UPPER MARLBORO – The fight against the expansion of the Capital Plaza Wal-Mart is set to continue after the District Council voted 8-0 to hold the case for further review. The District Council, which is the county council sitting in its role of reviewing zoning matters, voted to approve Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros’s motion to […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The fight against the expansion of the Capital Plaza Wal-Mart is set to continue after the District Council voted 8-0 to hold the case for further review.
The District Council, which is the county council sitting in its role of reviewing zoning matters, voted to approve Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros’s motion to hold the case for review. The detailed site plan (DSP) for a 35,000-square foot expansion of the existing Wal-Mart store into a Super Wal-Mart was approved by the county’s planning board after a hearing that saw six hours of testimony, much of it from community members opposing the plan.
Council spokeswoman Karen Campbell said council members do not speak about pending District Council cases for legal reasons.
Walmart did not return requests for comment.
But community members and activists greeted the news as a positive sign.
“I think it does signify she had some concerns with how the planning board handled it,” said Denise Hamler of Landover Hills, speaking for the Community Standards Coalition (CSC). “If that’s why she did it, that’s a positive.”
The CSC has been involved with the Wal-Mart from the time the store opened in 2007, getting the company to agree to a multi-point community standards plan about how the store would be run and how it would impact the community.
The group feels Wal-Mart has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement. Hamler cited pallets left in aisles, creating fire hazards; a lack of security in the store leading to crime including automobile theft in the parking lot; and store carts left strewn in neighborhood yards as reasons for their opposition.
Jennifer Dwyer, Prince George’s County organizer with Progressive Maryland, agreed the move demonstrates the council has concerns about the plan.
“I think that demonstrates that the councilwoman is concerned, as her constituents are, with the planning board decision,” she said.
The decision to review the case means lawyers representing both sides, Wal-Mart and the community groups, will be called before the District Council to present their case and any witness testimony. After that, the council has 60 days to decide whether to approve the plan, remand it back to the planning board, or take other actions.
The community contends that rather than a DSP, the expansion should be considered a special exception, which requires a different approval process than a DSP and, they say, takes community input into greater consideration. Hamler said the addition of a full-service grocery store changes the use of the site, making a special exception the appropriate avenue.
“In our reading, this basically needs to be a special exception based on the rules and regulations of it being a change of use,” she said.
The planning board and its attorneys disagreed. Deborah Borden, principle counsel, explained at the hearing that because the Wal-Mart is a certified non-conforming use that was in place before certain changes were made to county law in 2013, the DSP is the only correct process to follow.
“It’s by operation of law that it is no longer a special exception and there was no way for us to send it through the special exception process,” she said in May.
The planning board’s approval did come with conditions, including the addition of bicycle parking spaces and more sidewalks to allow pedestrians to traverse the parking lot more easily.
The board chair also implored Wal-Mart to be more transparent with the community and resume meetings to discuss their concerns. But Hamler said this hasn’t happened.
“The coalition, which represents eight communities, has not been contacted by anyone about getting our feedback or addressing issues,” she said.
Hamler said even if Wal-Mart were to improve, it might not be enough for the community members, who feel the 39-acre parcel on which it sits is unacceptably run-down and is not attracting other businesses to the area. Landover Hills is being left out of the redevelopment surges taking place in Hyattsville, College Park, Mt. Rainier and other surrounding communities, Hamler said.
“We have been working on this store for 10 years and it has been a huge disappointment to the community when we have some very smart development happening around us,” she said.
The hearing before the District Council is set for July 18 at 10 a.m.