Thursday, January 10, 2008

Wegman's Saga Part One

There was a story yesterday in the Sun about Wegman’s receiving initial site plan approval for their proposed store in Columbia. The action by the Planning Board predictably upset the union folks who are challenging the decision to allow the gourmet grocer to locate in an industrial zone. They are calling the zoning action “illegal.”

It sounds like the old Comp Lite argument all over again.


It is disingenuous to suggest that this location is still an industrial zone. It is true that in the original plan (or was it vision?) for Columbia it was intended as an industrial area. That was back when GE was operating a huge appliance manufacturing plant across Snowden River Parkway from this site. This area was (and still is) part of the Seiling Industrial Park.

Today GE is gone and the former appliance park is now a mix of warehouses, retail, office and flex buildings with the retail concentrated along Snowden River Parkway. The proposed Wegman’s site was originally home to American Hospital Supply which later became part of Baxter Healthcare which later spun it off to Allegiance which was in turn acquired by Cardinal Health. All this time the building and property were actually owned by the State Farm Insurance Company and leased to these different companies.

Approximately six years ago, State Farm sold the property to a group of local investors who set up a limited partnership called Science Fiction. The Science Fiction partnership determined that the original Final Development Plan for this parcel allowed for gas stations, banks and restaurants. They developed plans for tearing down the building and putting up a variety of retail buildings much like the layout that is now on the site of the former Pontiac/GMC car dealership across the street on McGaw Road (Green Turtle, Orinico Coffee, etc.). Before this development program got very far the partnership received a purchase offer from Jack Antwerpen that was more than twice what they paid for it. Antwerpen originally planned to put a Toyota dealership on the site but ran into some difficulty with Toyota for that location.

Meanwhile Antwerpen temporarily leased the property out to HBO films. During this time they began discussions with Wegman’s. Wegman’s had been scouting for a Columbia location for some time. The Rouse Company had tried to entice them to locate in what is now Gateway Exchange (Lowes, Costco, Trader Joes, etc.). Apparently Wegman’s preferred this Snowden River Parkway location.

The point is, considering all of the other uses that could have ended up at this property, Wegman’s probably makes the most sense.

What doesn’t make sense is an industrial use.


Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why is the public giving so much legitimacy to a UNION group in its claims that the zoning approval is illegal?

Why is the general public and media so eager to side with a group who has a vested interest in NOT seeing a Wegman's built?

The UNION's opposition has nothing to do with zoning. Would they claim illegal zoning if Wegmans was a union employer? I'd bet not.

wordbones said...

Anon 9:22,

I suspect that it is the same reason the press always goes running to Alan Klein whenever there is a story about Town Center. It makes a more interesting story when there is an opposing voice. Whether or not that voice has any credibility or standing is beside the point.


B. Santos said...

Sieling Industrial Park! I have not heard that used in a very long time. I also noticed a few years ago the Oakland Ridge Industrial Park (Sieling's sister park in the Red Branch Road/Rumsey Road area) had changed its name to Oakland Ridge Business Park. I chalk it up to unforseen shifts in jobs. Forty years ago, the sites were designated for "stackless" manufacturing and industry. With the historic demise of manufacturing in North America as a whole, these areas have always been looking for business. Still, I believe the area is more suited for auto repair/paint/body work (we need these services somewhere in Columbia) than rental car establishments.

Tom said...

A Wegman's or a Whole Foods is a positive for the community. We will all benefit from this type of business coming to Columbia. Yes, all the zoning issues must be worked through. But for the Flier to take their standard anti-Big Box stand is unbelievable. Don't they do any homework/research before they take a position? Note the Sun already wrote glowing articles about Wegmans when they opened the Hunt Valley store and is staying out of this discussion. Prediction, when Wegmans finally opens the Columbia store,the Flier will change its position and write articles praising Wegmans. Plus, they will solicit Wegman's advertising dollars.

Anonymous said...

That union's legitimacy stems from its representation of its members, who are, after all, members of the public. If the union wants to protect its members' employ by questioning if a non-union competitor's zoning is legitimate, that certainly seems logical.

As Bill noted, the manufacturing that had occupied some of those sites has gone. Along with its departure went many better-paying union manufacturing jobs. Now, this site is proposed to be repurposed, providing non-union competition to nearby good-paying union service sector jobs.

That image certainly shows a whole lot of asphalt road widening, asphalt? roof, and concrete? parking garage surface and relatively little grass or soil left on the site. Where will all that run-off water go? Aren't we supposed to be promoting less storm water run off into our rivers and the Bay, not more?

B. Santos said...

Anon 12:20,

With respect to impervious surfaces, I believe the proposed project is within the lot coverage requirements of the applicable zoning. Based on satellite images from Google, it is my opinion that the impervious surface of the property in question will not be substantially increased. I suppose if you believe this is not in keeping with your image of reducing stormwater runoff, maybe it is time to start talking to your County Council person about changing the zoning to further restrict building footprints. Another possibility would be to ask Wegmans to intstall a gray-water system or rain gardens on the property.

