Bowie, MD. Wal-Mart's Plan To Move Across the Street Draws Objections
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Wal-Mart officials were caught off-guard when the Planning Board in Bowie, Maryland voted to oppose the retailer's request for a "special exception" to build a new superstore in Bowie--right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart that will close.
The Planning Board vote recommended to the Bowie City Council that they tell the Prince George's County Planning Board to turn down the Wal-Mart application.
Bowie is a community located 18 miles north east of Washington, D.C. The city of Bowie already has Wal-Mart store # 1893 on Crain Highway, and 7 other Wal-Mart stores within a 15 miles radius, including a Wal-Mart superstore in Laurel, Maryland 10 miles. Shoppers in Bowie have easy access to cheap Chinese imports.
Like most small cities in the U.S., Bowie has already been saturated with Wal-Marts. More stores at this point provide Wal-Mart with a little more market share---but at the same time cannibalizes Wal-Mart's existing stores. In this case, a new superstore in Bowie will lead to the closure of Wal-Mart store # 1893. One more dead store by the roadside.
Despite the vote of the city's Planning Board, the City Planning Director told The Patch that he still recommended that Wal-Mart be allowed to build its newer store. "We think the board made a bad decision," the Planning staff said. Wal-Mart needs a special exception because their proposed store is 186,000 s.f.---but Prince George's County requires any retail store larger than 125,000 s.f. to obtain a special exception.
Planning Board member Terry Rogers made a motion to deny the special exception, explaining that Wal-Mart's plans were not in compliance with the 2006 Master Plan for Bowie, which specifically says that the parcel Wal-Mart wants should not be used for "big box" stores. The Planning Board vote was not even close: 6-1 against the superstore.
But the City Planner argued that the 2006 Bowie Master Plan implied that the entire 74-acre site was not exclusively to be filled with big box stores. "The test for zoning is that the proposed use is not going to substantially impair the master plan," the Planner said.
The Bowie City Council ended up caving into Wal-Mart, and abandoning its own Master Plan.
But the Council's vote was only advisory to the Prince George's District Council. The County's Planner agreed with the city's Planning Board, and recommended on November 26th that the proposal was not what the county envisioned for the 74-acre site. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter does not fit into the 2006 master plan for the area, the County Planner agreed.
The Master Plan calls for "a high-end department store" at this site, as part of a mixed commercial shopping center. "To ignore the master plan recommendation was to substantially impair the master plan's integrity," said the Planning Coordinator for Prince George's County.
What you can do: The final say is now left to the county's zoning hearing examiner and District Council, which is made up of Prince George's County Council members. The zoning hearing examiner will hold a public hearing in the near future, but a date has not been announced. The examiner has the power to deny the application, and Wal-Mart can then appeal that decision to the District Council.
Wal-Mart's proposal to close down its existing store, and build a bigger unit across the street, will end up creating only 80 jobs, according to the company. It's current store is 20 years old---which by Wal-Mart's disposable building philosophy---is an "old" store.
The current store employs 250 people, so a new store adds very little economic value to Bowie--and leaves the city and county with another dark store to fill. The superstore will include a full grocery store---so other grocery stores will lose jobs, creating a potential net loss in jobs for the county.
Readers are urged to email Prince George's County District 4 Councilor, Atty. Ingrid Turner at IMTurner@co.pg.md.us with the following message:
Dear Councilor Turner,
You don't have to be a retail economist to understand that allowing Wal-Mart to shut down its existing store to build a larger one across the street is a waste of 74 acres of land!
You already have a Bowie Wal-Mart. If the company wants to add groceries to its current product line, tell them to do so by changing its existing store mix. If you let them leave Crain avenue, it could be years--or never--that this dead store finds a new tenant. If Wal-Mart considers Crain Ave to be an "old" store, so will any other retailer. There are not many retailers who want a building that big anyway.
The city of Bowie, and the county get no new economic activity from this kind of hop-scotch development. It's just sprawl, with most of the jobs simply moving across the street.
A big box store at this site is inconsistent with the County's Master Plan--something which the city's Planning Board, and the County Planner both realize.
Tell Wal-Mart to unpack its bags---and learn to make do with its existing store, and not challenge the county's Master Plan.