SNOW HILL – The Wal-Mart Super Center slated for construction behind the existing Berlin Wal-Mart received site plan approval last week.
The Worcester County Planning Commission required several changes in the site plan before approving the project.
The new, 193,000-square-foot Super Wal-Mart, including a grocery store and drive-up pharmacy, will replace the roughly 100,000-square-foot existing store. The redevelopment will also add three out lots or pad sites.
The current store will remain open while the new one is built. When the Super Center is complete, the original store will be demolished.
Developers began working with the county on the new Super Wal-Mart three years ago, first bringing in elevations that looked like a more generic strip mall. Over the winter, the developer brought in new elevations created to conform to proposed architectural guidelines.
Project planners had already made some changes to the site plan previously requested by the planning commission during sketch plan review, such as reducing parking around one future pad site, and turning it into a grassed area.
“Now we’re parked essentially at code, not above it,” said engineer Mike Birkland of Bowman Consulting Group.
The store will provide transportation from a temporary parking area to the store, he said, though the company has not determined the form of that transportation, whether golf cars, vans or buses. That area could also be assigned as employee parking.
“That would eliminate the need for customers to come from that area,” Birkland said.
Traffic into and out of the site, as well as within the site, was a major topic of discussion between the planning commission and Wal-Mart planners.
Birkland said there would be another light added to Route 50. That second light was approved when the Ocean Landing II commercial development to the west of the existing Wal-Mart and Home Depot was approved several years ago, said Wal-Mart attorney Mark Cropper.
The two lights would operate as one, said Wes Guckert, president of The Traffic Group. “You’re only stopping at one time,” said Guckert.
The planning commission and the developer’s representatives also wrangled over access to the site from the service road with the developer wanting two entrances. The out lots will want two entrances, according to consultants, so it’s a marketing feature.
Less than 500 feet separation between entrances requires a waiver, which the planning commission granted.
Guckert suggested that the speed limit on the as yet unbuilt service road running along the top of the parking lot should have a speed limit of 25 mph.
The speed limit on the service road should be 30 mph at least, said Worcester County attorney Sonny Bloxom. He was a county commissioner when the service road was proposed and approved as a county project.
“All these access points need lower speed,” said Cummins.
While the county does not want to set the service road up as another Route 50, the road is intended to move traffic.
“It’s to get people from one place to another, not creeping along,” said Bloxom.
Market Street in Pocomoke City, lined with numerous businesses and side streets, has a 30 mph speed limit and has had no problems, he said.
The service road is meant to get local traffic off Route 50 and will need multiple ingress and egress points off it, said Cropper, wondering why the commission appeared to be talking about limiting access points on the service road.
“I don’t want to see the planning commission looking at the service road as another highway. That’s not the purpose of the service road,” said Cropper.
Planning Commission member Betty Smith observed that the Home Depot loading dock could be too close to the new Wal-Mart building.
According to Birkland, there shouldn’t be any traffic conflict with the loading dock.
Planning Commisison member Carolyn Cummins disagreed, saying it was a legitimate concern. Having observed the operations around Wal-Mart and Home Depot that morning, Cummins said that trucks delivering to Home Depot backed right up into where customers would turn into the new Wal-Mart.
“I think this is something that can be solved but you’re going to have to deal with it with Home Depot,” said Cummins. “Most people drive down to the front of the Wal-Mart and come in there and then go to their parking place. This is going to be a highly trafficked area.”
Commission member Jeannie Lynch said she had concerns over the pharmacy drive through lane. “There’s absolutely too much conflict there,” Lynch said.
“It’s on the side where the traffic problem is,” said Cummins.
“There should be a different entrance,” Lynch said.
Planners agreed to move the pharmacy drive-up window.
The bus stop shown on the draft site plant was too far from Home Deport, said Lynch, almost 250 feet, and many people will be walking from Wal-Mart to the do-it-yourself store.
Cummins pointed out that the bus stop is right across from the busy loading dock at Home Depot.
Birkland said he was open to changing the location of the bus stop or providing an additional bus stop. He then agreed to keep the bus stop at the current site.
Landscaping provided another discussion point, with some on the planning commission questioning why the developer was adding landscaping behind the new building, where no one would see it.
The developer saw an area with green space and wanted to make it nicer, consultants said, which they do not have to provide.
The commission would rather see landscaping in the parking lot where more people would get the benefit, Cummins said.
“I think we provided pretty extensive landscaping in the parking lot,” said Birkland. There could be landscaping added to a few places, but not much, he said, since the project has just enough parking to meet code already.
Another concern touching parking was the retention of the county recycling bins. Birkland agreed that those could be kept on site.
Birkland also agreed to a request by the commission to ban garden center plants and materials from being placed on the parking lot.
Cummins also asked about outdoor lighting and whether it would be cut during closed hours. Opening hours have not yet been determined, Birkland said.