Citizen protest moves Prince George's Council to say no to Capital Plaza Walmart expansion

The Prince George's County Council overturns its own Planning Board, which was stampeded into approving expansion of the Capital Plaza Walmart, bringing citizen outrage and activism.

/PM BlogSpace Report/ A community under siege by corporate power fought back and won last week. Despite years of negative feedback from residents and customers about the operations of their Capital Plaza store, Walmart steamrolled the Prince George’s Planning Board into giving them the OK to expand into a Supercenter last May, prompting an appeal by residents and a review of the case by County Councilwoman Dannielle Glaros (District 3.)

Residents, civic associations, and community organizations, including the Community Standards Coalition, Progressive Cheverly, and Progressive Prince George’s turned out to participate in the appeal, heard by the County Council sitting as District Council, Monday Sept. 12. After hours of testimony and probing questions, the Council found that the Planning Board was the wrong body to review Walmart’s plan in the first place and overturned the approval, stopping Walmart in its tracks.

Asked to explain the legality of the Planning Board’s decision, , Stan Brown, the People's Zoning Counsel for the county, walked residents and the Council through the complex zoning law that governs development at Capital Plaza, saying  “Planning staff were extremely confused as to how to go about processing this application…[this] resulted in an approval that is an error of law for multiple reasons.”

On these grounds, Councilwoman Glaros, the council member in whose district Capital Plaza lies, moved for the reversal of the Planning Board decision and got unanimous backing from her colleagues. Sitting as the County Council on Monday, Sept. 19 the panel finalized the reversal.

For residents, Walmart’s proposal was not only illegal, but unethical and at odds with their vision for their community and Prince George’s County as a whole. When Walmart first moved into Capital Plaza, the corporate giant struck a nine-point agreement with area residents to ensure that the store would be an asset to the community. The result, according to many residents, has been eleven years of disappointment and frustration. Testimony from the community was scathing, from the management of the store and parking lot, to the way the neighborhood has been characterized  in the discussions surrounding Walmart’s proposed expansion.

Richard Bailey, a home improvement contractor and developer living on Goodwin Street in Landover Hills, said “I feel very insulted by what’s going on here… stealing all the power we are supposed to have as residents, particularly voting residents… this corporate giant has a long history of doing just horrible things in largely black and Latino communities… then come up here and say that people in this community can only afford to shop at Walmart…. Why can’t we do better—why do we have to be victimized by people like Walmart? This is the only community I’ve ever lived in where residents are not asked or included in the process of what stores should go where and as a result we’ve got too many liquor stores, we’ve got too much fried chicken…can we stop this already… we are just asking to have a voice in the process – is that too much to ask?... why do they have to dump on my community ”

Delvin Champagne, who lives close to the existing Walmart, compared the concessions the county gave to the MGM Grand [National Harbor] gambling venue. “To approve this [Walmart] without other demands is just a slap in the face!”

[Video of this proceeding is on the county website].

In light of all of these issues, residents and activist allies praised Glaros’ and the Council’s decision. “This is a big win for the residents of Prince George’s County,” said Jennifer Dwyer, Progressive Maryland’s Lead Organizer for Prince George’s County. “For years, developers and corporations have been used to getting whatever they want whenever they want it— five Super Walmarts, 7-11’s every half mile down 450, liquor stores all over the place. Well, the residents have had it, and we are organized, and we are working together to make our county the way we want it to be. This vote demonstrates that our elected officials are with us, even when we go up against the largest corporations in the entire world.”