When envisioning the future of the abandoned Frederick Towne Mall site on U.S. 40, residents focused on opportunity.
They imagined a place where they could live, work and play. They saw themselves walking down winding sidewalks to mom-and-pop shops, like in Bowie or Rockville.
Some may not have pictured what the land may now become — home to Frederick's third Wal-Mart.
Residents have mixed thoughts about the Board of Aldermen's unanimous decision Thursday to rezone the property from mixed use to general commercial, which will allow developer Rockwood Capital to continue drafting plans for a Wal-Mart on the site.
The five raised hands of the aldermen Thursday meant the elected officials were dropping the vision that some residents in the room worked so long and so hard to create, said Kai Hagen, executive director of Envision Frederick County.
Residents worked with city officials for more than a year to develop the Golden Mile Small Area plan, a vision for the area.
A Wal-Mart on the site — no matter the conditions — does not fit the principles of the plan, Hagen said, which are walkable, connected, vibrant, safe, complete, attractive and sustainable.
“It is reasonable for city residents and others who invested a lot of time and effort into that plan to now question how the plan will be adhered to as a guide for development and redevelopment in the area," said Hagen, who lives near Thurmont.
Residents may be upset about the city's decision, but they probably have no way to appeal it, he said, because the plan is more of a guide than a law.
Many residents, though, are relieved that something will become of the mall property.
To Eugene Shaulis, of Braddock Heights, who was shopping at Home Depot on Friday, the vacant mall is an eyesore, and a constant reminder of what was.
“It's depressing,” he said. “We used to bring the kids here to see Santa Claus.”
The board made a good decision, said Ann McGovern, who lives downtown but often shops in the mall area to avoid traffic.
“It's about time,” McGovern said.
But John Command, who lives near the mall, believes the city needs more variety, not more Wal-Marts.
"A new mall would bring more stores — more variety," he said.
Roni and Alejandra Angel agree.
"We would like to see something done," Roni Angel said. "Just not a Wal-Mart. I don't see how that would improve the area."
When voting, a few aldermen acknowledged that the plan may not be what everyone wanted.
Alderwoman Shelley Aloi said she didn't know if the city would ever get plan that was “100 percent perfect for everyone.”
The plan met the minimum requirements of the small area plan, Alderman Michael O'Connor said Thursday.
For some, the issue is not with the developer's plan, but with the fact that the land will now be marked only for commercial use.
The city should be attempting to diversify its economy, not limiting it with general commercial use, said Josh Bokee, of Frederick.
“The question is, as we go forward, do we envision the Golden Mile always being a retail corridor, or do we want to encourage a range of services that could benefit folks?” Bokee asked.
Rockwood Capital's plan not only fits with the small area plan, it helps make it happen, said David Severn, attorney for the developer.
When residents started creating the small area plan in 2011, Severn warned them that their mixed-use vision might not be reasonable.
The company was already planning to turn the land into commercial-only space, he told them at the time. The mixed-use center they thought up was too hard to finance.
“It's not happening ... from an economic point of view,” he said at the time.
Businesses in the area were grateful to hear the news Friday.
“I say go for it,” said Tina Poole, manager of Doc Geiser's, a restaurant on McCain Drive. “I think it's a great thing. It will put a lot of jobs in there for people.”
Poole said the new development will bring more traffic to the business.
The decision will drive traffic and business to the area, said Anita Burke, owner of the Thrift Angel store.
Unfortunately, Burke said, the decision comes too late for her.
Burke may close down Thrift Angel — it's not making money, and she doesn't have time to wait for Wal-Mart, she said.
“I hope they get their act together and make decisions sooner to help other businesses.”