Group rails against proposed Wal-Mart
April 28, 2005
Jennifer Donatelli
Staff Writer




A recently formed group of community activists is trying to organize residents against a proposed Wal-Mart store at the former Capital Plaza Mall.

Progressive Cheverly was formed in January after being upset about the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, said Madeleine Golde, a co-chairwoman.

The 70-member group trained its sights on Wal-Mart after getting involved with General Assembly issues such as a bill legislators passed requiring businesses of a size like Wal-Mart to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on health care benefits.

The discount giant signed a lease earlier this month for a 142,129-square-foot store to be built after part of the Landover Hills plaza is razed.

Most of the plaza's 15 to 20 tenants ­ including clothing stores, shoe stores, a jeweler, a beauty supply store and three churches ­ already have moved out.

Progressive Cheverly members say they are upset about several issues regarding the proposal. They say Wal-Mart does not pay a fair wage to its workers; that it undermines small businesses, and sells undesirable items like alcohol and firearms.

"Wal-Mart has not shown itself to be a good corporate neighbor," Golde said. "They've shown they undermine small businesses. Small businesses in the area for a long time are forced to close."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rhoda Washington disagrees and says the chain encourages residents' involvement throughout the store planning process.

"To that end, we hope to build stores that are compatible and reflective of the culture and character of communities where we hope to build," she said in an e-mail interview.

"If this means removing from or adding to our inventory, that is something we can do."

The store will not be a Supercenter, Washington said. Between 200 to 250 employees from the community will be hired and earn at least $9.60 an hour, nearly double the national minimum wage of $5.15, she said.

Randall Leavitt, president of Nellis Corp., which has managed the property since Capital Plaza Associates LP bought it in 1990, could not say when construction would begin or when the store would open.

Having a Wal-Mart, the first one inside the Capital Beltway, would revitalize a mall depressed since the closure of Montgomery Ward four years ago, Leavitt said.

Progressive Cheverly members also complain Nellis did not consider the impact a Wal-Mart would have on the community.

Members didn't realize how far Wal-Mart was in the process until they attended the Cheverly Town Hall meeting earlier this month, member Jo Deutsch said.

Leavitt indicated he has met with several groups and elected officials over the past year to tell them about the store. While Progressive Cheverly was not among them, he said he would be open to meeting with its members.

Nellis also made sure Wal-Mart took into consideration some of residents' concerns, Leavitt said, although he declined to be more specific.

"We have had an enormous amount of input from people. While there will always be some disagreeing with the project, the vast majority of people are excited to have the property redeveloped into a Wal-Mart," he said.

With Capital Plaza in a (CSC) commercial zone, Progressive Cheverly members appear not to have much ground on which to fight the store.

But members say they are undeterred, although they have not decided on the next course of action.

"We'll keep talking about it. Will we be successful? I don't know, but we can always hope," Deutsch said.

Other residents say they are happy Wal-Mart is coming to the area.

Landover Hills Mayor Lee P. Walker told residents at the April 18 town council meeting that he had heard concerns about Wal-Mart's disapproval of unions.

"That is not our purpose. Our purpose is to redevelop the (Route) 450 corridor," he said.

E-mail Jennifer Donatelli at jdonatelli@gazette.net.