Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Spin on the Street

In an earlier post I wrote an imagined conversation between supporters of referendum on Council Bill 58 and an unwitting shopper being approached to sign their petition. Yesterday I had a real life encounter and it went like this:

“Excuse me sir, are you a registered voter in Howard County?”

“Why yes I am.”

“Would you sign our referendum petition to keep more big box stores out of Howard County?”

“More big box stores?”

“Yes, stores over 55,000 square feet.”

“That’s a big box store?”


“Then you consider this a big box store?” I had just come out of the Safeway store in Long Gate.


“Isn’t this really about the planned grocery store in Turf valley that was unanimously approved by both the Planning Board and the County Council?”

“Yes. We really don’t want that grocery store. I am with the Howard County Citizens Association and we believe the council was wrong in approving this. If you sign our petition it will allow the people to decide.”

“But the people do decide when they elect the council members. Why should I waste taxpayer dollars second guessing them? I elected them to make these informed decisions.”

“We are just trying to help the council do a better job.”

That was her final word. I think at this point she realized that I was not an unwitting shopper. Needless to say I didn’t sign the petition.

Has anyone else been approached with a similar or different spin on this?


Scott said...


Anonymous said...

What's especially funny and telling is that HCCA has not officially taken a position on the referendum. It is still stuck in the throes of a listserve dialogue about what to do. Seems to me that HCCA -- if it were to adhere to its principles -- would want to put a stop to this type of misrepresentation.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. HCCA has not taken a position, but their members who claim to working on their behalf are soliciting signatures. Sounds like they are split on the matter themselves.

Anonymous said...

Much as I'd like to avoid getting between impugning and HCCA at the moment, they do not support the referendum.

WB, I'm really wondering about you as a source at this point. I seriously doubt this conversation really happened the way you relay.
It's just not consistent with HCCA behavior.

Anonymous said...

In your recent posts, "The Spin on the Street", "Abusing a Right", and "Harris Teeter Coming to Turf Valley?", you've also added to the spin. Since you were recently calling for relief from urban myths, here's a few clarifications to ponder.

From your 11/06 post: "A typical Harris Teeter store is 55,000 square feet."

Typical? Mentioning just the typical size doesn't quite tell the whole story.

From the Sun article, quoting Councilperson Sigaty: "That product [18,000 square foot grocery stores] imagined back then really doesn't exist anymore."

Where does this idea that 18,000 square foot groceries don't exist anymore originate? Some developers' testimony perhaps? I don't begrudge the Council and DPZ the formidable task of absorbing, processing, and validating the information presented, but a little more fact checking might help.

If that product doesn't exist anymore, why did Harris Teeter build and open an 18,000 square foot grocery store in Charlotte, NC in 2003? Obviously, that product does still exist and new grocery stores of that size are still being built all over the country, by national chains and by more local enterprises, too, including:
- Kress IGA (announced an 18,000 sq. ft. grocery in Seattle in 2007)
- a River Ridge Food in Spokane announced in early 2008 has just 18,000 square feet of retail space
- Aldi's and WalMart's hundreds of Marketplace neighborhood groceries having been built over the past three decades and still being built, four of them opening in Arizona in October 2008.

Even a November 2008's Time Magazine believes Aldi's model to be viable, competitive, successful and noteworthy.

Another article from November 2008 also detailed several other major national grocers' *current* endeavors in building new, smaller format, more convenient groceries.

Arlington's take on the matter of grocery store trends.

Council Chair Watson: "This is not a zoning change"

Isn't a text amendment a change?

"owners of other shopping centers along U.S. 40 she spoke to did not object to a new supermarket farther west."

Didn't the owner of the shopping center at Waverly Woods, which holds the closest competing grocery store, clearly object to this proposed zoning change at the full-house zoning hearing? Isn't Waverly Woods' Weis Market as close to where this new 55,000 square foot grocery would be as the competing Columbia grocery stores are to Wilde Lake's village center, that proximity being used as the reason why Wilde Lake supposedly can't yet attract another grocery?

Other quotes from the Sun article:

"I wanted to ensure this is a viable community amenity"

How does changing it from 18,000 sq. ft. to 55,000 make that any more 'viable'?

"I didn't see what the viable option was there"

See the above hundreds of examples of viable smaller format options popping up elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:51,

Thank you thank you thank you for clarifying (and countering) with facts.

The council has been pulling out anything they want to say without basis - many voters know it and now thanks to your research, a few more know, too.

Anonymous said...

This exchaange goes to show some people are willing to lie to get what they want. The bill actually limits big box stores and this person was probably one of the poeple who pushed HCCA into supporting the referendum, but had made her mind up well before the vote (something she would have admonisehd any Council member for).

This effort will minimize HCCA in the minds of Council members on all future issue, important issues, through 2010 now including Columbia and Doughregan issues. A sad unintended consequence!