Walmart has broken every promise it made a decade ago about jobs and neighborhood compatibility to get its Capital Plaza location approved. The megacompany’s further bid to turn its store there into a 24-hour “Supercenter” has brought local residents and activists together to demand better, pointing toward a critical county Planning Board meeting May 5. Progressive Maryland and Progressive Cheverly member Kurt Stand explains.
/By Kurt Stand/ Good neighbors are trustworthy, good neighbors take care of their own houses or apartments and lend a hand to those around them when help is needed. By any such definition, Walmart has been a bad neighbor – treating its own property and the property surrounding its Capital Plaza store in a manner that shows a lack of respect to the entire Prince George’s County community. That record of bad behavior is the reason for local opposition to Walmart’s proposed expansion at the Capital Plaza site it has occupied for nearly a decade. See below on how to join the fight.
Walmart elicits such opposition because it operates on a business model opposed to any accountability to customers, to employees, to communities. Thus it has no compunction to break promises made, as recently witnessed in DC where Walmart announced it was not opening two stores in distressed Southeast communities that had been promised as part of an agreement that allowed the company to open stores in three more lucrative neighborhoods. A handshake had sealed the deal – the District government’s mistake was banking on Walmart’s integrity. At the same time, Walmart announced it was closing hundreds of stores across the country. Business conditions change, consolidation and closing of existing outlets, plants, offices, can happen to any company. But what makes this especially problematic when Walmart is involved is the gap between the jobs and development promised when they go into a community and what they deliver. Their cost-cutting methods of operation drive other businesses out of an area—so when they do shutter their doors they often leave a community worse off than when they entered.
Such an outcome flows from an unsustainable business model that pushes costs on those it serves. The low-wage, often part-time jobs Walmart does provide, allow its employees little in the way of benefits or possible savings. When a wealthy company acts irresponsibly, taxpayers must bear the burden – as when people with jobs still need subsidized health care, rent assistance, food stamps. After all, one must live even when not earning a living wage. Moreover, that low-wage model undermines the ability of other retailers that want to treat their employees with more justice from doing so, because they can’t compete against those low costs. Walmart’s refusal to pay its fair share of extends beyond its mistreatment of employees to all other areas of business. Unlike responsible companies, its pays for neither security nor groundskeeping – not caring whether these are provided by the local communities, by volunteers, or not at all; just so long as it doesn’t come out of their bottom line.
Forum Talks: Looking Back
Concerns such as those above lay behind many of the remarks made at Progressive Cheverly’s February 4 Forum: The Proposed Super Walmart at Capital Plaza -- is it good for the local community? Addressing a full house of residents concerned about the possibility of having a “Super Walmart,” as a neighbor were Cheverly Mayor Mike Callahan; Progressive Maryland Staff Representative Jennifer Dwyer from Duvall Village; Madeline Golde and Clareen Heikal, Progressive Cheverly representatives in the Community Standards Coalition; and Malcolm Augustine, community leader and Progressive Cheverly member. They described Walmart’s failure to adequately address past concerns or keep promises once made, and explained the reasons that more space for Walmart will not lead to the economic development area communities want and need. And they concluded with suggestions of actions people can take to ensure that citizen concerns are heard.
Past is prologue was the theme of Heikal and Golde’s remarks as they described the background to current concerns over Walmart’s plans. Prior to the Capital Plaza Walmart being built in 2007, the property in Landover Hills had been empty for 11 years. Although there was a great deal of interest within the community for retail stores opening at the site, the kind of development Walmart provides did not appear to offer a solution to the lack of local shopping and lack of jobs. Progressive Cheverly helped found the Community Standards Coalition in 2005, with the initial goal to keep Walmart from coming into the area. Once their presence in our area became inevitable, the Coalition established criteria the company needed to meet in order to become a good corporate neighbor – criteria on which Walmart has, for the most part, fallen short. Since putting in the expansion request, they have made some improvements; after eight years of not being responsive to community concerns these latest actions are likely only being made to weaken opposition to store expansion.
The Community Standards Coalition – comprised of the Town of Bladensburg, Town of Cheverly, City of College Park, Town of Colmar Manor, Town of Edmonston, City of Glenarden, Greater Landover Knolls Civic Association, City of Hyattsville, Hyattsville Organization for Positive Environment, Landover Area Revitalization, City of Mount Rainier, City of New Carrollton, Port Towns Community Development Corporation, Progressive Cheverly, Radiant Valley Civic Association, Town of Riverdale Park - agreed upon nine goals when first formed. The nine demands are:
1) Prohibition on sale of guns and ammunition.
2) Prohibition on alcohol sales.
3) Provide parking lot security to protect customers and employees.
4) No 24-hour store; hours should be comparable to other retailers in area.
5) Work with community leaders in adjoining neighborhoods to address congestion and security issues.
6) Design a building with attractive façade and landscaping.
7) Establish an energy-efficient and environmentally innovative site.
