses have not been built yet or the land is not suitable. . . . It used to be that you had to have a number of acres to build a house. That went away, I don't know when. Now the lots are getting smaller and smaller. Money talks and greed sets in. It will not be long before all you will see is houses. Yet people still call this a country setting. Wishful thinking. In no stretch of my imagination would I call this country. Country is not seeing one huge home after another as I drive down the back roads.
If the county allows building to run rampant, what is the problem with providing the citizens with stores in their area? The building of a Wal-Mart in Dunkirk certainly it is not going to do anything but improve the lives of the citizens. Those that say it will take away from the country look of the county should take off their rose-colored glasses and see the county as it really is. Calvert County has not earned the title as one of the fastest growing counties because there are not many people. The people are here because the homes are being built at an extraordinary pace. Now they need a place to shop in their own area of the county.
While scanning the news stories on the Web site of ABC-TV (Channel 7) in D.C., I came across several reports on how other communities are planning for Wal-Mart buildings, whether they be in Los Angeles or Chicago, or even Montgomery County here in Maryland.
One report dated Monday, Aug. 2, states that according to a report by the University of California at Berkeley, compensation packages given all Wal-Mart employees cost the state of California taxpayers $86 million dollars annually for health care and other forms of public assistance. In a pending lawsuit against Wal-Mart by other parties, payroll figures for 2001 indicated that 44,000 Wal-Mart workers averaged $9.70 per hour.
For its part, Wal-Mart contends that they employ 60,500 workers who average $10.37 per hour, and that the report's conclusions are questionable because it's based on faulty assumptions. They also say the report's key findings are badly flawed.
The report makes note of the fact that workers at other large retailers with over 1,000 employees average $14.01 per hour -- 31 percent more than the lower figure shown in the report.
Not being a rocket scientist, I was able to mull this report over without calling some of my better educated friends and still one thing stands out: Why are the taxpayers in California having to pay even a dime for what Wal-Mart doesn't pay their staff? When was a law written that says the states must pick up the difference in salary between what a worker is paid and what is a livable wage?
I don't believe Wal-Mart is playing fair with its employees by apparently paying them so poorly. Nor do I believe that any state should subsidize these lower wages. There simply is not enough taxpayer money anymore. Besides that, social services departments in the area are swamped trying to help people raise their standard of living. Why add to these problems?
As a member of the new group formed against any big box limitations, Calvert County Citizens for Consumer Choice, I was disturbed and upset to see the unprofessional behavior of our Calvert County Planning Board on July 21 in regards to the public meeting on the Dunkirk Wal-Mart site plan. I have voted faithfully since I was 18 years old and I am truly sorry to say, I have never been so ashamed of my government as I was when I attended the Planning Commission meeting. The Planning Commission blatantly used their authority to try to stop Wal-Mart from going forward with plans to build in Dunkirk without giving them a fair hearing. Whether you agree with Wal-Mart or not, they still deserve the same fair hearing any retailer wishing to build. If they can do this to Wal-Mart, what stops them from doing it to any one of us.
Clearly this board's desire before the meeting even began was to stall this project even further so no decision would have to be rendered before big box legislation is voted on. The hearing for the site plan never took place because one of the commission members felt the site plan should be tabled since it was "discovered" that the retail establishment currently next to the land in Dunkirk for the project was also housing someone on a regular basis upstairs. Therefore, the commission concluded, this must be residential land, not commercial, since someone lives there as well as running a business at the location.
I guess this means that my land should be rezoned commercial since my daughter sells lemonade for 25 cents every year. The Calvert County attorney, who is supposed to be versed in the zoning regulations, felt it was a good idea to table this as well, as he stated he wasn't clear as to whether a property zoned for commercial use, that maintained a business open on a daily basis, leased under a commercial lease and paying commercial taxes, should be a commercial establishment or a residence because the proprietor lived upstairs. Is it not possible to live on commercially zoned land without it being re-designated residential? Shouldn't the attorney have known the answer to this that night? Why couldn't the site plan at least have moved forward and discussion on this one person living on this land taken place later? The goal of the Planning Commission was to stall, stall and stall some more -- until the county either passed the big box initiative or not and hoping the developer would lose interest after spending an enormous amount of money thus far with nothing to show for it .
I spoke with community relations representatives from Wal-Mart about the meeting, and they also informed me that a recent poll showed many more residents are against limiting the big boxes at all in the county. Our elected officials should listen to their constituents and our Planning Commission should stop the obvious stall tactics to derail this Dunkirk retail project.
Founding Member, Calvert County Citizens
for Consumer Choice
Dominion's 2nd Gas Line
I am writing this letter after reading the July 31 article in The Washington Post on page A15 -- "Belgian Gas Explosion Kills 15" -- and especially the fourth paragraph.
Is this type of industry we need more of in Southern Maryland? It seems reckless of Dominion Transmission Inc. of Dominion Resources Inc. and Universal Field Services Inc. to be pushing 47 miles of a second 36-inch gas line on us, knowing it's only a matter of time before a construction excavator "accidentally" pierces the pipe, or a terrorist intentionally pierces it, or the pipe eventually rots in places from rust, causing a leak, which after silently mixing with air to the right consistency causes an explosion. We do not like the idea of having to evacuate, providing we survive an explosion. . . .
Don't we have enough problems in Southern Maryland than to help Dominion in their quest to take private property to put in natural gas lines? When Dominion decides what's best for them is that they can't do without others' real property, they just draw another line on the map, so that they can expand, putting the lives of property owners in jeopardy. Is this the type of industry we need expanding and messing up our county?
If this second 47 miles of 36-inch diameter natural gas pipeline is allowed, perhaps Dominion Resources, Dominion Transmission and Universal Field Services should be mandated to be the first called, the first to arrive, and the first to bring things under control after an accident or attack -- before anyone else puts their life on the line.
Tim and Brenda Beard