Wal­mart backs out of deal with Chaney

County needs new suit­ors for land in Wal­dorf Cross­ing area

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

De­vel­op­ment in Charles County is be­com­ing more scru­ti­nized as days go by, and Wal­mart’s de­ci­sion to cease con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Chaney En­ter­prises to build a Wal­mart Su­per­center at Mat­ta­woman Drive and U.S. 301 just added to the con­ver­sa­tion.

The su­per­center would have been in the Wal­dorf Sta­tion area, which is ad­ver­tised as a tran­sit ori­ented de­vel­op­ment zone in the county’s zon­ing code.

Betsy Har­den, a spokes­woman for Wal­mart, said the com­pany needed an ex­ten­sion of the con­tract

to pur­chase prop­erty in the Wal­dorf Cross­ing de­vel­op­ment but “un­for­tu­nately,” she said, the two sides “were not able to reach an agree­ment.”

“We value our relationship with Charles County, and we ap­pre­ci­ate those who sup­ported our ef­forts,” Har­den said. “We re­main com­mit­ted to serv­ing the many Charles County res­i­dents who shop in our stores and ben­e­fit from ac­cess to qual­ity prod­ucts at af­ford­able prices.”

The two sides were un­able to reach an agree­ment just ahead of an up­com­ing Charles County Board of Ap­peals pub­lic hear­ing with Chaney En­ter­prises re­gard­ing the Wal­dorf Sta­tion site the su­per­store would have been lo­cated in.

As of Monday af­ter­noon the board of ap­peals hear­ing re­gard­ing the site has been can­celed.

Wal­mart pulling out rep­re­sents the end of a twoyear time pe­riod where Wal­mart has been try­ing to move a su­per­center into Chaney’s ap­proved Wal­dorf Sta­tion lo­ca­tion.

The store was planned to be a 184,015-square­foot build­ing with just un­der 8,500 square feet of open-air gar­den space. The site re­quired a spe­cial ex­cep­tion per­mit be­cause of its size with more than 100,000 square feet of re­tail space.

Cit­i­zens took is­sue with the build­ing’s size, the lo­ca­tion and the is­sue of the other Wal­mart build­ing cur­rently in the area. The plan, ac­cord­ing to Wal­mart officials, was to sell the Wal­mart al­ready in place to a buyer and have them use the build­ing, but some cit­i­zens had con­cerns about what could rea­son­ably be done with a build­ing that size.

With Wal­mart pulling out of the plan, Chaney En­ter­prises, which owns the land the store would have been de­vel­oped on, may look else­where for an­other buyer will­ing to de­velop on the prop­erty.

Charles County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said Wal­mart made a “busi­ness de­ci­sion” to cease ne­go­ti­a­tions and move on. But this does not come as a sur­prise, he said, with the com­pany also pulling out of two pre­vi­ous devel­op­ments just a few months ago with planned stores in the Dis­trict of Columbia.

“That raised a red flag here from a busi­ness stand­point,” Robin­son said.

De­bra Jones, the chief of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment in the county’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment, said, at this point, the way the county sees things it is “not a cause for alarm” with re­spect to the Wal­dorf Sta­tion de­vel­op­ment project.

Large com­mer­cial projects, such as the one of this scale, nor­mally go through sev­eral it­er­a­tions, Jones said, in terms of con­cept and de­signs. The two sides could come back and have a dif­fer­ent de­sign in mind, she said.

“The fact that that is not go­ing for­ward is not nec­es­sar­ily cause for alarm and what the spe­cific im­pli­ca­tions are will be­come more cer­tain as time goes on,” Jones said.

As dis­cus­sions of the project moved for­ward, Robin­son said, peo­ple in the com­mu­nity be­gan to take is­sue with it and “it took on a whole other an­gle,” he said.

There are go­ing to be peo­ple who are happy about the de­ci­sion, Robin­son said, but the project it­self and Wal­mart’s de­ci­sion to pull out of the deal likely have lit­tle to do with pub­lic com­ment.

With the area still des­ig­nated as tran­sit-ori­ented de­vel­op­ment, Robin­son said, this gives the county’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment de­part­ment an op­por­tu­nity to find a po­ten­tial suitor more fit­ting for that style of de­vel­op­ment.

Chaney En­ter­prises needs to be given time to re­assess its ap­proach in re­gards to find­ing a new, proper suitor for the site, Jones said, that fits with the county’s tran­sit ori­ented de­vel­op­ment zone.

The county will move for­ward and be in con­tact with Chaney to dis­cuss ways they could po­ten­tially help find any good fits, she said, but it will ul­ti­mately be up to Chaney who it chooses.

“It’s ul­ti­mately a pri­vate project,” Jones said.

Jim Long, pres­i­dent of the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed So­ci­ety, said the so­ci­ety is glad to see the county mov­ing on from what would have been a project that “lim­ited the county’s op­tions” in an area close to a Mat­ta­woman Re­source Pro­tec­tion zone.

There are op­tions for bet­ter align­ment near Western Park­way, he said, and the county needs to look at them. Plac­ing a su­per­store more than 100,000-square-feet in the area would not have been sound, he said, and would push Western Park­way into a Mat­ta­woman Re­source Pro­tec­tion zone.

“That was forc­ing Western Park­way very near to Mat­ta­woman Creek and based on pre­vi­ous pro­pos­als for the path of Western Park­way, there’s a less dam­ag­ing al­ter­na­tive path,” Long said.

Some res­i­dents are against the Wal­mart brand, but Long said that was never the is­sue with the Mat­ta­woman Water­shed So­ci­ety. “Re­gard­less of what brand,” Long said, a su­per­store would have been ex­pen­sive to maintain and build and po­ten­tially could have done dam­age to the en­vi­ron­ment.

Tran­sit ori­ented de­vel­op­ment is welcomed by the county, Long said, but the idea of hav­ing a su­per­center in the mid­dle of an area where it does not fit and peo­ple can­not walk to was never a good idea.

“It draws traf­fic to the area. [Tran­sit ori­ented de­vel­op­ment] is sup­posed to help al­le­vi­ate traf­fic not draw traf­fic. It re­ally, to be hon­est, was just an em­bar­rass­ment,” Long said.

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