CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Commissioners held a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 14, on Ordinance 19-17 concerning the expansion of a use and tenant space in a structure more than 65,000 square feet of gross floor area.
The ordinance would only affect the now vacant Kmart location, which closed when the store’s parent company, TransformCo, included the Kent Island store among those it would liquidate.
In an effort to attract new businesses, like Target, to the location, the ordinance would provide “expansion of a use and/or tenant space in a structure that existed on or before January 6, 2004; such expansion is limited to 50 percent of the gross floor area of the use and is subject to supplemental use standards outlined in Chapter 18:1-58 of the (Zoning Codes).”
Uses are also limited to only those that were operating on or before Jan. 6, 2004.
The ordinance, proposed by County Commissioner Jim Moran, received a favorable recommendation by the Queen Anne’s County Planning Commission. Yet some members of the pubic had reservations about the impact of a “big box” store on traffic and other locally owned retailers on Kent Island.
“What this text amendment does not do is allow for new construction of tenant spaces for uses that exceed 65,000 square feet. It specifically allows flexibility for a space that already exists,” said Amy Murdock, community planner for the county’s Department of Planning and Zoning.
Mike Wisnosky, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning, added the county had been in talks with the owner of the shopping center to determine the best way to keep the location economically viable.
“The last thing we wanted was to have that major tenant to go dark. It’s the front door of Queen Anne’s County, and we want to keep a viable tenant in that space. The market has changed a bit and we crafted a very specific ordinance,” Wisnosky said.
Barbara Obert, a Kent Island resident who opposed the text amendment, reminded commissioners that residents previously voted against large, chain stores. She added commissioners had also not given ample opportunity for those directly affected by such a new business to contribute testimony.
“You’re pushing this in an area that has new housing (units) being built daily, another Royal Farms and new apartments,” Obert said. “You have absolutely no plan for traffic control in a place that has had those issues for years. Without such a plan, this shouldn’t even be considered. This isn’t about citizen need either since we have multiple stores that offer a variety of products.”
Frank DiGialleonardo of Centreville agreed that large, chain stores represent a troubling trend in the county.
“I don’t believe that such a change to a fundamental underpinning of our county’s development guidelines is appropriate. Nor has such a change proven a necessity and, as we enter in 2020, we don’t have an unemployment problem, and our wages compare well with other counties,” said DiGialleonardo.
Cheryl Huycke of Centreville echoed the sentiments of the two previous speakers in opposing the amendment.
“Imposing further congestion in an area already exploding with development is among my concerns. I’m also concerned with these stores displacing local shops just like when Michael’s moved into Easton and Ben Franklin closed,” Huycke said.
Following the hearing, Ordinance 19-17 is available to be voted on at a regular commission session.