Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008

Merchants meet with community

Elected officials get involved with cleanup of Watkins Park shopping center

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A meeting being held this evening among Watkins Park shopping center property managers, store owners and nearby civic association leaders will continue major progress this week in remedying a host of problems, including trash, loiterers, and unlicensed vendors selling watermelons and meats.

Tonight's meeting follows a meeting held Monday in which community members met with four shopping center merchants from the Kettering shopping center to discuss their efforts and found both groups' concerns were the same.

Sam and Katheryn Turner, store manager and owner of Watkins Park Liquors, and Dr. Susan Maturo, veterinarian and owner of Animal Medical Center of Watkins Park, agree that the shopping center's biggest problems are loiterers in front of their stores and trash behind the shopping center.

"The biggest problem is trash in the back," Maturo said. "It makes you sick to your stomach when you go to walk the pets."

In addition to Dumpsters overflowing and loiterers, shopping center merchants and nearby residents are upset that police park in fire lanes and community residents dump trash from their homes in the rear Dumpsters.

"The standards of Kettering are higher than the shopping center portrays," said Phil Lee, Kettering Civic Federation president. "With more attention from everyone, we can solve this problem."

Craig Muckle, public affairs manager for the Eastern division of Safeway, and store manager Adrienne Williams were present to hear community concerns.

Residents voiced their dissatisfaction with the store's bathrooms and with aisles filled with cardboard boxes and fruit on the floor. Residents who shop in the Safeway have said the bathrooms are filthy and unfit for people.

During the week of July 28, the Prince George's County Health Department issued a violation notice to the Safeway, said Alan Heck, chief of food protection for the Prince George's County Health Department.

On Aug. 7, a health department inspector went to Safeway and found it to be in compliance with their standards, Heck said. Bathrooms were clean and stocked with soap, toilet paper and paper towels, and the trash and debris behind the shopping center were cleaned up.

Still, residents are unhappy with the condition of Safeway's interior.

Muckle suggested residents voice their concerns to Williams.

"Don't just leave mad," Muckle said. "Express your dissatisfaction with the store manager."

The federation considers the problems at Safeway to be an issue separate from the shopping center. At the end of the meeting, federation members asked Sen. Douglas Peters (D-Dist. 23) of Bowie and Del. Marvin Holmes (D-Dist. 23B) of Kettering to begin their efforts to improve the Safeway.

"Once Phil Lee meets with Regency Centers [tonight] and contacts me, I can come up with a game plan," Peters said. "If Safeway does not come up to standard without pressure, we'll apply pressure."

As of now, resolving the community's issues with Safeway is up to Peters and Holmes.

"A boycott or protest [of Safeway] won't help anyone," Lee said. "Let's give an opportunity to our elected officials."

Kettering residents Linda Crudup and Esther Hankerson see the meeting as a step in the right direction.

"Hopefully we're headed in the right direction," Crudup said. "Hopefully Regency Centers will listen to us. Now we know who the shop owners are and can converse with them and see their progress."

Hankerson said she was happy to see shop owners at the meeting because they share the same interests when it comes to cleaning up the shopping center.

At tonight's meeting, John Zuk, property manager for Regency Centers, and other Regency Centers representatives will meet with Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-Dist.25) of Mitchellville, Lee, a representative from Safeway's corporate office and civic association presidents from Lake Arbor, Largo and Perrywood.

The goal of the meeting is to "draft a memorandum that we can all live with," Lee said.

E-mail Liz Skalski at