Young at Heart said...

I'd always much rather see redevelopment like this than new development. There is already an impervious footprint there and all the infrastructure is in place. Environmentally it sure beats tearing down trees and laying down new infrastructure somewhere else.

Anonymous said...


It may indeed comply with current site development requirements, but you may nonetheless want to double check your comparison of Google Maps to the site sketch posted since, to me, there certainly seems to be a signicant reduction percentagewise in the amount of permeable surface / onsite.

Unbuilt-upon land is consumed onsite to the southwest, the northwest, and to the northeast of the existing footprint and along McGaw Road offsite, too.

Like Young at Heart, I, too, would much rather see redevelopment than new consumption of previously undeveloped land, but with all the talk about "green" lately in County development and Town Center visions, ranging from green development checklists, to mention of green roofs and greenways, this redevelopment's expanded asphalt and concrete footprint and resulting reduced greenspace sadly seems like just more of the same superstore with supersized parking.

And won't this superstore reuse of that property, because it will be more intense than prior uses, create more effluent going into our sewer system, providing all the more impetus for not just reusing the existing infrastructure there, but also having to clear land elsewhere to then build additional sewer capacity?

While Wegman's stands to make a lot of green from having a lot of green in a huge produce area indoors, maybe a little thought could go towards keeping some more green outside of the building, too?

CresceNet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
B. Santos said...

Anon 1:12,

I feel that somehow I am at a disadvantage in this conversation in that you are addressing me by my first name while you remain completely anonymous. Could we try had have a little accountability for our thoughts?

With respect to "a little thought could go towards more green outside," are we not on the same page here?

I have been the leading proponent for Wegmans to provide a bus stop on the property and to donate two new hybrid buses. This would encourage (although on a limited scale) mass transit ridership, improve the bus fleet, and reduce carbon emissions from such. One thing is certain, without a bus stop, the only way to get to Wegmans is by car.

Moreover, in my previous comment, I suggested Wegmans incorporate a possible gray water system or rain gardens into their design to mitigate (or possibly improve) the stormwater runoff situation.

Will you join me in supporting these ideas?

Let us be proactive in finding solutions rather than just making noise.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Mr. Santos. For which particular thoughts should I have some accountability? Mentioning that greenspace will be consumed on that site? I did so to balance the several references to that site's industrial zoning and the previous ideas detailed that would have (but didn't) add more impervious surface, to make it clear that industrially-zoned site, like many other industrially-zoned sites, does have greenspace, too.

There's plenty of examples of industrially-zoned sites elsewhere that purposefully retain ample amounts of greenspace. Industrial uses do not require sacrificing the proximate surroundings.

Or is accountability being requested for questioning the assertion that impervious surface onsite there will not be substantially increased? Or for citing several examples where the site sketch for the proposed changes and the Google aerial photo show areas where greenspace will be replaced by what appears to be either asphalt or concrete surface?

Is that the kind of development we want along a road that is, after all, named a "parkway"? Aren't parkways supposed to be more aesthetic and more respective of the land than that? By the way, has anyone seen the Snowden River lately?

As it appears you're continuing to posit that "impervious surface onsite there will not be substantially increased", it doesn't seem we're currently on the same page. Same bookshelf in the library maybe.

I am all for improving public transit and, while adding a Wegmans-funded bus stop on the property would be a small step in the right direction, a few hybird buses are only a drop in the bucket on the path towards appreciable improvements. With the current typical size of hybrid buses, the amount of energy consumed per passenger, when buses often run less than capacity, is still substantial.

Putting a giant-sized grocery two-, five-, or ten times more distant than existing groceries around here will only increase the number of miles per person our community will choose to fuel to grocery shop and put accelerated pressure on more local groceries to the potential detriment of the many who currently do live within easy walks of them and rely on such proximity.

So, let's not kid ourselves. A superstore grocery in this location will result in more people driving further distances to shop (more traffic congestion, more pollution), put more pressure on the village center groceries which may result in more of them closing, which will then cause even more people to become car dependent to grocery shop (causing still more traffic congestion and still more pollution). Attempting to ameliorate these effects by very modest improvements in a currently inadequately-convenient-relative-to-cars public transit system won't come close to mitigating the impacts of shifting grocery shopping away from being locally village centric to being regionally supercenter centric.

And it's not just the village center groceries that will feel the pressure. Since those village center groceries serve as anchors that provide the customer traffic that helps the other local merchants in the village centers, those local merchants will see their customer base tend to then spend their dollars instead within the supercenter complexes, taking money all the more efficiently out of the local economy. Do we really want to see the demise of village centers? Or be repeatedly asked to make compromises relative to sacrificing density and open space around village centers to attempt to keep them viable?

