The Big-Box Bill: What about Wegmans?
Bill 33-11 would require retailers greater than 75,000 square feet to enter into a community benefits agreement with local civic groups.
While the issue of whether to build or not to build another Walmart has dominated recent discussion over Montgomery County Council’s proposed bill 33-11, there’s still the matter of the other “W” — the 150,000 square-foot Wegmans slated for Germantown.
The bill is sponsored by County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5), and is co-sponsored by Councilwoman Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4), Germantown’s representative Councilman Craig Rice, (D-Dist. 2), Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At-large), and Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At-large).
As written, the so-called Big Box bill would require retailers greater than 75,000 square feet to enter into a community benefits agreement with three or more “recognized civic organizations” or demonstrate to the county executive that it made a “good faith effort to negotiate such an agreement.”
The Wegmans project in Germantown has already received all of its land use approvals but is still finalizing its design plan and still has to apply for a building permit before construction can begin, Wegmans spokeswoman Jo Natale told Patch.
"We hope to open the Germantown store in 2013," Natale said.
But if bill 33-11 passes, what would it mean for the Germantown Wegmans and other big-box projects already underway?
A Nov. 1 public hearing and a council committee work session since have stirred up more questions than answers.
At the hearing, many of the bill’s supporters vented frustrations with other projects — like the Costco in Wheaton — and expressed why they felt a proposal to build a Walmart on Rockville Pike was a bad idea. Labor and union representatives who spoke in favor of the bill felt the spirit of the legislation would hold big-box stores more accountable to the communities they serve.
The bill’s most vocal opponents were developers and representatives from local Chambers of Commerce — including the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber — who say the bill was too vague, adds an additional layer to the already lengthy, complex process and gives too much power to nongovernmental groups.
The discussion over the bill continued Monday morning during the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee’s work session.
But even after lengthy discussion among representatives from the county executives office and county attorneys, the council’s committee determined Monday at a work session that it was not in a position to act on the bill due to lack of information.
Of the four Wegmans stores located in Maryland — Bel Air, Frederick, Hunt Valley and Woodmoor — none have entered into a community benefits agreement, said Natale, who said she was only speaking on behalf of the retailer and couldn't speak for any agreements developers may have entered.
Since the hearing, Council President Valerie Ervin has reportedly told The Gazette that the council is considering looking at a way to grandfather big-box projects that are already underway, such as the Germantown Wegmans.
But in a story published in The Gazette since the committee meeting, Ervin denied claims councilman Geroge L. Leventhal presented that she told developers of Westfield Wheaton Costco they would be excluded from the bill.