UPPER MARLBORO – The fight over the expansion of a Wal-Mart store at Capital Plaza remained at a stalemate until the District Council held a surprise vote Tuesday afternoon. The District Council voted 8-0 to deny the application for expansion by the Capital Plaza Wal-Mart. Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros, who originally elected to review the […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The fight over the expansion of a Wal-Mart store at Capital Plaza remained at a stalemate until the District Council held a surprise vote Tuesday afternoon.
The District Council voted 8-0 to deny the application for expansion by the Capital Plaza Wal-Mart.
Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros, who originally elected to review the case following the planning board’s approval of the expansion in May, made the motion to deny the request because she feels the board should have required a special exception and not a Detailed Site Plan (DSP).
“It is clearly pretty important to see revitalization and redevelopment at Capital Plaza, but with that said, I have reviewed the case, we have reviewed the case, and I will be making a motion of denial,” she said.
Council staff will now be preparing a document of denial for the parties in the case to review by the Sept. 19 deadline.
The council sided with a group of citizens protesting the Wal-Mart’s more than 35,000 square-foot expansion, as well as the county’s People’s Zoning Counsel, Eric Brown, who in oral argument at the regular District Council meeting Sept. 12 said the board’s approval of the DSP was in error.
“The planning board, the planning (department) staff, were extremely confused as to how to go about processing this application. And their confusion resulted in an approval that is in error of law for multiple reasons,” Brown said.
The two sides in the case disagreed over which set of standards and procedures should rightfully apply to the store and its expansion request. The property is in the C-S-C zone, but also falls under the Central Annapolis Road sector plan and a Development District Overlay Zone (DDOZ), and each has different rules and requirements.
The store’s opponents claimed because the DDOZ contains no table of uses, by a 2013 law passed by the council requiring all DDOZs to contain such a table, all uses of the site are invalid. They also said adding a grocery store as planned changes the use on the site and therefore requires a special exception.
But Andre Gingles, an attorney representing Wal-Mart, said the store could go through a DSP because it is a non-conforming use under the zoning ordinance. He also said the grocery component would not be a change of use because the store already sells groceries.
“It’s an expansion of the physical size of the building, but the use is essentially the same as it previously was,” he said in testimony. “It’s really further enhancement with additional fresh produce and more health-conscious products.”
The special exception process requires more community input than the DSP. A lack of community involvement was a concern of some residents who testified Monday, including
Richard Bailey, who lives within walking distance of the store, said, “This is the only community I’ve ever lived in where residents are not asked or have been in the process of what goes in the community. I know at the end of the day, all we want is to have a voice in the process.”
Others in the community spoke of the conditions at the existing store. Complaints of carts brought into neighborhoods, poorly-lit parking lots, increased crime and pallets left in aisles where shoppers could get hurt were brought to the council.
The DSP includes changes to the layout of the store’s parking lot, which, along with changes to the interior layout, proponents said will lead to better operations at the store.
Mike Callahan, the mayor of the town of Cheverly, said, “So much of what’s caught in this DSP actually addresses the issues that we as a community have had with Wal-Mart – the parking, the pedestrian access, the safety issues – they are actually addressed in this DSP. I think it’s important to not lose that.”
Oral argument in the case lasted into the afternoon. Glaros said it was “a way more complicated discussion than we’ve seen in front of District Council in a while.”
Brown said the case is also an example of why the county’s zoning ordinance needs to be rewritten, something the department is currently working with a consultant to do.
“This case is a classic example of the county having too many layers of, you know, first we have a zoning ordinance that says you can do A, B, C and D. Then we have a sector plan that says you can only do A and B. Then we have a development that says you can only do A, but you can only do it sometimes. And so it causes this massive confusion amongst everyone,” he said.