The Prince George's County Council approved legislation yesterday that opens the way for Wal-Mart to build what would be the chain's first store inside the Capital Beltway.
The measure also clears the way for another Wal-Mart in the county, outside the Beltway near Upper Marlboro, but places restrictions on other projects that the discount retailer might want in Prince George's.
Wal-Mart had threatened to pull its plans to build at the Capital Plaza Mall in Landover Hills if it was unable to sell food at the store. Originally, the council had considered legislation to bar any big-box store larger than 125,000 square feet from selling food.
Yesterday's 7 to 2 vote ended a fight that began this year between Wal-Mart and local unionized grocery stores over the expansion and locations of Wal-Mart stores. Council members Tony Knotts (D-Fort Washington) and Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie) voted against the bill.
"It's a satisfactory victory," said Rhoda Washington, a spokesman for Wal-Mart. "We'll be able to proceed with the [two] existing proposals we have."
Council members delayed voting on the measure immediately after a public hearing to discuss possible amendments in a closed-door session.
Council member Thomas R. Dernoga (D-Laurel), after meeting with lobbyists for Wal-Mart just outside the council chamber, offered an amendment that excluded Wal-Mart's two current proposals from the restrictions.
Knotts and Peters objected to that action, saying it was unfair to call for a vote on an unwritten amendment.
"I need to have a better understanding of what I'm voting on," Knotts said.
L. Anthony Perez, government affairs coordinator for United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, told the council during the public hearing that "any amendments would be considered unfriendly" to the union.
Similar fights have played out elsewhere in the region.
Montgomery County restricted the location of stores larger than 120,000 square feet with a full-service grocery and pharmacy. The District is considering a bill to prohibit stores with more than 80,000 square feet that plan to devote 15 percent of their space to food and other nontaxable items.
In Prince George's, several council members, including Knotts and Peters, signed on to provisions in the bill that place restrictions on stores larger than 125,000 square feet.
The amendment requires future projects to file a detailed site plan with the county's Planning Board and prohibits stores larger than 125,000 square feet from selling food.
"I still have a concern about the lack of design standards for facilities that are this large," Dernoga said.
For years, Prince George's has courted retailers to bring the jobs and the tax revenue that generally follow. Many in the business community said the restrictions are contrary to those efforts.
The Prince George's Chamber of Commerce opposed the legislation, arguing that it would "have the effect of discouraging those who would seek to locate here and invest in this county by enacting onerous zoning requirements."
Wal-Mart has two stores in Prince George's, both outside the Beltway, in Clinton and Bowie. It has been working on plans in Landover Hills for years and recently has eyed a property at the the Beltway and Ritchie Marlboro Road, just outside Upper Marlboro, as a potential site.