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Board endorses Wal-Mart wall behind closed doors

August 28, 2000

Board endorses Wal-Mart wall behind closed doors



By DAN KULIN / Staff Writer


Washington County Board of Education members during a closed meeting earlier this month endorsed plans for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter, provided developers install a 6-foot wall between the store and Funkstown Elementary School, School Board President Paul W. Bailey confirmed Monday.

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The school's Citizen Advisory Committee Chairwoman, Pam Newhouse, criticized the agreement and the fact it was reached behind closed doors.

The wall is intended to keep school children away from the proposed shopping center and to protect the students from people who might wander from the shopping center onto school property, Bailey said.

Newhouse said at 6 feet, the wall would be too short to do either. She and others want the wall to be at least 10-feet high.

The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter would anchor a shopping plaza proposed for construction along Edgewood Drive in Hagerstown near the Funkstown line. The rear of the property abuts Funkstown Elementary School property.

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Newhouse, who formed a citizens group to address traffic concerns related to the proposed development, criticized the School Board for discussing the placement of the wall in closed session Aug. 15.

"It had been discussed in public before so why discuss it in private?" Newhouse asked.

"They mishandled it. It should not have been discussed secretly," she said.

Bailey defended the School Board's actions.

He said Hagerstown's property codes restrict the height of the wall to 6 feet.

Matt Canady, head of planning and development for Aiken, S.C.-based Wyatt Development Co. that is proposing the Wal-Mart, said when he met with the School Board Aug. 15 he offered two options.

He said the company could build a 10-foot-high fence on the school's property, or a 6-foot-high fence on the property to be developed in Hagerstown, where the code sets a 6-foot limit.

Bailey said the school system would have to maintain the wall if it were built on school property. He said School Board members were unwilling to take on that responsibility.

Bailey said the School Board would back the development company if it sought a special exception to the city's height restriction. Such an exemption could be granted by the Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals.

Canady said he had no intention of seeking such an exemption.

Revised development plans received Monday by the Hagerstown Planning Department included plans for a 6-foot wall.

Bailey said the matter was discussed in a closed, or executive, session because it involved property issues.

"If it's on school property then that's an issue authorized for executive session," Bailey said.

Board member J. Herbert Hardin said the discussion was done in private because "we didn't know whether there would be an exchange of property or whose property it would go on."

The board voted 6-0 to go into the closed session.

Maryland law permits legislative bodies to vote to go into closed session for a limited number of reasons, including consideration of property purchase.

The Wal-Mart development is expected to be discussed at two government meetings in September.

The Wyatt Development Co. is scheduled to meet with the Funkstown Mayor and Town Council on Sept. 11.

Many Funkstown residents, including town Mayor Robert Kline, oppose the project because they fear the shopping center would worsen the existing traffic situation in town.

The Hagerstown Planning Commission is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the shopping center plans Sept. 27.

Planning Commission approval is needed before a developer can apply for a building permit.

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