Hardly a day goes by without some news about the opposition of Walmart at 924/Plumtree. Every edition of the Aegis has Letters to the Editor in opposition to the site for the 7x24 superstore. Every County Council meeting citizens speak about the problems with the site for something of this size and scope. Even the County Council voted on a Resolution asking the State Highway Administration to block traffic in and out of the site from 924 due to Public Safety and Traffic concerns.
In an unprecendented move, the Craig administration arranged a clandestine meeting with the Abingdon Communuity Council, County representatives and Walmart representatives. The news stories about that meeting are benign and seem to suggest even with the concerns of the community being represented, Walmart is intent on going forward with building at this location.
Signs are everywhere along 924 "NO BEL AIR WALMART.ORG". The group has staged rallies at the Constant Friendship Walmart to "Keep our Abingdon Walmart", at County offices during the meeting with Walmart representatives, and along 924 during rush hour. The crowds are growing and the petition list is growing as more people realize Walmart's plan.
County Executive Craig seems to have all but disappeared after a statement made weeks ago that he opposed the location for Walmart. His scheduled appearances at community events and meetings have been cancelled as if he doesn't want to confront the public. What else is he doing to try to convince or sweeten a deal for Walmart to build somewhere else? There has been no mention of possible tax deals for Walmart to stay where they are. No mention of possible rezoning of other properties in the area currently zoned for other businesses that sits idle?
His Chief of Staff dismissed the citizens protesting in a recent Sunpaper article, claiming not to know anything about the group or it's leadership and claims it would be more productive to introduce themselves to the county rather than standing in the rain with signs. But the group, Bel Air South Community Foundation, has been present at zoning meetings for over two years and President Jeff Dinger has had meetings and phone calls with people all throughout Harford County government. Is it really possible the Chief of Staff has never heard of them?
The County Council recognizes residents in the area already have a "traffic nightmare" to deal with. State Highway Administration reports show over 18,200 cars per day at that stretch of 924. Walmart's traffic study estimates 10,000 additional cars per day, nearly 50% more cars with just a small stretch of 924 being widened and adding another traffic light within 800 ft of another. Does anyone else see the math and a few lanes being widened near the site does not support 924 handling this much traffic??
Walmart is doing what they believe is best for their business. They claim there are many reasons they cannot expand at the current site and the only property in Harford County that reaches the demographics they want, with the size and proper zoning, is the 924/Plumtree site. A possible discussion on a Community Agreement where Walmart would give back to the community if they built was immediately turned down by Walmart, saying they give back to through their corporate foundation. Can anyone name anything Walmart corporate has supported in Harford County?? Even if they did enter into an agreement, they would not agree to a legally binding agreement.
Can Walmart be trusted to do the right thing? Broken promises seems to be the way Walmart operates. Throughout the US Walmart has made promises prior to construction that they would not fulfill once their store was in place. Walmart employees are well known to be underpaid and overworked and are currently going on strike throughout the US with a possible Black Friday strike. Most employees are paid such low wages that they depend on food stamps, energy assistance and Section 8 housing to survive, all paid by taxpayers. In our case, Walmart won't even entertain an agreement with the community.
What about the 23 million dollars the taxpayers paid to improve the 24/924 interchange to give better access to Constant Friendship stores. Who pays when they build at 924/Plumtree and there is gridlock and roads need to be widened outside of the few intersections Walmart plans to improve?
More than anything else the issue of Public Safety looms. 3 Schools are in the area. One high school with many inexperienced drivers. Children walking back and forth to school, or frequenting the local fast food restaurants, crossing 924 at different points along the road will have to maneuver a highway. Lorien Assisted Living and Rehab gets multiple calls every day to the site for ambulances. The surrounding neighborhoods will rely on the new substation at Patterson Mill Rd. Will they be able to get through gridlock to respond? Minutes mean lives. Which child, elderly person, or citizen is expendable if Walmart builds?
We all know the County Executive has cut deals in the past and will again in the future to get a desired result? You betcha. Is he doing enough to offer incentives to Walmart to either stay at their current site or consider another site? If he is it's not very obvious. He seems to have made his statement and thinks that is enough to absolve him of what will happen to the community after Walmart builds on the site. Is this the leadership of someone that seems to have aspirations to be governor? What chance will he have in a governor's race should he decide to run if he can't negotiate this situation to a win/win situation?
People who live near the proposed site feel abandoned by their elected officials. Should they have been more involved in the zoning process? Probably, but the meetings occur on Wednesday mornings at 9AM, hardly a good time for citizens that have to work for a living (and isn't that most of us?). Citizens elect people to represent them and the council person should know enough about the area to represent them. The argument that not many people showed up in opposition at the zoning hearings does not relieve the council of responsibility to know this property could never support a big box store of any kind.
Walmart talks a lot about their values and foundation and supporting the community but it seems the values of Sam Walton have been abandoned.
Walmart states “Since the first Walmart store opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas, we've been dedicated to making a difference in the lives of our customers. Our business is the result of Sam Walton's visionary leadership, along with generations of associates focused on helping customers and communities save money and live better. ”
“Mr. Sam” said, “Each Wal-Mart store should reflect the values of its customers and support the vision they hold for their community. ”
and in his autobiography he said, “"If some community, for whatever reason, doesn't want us in there, we aren't interested in going in and creating a fuss."
Or, as one company VP stated, "We have so many opportunities for building in communities that want Wal-Marts, it would be foolish of us to pursue construction in communities that don't want us." The greater the fuss raised by local citizens, the more foolish Wal-Mart becomes.”
Walmart, you are already in the community at Constant Friendship and it seems obvious the community directly affected by where you want to build does not want you for a number of solid, valid reasons. It will make a difference in their lives and it will not be positive. It's time for Walmart to walk the talk, live the values of Sam Walton, and do the right thing.
Every day the protests grow. Every day the opposition shows it's resolve. Is it hopeless? In cities around the United States with similar situations the answer is no, it is not hopeless. The upcoming DAC meeting on 10/17 is not the end, but only the beginning of the fight. With resolve, growing opposition and facts, anything is possible.