8) Recruit workers from the area and engage in workforce development.
9) Engage in ongoing dialog with elected municipal and civic association leaders in the area concerning these issues during the duration of the store’s operation.
In addition, the community insisted that Walmart not open up a grocery store at the Capitol Plaza store. Beyond that, the aim was for Walmart to be an anchor store that would lead to the development of the rest of the site; this did not happen. If Walmart gets its way and expands, its larger store and parking lot together will take up a disproportionate share of Capital Plaza’s 39-acre lot, thereby inhibiting any other use of the mall. They also typically include a full-service grocery store, which would hurt sales at other local businesses. Walmart has agreed to meet with community representatives, has agreed that the store will not be open 24 hours (a major concern for nearby neighbors), but to ensure that those promises are kept and result in lasting changes means continuing to organize. And so those nine goals remain as goals the Coalition wants Walmart to meet in full.
Forum Talks: Organizing for a Different Change
After hearing about past conflicts with Walmart, speakers addressed how to work for a better outcome in the present. Dwyer explained her involvement, which began after being notified that Walmart wanted to open a store that would be virtually at her front door – a proposal made without any prior consultation or discussion with those who would have to live with the consequences. She took the initiative, talked to her neighbors, and soon discovered that her opposition was shared. Organizing from neighbor to neighbor, the voice against Walmart’s plans grew from one individual to hundreds. Doing their own research and their own outreach, the Duvall Village community was able to create a sufficient outcry and develop sufficient political strength that they kept the store from being built (though Walmart has not given up, litigation is ongoing for they appealed the decision).
Dwyer was followed by Callahan who reiterated the Town of Cheverly’s long-standing support for the Community Standards – and that those nine standards remain the basis of Cheverly’s opposition to a Super Walmart at the site. Cheverly’s mayor is working with the mayors of Landover Hills (where Capital Plaza is located) and Bladensburg to make development of the entire Mall a condition of support for Walmart expansion. Those communities had initially been supportive of Walmart opening up a store, and now feel let down because it is such an eyesore and because it hasn’t led to increased local employment opportunities or the shopping expansion promised and anticipated. In meetings with local elected officials and the Coalition, the property owner had claimed Walmart would attract other businesses, but that hasn’t happened – though perhaps that is because he has been unwilling to offer the incentives that mall owners typically provide (outside maintenance, financial incentives, work on exterior facades, and the like). If true, it reflects the adoption of a business model similar to that of Walmart – pushing costs onto others that are usually borne by a proprietor.
This need for real, sustainable development is key, Callahan stressed. What is at issue isn’t opposing Walmart per se, rather it is to promote an alternative model of mixed use development, with walkable areas, and several anchors. Such a project is what adjacent and nearby communities want and need.
To allow for the possibility of such an alternative we need to make our voice heard now, as Augustine stressed in his concluding remarks. Explaining the importance of engagement, he recalled Walmart’s underhanded methods of getting its original application for the store approved in 2007. That approval was strongly influenced by a then recent transplant to Cheverly, Phillip Hoffman, who was elected to the town council and was a strong proponent of the economic benefits which would follow if Walmart opened a store in our area. About six months after the application was approved he relocated back to Bentonville, Arkansas where his wife worked as a Walmart Executive Vice President. This is an example of a culture of corporate duplicity and manipulative behavior, of “win” at all costs in pursuit of quick dollars symptomatic of the entire process. Neither trust nor honesty are part of Walmart’s method of expansion. Only action now can prevent such behavior from being again rewarded, a sentiment that was repeatedly affirmed in the subsequent discussion.
What is to be Done
There are numerous steps that each of us can take in order to resist this expansion. We all can speak up and speak out – not as experts (though we have expertise on our side) but as citizens with rights. All one needs do in any of the action items listed below is speak or write based on your own experiences and values.
Actions to take include:
1) Attend the Planning Board Hearing: May 5, 9:00 AM
County Administration Building
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
2) Write to the Planning Board. Tell them how you feel – your letter can be long or short, based on research or based on observation or simply gut feeling. What is important is that they hear from those who are Prince George’s County residents.
Email letters should be sent to Susan Lareuse: Susan.Lareuse@ppd.mncppc.org
Letters should be sent to:
Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission
Development Review Division
County Administration Building
14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive
Upper Marlboro, MD 20772
3) Sign up as a Person of Record. Once signed up you will get all the latest information from the county on Walmart’s proposed expansion – the volume of information you receive won’t be great, but the value will be high. You can go to the following to sign up, using the Application Number and Name listed below:
Application Number: DSP-15020-01 Application Name: Capital Plaza Walmart
4) Sign the Petition. Add your name to those who have already signed to let the Planning Commission know that you are opposed to Capital Plaza Walmart’s proposed expansion.
Sign the petition at: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/no-super-walmart-in-capital-1
5) Tell your friends, neighbors and other county residents: “We Deserve Better!”