Vol. 9, No. 11
March 15-21, 2001
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In the Safeway Saga,
Mike Miller Writes a Chapter

Imagine being ensnared in a nasty dispute about your property. Or your home. No matter what you do, no matter how you try to fix the problem, things get worse. Your neighbors become angrier by the day. Your friends stop talking to you and even mock you with ugly puppets.

Then your Uncle Albert knocks on your door and says, "Relax; I'll handle this for you."

Janet Owens' Uncle Albert has just come calling, but she doesn't seem inclined to let him in.

Senate President Mike Miller is Uncle Albert. And with his legislation aimed at downsizing a proposed Safeway shopping center in Southern Anne Arundel, Miller is stepping in to deal with a matter that has bedeviled Owens.

Miller says his bill would attack pollution from stormwater runoff by preventing residentially zoned property from being used to facilitate commercial construction within a half-mile of the Chesapeake or its tributaries. That's exactly the route that Safeway has taken: winning county approval to build stormwater management ponds on land adjacent to its commercial property.

Miller's bill would apply only to Anne Arundel and Calvert counties. It is narrowly defined, no doubt about it. But that's not to say that it couldn't help other communities trying to fend off unwise development.

The scope of Safeway's plan has offended many people, Owens among them. The company has reduced the scale of its proposed development from 85,000 square feet to 77,000 square feet. But the buildings and the accompanying parking lot for hundreds of cars remain dramatically out of scale for a quiet, rural area. Smart growth it ain't.

A lot is being made of the cool relationship between Miller and Owens, which has existed since Miller picked an up-till-then Republican rather than Owens as his choice for county executive. They may not be lunch buddies, but it does no good to focus on the politics of personality rather than the substance of an important issue. Miller has every right to try to solve a contentious issue in his district; that's what a leader does.

It's argued, too, that the General Assembly shouldn't be mucking about in county business. But when it comes to environmental laws, the broadest laws offer the most protection. That's what has kept the polluters from watering down our Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water laws.

We also hear that Miller is being unfair to Safeway. Truth be told, we're more concerned about Chesapeake Bay communities than about a corporation with 1,680 stores in North America, $32 billion in revenue last year and a 12 percent rise in profits to $1.09 billion.

As for Owens, we think she should be relieved. Miller has the political muscle to handle a West Coast corporation intent on putting its shopping centers wherever it pleases. We would hope that Owens would see his legislation - if it holds up in court - as protection not only for our environment but for her political future.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly