A Prince George’s County zoning authority has denied Wal-Mart’s request to build a supercenter in Oxon Hill, about a mile from National Harbor.
The decision, issued this week, appears to bring to a halt the company’s plans to expand in Prince George’s and is a victory for a group of Oxon Hill parents that has been fighting the project for years.
Wal-Mart’s plan called for a 100,310-square-foot store on 15 vacant acres owned by the Peterson Cos. adjacent to John Hanson Montessori School on Oxon Hill Road near Indian Head Highway.
Because the county enacted legislation two years ago limiting the size of big-box stores with groceries to 85,000 square feet, Wal-Mart was requesting special permission to build a larger store.
The company’s application also asked the county to waive a requirement to have direct vehicular access to an existing arterial roadway.
Instead, the company wanted the county to allow access via an internal street.
Maurene Epps McNeil, the county’s zoning hearing examiner, reviewed the case and concluded that the project would “adversely impact residents/workers in the area and be detrimental to the use of adjacent properties.”
The project’s parking design would present safety hazards to students at John Hanson and nearby Oxon Hill High School, the hearing examiner said. Some students would have to cross two vehicular entrances into the proposed store, including one that would be used by trucks going to the loading dock.
Noise stemming from the project would potentially affect the experience of students at John Hanson, who would be able to hear “the delivery trucks idling or hear the workers unloading, since the loading area is adjacent to that school’s property,” the decision said.
Parents of students at John Hanson and Oxon Hill High have voiced concerns about security and the environmental impact on the school community.
“We truly understand the need for economic development in the county, but we don’t want to sacrifice our kids in the name of economic development,” said Nicole Nelson, who has children at John Hanson. “We feel triumphant in getting our point across that this project is not suitable for a location right next to our school.”
Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the company is reviewing the hearing examiner’s decision to determine its next steps.
“We appreciate the support we’ve received from residents that would benefit from the jobs and affordable shopping options our store would bring to the community,” she said. “Our store can serve as an anchor for the vision for Oxon Hill Road as a retail destination, helping to draw additional shoppers to the area and increasing the local tax base.”
The company had estimated that the store would create 300 jobs.
As proposed, the supercenter would feature a brick-and-stone facade — not the blue-gray exterior that is more prevalent in rural areas — and a glass atrium entrance.
The structure was planned to be close to the road to create an “urban” feel, with easy pedestrian access.
The proposal was one of several that the chain has pursued as it quickly expands in the Washington region. Wal-Mart has about 30 stores in the region, including three in Prince George’s, and plans to build one at the Duvall Village Center in Bowie. The zoning hearing examiner is reviewing a proposal to expand a Bowie store and is expected to release a decision soon.
Macy Nelson, the attorney for the opposition in the zoning case, said it is possible that Wal-Mart will appeal, but he added that the community is ready “to fight hard to defend this decision.”
Wal-Mart first pitched its plan for the supercenter in 2011 with the goal of opening it last year, but the proposal became delayed in the planning-approval process because County Council members had concerns about the design.
The chain worked to redesign the store to address concerns about traffic and safety from council members and residents who said the store would be too close to the school.
But then the council passed legislation in 2012 limiting the size of big-box stores.
Wal-Mart said it had responded to community concerns by including a landscape buffer between John Hanson and the store and removing the vehicular access that was to be between the school and the store.
The company says the distance between the store and Oxon Hill High was far enough that the store’s traffic would not have created safety issues for the students.
In its decision, the zoning examiner determined that had the proposal been for a smaller store with a different parking design, and had the company provided a study that cleared concerns about noise, the request would have been approved.
“However, I believe the instant request will adversely impact the health, safety and welfare of residents or workers in the area, and would be detrimental to the use of adjacent properties, in a manner unique to this site,” she said.
“Therefore, the request must be denied.”