Vol. 9, No. 22
May 31-June 6, 2001
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The Lessons of Safeway

A decade or so back, we spent time on Indian reservations writing stories about garbage companies and waste brokers attempting to deposit their goods on tribal lands. On Cherokee land in Oklahoma, for instance, a major oil company wanted to build a huge incinerator to burn hazardous waste.

Tribes stood to enrich themselves mightily. But the dumpers seldom succeeded. From Arizona to Alaska, modern-day warriors rose up to warn the people that their environment, culture, burial grounds and religion were being threatened.

After years of turmoil and tribal council battles, the companies and their agents were driven out. Left on the reservation were divided tribes and burning animosities.

The saga of Safeway in Southern Anne Arundel County has run a similar course. Safeway's decade-long drive to locate a grocery complex in the county's rural reaches triggered an uprising that pushed the California-based company to announce last week that it no longer would fight to build its shopping center in Deale.

Safeway was knocked off its horse by a new state law engineered by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. But before Safeway hit the ground, it was full of arrows shot by the warriors of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, or SACReD.

People feeling sorry for Safeway are confused. The loss of a few million dollars, if it turns out that way, would be all but invisible on the books of a corporation that sold $32 billion last year - and expects to open 85 to 90 new stores in 2001.

Many dollars in fat legal fees stayed in the county, remember. But Safeway should also be sending local citizens a consulting fee for the valuable lesson it was taught. The company might be able to save a bundle in the future by learning to work with local citizens on design and size, as Target does, rather than trying to spread cookie-cutter complexes across the landscape.

Perhaps the company might use those savings to hire engineers who know how to draw the blueprints for tactful, 25,000-square-foot groceries that blend into rural settings rather than mega-complexes more than three times that large with sprawling parking lots and enough lights to shine into space.

Rather than Safeway, we worry about the hard feelings left behind. We're hoping, too, that some lessons were learned by both sides.

We hope that the anti-development warriors understand that there is a craving for services in the rural reaches of the county that must be satisfied if we are to live in harmony. In the coming months, there will be opportunities for SACReD to live up to the "responsible" in its name - or risk losing effectiveness as it's labeled a band of eternal obstructionists.

As for Safeway supporters, we hope they learned that the sense of preservation along the Chesapeake Bay extends far beyond any membership organization. We hope that they would respect the values of people who dearly wish to avoid cluttering up our county's last quiet areas with cars, litter and the dulling corporate sameness of intersections from Salisbury to Sacramento.

Look at this way: Just as our citizens of all stripes did important work in small-area planning committees, all of us went through a baptism of fire in Deale-ing with Safeway.

Next time, we'll be better prepared to work together to determine how we will grow.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly