Montgomery County Council to big-box retailers: Not so fast

Courtesy of Wal-Mart - A rendering of the proposed Wal-Mart in Aspen Hill.

Montgomery County is home to Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot, but as big-box chains consider expansion, five members of the county council have proposed requiring a more lengthy and binding community engagement process for retailers looking to open large stores.

A bill proposed last week by Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) would require companies planning to open stores of 75,000 square feet or more to either enter into a community benefits agreement with three or more recognized civic associations or demonstrate to the county executive that it had made a good-faith effort to do so.

The bill also would require that such agreements, which typically require concessions or funding committments from developers, “be treated by all parties as a binding contract.”

Ervin submitted the bill a little more than a week after Wal-Mart announced that it planned to open its second Montgomery County store, in Aspen Hill, on property owned by Lee Development Group. Two bills affecting big-box stores have also been proposed in the District, which has no Wal-Marts at the moment but where the chain recently signed its first lease and plans more stores.

Tom McNutt, president of the UFCW Local 400, a union representing food workers, released a statement saying Ervin’s bill would give communities the chance “to negotiate on a level playing field with big-box stores and developers to address any and all issues that concern them, from traffic and workers’ wages and benefits, to the health of small businesses and the environment.”

But the chains, and the developers that sign them to leases, have taken notice.

Wal-Mart issued a statement saying that it already provides many of the things residents are looking for, particularly jobs.

“The three-letter-word we hear most in our conversations with elected officials, stakeholders and residents across the region is not ‘C-B-A,’ but ‘J-O-B,’” the statement said. “We encourage the Montgomery County Council to support opportunities to stimulate economic development rather than creating arbitrary and discriminatory hurdles that will discourage recovery.”

Gigi Godwin, president and chief executive of the county’s chamber of commerce, said she didn’t understand what problem the council was trying to solve with the bill. “There are a lot of ways to participate right now, and we have a really extensive and inclusive process both at park and planning and at the council,” she said.

Krista C. Di Iaconi, a principal at JBG Rosenfeld Retail, a developer with property in the county, said the added time associated with the bill’s requirements for negotiating with separate groups had the potential to kill deals or turn retailers away. “It will affect the type of tenants that you can do business with,” she said.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Nov. 1.

 
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