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Kent County, DE, Wants Answers on Wal-Mart

DOVER -- Developers of a proposed Wal-Mart Super Center off U.S. 13 between Dover and Cheswold were dressed down Thursday night by members of the Kent County Regional Planning Commission, who complained loudly that advocates of the project should have been better prepared.

Constantine Malmberg, the local lawyer for Cheswold Village Properties LLC, and a clutch of engineers tried to persuade commission members the project would not worsen traditional flooding problems for residents who live along Simms Woods Road, located at the northern edge of the proposed site.

Commission members were angered Malmberg could not assure that the store facade of Wal-Mart would not be of the "big blue box" variety.

The commission held a public hearing Thursday night, but was not slated to vote on a site plan until its meeting June 12. Commission Chairman Albert Holmes Jr., said the project, in the works since 2004, would be tabled at that time unless the developers came bearing answers to a raft of questions raised by commission members.

"First of all, there's no way in the world I would want this next to my home," Vice Chairman Ken Edwards said, drawing applause from residents.

The site plan calls for a 225,000-square-foot Super Center on 22 acres and an adjacent strip shopping center offering 25,000 square feet of retail floor space on seven acres just to the northeast. The two developments would be served by a new traffic signal at a new access road on U.S. 13, about 1,000 feet south of Simms Woods Road.

In December 2004, Levy Court agreed to rezone 33.5 acres located east of U.S. 13, south of Simms Woods Road, from light industrial and agricultural conservation to general business to accommodate Wal-Mart's plans. But, in deciding a lawsuit filed by residents, a Chancery Court judge decided that Levy Court had illegally approved the rezoning by resolution instead of by ordinance. That shortcoming was fixed by Levy Court in May 2007.

Before and during the legal fight, representatives of Cheswold Village Properties LLC, a subsidiary of the Baltimore development firm Trout, Segall & Doyle, would say only that the site would play host to a shopping center anchored by a "big box" retailer.

In February, Wal-Mart bought 22 acres from Cheswold Village Properties as the site for its store. But, even then, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said the company had no immediate plans to build a new store -- although representatives of Cheswold Village Properties already had talked to county planners about the project.

Malmberg said many of the questions raised by commission members -- including a call for an earthen berm that would obstruct the view of the strip center from an adjoining residential area -- would be answered as development of the site moves forward. He noted that Wal-Mart was not the developer of the project and said the corporation, the world's largest retailer, was being unfairly taken to task for answers that typically are not available at first review of a development site plan.

Commissioner Paul Davis said that it was reasonable to expect a completed drainage plan and architectural rendering of the buildings' facades to be available at Thursday's hearing.

"This thing is not going to be rushed through the county," Davis said.

"I like Wal-Mart, but I want it done right for the people."

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