On Wednesday, June 7, the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission is meeting in Room 003 of the County’s office building at 225 N. Center St. in Westminster. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a “text amendment” that will change all B-NR (Business – Neighborhood Retail) property in the county to increase maximum store size from just 10,000 SF to a whopping 100,000 SF. Big difference.
With few exceptions, a 100,000 SF maximum store size will accommodate most of what are called “big box stores.” Big box stores generate a lot of customer traffic, a good deal of which will be coming from outside Eldersburg. As a rule, the larger the store, the more customers it needs to operate profitably and so the farther out it needs to reach to find those customers.
“So, why are they changing maximum store size for all B-NR zoned properties in the County?”
That’s a good question. Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to like the answer.
They’re considering this tenfold increase in maximum store to make it possible for just one property owner to sell 4.7 acres of a 22.6 acre property – along Liberty Road, between Georgetown Blvd. and Homeland Drive in Eldersburg – to a company called LIDL. LIDL (pronounced “leedle”) is a huge company, with over 10,000 grocery stores in Europe, that is just now coming to the United States. LIDL wants to buy this 4.7 acres to build what will be Eldersburg’s seventh full-size grocery. It’s a store that will be much, much larger than the current B-NR zoning 10,000 SF maximum.
So, to allow this one property owner to make a windfall profit from the sale of 4.7 acres – and help him develop the balance of his 22.6 acres later, the County may be willing to change maximum store size everywhere in the county on all B-NR properties. For the benefit of a single property owner. For a grocery store almost nobody in Eldersburg needs or wants, least of all the people who live around and near the property.
Some argue that the new Comprehensive Plan for the Freedom Area, if and when it’s approved in the next year or two, will make this change anyway, but that plan hasn’t been subject to thorough public scrutiny yet and it certainly hasn’t gone into effect. Right now, the only plan that counts is the current one. If you’re willing to change the zoning in anticipation of a new plan that may or may not ever happen, well then, that pretty much means that the current plan isn’t worth the price of the paper it was printed on.
Here at EvenBetterPlaces.org, our concern is even more specific. Other than helping this one property owner make a killing on this 4.7 acres, does Eldersburg even need a seventh full-size grocery store? Common sense tells us, “No.” That’s probably one or two stores too many. If the County did local economic impact analysis as part of its site plan and zoning approval processes, it would realize that the only way a seventh grocery store succeeds is by stealing business from the existing five stores already in place and from the new ALDI that is opening across Liberty Road.
A typical LIDL employs only 15 to 30 people. The Martin’s, Safeway and Shoppers employ 60 to 100 or more people. When the LIDL opens, some of the people who currently work for these other grocery stores are going to lose their jobs. There will be a net negative loss of jobs in Eldersburg. And those are just the “direct effects” of LIDL’s predatory marketing strategy.
Of course, just because common sense tells you something, doesn’t mean it’s true. So we hired a firm called DSR Marketing Systems (DSR), based in the Chicago area, to do a basic study of just how many grocery stores Eldersburg can support. DSR is headed by David Rogers, an internationally known and well-respected expert in market analysis and grocery store retailing in particular. Mr. Rogers was recommended to us by the Food Marketing Institute and does market studies for clients the likes of IKEA and Wegman’s, among many others in the United States and Europe.
If you’re interested, you can see read the entire study, entitled “Supportable Floorspace Analysis: Eldersburg, MD,” by clicking on the link below.
The DSR study is completely independent of EvenBetterPlaces.org and the property owners and other parties affected by the text amendment, but it does confirm what everyone who responded to our survey have been telling us. And that’s that Eldersburg already has one or two too many grocery stores than it can support.
Here, in the image below, is item 4 from the “Summary” section of the DSR study…
By “support,” DSR is not telling us that all 5 of the existing stores are doing equally well although that may be the case. Some may be more profitable than others, depending upon a number of factors including their respective shares of the total market.
In fact, as you can see below in item 6 from the report “Summary,” DSR predicts that the opening of the new ALDI and then the LIDL will result in at least one grocery store closing.
There’s no way of knowing for sure which one or two will close, but net jobs will be lost. And why is that? If it happens, it will be because the County approved a change in zoning – that’s the text amendment we keep talking about – to help one property owner make a windfall profit, for something the community didn’t need and couldn’t support and that the people in the neighborhood didn’t want. For those people, for those families living adjacent to or nearby the property, the County hasn’t taken into account the effect of the text amendment on their property values or the noise, lighting, greatly increased traffic and crime – yes, crime – that will adversely affect the quality of their lives.
At the very least, before an increase in store size is approved, the County needs to invest in local impact analysis to fully appreciate the effects of increasing maximum store size so dramatically. And let the current Comprehensive Plan stand, at least until a new one receives public input and earns its approval.
In the meantime, Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission should be asking themselves this question…
“If I lived adjacent to this one property in Eldersburg, would I be voting to approve a tenfold increase in maximum store size from 10,000 to 100,000 SF? …On this one property and on all B-NR properties in the County? …Just so this one owner could sell 4.7 acres for a grocery store Eldersburg doesn’t want and can’t support?”
At the very least, that’s what the Members of the Commission should be asking themselves before they vote to approve this text amendment or not.