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Wal-Mart plans to open store on Rockville Pike

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Wal-Mart plans to open a store on Rockville Pike, the second new site the company has announced in Montgomery County in a month and one that is likely to inflame debate about whether county officials should enact new rules regarding big-box stores.

Developer JBG Rosenfeld is finalizing a deal with Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, to open an 80,000-square-foot store in the Pike Center shopping plaza near the busy intersection of Rockville Pike and Twinbrook Parkway. The developer says construction would begin in fall 2012, and the store could open in late 2013 or early 2014.

The deal, confirmed by a Wal-Mart spokesman Monday, is part of the retailer’s plan to expand rapidly in the greater Washington region. Having saturated many rural and suburban markets, Wal-Mart is moving aggressively into urban areas.

Last year, the discount chain announced plans to open its first four stores in the District, recently signing its first lease to open in a former Chevrolet dealership on Georgia Avenue NW. It also has agreed to open stores in Tysons Corner, Oxon Hill and Aspen Hill, and there are rumors that a store is planned for Shirlington.

Montgomery Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said the Rockville Pike deal is consistent with county plans to spur development around transit areas. The store would be blocks from the Twinbrook Metro station and comply with zoning regulations.

But the planned Wal-Mart has provoked an outcry from some residents and business owners, who say small businesses would suffer and traffic would skyrocket on the congested throughway.

“I never in my wildest imagination would believe that a Wal-Mart would come out here, in such a congested [street], one of the worst boulevards in Maryland,” said George Kavadoy, owner of the deli Bagel City, which is on the JBG lot. “It would be devastating for small businesses.”

Shortly after announcing the Aspen Hill store last month, Wal-Mart quickly encountered a form of resistance that has plagued its entrance into other big-city markets: opposition from labor unions and some politicians and residents.

But after the Aspen Hill announcement, five County Council members sponsored a bill that would require some big-box retail stores to sign, or make a good-faith effort to complete, a public-benefits contract with community groups. After its introduction last Tuesday, the legislation drew ire from developers, big retailers and chambers of commerce.

The bill, which has not been passed, would affect both Wal-Marts because they would be more than 75,000 square feet.

In a statement, Wal-Mart suggested that the council “support opportunities to stimulate economic development rather than creating arbitrary and discriminatory hurdles that will discourage recovery.”

The Rockville store would replace more than half a dozen shops, including Bagel City, Office Depot and CiCi’s Pizza, whose leases would not be renewed. A T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant, new M&T Bank branch and Jared jewelry store would remain.

Krista C. Di Iaconi, a principal at Chevy Chase-based JBG Rosenfeld, said the company also plans to develop 200 to 250 apartments at the site. Two levels of underground parking will be built, she said.

The store would exemplify a trend seen in recent, more urban Wal-Mart developments: Smaller stores offering a larger array of groceries and fresh food.

Di Iaconi said she expects Montgomery residents to support the store once they understand how it would differ from the chain’s more traditional Supercenters, which can be more than twice as large.

With one of the chain’s first fully green roofs, the Rockville Wal-Mart would conform with county regulations for collecting storm-water runoff. It would offer a pharmacy, deli counter and bakery, Di Iaconi said.

“No one in this portion of Montgomery County has ever seen a Wal-Mart with a full-service grocery environment like this,” she said. “I think people are really going to be surprised when they see it.”

The Wal-Mart would sit amid a retail area formed by strip malls between Twinbrook Parkway and Randolph Road. It would be about 500 feet from a Target and a Trader Joe’s.

A dozen or so shoppers walked around the lot at lunchtime Monday, and the parking lot was almost full. As she was leaving T.G.I. Friday’s, Margie Wheaton said she opposes the new store.

“The place has done well with the smaller shops,” she said. “It will detract from the character of what we have right now.”

Others saw the store as a benefit to the community. Carol Barfield, who works nearby as a caretaker for the elderly, said she would love to be able to shop at a Wal-Mart during breaks. “I like shopping at Wal-Mart,” she said. “The thing you would get is lower prices.”

Leggett said he does not see the store as a “detriment.” The area is “destined” for additional traffic, he said, and there will be more as it grows.

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