An article in the July 24 Southern Maryland Extra incorrectly identified one of the two dissenters in the Calvert County Planning Commission's approval of a new Wal-Mart store in Dunkirk. The two opponents were commission members Laben McCartney and Maurice T. Lusby. Planning Commission member Robert W. Reed voted in favor of the store. (Published 7/31/2005)
Wal-Mart won approval last week from the Calvert County Planning Commission for a store in Dunkirk, where the project's original design as two side-by-side buildings sparked a controversy that attracted national attention.
The commission voted 5 to 2 on Wednesday night to approve the redesigned 74,998-square-foot store, ending a two-year battle over the project, which galvanized the community and led to a county ordinance imposing size caps on "big-box" retail operations.
"I feel that we have won," said Cornelia Poudrier, founder of Calvert Neighbors for Sensible Growth, a group that lobbied for the store to be smaller than 75,000 square feet.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based company provoked an outcry from elected officials and community groups when it proposed building a 74,998-square-foot general retail store next to a 22,689-square-foot garden center. The two Wal-Mart operations -- each with its own entrance, utilities, restrooms and cash registers -- would have had a combined area 30 percent larger than the 75,000-square-foot limit for a single retail store in Dunkirk.
In the face of opposition, Wal-Mart announced in May that it was scrapping the proposal, which it had called one of the first arrangements of its kind in the country. The company removed the garden center from the site plan and expressed hope that the project would be approved by the commission this summer.
But the project's fate was far from certain at the start of Wednesday's three-hour hearing.
John R. Ward, the Planning Commission chairman, began the meeting by recognizing the animosity toward the company. He asked commission members and the public to refrain from bringing up criticism of Wal-Mart's labor policies and the retailer's economic impact on small communities.
"Those kinds of things aren't pertinent to making the decision tonight," he said.
Wal-Mart officials said they believed the Planning Commission nonetheless seemed to hold them to a different standard than other companies. In an unusual move, the panel asked Wal-Mart to promise not to store trailers at the site for more than 72 hours, saying such containers parked longer could be construed as part of the building and violate the size limit. The company agreed to the condition.
Two commissioners also raised objections to 2,000 square feet of outdoor sales area that would be permitted under the site plan. Greg Bowen, the county's director of planning and zoning, said the commission could not forbid the outdoor area because it only has the authority to regulate buildings.
But Robert W. Reed and Maurice Lusby, who both voted against the site plan, disagreed.
"It really seems to me that it increases the size of the store" above the 75,000-square-foot limit, Reed said.
As the panel neared approval of the store, Ward pleaded with Wal-Mart officials not to violate the intent of the Dunkirk master plan by purposely drawing customers from outside the area around the town center.
"I just raise the question to Wal-Mart's conscience," he said. "I think that's all you can do . . . and hope that people act with integrity."
Poudrier said her group will now push the county commissioners to tighten a perceived loophole in planning regulations that would allow two side-by-side stores to exceed the size limit for a single store. And she said she will monitor Wal-Mart to make sure it does not try to increase the size of its Dunkirk location.
"I do feel that this is just their first foot in the door," she said. "They'll be back."