Prince George's County, MD. Neighbors Ready To Take Wal-Mart Superstore To Court
A group of anti-Wal-Mart activists in Maryland has taken to the internet to raise funds for a legal challenge to a Wal-Mart superstore in their neighborhood.
Nicole Nelson, who serves on the John Hanson Montessori Parent Teacher Student Association, told Sprawl-Busters that her group of neighbors "for the past 4 years have fought the approval of a Super Walmart right next to our children's school and have been successful. But Walmart and the developer have returned. The Prince George's County Planning Board has given the project a green light. We are now gearing up for a legal challenge in circuit court and need financial assistance."
This battle goes back to at least June of 2011, when Wal-Mart announced plans to build a store on 15 acres of vacant land abutting the John Hanson Montessori School. According to Wal-Mart, the superstore would have "all the services of a full super store, with a good grocery component and all of their other major departments."
At the time, the company said it expected construction to begin as soon as the spring of 2012, with a store opening set for 2013. To sweeten the deal, the developer, the Peterson Cos, offered to donate two acres of land in their so-called Potomac Business Park, and give it to the county for a fire station.
But Wal-Mart's original proposal got delayed in the planning process because the Prince George's County Council members did not like Wal-Mart's design. Wal-Mart was required to make changes to deal with questions about traffic and safety--- the very issues raised by the citizen's fighting the location.
As a result of this confrontation, the County Council passed an ordinance capping the size of big-box stores that sell groceries at 85,000 square feet. But Wal-Mart simply asked for an exception to the ordinance.
In the fall of 2013, Wal-Mart resubmitted an application to the county for a 100,310 square foot superstore in Oxen Hill. This location is just one of roughly half a dozen new stores that Wal-Mart hopes to build in the Washington, D.C. area.
This Oxon Hill site is surrounded by single-family housing. Wal-Mart proposed to build the store close to the roadway (known as the 'street wall') to give the project an urban feel---even if its size surpasses the scale of most urban retail stores on one floor. Parking would be to the side of the building, rather than typically in front.
For the past 4 years, parents at John Hanson and the Oxen Hill High School have argued against the project. "We don't want it next door to our school," Nicole Nelson told the Washington Post. "We have security concerns. We are also concerned about the pollution that would be produced from the construction itself and the impact on our children."
The resubmitted project was approved by the County Planning Board by a 4-1 vote on May 24, 2012. Nicole Nelson was quoted in the Gazette.Net as saying: "Despite us voicing our concerns, I don't think they know the ramifications of the project. My biggest concern is the crime... . To cram a Walmart right beside us is unconscionable." The County allowed Wal-Mart to have an exemption from the parking requirements, allowing the parking lot to be 5% smaller than required.
The County voted for the project despite a report from the county's own Environmental Engineering Program which concluded that increased traffic "could impair cognitive development in children... [and] is associated with childhood asthma." Artificial light, dust from construction and noise also could affect nearby properties, the report found.
The land is not properly zoned for a retail store. It sits within a zone for industrial or employment park use. Despite the developer's attempt to label it a "Business Park," the predominate tenant is the Wal-Mart, which is clearly retail, not industrial.
What you can do: So instead of celebrating a ribbon cutting in 2013, Wal-Mart is now facing litigation from the neighbors the retailer has refused to engage.
Nicole Nelson explains how readers can help them beat Wal-Mart: "We are asking for donations as little as $5 and as much as $50. Any donation can help us reach our goal. Please help us. The video on our page at www.GofundMe.com/aa5o4k shows the close proximity of the proposed Super Walmart."