While Montgomery County politicians introduce proposals to make it more difficult for Wal-Mart and other big retail stores to open, neighboring Prince George's County is working hard to attract both large national stores and high-end retail chains.
The divergent approaches to large discount stores is a reflection of the two suburban counties' disparate retail offerings. Montgomery is filled with highly developed retail centers and is home to many big-box outlets and shopping malls. Prince George's has had a harder time attracting national retailers.
"We look to bring in [big-box] stores, but we also look to bring in more upscale stores," said Prince George's County Council Vice Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), a member of the council's zoning committee. "We are still trying to raise the bar and make sure that we bring in upscale stores."
The Montgomery County Council is considering two proposals that would require large stores to obtain a special permit to open there. County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has proposed legislation that would force stores larger than 120,000 square feet and that use at least 10 percent of their floor space for food, beverage or prescription drug sales to get the extra permit. Membership club stores, such as Costco and Sam's Club, would be exempt. Montgomery County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) proposes that all stores larger than 120,000 square feet, except for home improvement stores and membership stores, get the extra permit. The additional permit would increase the length of the approval process and invite more public input. Next month, a public hearing will be held to discuss the proposals and whether Montgomery County should limit the future growth of big retailers.
Big-box retailers are welcomed in Prince George's. Home Depot won county approval three months ago to build its sixth Prince George's store in Upper Marlboro. Other large retailers -- including shoe seller DSW Shoe Warehouse, Sports Authority and Circuit City -- opened at the Boulevard at the Capital Center in Landover in the summer.
In two weeks, a 125,400-square-foot Target store will open in Forestville, in large part due to the support of the county government. At the request of developer Walt Petrie, chairman of Petrie Ventures in Annapolis, the county fast-tracked the Target project. All of its permits were approved in three or four months, not the years that it takes for some permits to be approved.
"Target had a certain date they wanted to open. Had we not been able to get that date for them, we may not have been able to make the deal," Petrie said.
Petrie worked closely with Dean, who helped make the Target store a "priority project." Dean said he hopes the Target store, which fills a spot left vacant by K-Mart, will revive the Forestville mall.
County Executive Jack B. Johnson also has supported the project, saying at the groundbreaking for the Target store last year that "continued economic development is essential to the future of Prince George's County."
"It's especially important to continue our efforts in attracting high-quality retailers in our inner-Beltway communities," he said.
Petrie, whose company develops retail projects throughout the region, said his company has avoided Montgomery County in recent years and focused on Prince George's, Anne Arundel and parts of Virginia.
"What we do is retail," Petrie said. "We try to focus on areas that have the need. Montgomery doesn't have much retail-zoned land left."