Unions fight MontCo council over proposed Aspen Hill Walmart

Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye
Walmart's plans to open a store in Aspen Hill has generated a new dispute between Montgomery County's union workers and the County Council.

The county's Municipal and County Government Employees Organization began its fight with an online petition urging residents to "Stand against [County Council President Valerie] Ervin" and her support of the Walmart. MCGEO Executive Director Robert Stewart said that's only the beginning of the union's planned campaign.

The union wants to know if the council is "on the side of low-wage poverty jobs with no benefits and no retirement, or are they for living wage and decent jobs that help build the community?" Stewart said.

He declined to specify what actions the union plans to take.

However, Ervin, D-Silver Spring, denied the union's claims that she is backing Walmart.

"Aspen Hill has a unique character that could be irreparably damaged by the introduction of Walmart," Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, D-Eastern County, wrote in a letter to Bruce Lee, president of property owner and developer Lee Development Group.

Ervin said the council also is drafting a Community Benefits Agreement to provide some protection for area residents. The store would be on Connecticut Avenue between Aspen Hill Road and Georgia Avenue.

Prompted by concerns about the effect that big-box stores have on the community, the bill would require large stores above a certain size -- like Walmart -- to negotiate with residents who live in the area surrounding the store, according to council attorney Michael Faden. The topics up for negotiation depend on the residents' interests, but could include store operations, deliveries, security, lighting and traffic.

The bill also could indirectly affect employees if residents are concerned about the store hiring locally.

It likely will be introduced on Oct. 11, Faden said.

Though the union supports the concept of a Community Benefits Agreement, Stewart said, he declined to comment on the council's bill since he hasn't seen it.

Walmart has signed similar agreements before, but spokesman Steve Restivo said they're not necessary.

"The more people get to know the facts about Walmart, the more they come to see that we already provide many of the things that communities want," he said.

Lee said he doesn't understand the opposition, noting that the store will bring jobs and tax revenue.

Designed to be 118,000 square feet, Walmart plans to open by 2013, according to a statement. However, the property needs to be approved for rezoning before that can occur.

Lee said he is waiting on the County Council to direct the county's planning board to draft a zoning amendment, which he expects to happen Tuesday.

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