Perhaps industrial zoning within Columbia should be better defined to avoid peripheral siting of supergroceries that defeat the village-centric models necessary to sustain affordable housing and lifestyles that aren't so car dependent. Even New Urbanists would balk at putting a daily convenience such as a grocery at the edge of a community instead of well within it.

A gray water system or rain gardens are worthy of support, too, but only as a solid addition to, not as a substitute for, requesting greening up the plan's other aspects. We shouldn't be settling for what's tossed in as a green tidbit here or there, we should be setting our sights much higher. We need to, for everyone's betterment.

wordbones said...

Anon 3:50 PM,

My but aren't you a bit self righteous! Of course that's esay to be when you hide behind the anonymous label.

A point of clarification is in order here. The existing building on the site is already approved to be expanded by approximately 50,000 square feet (perhaps more I can't recall at the moment). You can easily see this expansion area next to the existing building. There is a reason why the driveway does not go right up against the building on the expansion side. While true that this is currently green space it was already approved to be developed in the original site plan. This needs to be taken into consideration when any comparison of impervious surfaces is made with the proposed Wegmans building.

You also make an assumption that people are not currently driving a greater distance to shop at the Wegman's in Hunt Valley. I know more than a few people in Howard County who do just that. That argues that a Wegman's closer by would may actually result in fewer vehicle miles being driven.

The village centers over time have evolved. The original model, Wilde Lake, had a 10,000 square foot grocery store. The last village center built, River Hill, has a 60,000 square foot grocery store. The point being that successful retail will always adjust to consumer demand. The village centers that get the formula right will thrive though it is doubtful that they ever look like the original concept of 40 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Your clarification was helpful, perhaps making one more point that industrial zoning within Columbia needs to be improved not only to best site daily conveniences such as groceries, but also to ensure industrial areas are not overdeveloped.

I made no such assumption that some people aren't driving a greater distance to shop at the existing Hunt Valley Wegman's. Of course those people making that 60+ mile round trip will opt instead to shop the closer one when it opens. But it's hard to believe that those saved miles will exceed or even approach the additional miles driven by the greater number of other people opting to drive the 4, 10, or 20 mile round trip to the new store.

Successful retail isn't influenced solely by consumer demand. Market pressures and how regulation shapes the market and competition therein also factor substantially into which retail businesses succeed. 150,000 square foot groceries are great if everyone can afford the travel time and auto transportation to a distant regional grocery and we live on a planet than can absorb more and more amounts of fossil fuel combustion emissions without heating up and we're ok with the many health effects of more ground level pollutants. Some communities elsewhere have used regulation to shape their markets to avoid the negative effects of regionalizing shopping for daily necessities.

Columbia's design of having daily conveniences much closer to home is still relevant and necessary for many.

B. Santos said...

Anon 12:20/1:12/3:50/7:31,

The only thing I wish for you to account for is to honest with the rest of us and put your name next to your comments. This is what I kindly ask you to account for.

Anonymous said...

Why does the source matter so much? The points made are valid, and anon is perfectly within the rights enforced by the blog owner here. Take it up with the owner.

-Anon 1 (heretofore not quoted wherefore above thereon);)

Anonymous said...

And, since when is it dishonest to be anonymous?

The blog host here started out anon.

Goodness, the memory fails. Didn't you, commenter, also start anonymously?

Still truthfully yours,

Anon 1

Actually, now it's

Anon 1.1

Jessie Newburn said...

OMG, it's Miss Hometown Columbia piping up about the Anon / honesty / source discussion here.

My take: I just find Anons boring. I skip over their comments for the most part. Why? Because I'm not looking for more opinions. There is plenty of that stuff available. So when an Anonymouse asks why source matters, I say, cause who cares about an Anonymous's opinion? To me, it's an oxymoron. Anonymous is a LABEL applied to the singular? dozens? hundreds? who knows? of individuals who chose to post their opinions without identity ... without even the SELF-RESPECT of a pseudonym.

Yo, Anons: You LOSE your PERSONHOOD when you LABEL yourself an ANON. Capiche?

I, for one, am not interested in the ANON GROUP OPINION. Who cares what you think? You're not a "who." You're yet-another floating opinion inside of a group of other floating, homeless opinions.

Get a pseudonym. People might actually care then what you say. And you might actually feel empowered and involved.

I, for one, will welcome you heartily, regardless of your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Huh? In your attempt to blast lowly readers you blasted your dear blog host friends, nearly all of whom started out anon.

Speaks volumes about you rather than your intended target, if anyone cares to know.

Me? I skipped most of what you said, considering the source. (right back at ya) It's mutual!

Bystander said...

Actually, most of the bloggers started out, and in most cases remain, pseudonymous, not anonymous - a distinction made by both Jessie and Bill in their comments on this blog.

