A covenant that could prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7 across the road from a current Safeway supermarket does not apply to a section of land that Wal-Mart is planning to use, city officials have determined.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s administration has been trying to discreetly negotiate with Safeway, which signed a covenant with the city years ago, after opening its store and later transferring some land to the city that prohibited a competitor from getting too close to the Good Hope Road location on certain portions of the Skyland property.
The dispute became public as talks spilled out and Safeway enlisted the help of its Maryland lobbyist, Bruce Bereano, Gray’s friend and fraternity brother. City officials, including Deputy Mayor Victor L. Hoskins, initially said it was an issue they were working through, but now say they are interpreting the covenant as not applying to a lot where a Wal-Mart store would be built.
The Office of the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development received an opinion Wednesday from attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General, said Jose C. Sousa, a spokesman for Hoskins.
Rappaport Cos, the lead developer of the Skyland site, previously submitted a design for the land that was city-approved and places a “big box” store on the lot. The covenant would apply to two other lots, Sousa said. “This covenant may apply to other possible retail users in the future,” he wrote in an e-mail.
It could also limit any expansions or redesigns for a Wal-Mart store.
Retailers selling produce, meats, fish and pharmaceuticals could not locate on the two other lots, according to city officials’ interpretation of the covenant.
Craig Muckle, Safeway’s manager of public affairs and government relations, said he was checking with colleagues and did not have an immediate comment.
Wal-Mart representatives and Gray announced that the retail giant planned to build six stores, including at Skyland. Gray, a former Ward 7 council member, pushed for a Wal-Mart to be an anchor of the long-neglected town center, which is mostly controlled by the city through eminent domain.
Staff writer Jonathan O’Connell contributed to this report.