Share

New Walmarts inspire renewed opposition in D.C.

|
Local,DC,Leah Fabel

Local opposition to box store giant Walmart surged again on Wednesday with Mayor Vincent Gray's announcement of two new proposed locations in the District, bringing the likely total to six stores.

The stores would be located at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7, and near the Fort Totten Metro station in Ward 4. They would join four Walmarts already planned for Wards 4, 5, 6 and 7.

Much of the disgust centered around the lack of an official "community benefits agreement" -- a contract between the incoming business and local organizations to ensure certain community needs are addressed, such as job creation or environmental stewardship.

Dyana Forester, a community organizer with the Living Wages, Healthy Communities Coalition that has been resisting Walmart's entry into D.C., said she was "furious" when she heard news of the two new locations. Her group has been working with residents of neighboring communities and Gray's office to identify major concerns with the box store, such as low wages and high employee health care costs.

Examiner Archives
  • Walmart donates $5 million to Smithsonian (10-25-11)
  • A case against the case against Walmart (9-1-11)
  • "The challenge has been to get Walmart to put anything in writing," Forester said. To get the go-ahead from city officials before signing a benefits agreement is like "trying to negotiate over a house after signing the closing papers," she said.

    Walmart spokesman Steven Restivo said that his company has held more than 100 community meetings to assess residents' concerns.

    "From Day One, we've said we want to come to D.C. the right way," Restivo said.

    He refused to share the company's starting wage, but said it would be competitive with local retailers such as Safeway.

    Small-business owners were angered by the news of Walmart's expansion in the city, saying that Walmart may create the 1,800 jobs promised, but the chain will profit at the expense of mom-and-pop retailers forced out of business.

    "I'm not sure what Mayor Gray is thinking," said Gary Cha, owner of local chain Yes Organic Markets. Cha barely survived the influx of Whole Foods grocery stores in the 1990s, and decided in the aftermath to become an advocate for local businesses.

    "The local officials are so sold on Walmart -- it pains me," he said.

    In Montgomery County, where Walmarts have been proposed in Aspen Hill and along Rockville Pike near the Twinbrook Metro station, Council President Valerie Ervin has proposed legislation requiring community benefit agreements.

    Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, in a letter to developer JGB Rosenfeld, threatened a zoning change near Twinbrook.

    "We simply must do better than a single story, traffic generating, stand-alone big box retail establishment on this site," he wrote.

    lfabel@washingtonexaminer.com

    View article comments Leave a comment