Anonymous said...

I regret when the discussion strays from the topic of the post, something the blogger has generously given their time to provide, and instead delves into identities or lack thereof. Jessie's efforts to persuade others to make the transition from sharing ideas anonymously to making more meaningful connections are certainly valid, perhaps a modern-day equivalent to community mailboxes. Yet, those choosing to share their opinions anonymously, so long as done in a civil tone, also provide valid value to discussions.

I also regret seeing others' more pointed responses to Jessie's comments on anon posting, seeing them as quickly throwing cold water on opportunities to progress.

"Get a pseudonym. People might actually care then what you say. And you might actually feel empowered and involved. I, for one, will welcome you heartily, regardless of your opinion."

However, there have been instances where people have done exactly that, using a pseudonym to contribute civilly on the Hometown blog, only to have their comments removed soon thereafter. Are you saying that's no longer the case, that editorial policy there has changed? Another blog seems to have a well-stated and consistently applied policy that addresses these issues, encouraging civility and a spectrum of identity, while still welcoming anon comments.

As anonymous comments are being overlooked, I expect that question will be received rhetorically at best. So perhaps one day a more meaningful, and of course civil, discussion can be had in aisle 42 of this new supergrocery, somewhere between the note cards and the many brands of bologna. The odds of such discussions and community building happening in more local groceries, however, seem much higher.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:36,

Anonymous comments are not being overlooked. As much as a single knee-jerk responder says she doesn't read them, she appears wherever the anon post, responding to them (us).

She's trying to make a case for non-anon posts, but the argument doesn't hold water when even she is reading the anon comments.

If no one cared, then no one would respond. But they do respond. She's wrong on every claim, and the transparency of the argument discredits her position further.

The glaring fact remains: Anon comments are not only read consistently, but also valued by readers.

Civility is patently a matter of opinion, and in my opinion, ht is the most in-your-face uncivil poster short of Tom I've seen on HC blogs.

six-ft-seven said...

I'd like to see another driveway/access point come out on to Snowden as a fourth leg at the existing three-leg signalized intersection at Snowden Square. I wonder if this has been considered. Maybe there is a right-of-way issue.

Also, note the triple-left turn from eastbound McGaw on to northbound Snowden. It's hard enough for people to grasp the concept of staying in their lane through the turn at double-left turn locations; just imagine being in the middle of the three lanes in a triple-left...

Maryland said...

Great blog. I love the thoughtful tone.

I'll concede the zoning and traffic issues to the experts, but I'm SALIVATING at the thought of a Wegman's. I don't think any village is offering the meats, cheeses, vegetables, etc. that I have seen in the Virginia Wedman's. It seems like a fun place to shop and a great thing for the area. My wife joked that I seem ready to take my shovel to the site and help them dig the foundation.

wordbones said...


Thank you for the kind words.

Since you would truly like to see the Wegmans store in Columbia become a reality, keep paying close attention to the saga. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 27 is doing everything they can to derail this project. So far they have not had much success but that has not deterred them to stop trying.


snowbody said...

Um, maybe I am missing something, but it seems that all the opponents of Wegmans have a common theme. They like to express concern for the enviroment in one way or another (i.e.: greenouse gasses, runoff, sprawl, traffic, etc..). If people are really that concerned about this type of issue, why are there no concerns about the current state of the parcel in question? Hasn't anyone noticed the high concentration of trash and debris that is constantly lying along Snowden River in front of that lot? Currently there are plastic bags, papers, food containers, cans, bottles, and even a shoe or two. It is really a pig stye and is disgusting to see this every day I drive by there. Why hasn't there been such a dramatic outcry to make the current owners clean up the mess? I for one will welcome Wegmans with open arms. I am certain Wegmans will make the area look 100% better than the way it is now. Wegmans employees obviously take great pride in their jobs, and that is reflected by the overall cleanliness inside and outside their stores. Count my vote to welcome this future asset to our community.

Anonymous said...

All the people who aren't in favor of the project in its current form do not have a common theme. Some object for economic reasons (non-union vs. union jobs, the increased pressure put on village center models and the jobs therein, the impact on Columbia's village centers supporting an economically diverse population that can't afford car trips for shopping, the impact on some seniors that rely on pedestrian trips to village center groceries), some object for safety reasons (residents needing to enter/exit Snowden River from Rustling Leaf, the flawed traffic study), some object for convenience reasons (again due to the increased pressure put on closer-to-home village centers), some object for aesthetic reasons, and some object for the many environmental reasons discussed above.

It's a such a shame Wegman's can't find a way to fit into the Columbia/village center model. Harris Teeter has.

To some, a field with litter looks 100% better than an asphalt parking lot that has its litter collected on a recurring basis.

snowbody said...

Sorry, I guess I should have added - opponents of Wegman's "within this thread". Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.