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Residents say map is evidence of store plan

August 10, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A map of southeastern Hagerstown submitted in May to the city's planning office has only one store name printed on it: Wal-Mart.

The mock-up is what neighbors of the mapped area say is evidence of plans to bring a second Wal-Mart store to Hagerstown. City officials say they aren't sure what that wording on the map signifies.

"Basically, they want to put a big store in here. I think it will be a Wal-Mart if they can get (the zoning) done," said James Laird, whose home backs onto the land designated by the word Wal-Mart on the newest map.

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Laird is one of about 20 city and county residents who have contacted city officials to voice opposition to plans that have not formally been submitted.

The map in question was submitted to the city planning office by the local engineering firm Frederick, Seibert & Associates on behalf of the owners of what is commonly referred to as the Harrison Tract, approximately 350 acres of undeveloped land straddling Dual Highway.

The engineering firm on Monday did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

The Harrison Tract is owned by more than a dozen family members of Dr. Richard L. Harrison, of Hagerstown, said Lois Harrison, Richard Harrison's wife. Lois Harrison said she could not comment on the proposals.

Representatives of the Harrison landowners first approached the Hagerstown Planning Commission in February with the concept of changing the zoning designations for the bulk of the tract.

Zoning designations, which must be approved by the City Council, determine whether land can be used for residential, commercial or agricultural use.

The representatives discussed designating one piece of land that is currently farmland as "C4," which is the zoning designation that allows for regional shopping centers. The Centre at Hagerstown, which has a Wal-Mart Supercenter, is on land with that designation.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said last week that the city received several letters of concern about the possibility of a new Wal-Mart, and that "we have not received any zoning application ... or proposal for that type of project."

The map submitted in May includes the words "proposed Wal-Mart" labeling what appears to be a large building off a proposed road between the would-be store and Dual Highway.

The drawings also include a "proposed home improvement" store, parking, roads, several areas for shops and space for future commercial and residential development.

The drawings were not considered as a formal rezoning application, City Planning Director Kathleen Maher said. She said Harrison representatives asked that the land designated on the map be considered for comprehensive rezoning, a large-scale process that would be done by city employees for multiple landowners.

Maher said Harrison representatives were told they would have to pursue the rezoning themselves, and that the next formal step the landowners must take is to submit an application for rezoning.

Maher said the drawings are the only thing she's seen hinting at a Wal-Mart store, and the drawings are not something that would be considered during the rezoning process.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue said he is not sure which direction the owners of the land are heading. His office is involved in traffic analysis, and he said no traffic studies have been submitted to his office for the Harrison land.

The drawings might not be far from what the owners of the land would submit formally, Tissue said.

"It's probably their initial concept of what they want to do," Tissue said.

Once the owners submit formal rezoning plans, the City Planning Commission would take comments from city staff, the owners' representatives, and members of the public. The Planning Commission eventually would make a recommendation on the proposals, either in approval, opposition, or in approval of parts of the application but not others.

The City Council would go through a similar process, and could adopt or change the Planning Commission's recommendations, Maher said.

Maher said she expected the process to end no sooner than January and said it likely would take longer because of its complexity.

"That's a lot of land coming in (to our office) at one time," Maher said.

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