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Appeal Could Delay Wegmans Development in Prince George's

By Anita Huslin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 3, 2007

Just when it appeared that developers had the all-clear to begin transforming 245 wooded acres in Prince George's County into a new town center with homes, offices, a hotel and retail stores anchored by a Wegmans supermarket, an eleventh-hour appeal threatens the project.

Already, work is behind schedule on the Woodmore Towne Centre in Landover. According to the Web site of developer Petrie-Ross, ground was to have been broken this summer, and the community was to open next year.

Residents of Prince George's have been anticipating the supermarket. Economic development officials and other businesses are banking on the market leading a wave of other upscale retail stores into the county.

But there is at least one faction that would just as soon block Wegmans's arrival.

Citing procedural grounds, Anthony Perez, a Hyattsville man with union ties has appealed the county's approval of the detailed site plan for Woodmore, which gave the green light for construction crews to start digging streets, laying water and sewer lines, and preparing the building site.

"He drives to work through this immediate area every day," said Harry Lerch, a Bethesda attorney who filed the appeal for Perez. Perez's concern, Lerch said, is that the approval process has not ensured "that the roads are going to be adequate to serve whatever is going in there."

Lerch didn't say whether his client's work as a member of the board of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 was related to the appeal. At a hearing on the project in July, however, Perez registered himself as a party of interest opposing the project. He listed the Local 400's headquarters in Landover as his address and indicated that he was representing the union.

All of which raises the possibility of organized labor aiming to thwart the development to keep Wegmans -- a nonunion grocer -- out of the area. The UFCW chapter represents 40,000 workers in the food-processing and retail businesses in the District, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee. In other markets, the union has waged campaigns against such nonunion grocery chains as Food Lion and Publix when they opened stores.

Officials at Local 400 were not available for comment, and an answering machine message said the office was closed for the Labor Day holiday. Perez did not respond to a voicemail message left at his home.

Jeffrey Metzger, editor of Food World, a Columbia trade publication that monitors the supermarket industry, said a Wegmans store can average weekly sales of $1 million -- more than double that of stores of many competitors. The retailer, known for its hot foods Wokery, bakery, sushi bar, fresh produce and gourmet prepared food, already has two stores in the Washington area and has plans to open at least a half-dozen more, including the one at the Woodmore Towne Centre.

"They are the most upscale retailer in the Washington market. They have the largest footprint. Their stores are more than double the size of a typical supermarket. And they have the broadest display of specialty and perishable departments," he said "Wegmans can really wreak havoc on the other retailers in that market."

Regardless of opponent's motivation, delays can have significant financial repercussions. Ed Gibbs, an attorney for Wegmans and the developers who has helped shepherd much of the approval process, said developers still must repay loans and meet other responsibilities regardless of the status of the project.

"If you're delayed in breaking ground, all of your projections are delayed as well, including contractual arrangements to deliver sites," he said. "Wegmans is extremely important because this is a mixed-use project and there's a synergy that's created between all the uses."

The appeal has already delayed the project a month and will continue to do so until at least Sept. 24, when the county council will consider it.

Wegmans officials say they have no opening date for the store.

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