An 80,000-square-foot Wal-Mart planned for Rockville Pike is stirring mixed and sometimes passionate reactions from Rockville City Council members, residents and shop owners.
Construction of the store, at the Pike Center just south of Twinbrook Parkway—and just outside the city limits, would begin as early as fall. The projected completion date is late 2013.
Wal-Mart also is proposing an 118,000-square-foot store in Aspen Hill, with a projected opening in 2013.
The Rockville Pike store would replace existing Pike Center stores, including Bagel City, Office Depot and CiCi’s Pizza. A T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant, M&T Bank branch and Jared jewelry store would remain.
With Wal-Mart planned, Stephanie Kavadoy’s family business, Bagel City, did not receive a lease renewal. The bagel shop—a Rockville standard for more than 35 years, learned of the plans via an interview with The Washington Post. Kavadoy said that she fears for the fate of all the surrounding businesses, as well as her own.
"We don't support the Wal-Mart project,” she said. “Small businesses, the Target, Sports Authority, we will all suffer."
The local economy will gain more than it will lose, said Steven Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
“Our stores are often magnets for growth and development all across the country,” Restivo said. “We’re proud of the contributions we make in communities across the country—from creating jobs and generating tax revenue to helping customers save and contributing to local nonprofits.”
Restivo cited the “Chicago success story,” in which the introduction of a Wal-Mart in a Chicago suburb led to the opening of 22 new businesses and drew residents back to the previously struggling area.
In November, Wal-Mart released the results of a survey, commissioned by the Arkansas-based retailer, in which 66 percent of county residents said they support the store, The Gazette reported.
Kavadoy is skeptical. “I’ve done my homework on this,” she said. "Yeah, the Wal-Mart will create jobs, but the wages are extremely low, and they keep their workers at part time so that they can't receive any benefits."
One thing all sides agree on: The new store would bring an inevitable influx of traffic. According to a pamphlet by the Pike Center’s developer, JBG Rosenfeld, the area already experiences 54,911 vehicles daily, a number expected to increase dramatically with the new development.
“Wal-Mart will have an undeniably bad impact on the surrounding residential communities due to traffic,” Rockville City Councilman Mark Pierzchala said. “I don't think Rockville should try to stop it per se, but try to constrain its size.”
Much of the concern, Kavadoy said, stems from the sheer magnitude of the Wal-Mart, as well as the additional proposal for a 600-car garage to accommodate the swell of shoppers. “This will bring chaos,” she said. “There is already traffic. They are bringing a monster to the area.”
Finding a new home for Bagel City—a task also facing 12 other soon-to-be-displaced businesses—is proving difficult, Kavadoy said. "We are really sad,” she said. “It will take a lot of money to relocate, and we have to worry, will the next place be demolished as well? We hope the County Council will work hard to help us."
Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner called for JBG to hold off on the Wal-Mart project in a letter sent to the developer in November. The proposed store and a 200- to 250-unit apartment complex JBG also plans to build on the site doesn't fit in with the county's vision for Rockville Pike, wrote Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac.
In an online forum, County Executive Isiah Leggett made clear that traffic projections would not halt construction plans.
“The owners of Pike Plaza, JBG, would only require a site plan amendment in order to proceed with plans,” Leggett (D) wrote. ”Since the 'envelope' on density and traffic are [sic] already as broad as needed to accommodate current commercial activity on that site, nothing more would be required of that nature to open a Wal-Mart, unless a new traffic study is called for.”
Leggett also addressed a bill introduced by County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring, which would require so-called big box stores—with footprints of more than 75,000 square feet—to enter into a community benefits agreement with civic organizations in their neighborhood.
“In its present form, I would veto that legislation should it pass, though I am open to looking at changes in it," Leggett wrote during the online forum. "Among other problems, I am concerned that some of the requirements for 'community' negotiations and approval are vague at best and not legal, at worst.”
Restivo, the Wal-Mart spokesman, remained positive about the venture. “Unfortunately, some of the louder voices in this debate don’t represent the majority opinion,” he said. “This fact is made clear every time we open a new store as thousands of local residents show their support by shopping with us.”
Pierzchala summed up the concerns and benefits of the new store: “There will be thousands of Rockville and Montgomery County residents who will shop there, so they see a value,” he said. “It will put a lower cost alternative on the pike, one with lots of muscle and size, so I think some surrounding merchants also have to worry about it. But that's capitalism; rough and rugged.”