Agencies finishing second round of plan reviews for Walmart off Sharpsburg Pike

August 01, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

WASHINGTON COUNTY — State and county agencies are finishing their second round of plan reviews for a proposed Walmart off Sharpsburg Pike, but the retail giant is still “a good way away” from plan approval, a Washington County planning official said Monday.

Walmart has been seeking approval for the new supercenter, which would be built near Cracker Barrel, south of Hagerstown, since submitting an initial site plan in January 2010.

Reviewing agencies provided an intiial round of comments on those plans and, in June, the engineering company for the project submitted a revised site plan and responses to the initial comments.

Thursday is the deadline for reviewing agencies to comment on the revised submission, said Timothy Lung, deputy director of Washington County’s Division of Plan Review and Permitting.

“Then the ball’s going to be back in the court of Walmart and their designers to address all the concerns,” Lung said.

Construction work taking place on the opposite side of Sharpsburg Pike (Md. 65), near McDonald’s, is unrelated to the Walmart project, Lung said. That work is preliminary grading to prepare a site for future development, he said. No specifics on the type of development were given when a grading permit was issued last year, he said.

The Walmart proposal is for a 147,806-square-foot supercenter to be built on the west side of Sharpsburg Pike, behind a row of homes just south of the Cracker Barrel and Waffle House restaurants.

The revised site plan submitted in June also shows two restaurants and two fast-food restaurants off Colonel H K Douglas Drive behind Sleep Inn, north of the Walmart, as well as a 4,000-square-foot bank to the south of the Walmart.

All of those uses are allowed under the land’s Highway Interchange 1 zoning, Lung said. Whether or not a Walmart can be built is not at question, he said. Rather, the review concerns issues such as setback requirements, lighting, parking, and, perhaps most significantly, the traffic that would be generated by the store.

In a letter to the project engineer dated July 28, Steven Foster, chief of the Maryland State Highway Administration Access Managment Division, described “substantial issues” with the Interstate 70-Sharpsburg Pike interchange that the revised plan failed to address. SHA will require further revisions to the traffic study and overall site plan, Foster wrote.

Among other requirements, SHA is asking that northbound Md. 65 be widened to two lanes from Colonel H K Douglas Drive to the I-70 interchange, with double left-turn lanes to eastbound and westbound I-70, and that a double left turn also be provided on the ramp from westbound I-70 to southbound Md. 65.

Payment for these improvements is a major concern for opponents of the project. The project file at the county planning office includes 42 postcards from members and supporters of a group called Sharpsburg Pike Residents for Smart Growth urging reviewers to take a firm stance on the interchange improvements.

“The I-70 interchange should be reconstructed before any new development is approved and the taxpayers should not be held responsible for any traffic improvements needed for this proposed development, including the I-70 interchange,” the postcards say.

In a July 19 discussion with the Washington County Commissioners about priorties for state transportation projects in the county, Washington County Director of Public Works Joseph Kroboth III suggested the state might need to step in to help pay for those upgrades.

At a cost of $12 million to $16 million, rebuilding the interchange is too large of an investment for a private-sector company to undertake, Kroboth said at the time.

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