"Community benefits agreements" have been adopted in San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pittsburgh, New Haven, Conn., and Denver in the last decade. But in those cities, retailers voluntarily reached agreements to settle a conflict with the community, or gain their support.
"There are [community benefits agreements] all over the country," Montgomery County Economic Development Director Steve Silverman told the County Council's Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee Monday. "But there is no jurisdiction in the country that has enacted a requirement for a [community benefits agreement]."
|Alexandria: Stores with 20,000 square feet or more must be approved by special exception|
|Arlington County: Stores with 50,000 square feet or more of floor area on one level or that require 200 or more parking spaces must be approved by special exception|
|Rockville: No store may be larger than 65,000 square feet on any level|
|Loudoun County: Stores with 75,000 square feet or more must be approved by special exception|
|Fairfax: Stores with 80,000 square feet or more must be approved by special exception|
|Prince George's County: Department, grocery and drug stores with 125,000 square feet or more must be approved by special exception|
|Source: Montgomery County Council|
Proposed by council President Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, in response to concerns about a planned Walmart in Aspen Hill, Montgomery's measure would require a large retailer to enter into an agreement with at least three recognized civic organizations or to demonstrate to the county executive that the retailer has made a "good faith effort" to negotiate an agreement before opening.
The agreement could address any number of issues, ranging from hiring practices to operating hours to techniques that lessen traffic.
The bill would affect stores that are smaller than 75,000 square feet if they are the "primary occcupant" of a building that is 75,000 square feet or larger, said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large and chairwoman of the planning committee. She pointed to the Giant Food store at the Montrose Crossing shopping center in Rockville, which would have had to sign a community benefits agreement under the standard.
However, Westfield Wheaton -- which received $4 million from the county in economic development grants to bring Costco to the mall -- has been told it would be exempt from Ervin's bill, said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large.
Similar legislation has been proposed in the District of Columbia and Prince George's County.
The bill introduced last month by Prince George's County Councilwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg, and Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Accokeek, would allow the county executive to require a retailer to negotiate a community benefits agreement on a case-by-case basis and only if the retailer has received more than $3 million in public assistance.
This approach is flawed because a retailer could avoid restrictions by not seeking government funding, said D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson, D-at large, who introduced the District's bill.
Montgomery council members expressed doubts that their bill as written would accomplish what they want: community input.
Because the bill requires only a "good faith effort," a retailer could reject an agreement and open as planned, Leventhal said.
Ervin did not return requests for comment.