Prince George’s residents oppose plan to build Wal-Mart in community

Prince George’s county residents are questioning a plan to construct a Wal-Mart in a South Bowie strip mall, saying that a planning board has ignored their concerns that the discount retailer would have a negative impact on adjacent neighborhoods.

Wal-Mart announced plans in 2013 to move into and expand the 56,000-square foot space in the Duvall Shopping Center left vacant by the departure of a grocery store four years earlier. Small business owners in the commercial strip say they welcome the move, which has been approved by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, but many neighbors argue that it is not a good fit.

“Wal-Mart is not an appropriate store in the middle of a peaceful, quiet neighborhood,” Jen Dwyer, a resident of the Glensford townhouse community, said Monday at a County Council hearing. “I don’t see what my community stands to gain.”

It is the latest iteration of a conflict that has played out repeatedly in Prince George’s County, as government leaders struggle to balance the economic appeal of big-box and discount stores with the desire of the largely affluent, predominantly African American citizenry for upscale shopping.

The hearing was an opportunity for citizens to ask that the council send the project back to the planning commission for reconsideration. Council member Andrea Harrison (District 5), who represents the area, said she will review all the arguments before recommending any action to her colleagues. “I’m struggling right now,” she said.

The new store will fill a void and generate 300 new jobs, according to a statement from Nina Albert, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. “Local businesses and hundreds of area residents have voiced their support,” the statement said.

But those residents who live closest to the proposed site complain that a store of the size that Wal-Mart is proposing, open 24 hours a day, could bring crime and would generate more traffic than the already-congested Glenn Dale and Annapolis roads can handle.

Dwyer collected more than 300 signatures in a petition opposing the store.

“I think this is a call to action to the development community to bring those high-quality retail options and amenities to the community,” said Council member Karen Toles (D-Suitland). “Our county deserves better.”

Opponents of the Wal-Mart project say its stormwater drainage plan is flawed and could adversely affect residents who live downhill from the back of the store. They say Prince George’s County has four Wal-Marts, and question whether another is needed.

“When is enough poor quality enough?” asked retired teacher Margaret Boles. “We think Prince George’s is being targeted with poor quality and merchandise.”

Critics of the project also say they oppose Wal-Mart because the discount retailer does not pay employees a living wage.

“The community would welcome an appropriate store at that site,” such as a Trader Joe’s, said attorney G. Macy Nelson, who representscommunity and civic groups that oppose the project. “But a store that’s open 24-7, that’s 20,000 square feet larger than the existing store with no traffic analysis? These folks say, ‘no way.’ ”

Nelson said it had been 27 years since authorities studied how a large development at the site would affect traffic, and that study — from 1987 — has since been lost. The planning commission said no new study was required because the original analysis showed the current road system could handle a project of Wal-Mart’s size.

Bowie One Barbershop owner Marquette Douglas said he was “thrilled and relieved” when he learned Wal-Mart would move into the same shopping center as his business.

“We’re depending on that store to be occupied,” Douglas said. “We are not getting the foot traffic we need to stay in business.”

Arelis Hernández covers Prince George’s County as part of The Washington Post's local staff.
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